There is something missing in many churches. Something God commands.
Heresy, immorality, and the dissolution of any sort of personal responsibility and accountability have led to many church splits and left scores of destroyed and disillusioned believers in its wake. I heartily agree with R.C. Sproul who states, “The church is called not only to a ministry of reconciliation, but a ministry of nurture to those within her gates. Part of that nurture includes church discipline.”
Just as in the home there must be re-enforcement of good behavior and the discipline of those who offend, so also in the church (a corporate representation of the many families that make up the church) there must be the exercise of discipline.
When Scripturally-based churches neglect Biblical church discipline, they risk conflict that will erode their legacy of faith.
Jesus in the Great Commission described two church pillars:
"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Matthew 28:19-20
The mission of the church is twofold:
Evangelism: to minister to those who are outside the community of faith and proclaim to them the good news.
Discipleship: to disciple those within its walls. The root of the word “discipleship” is discipline.
I am not suggesting the church is to be in the business of punishment. Punishment is done for the sake of the “punisher” not for the nurturing or teaching of the “offender.” Parents who punish their children are seeking relief from their own frustration and impatience. Discipline is a teaching moment designed to help the “offender' to repent and put on God's righteousness.
Many churches are rich with great teaching programs, Bible studies, and opportunities to cultivate community. And these are all forms of discipline, or disciple building. These are necessary and effective means for correcting wrong behavior before it affects a person's testimony or the peace and reputation of the local church. But God's Word defines discipline and its purposes with an even broader brush:
"In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: 'My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, 6because the Lord disciplines those He loves, and He punishes everyone He accepts as a son.' 7Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?" Hebrews 12:4-7
Do not be confused. The “discipline” we are not to make light of is the root word pais and refers to a child. It originally meant to bring up a child, to nurture a child toward moral maturity. Parents are to apply discipline to their children in order to guide them to conform to the Word of God. In essence, the programs designed to nurture and teach the disciplines of grace in our churches are this type of discipline.
But the punishment, i.e. mastigo, of “everyone He accepts as a son…” is another layer of godly discipline. This action is not designed to hurt God's children. The real punishment for our sins involves the vicarious punishment of Christ on the cross.
"Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. 5But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed." Isaiah 53:4-5
This layer of discipline is those trials God sovereignly ordains to come into our lives in order to unbolt us from our love affair with the world. The control we have over these circumstances lies in our response - will we choose to see God's hand and know He has a purpose that will make us more like His Son?
But there is another layer of discipline over which the church has been given control. Many churches do not even know what this is. And church leaders are often fearful of attempting to institute it into the fabric of church life.
We live in a privatized world, that is, what we do in the privacy of our homes is our business, no one else's right? This thinking permeates local churches. But we cannot ignore God's Word:
"What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13God will judge those outside. 'Expel the wicked man from among you.'" 1 Corinthians 5:12-13
"The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him." 1 Corinthians 2:6
God's character demands holiness:
"Be holy, because I am holy." 1 Peter 1:16
"No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." Hebrews 12:11
"Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? 7Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast--as you really are. For Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed. 8Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth." 1 Corinthians 5:6-8
The missing art of church discipline is not my idea. Let God's Word speak to your heart:
"Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him." Titus 3:10
"In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. 14If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. 15Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother." 1 Timothy 5:20
"Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning." 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15
"Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted." Galatians 6:1
"Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us." 1 Peter 2:11-12
God makes clear the purpose of church discipline:
1. To restore a fallen brother or sister
Matthew 18:15 "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over."
2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 "If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. 15Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother."
James 5:20 "Remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins."
2. To encourage spiritual maturity in the Church
Titus 1:13 "This testimony is true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith."
1 Timothy 1:19-20 "Holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. 20Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme."
2. To expose a faulty profession and foster a legitimate conversion.
2 Timothy 2:24-26 "And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will."
3. To protect the church from error and division.
Titus 1:10-11 "For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group. 11They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach--and that for the sake of dishonest gain."
4. To set an example especially to our young people
1 Timothy 5:20 "Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning."
5. To bring about personal introspection
Galatians 6:1-6 "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. 2Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, 5for each one should carry his own load."
6. To guard the mission of the church
Where there is no discipline there is a loss of moral certainty, a resistance against the Holy Spirit and a loss of power.
Revelation 2:1-6 "To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of Him who holds the seven stars in His right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: 2I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3You have persevered and have endured hardships for My name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. 5Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. 6But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate."
I hope these truths draw you into a personal study of Biblical church discipline. In our culture this is a highly emotional topic, neglected but also abused. In a recent sermon series on Church Discipline, I address the subject with much more detail, as well as explain the steps of church discipline, who should discipline and the ultimate purpose of church discipline. I invite you to visit www.markinc.org to learn how you can receive this series of messages.