VIII. THE DISCIPLINE OF THE CHURCH
I personally have only been in a church involved in church discipline
one time and that fairly recently. Church discipline is a topic that many
let slip for many years. It is coming back into the foreground again for
which we should be very thankful.
It is the means of keeping the local assembly pure, and it is a needed
tool at times.
It is not hard to recall a minister that has fallen from his position
due to immorality or theft. It is not hard to remember several members
of local congregations that have gone off into open sin. The hard thing
to recall or remember may be that any of these people were ever disciplined
for their activity.
In the past there have been many that have taken church discipline very
seriously. We have a series of Questions and Answers from history that
were set forth by Menno Simons in 1550 concerning how the disciplined person
should be treated. The "ban" in these questions refers to the fact that
the sinner is banned from the local congregation.
I would like to share some of these questions for you. So you can see
how seriously some believers in the past were about discipline.
"Should husband and wife shun each other on account of the ban?"
"Should we greet one that is banned, with the common, everyday greeting,
or return our respects as his greeting?"
"Are we allowed to show the banned any charity, love, and mercy?"
"Are we allowed to sell to, and buy of, the apostates....?"
"Are we allowed to be seated with an apostate in a ship or wagon, or
to eat with him at the table of a tavern?"
We might assume from the questions on the ban, that these people were
serious about what the word says about church discipline.
I read an article some time ago that mentions a study in the south.
The author had done some research on church discipline in a specific area
(Mississippi). The church members did not know of any serious church discipline,
except for one person that remembered a discipline of a singing star in
Hollywood. The point? Church discipline is not a common thing.
Someone has, tongue in cheek suggested, that church discipline today
is the pastor and elders keeping quiet about the sin in deacon Jones life
so that he won't rock the financial boat.
To say the least, discipline is not a prime topic of activity or discussion
these days in the local church, yet the Bible very clearly teaches that
open sin should be dealt with by the church body.
Let us define church discipline as the correction of action, or the
removal of the erring believer from the local church body, for the purpose
of correction and/or restoration. This is normally undertaken for immorality
or deviation from approved doctrine.
At the outset we must realize that discipline is NOT to make the church
sinless. It is to maintain a proper testimony before the world. Anyone
thinking that discipline can make the church sinless does not understand
the teaching of man and his relationship to sin.
Matt 5:23-24 is a text that would indicate we should be right with any
brother that has anything against us before we offer to God. This is under
the law but in the New Testament context I would assume we could apply
this to coming before God with our gifts or offerings.
In short if we have
anything against a brother, we should settle it before we move into a place
where we are approaching the Lord.
This alone would eliminate many of the problems of the church. We need
to work on these items as we attempt to build a body for the Lord.
Matt. 18:15-17 is the text which gives us the guidelines for correcting
a brother. If you have a problem go to the brother alone and confront him.
If this does not work take one or two with you so all can be established
in front of witnesses. If this fails then tell it before the church. If
this also fails then "let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a tax
Some might wonder if this text is appropriate for the church age. The
fact that it appears after Matthew 13 where the Jews seem to reject the
Messiah, and He begins to teach of things other than the millennial kingdom
indicates that it is for this age. Even if you saw it for the kingdom age
the principles seem to be good, and I think some of these ideas are born
out in the epistles.
Most definitely the most drastic account of church discipline is found
in Acts 5. Ananias and Saphira have lied to the church and more specifically
to God, and their discipline is very quick and strong. Their lives are
taken upon confrontation with their sin. This is a text which relates to
the apostolic leadership however the idea that the sin was confronted and
cared for immediately should be usable to us today. Note should be made
that it was God that took their lives and not the church. The church confronts
and in our age takes action of reprimand and/or removal. This is the extent
of the churches authority. God may and I personally believe in some cases
does, take further action in the lives of unrepentant believers. I believe
that John 15:1-14 and I Corinthians 11:30 show that God may remove a sinning
believer that is unwilling to turn from their sin from this life.
In Rom. 14:1-15:1 Paul sets down some principles for handling differences
of opinion. This chapter shows clearly that differences of opinion are
not in view for church discipline. These items are of personal decision
and Paul lays down principles to deal with these situations.
