Gambling, embezzling & church discipline
FRANKFORT, Ky. (BP)--John Fluharty says church discipline saved his life.
Even though Fluharty was a member of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, Ky., he still had major sins in his life. A gambling addiction snowballed until he began embezzling from his employer to fund his habit. But when Buck Run and its pastor, Hershael York, intervened with church discipline, Fluharty repented and began to grow spiritually like never before.
"You're missing something if your church doesn't have church discipline," Fluharty told Baptist Press. "God will give you the wisdom and the courage and the knowledge to get through it, but it has to be implemented."
Fluharty's gambling addiction dated back to before his salvation in August 2005. After making a public profession of faith at Buck Run, he quit gambling for three months but failed to develop devotional habits to help him stay away from his sin. By January 2006, he had started gambling again, and in March the problem escalated to a new level.
Fluharty's wife went on a spring break trip to Florida, leaving him at home. While she was away, he gambled at a feverish pitch.
"That week it was almost like a drug addict going back out and just smoking and snorting anything he can get his hands on," he said. "I was gambling 20 hours a day that whole week."
When his wife returned, Fluharty continued his gambling but concealed it from her. As the gambling got worse, he used a company credit card to gamble and lost more than $20,000. Now in a huge financial hole, Fluharty started embezzling from his employer by selling company products on the side and keeping the profits for himself.
Over several months he embezzled approximately $250,000 through secret meetings with accomplices in the middle of the night and lies to his family and his employer.
In late July his company, the Washington Penn Plastic Company, discovered the theft and fired Fluharty. When Fluharty came home, he was devastated and his wife called York. Initially Fluharty lied to his pastor about the embezzlement, but a short time later the Holy Spirit pricked his conscience and he confessed everything both to his employer and to York.
York explained to Fluharty that the best way to repent from such a public sin was to confess to the church and receive discipline in the form of a public rebuke.
"He said, 'Let's fix it,'" Fluharty said of York. "I promised Hershael that I'd be at church Sunday and that I wanted to go forward and confess everything to the church. I knew the only way for me to get right with God and to recover from this addiction was to be open and honest with everyone."
When Sunday came, Fluharty showed up at Buck Run, walked to the front of the church at a corporate prayer time and confessed to everyone.
Fluharty recounted York announcing to the church, "John has come forward to confess sin in his life. He's committed criminal acts. He is back full-force into his gambling addiction, and he's asking the church for forgiveness and support. And most importantly, he's asking God for forgiveness."
After the confession, the church's deacons laid hands on him, and York publicly rebuked him, letting him know "that sin is not accepted,” Fluharty recounted York saying. “We don't turn our heads from sin. We rebuke it and ask God to help us and get us through it."
Following the rebuke, York prayed for Fluharty.
"The men all put their hands on me, and Hershael said one of the most amazing prayers I've ever heard in my life," he said.
In the days following the church's rebuke, Fluharty began to grow spiritually, developing a prayer life and accountability relationships within the congregation. And he joined a men's small group that met weekly to pray and encourage one another to avoid sin.
Fluharty, whose legal troubles did not result in jail time, said the public confession and rebuke set him on a path to recovery.
"I don't think I could have had the rapid recovery that I had if it hadn't been for everyone praying for me," he said. "It's hard to have a church praying for you when they don't know you have a problem. I believe 100 percent in my heart that the reason my recovery is going the way it is is because I have hundreds of people that pray for me every day."
In addition to providing spiritual support, members of Buck Run also are providing financial support for Fluharty's family as he faces the legal penalties for his sin.
Fluharty is quick to disagree with those who say public discipline in churches is a bad idea because it causes too much shame and embarrassment.
"You should be embarrassed about sin, and you should be ashamed about sin," he said. "And part of getting over the sin is that embarrassment and shame that you have to be put through going in front of the church. I think that if you sin willfully the way I did, you should feel that shame."
York, who also serves as Victor and Louise Lester Professor of Christian Preaching and associate dean of the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., agreed with Fluharty's assessment of discipline.
"Sin always hurts," York told BP. "If we love people, we seek to deliver them from sin. And the cruelest thing we could do is leave them in sin. Most people have an aversion to church discipline because they feel like it really hurts people's feelings.
"It's not their feelings I care about, it's their souls. Obviously I want to do it as sensitively as possible, but I've got to think about their eternal souls more than I care about their feelings. It's certainly worth the risk of hurting someone's feelings or even alienating their family if it's going to deliver their soul from hell."
Fluharty said he wants to tell his story to others so that churches can help other believers defeat sin by disciplining them when appropriate.
"If I tell this to 10,000 people and one is helped, it's worth it," he said.
Churches or organizations interested in contacting Fluharty about speaking or sharing his testimony may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 502-695-4482.