Reasons to Practice Church Discipline
Paul Dean Dr. Paul J. Dean's Weblog
- 2005 Jul 07
Far too often in the Christian church today we hear of epidemic divorce, rampant immorality, sexual perversion, and a host of other dynamics the Scripture calls sin including social/psychological problems, disorders of one variety or another, and unchecked emotional responses to one's circumstances. Paul's affirmation of 1 Cor. 6:9-11 seems to be something relegated to a bygone era: "Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the Kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the Kingdom of God. And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God." Leaders seem to be content with unchecked sin in the church. Moreover, castigated is the Neanderthal who even thinks of confronting someone with his/her sin. Woe to those who even hint of invoking the barbaric practice of church discipline. "Who are we to judge another any way?"
However, in the Scriptures, as noted, we do find a different sentiment. In1 Cor. 5:1-5, Paul was concerned with blatant immorality going on in the church and commanded the church to put the offender out that he might ultimately be saved. He wrote, "(1) It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father's wife. (2) And you have become arrogant, and have not mourned instead, in order that the one who had done this deed might be removed from your midst. (3) For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present.(4) In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, (5) I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." We too should practice church discipline for a variety of biblical reasons. Seven of those reasons are given in this article.
First, church discipline must be practiced in order to preserve the name of the Lord. In the context immediately prior to v. 1, Paul has just expressed his desire to come to the church at Corinth as a gentle and loving father. He does not want to come with the rod of correction, though he will do so if the "arrogant ones" do not repent. He has given the Corinthians a deferential choice (4:21). Here he continues his thoughts to a certain degree. Previously, he was concerned primarily with arrogant leaders who were leading the people astray through factionalism, slander, and abuse of power. Here, while it may appear he is only concerned with an individual who has fallen into immorality, he is still concerned with the spiritual leadership in the church. He is concerned, in this instance, with their tolerance of sin in the camp. Moreover, Paul is concerned in this regard with the church as a whole and indeed the affect the sin will have upon the church. He is astounded at what he has heard. Note his astonishment with this statement: “it is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father's wife."
The Greek word for "actually" or "commonly" refers to that which is whole or complete. Some commentators believe that Paul is maintaining that the report he has is common. That is, a number of people have come to him with this report of immorality which implies that this sin is widely known. Thus, the KJV renders the phrase "it is reported commonly that there is fornication among you..." Other commentators take Paul to mean that the whole story has been reported to Paul. Because the word has both connotations, it is hard to know which meaning Paul has in mind. The problem is complicated with other translators who use the word "actually" to connote surprise, disbelief, and/or astonishment. No doubt a tone of astonishment is implicit in Paul's statement. While admitting this dynamic, we lean toward translating the word "commonly" for three reasons. First, if Paul had wanted to use a word to connote astonishment, i.e. "actually," he could have chosen a word to do so. The astonishment we see is by implication only. Second, we doubt Paul is expressing the idea that he has the whole story. Rarely do we get the whole story, particularly when the story is given second-hand. Moreover, even if Paul had the whole story, his statement of this fact may be deemed superfluous. Third, Paul resorts to open rebuke in this letter. It is unlikely he would have done such a thing if this sin had not been widely known.
So, Paul says that a report has come to him from more than one source, or, that a report has come to him that what is going on in the church is widely known. Either way, Paul deemed the report/reports he had to be reliable. He was convinced that "fornication" or "immorality" was in the church. The Greek word behind "fornication/immorality" is porneia, from which we get our word pornography. This word has a wide range of meaning and is often used to refer to adultery, bestiality, homosexual relations, or any other form of sexual abuse or perversion. Here, we learn that Paul is referring to incest.
Paul affirms his consternation in this matter with his description of the sin. The porneia of which he speaks is of a sort that "does not exist even among the Gentiles," namely, "that someone has his father's wife." No doubt the Jewish element within the church would have felt the sting of Paul's rebuke with his reference to the Gentiles. At the same time, the Gentiles would have felt the sting as well in that they had been delivered from darkness to light. They knew that believers did not engage in the sins of the pagans round about them. But, even the pagans did not do what this so-called believer was doing. This man was "[having] his father's wife." That is, a son was having sexual relations with his step mother. This dynamic is a strict violation of Old Covenant law, and indeed the New Covenant law of Christ. We presume the father was still living. Thus, not only do we see incest, but we see adultery, deceit, covetousness, stealing, and so much more. Paul is indeed astonished.
Why is Paul so shaken? He is shaken because immorality is grievous in any case. Immorality among God's saints brings reproach upon the name of Christ, brings darkness to the glory of Christ, and brings shame upon the church of Christ. It is especially reprehensible in perversion cases.
Second, church discipline must be practiced in order to subdue the pride of the saints. In v. 2, Paul is no doubt referring to the leadership of the church. At the same time, he seems to have the entire church in mind as the issue of discipline ("removed from your midst") is a church matter. If the sin were not widely known, the church would not as yet bear responsibility. Here, the sin is known and the church has a responsibility to maintain purity in its midst. Thus, Paul now charges the entire church with arrogance. "And you have become arrogant, and have not mourned instead, in order that the one who had done this deed might be removed from your midst."
Why does Paul charge the church with arrogance? The first implication of Paul's charge is that they had been so focused on their factions, worldly wisdom, and giftedness that they were not concerned with sin in the camp. The second implication is that they abused the grace of God. They were continuing in sin that grace might abound. The third implication is that they did not view the sin as something with which they needed to deal. In their mind, it was not their responsibility. The fourth implication is that they did not view this sin as serious. They either overlooked it, scoffed at it, laughed at it, ignored it, or engaged in any combination thereof. Thus, Paul says to them, "[you should have] mourned instead." They should have grieved over the sinning individual and his rebellion. They should have grieved over the destruction of a family in the church. They should have grieved over the shocking and perverse nature of the sin. They should have grieved over the reproach it brought upon the church and the name of Christ. They should have grieved over the fact that the blood of the covenant had been trampled underfoot and that God's glory had been exchanged for a lie. Pride causes us to presume upon grace, condone gross sin, ignore the Scripture, and harm our brethren.