The basis for removal of an erring believer from the assembly is based
on I Cor. 5:4-11. I would like to consider this for a moment. First of
all is this a believer or nonbeliever? It seems to most that this is a
believer for we see in verse 5 that Paul is concerned for his soul. If
this was a nonbeliever their soul would be on the way to destruction and
there would be no need to turn it over to Satan.
Some suggest that verse 11 mentions him as being a so called brother
or lost ("...any man that is called a brother...."). However, the context
seems to shift in verse 9 from the man in sin to another topic.
This man was involved with his fathers wife. Paul is quite plain there
is a problem and that it should be dealt with. Verse 7 uses the terminology
that indicates the removal of the person from the church assembly. "Purge
out." The term purge would indicate there is to be a cleansing action in
the whole process. If you have removed a man that is in open sin, you certainly
are cleaning up the church.
In verse 5 they are to deliver him to the Devil for the destruction
of his flesh. The purpose of discipline is seen in 7 and 8. Sin is like
leaven and you must get it out of the lump before it leavens the whole
lump. (Leaven is the same as yeast.) Leaven is usually seen as a type of
sin in the Bible.
I have wondered if Paul's choice of words wasn't deliberate. "Puffed
up," would picture a lump with leaven throughout - fully raised. His comments
then in 7 & 8 would call on them to clean out that pride - which is
sin - they can be a new lump. Indeed Vs 6 indicates this.
It seems somewhat hard to envision a church that is proud of the sin
that is within. The idea may be they were proud of how tolerant they were
of the sinners. Tolerance is not something that is to be desired in the
church, be it tolerance of sin, tolerance of false doctrine, or tolerance
of improper activities.
We attended a Sunday School class in the South while on vacation and
the teacher was involved in this idea of being pleased about how tolerant
the people in her church were of one another. She mentioned they even had
fundamentalists and liberals in the church and they all got along fine.
That is not getting along, that is being tolerant of false doctrine in
your church assembly!
We need to look briefly at II Cor. 2:6-11 before we move on. Most agree
that this is speaking of the man in I Cor. 5 that was to be put out of
the church. Paul tells them to commend their love to him and to forgive
him and comfort him. Restore your fellowship with him would be the idea
of the text.
Another text which relates to the topic is Gal. 6:1,2. If anyone be
taken in a fault restore him in meekness. The warning also is given to
consider yourself so that you aren't tempted in the same manner.
The question is, "Does this relate to church discipline?" Specifically
I would doubt it. It seems more of a generic type sin rather than immorality
etc. The principles set forth may well apply however. Restore in meekness
- and seeing to it that you don't become tempted. Along with this we must
not forget that Christ was very forceful when he ran the money changers
out of the temple (John 2:12-17), and most consider him meek.
There seems to be evidence that unruliness or disobedience is also a
basis for taking steps of discipline. I Thes 5:14 "Now we exhort you, brethren,
warn them that are unruly, encourage the fainthearted, support the weak,
be patient toward all men." II Thes. 3:6,14,15, mentions that we should
withdraw from those that are disorderly and those that walk not after "the
tradition which he received of us." Verse 14 tells us to "have no company"
with anyone that disobeys the words of the epistle.
The elders or church leaders are not exempt from the possibility of
discipline. I Tim. 5:19,20, "Against an elder receive not an accusation,
but before two or three witnesses. Them that sin rebuke before all, that
others also may fear." Trouble with elders should be heard only if two
or three witnesses are available. Then confront him before the assembly.
In our "don't scare people" atmosphere today we don't dwell on the aspect
of hell because we don't want to scare anyone into heaven. This text tells
us that disciplined people will cause fear in the assembly. Fear is not
the best motivation to obedience however, the Word states that it is a
Titus 3:10-11 sets a basis for discipline for divisiveness. "A man that
is an heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject, Knowing that
he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself."
This verse tells us to reject after the second admonition the heretic.
The term heretic seems to have the idea of one that is divisive.
Another text which we need to look at is II Jo 7-11. First of all we
need to see that verse 7 shows these to be lost people! This seems quite
clear that we are to have no part with "RELIGIOUS" people that have a wrong
view of Christ. This would be in the realm of having them in our homes
for hospitality and encouragement. I'm not sure it prohibits having them
in to witness to them yet I'm not sure that is a good idea either. You
might run into difficulties. We can certainly witness to them - that is
not a thought in the text!
