“A man left the church many years ago, and lived a sinful life. After years of being away, he has started attending again. The elders here have talked with him about his sin and he acknowledges his wrong, but has not yet made a clean break with his past. Some people in our church think this sinner should not be allowed to worship here. What do you think?”
I believe the following incident from Luke 19:5 – 10 applies to this situation. . .
When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (New American Standard Bible)
When Jesus chose to eat with a known and notorious sinner like Zaccheus, His critics grumbled as well. Jesus explained that His mission was to find people just like Zaccheus and save them. How can we work with God to save sinners without getting to know them and accept them? We can’t. Jesus went to sinners, welcomed sinners and found ways to forgive and redeem sinners.
The impression I receive from your question is that this man wants to change and do what is right, but so far is unable to make the break. The question becomes, how can those of us who are part of God’s body encourage this man in his thinking. We know Jesus came to seek and save the lost. Our task is to cooperate with Him in this task. Telling this man he cannot worship there until he is good enough seems to be harsh and legalistic. After all, Jesus ate with Zaccheus before that sinner repented.
I know God wants His church to be pure. . .
“I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one.” (1 Corinthians 5:9 – 11; New American Standard Version)
The apostle Paul gives instructions about withdrawing fellowship from those Christians who live immoral lives. This man has not been in your fellowship for years. Spiritual men have confronted him with his sin. He admits he was wrong and wants to change. Since his goal is the same as yours (a redeemed soul that is forgiven and living for God), this sort of church discipline would not apply.
Keeping this man out would not keep the church pure. I believe such attitudes and actions would keep the church from reaching the lost.