The Missing Art of Church Discipline, A Biblical Mandate, Pt 2
- 2005 28 Oct
The topic of church discipline is complicated and foreign to the thinking of many in this privatized world. In a previous article, The Missing Art of Church Discipline, Part 1, I showed the Scriptural definition of church discipline, outlined the Biblical mandate for church discipline and seven purposes for church discipline (go to www.markinc.org to read this article). God is clear. Church discipline is a pillar of church life. When it's missing, the church suffers deeply.
God has called the church to be a holy people, a people who, standing out as distinct from the world, proclaim the excellencies of the works of God in Christ. He calls us His ambassadors commissioned to take a message of hope and salvation to a broken world (1 Peter 1:14-16; 2:9-15). If this is to occur, we must be different from the world and church discipline helps us to both remember and maintain that purpose. One of the recurring judgments against the church today as demonstrated in various polls taken across the country is the fact there is little or no difference between the church and the secular world when it comes to attitudes, values, morals, and lifestyle. We have lost our sense of purpose.
In church discipline we must exercise extreme care. Scripture does not warrant the exercise of discipline for an individual or a church's taboos or pet peeves. Scripture, not our opinions or dislikes, must be the guide for what is sin. Further, we must not become hypercritical or speck inspectors.
Those who walk disorderly are to be admonished, warned, and appealed to in love (1 Thessalonians 5:14-15; 1 Timothy 5:1-2; Ephesians 4:15; 2 Timothy 4:2). This admonishing is not restricted to church leaders, but may be done by any person in the body with another, if that person is Spirit controlled and spiritually minded (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:14 with Galatians 6:1).
If there is no response in repentance and obedience, then the sinning believer is to be rebuked publicly and members of the body are to withhold intimate fellowship through the process. (2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15; Titus 3:10; 1 Timothy 5:20).
This action has a two-fold objective: It is to indicate to the offender that his/her action has dishonored the Lord and has caused a rupture in the harmony of the body. The goal is always restoration and the person is still to be counted as a brother (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15). It is to create fear in the rest of the flock as a warning against sin (1 Timothy 5:20).
If there is still no response in repentance and obedience, the church is to apply the procedures of excommunication as directed in Matthew 18:17.
Several examples of church discipline are found in Scripture. The Corinthian believers were to be gathered together in order to take action against the offending brother (1 Corinthians 5:4-5; Romans 16:17; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15; Philippians 3:17-19). This is defined by Paul as punishment inflicted by the majority (2 Corinthians 2:6). As a protective measure, we also find that the whole church in Rome and in Thessalonica were to take action with regard to the unruly and schismatic, not just a few (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15; Romans 16:17).
Discipline must be done by those who are spiritual, truly walking by the Holy Spirit and growing in the Lord (Galatians 6:1).
Discipline must be done in a spirit of humility, gentleness and patience, looking to ourselves lest we too be tempted (Galatians 6:1-2; 2 Timothy 2:24-25).
Discipline must be done without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality (1 Timothy 5:21).
Finally, discipline in the name of our Lord always includes a readiness to forgive. Those who discipline must always be ready and eager to forgive, comfort, and reaffirm their love to the sinning person (2 Corinthians 2:6-8).
The ultimate purpose of church discipline is to protect the purity of the church and encourage believers to live holy lives that reflect the character of God. This is a high, difficult calling, one to which we respond with great humility, even fear and trembling. If we are eager to discipline another, then we are not called by God to do so. Our hearts should be broken that we even must enter into this process.
Church discipline is a difficult topic. To aid in your personal Bible study, I suggest you visit www.markinc.org to learn how you can order my three-part series titled, The Missing Art of Church Discipline: A Biblical Mandate. In these messages, we study countless Scriptures and dig deep to understand this critical pillar of the church.