From what we have seen there is plenty of evidence to show that we should
and must discipline believers that are in sin. If we do not then we are
allowing the leaven that Christ spoke of to contaminate the entire assembly.
If we do not discipline, then we invite trouble and strife into our churches.
Discipline is not popular in our churches today. I have talked with
pastors that have taken a needed stand and found themselves questioned
for their activities.
The next question. What offences do we discipline for? I would submit
a list of topics and references for your consideration.
a. Immorality. I Cor. 5
b. Unresolved disputes between brethren. Matt. 18:15-17
c. Elders that sin. I Tim 5:19,20
d. Repeated troublemaking. Titus 3:10
e. Outward sin, such as divorce or immorality.
A related question. Are there others that we should separate from?
a. Those teaching false doctrine. II John 7-11.
b. Professing people involved in fornication, covetousness, idolatry,
railing, drinking or cheating. I Cor. 6:11
We have shown that discipline is Biblical and that it is being ignored
in our day. So, why do churches today fail to discipline? May some possibilities
be set forth for your consideration and future avoidance.
a. Afraid to rock the boat. Financial problems will come if we make
trouble. We might hurt someone's feelings. How would it look to the community?
b. Indifference. We don't care.
c. There is always the usual outcry that "We can't judge." This argument
is illogical. God states that we are to discipline. Thus we must assume
that discipline is not "judging," or else God is telling us to do something
that He has told us not to do. Now, just how logical is that?
All of these allow the leaven to leaven the whole lump.
Now that we see discipline to be correct we need to consider who it
is that should do the disciplining? Yes, the individual should confront,
yes there should be witnesses on the second trip. These witnesses should
be the elders so they are involved from the beginning. Several references
indicate that the elders are the ones to become involved. Acts 20:28 show
the elders over the church. I Thess. 5:12 mentions some are over the church
for the purpose of admonishment. Heb. 13:7,17 mentions those that rule
over the church and that the church is to submit them.
If you have been reading newspapers or listening to the network news
over recent years you know that churches have been sued for disciplining
a member. There is a lot of worry about lawsuits.
First of all we need to remember that the law of man is not the law
of God. God tells us to discipline. If the law of the land punishes us
for doing so, then so be it. We must do that which God has said.
The lawsuits that I have heard about seem to have been caused by improper
application of the discipline. One lawsuit in particular was brought because
the church broadcast the sin of the person far and wide. There is nothing
in the Bible to suggest that we should take out a personal want ad to advertise
a persons sin. We should be as discrete about discipline as possible without
We need to consider a few easy steps of prevention that might save your
church from a lawsuit.
I might suggest an article from Christianity Today, "Church Discipline
Without a Lawsuit" by Carl Laney, Nov. 9, 1984 which deals with this problem.
I have adapted some of Mr. Laney's points into the following list for you
in case the magazine is not available to you.
1. Get insurance for the problem. Some church insurance companies have
it available. We have insurance to avoid lawsuits for accidents etc. so
there should be no real moral question in taking this step. Yes, it is
sad that our Christian society has degenerated to the place where we have
to insure ourselves against such activities, but this is the society that
God has asked us to operate in.
2. Don't slander while the discipline is going on nor after. There is
no need to cause pain and suffering. Present the facts to the church family,
act and keep your mouth shut.
3. Don't spread the information outside the church family. This is a
family problem and there is no need to take it outside the family, no matter
how badly you want to talk about it.
4. Include in your constitution a clause that allows for church discipline.
Have each member sign the constitution as they join the church. This may
or may not take care of the possible situations.
5. Possibly a visit to your lawyer in your state would be of good advantage.
Include just what you believe church discipline is, why it is to be
used, and the procedure which is to be followed. Indeed if there is no
clause in your constitution, put one in and ask all to sign it, be they
new members or old.
Dr. Laney suggests the inclusion of a paragraph which forbids the member
to sue the church leadership or the church if they bring church discipline
action against the member.
I would work into this statement, something that covers you and the
church in case they withdraw membership during the procedure. This would
give them a moral obligation not to sue. You could also include information
on the fact that Scripturally the believer is not to go to law with a brother
5. If someone tells you something in confidence then you are bound to
keep that confidence. If there is a real problem it will probably come
to the surface in time.
