The most basic role of church discipline in counseling is to keep a counselee saved in Christ (James 5: 19-20). It is about the preservation of souls for Christ (Ps. 121:7). Additionally, it plays the role of maintaining holiness within the Body of Christ (Eph. 1:4-5; 1 Pet. 1:15) and keeping its members set apart from the world that lies outside of Christ (Jn. 15:19; 17:16-17).
Scripture teaches several things about the process of church discipline. In particular there is one prevalent scripture passage that presents the whole process (Matt. 18:15-17). The first step is for the believer to address the presented sin to a person on a one-to-one basis, in hope that the matter will be corrected (v.15). If the matter is not corrected through acknowledgment and repentance of sin, then the presented sin should then be brought up and addressed through a few (two to three) witnesses who are believers (v.16). If the matter is still not corrected, then it should be presented to the members of the church in assembly, with hope that the matter will be finally corrected and closed. If after all of these admonishments there is no correction, then the last step is to treat the person as a non-believer (v.17).
In essence, sin is a serious matter that needs to be addressed. If a person cannot address it on their own, believers need to get involved (Deut. 9:15, Matt. 18: 15-17), and try to help the person address their sin. However, in the end, it is up to the person to make and carry out the decision. The person has to make the decision to acknowledge and repent of their sin, as well as accept Godly counsel and God’s teachings or reject the later and live their life as an unbeliever (Matt. 7:13-14). Consequently, because believers are chosen and called to be holy before God (Eph. 1:4-5; 1 Pet. 1:15), they must cut-off close ties with this person (2 Thess. 3:6, 14; 1 Co. 5:11; Titus 3:10-11, 2 Co. 6:14) who has chosen not to walk in accordance to God’s teachings, but that of an unbeliever (2 John 1:10-11).
In regards to the counseling process within a Christian environment (i.e. church or ministry), confidentiality is not as restrictive between a counselor and a counselee as it is in a non-Christian environment (i.e. private or agency practice by a licensed counselor). In a non-Christian environment, there exist laws that keep ninety-some percentile of counseling work exclusively between the counselor and the counselee; with a few exceptions concerning minors, danger towards the counselee and others (this varies from state to state), as well as probable subpoenas for presenting information in court; to name a few.
However, in a Christian environment, such as the church, a counselor should establish guidelines and be certain that the counselee understands the limits of confidentiality that exist within such a setting; preferably affirmed with a signed consent form. Additionally, some guidelines should be set in regards to counseling someone of the opposite sex as well as limiting disclosed information to as few people as possible. Other guidelines may consist of informing the counselee of probable disclosure of their response to sin in accordance to biblical church discipline guidelines, limited disclosure when working with minors, and how there is no guaranteed or solid promise of absolute confidentiality, especially if there is a threat to the counselee’s life, the life of others, and the integrity of the Body of Christ.
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R. A. Gómez