I might take a side track for a moment and state there is a real lack
of keeping confidences in the church today. Many of the illustrations I
hear come right out of counseling sessions. That is not confidence!
6. In all of the activities attempt not to embarrass those that are
involved. This can only hurt and bring about hard feelings. The desired
result of discipline is restoration and hard feelings will not aid in this
7. During the process be sure to reveal only the information that is
necessary for a proper procedure. Disclosing all of the little details
is not necessary.
If at all possible, keep all discipline activities within the local
assembly. If the person tries to transfer membership to another church,
you should be bound to let the new church know they are under discipline.
The details may not need to be given unless it affects the new church's
If it is a pastor that is disciplined then there should be contact with
the men of his ordination council, so that proper steps can be taken if
any are needed.
Now, the following is my OPINION! DOCTRINE OF DERICKSON.
If you have someone come to your church for membership from a church
close by, take time to find out why they left the other church. It may
save you a multitude of trouble. Usually when people leave it is because
of problems. You don't need those problems. If this is the case it would
be good to talk to them and ask them to return to their previous church
to solve their problem, and then they can be considered for membership.
8. If a lawsuit comes into your future, find a good lawyer so that you
know you are doing things correctly and seek an out of court settlement.
This will allow you to not go to court with your brother. If this is not
possible, then you are bound by the law of the land to answer the charges
and you must do the best you can to bring about a peaceful end to the matter.
9. Be very careful to inform the congregation. A church in Oregon discovered
a teacher and woman were involved. They were guilty and would not cease
their activity. The elders wanted to keep it quiet because both parties
were very prominent members. The couple left the church voluntarily, but
the elders did not inform the congregation. Rumors began flying and the
elders still kept quiet. Before the situation was over others left because
they mistakenly thought that the elders had kicked the erring couple out
of the church with no reason.
Let's draw some conclusions to our study.
1. Church discipline is not a four letter word. It is taught in Scripture
and we should be practicing it!
2. We need to know our own attitudes. Discipline is to be done in love
and concern for the other person. Forgiveness is the required when confession
and repentance are forthcoming. (I Cor. 5:2; Gal. 6:1; II Cor. 2:7)
3. There should be a restraining influence from discipline upon the
rest of the membership. I Tim. 5:20
4. For the church that is contemplating not bringing discipline I would
recommend they read Rev. 2:12-17
5. I Pet. 1:15 calls us to holiness. II Tim. 3:2 mentions that the elder
is to be "above reproach". I Thess. 5:22 calls us to avoid any appearance
of evil. Let these be your guide.
In light of such verses, we as local churches must maintain the purist
assembly that we can. This comes from personal purity. This comes from
prodding our friends to purity. This comes from purging impurity, if need
Years ago we attended a church in Denver, CO that had a missions conference.
Two missionaries from Africa came to the conference and were talking about
how great the church was doing in Africa. It was growing, it was evangelizing,
it was an alive church.
I asked the two missionaries why the church in Africa was such an alive,
growing church. The younger missionary quipped out some quick answers that
I accepted. (I wasn't convinced that he had answered my question.) The
next day the older missionary came to me and said, "Stan, I think I can
answer your question from last night with one word. "Purity." He went on
to explain that the church was pure on a personal basis and they were pure
on an ecclesiastical basis as well. That was an answer that made much sense.
6. In the end result, I believe our emphasis should be squarely upon
the Word of God. If lawsuits come they come. If bankruptcy comes it comes.
God's Word must stand and we for it!
Mr. Laney ended his article with I Tim. 3 12, "Indeed, all who desire
to live Godly in christ Jesus will be persecuted.."
I suspect that the following is the best policy. PROBABLY THE BEST CURE
FOR CHURCH DISCIPLINE IS CHURCH DISCIPLIN'. If we teach them right there
will be less chance for error.
Some other references which might add to your personal study: Ex. 12:15-19;
Ex. 13:7; Lev. 2:11; Deut. 16:4; Matt. 16:6,12; Mk. 8:15; Lu. 12:1; Gal.
5:9; I Cor. 6:11.