Church Discipline

 

(Prepared using T.P. Simmons Systematic Theology- See on this website on the Library Page)

 

THREE KINDS OF DISCIPLINE

 

(1) Formative Discipline.

 

The idea here is discipling believers. This consists of teaching the Word of God to Godís people. This is the primary and simplest form of church discipline. It consists of teaching, instructing, and guiding the willing-hearted in the ways of truth and righteousness. This kind of discipline is taught in the following passages of Scripture: Matthew 28:20, Acts 20:20-21; 27-28; Eph. 4:11-16; Col. 1:28; etc. Churches should engage themselves diligently in this form of discipline. This is the best and most satisfactory method of discipline. A church that has a strong and effectual teaching and preaching ministry, will have less need for the other two types of church discipline that will discuss in a moment. Bear in mind that members must be willing and cooperative, and must actively and regularly participate in the discipling process in order for it to be effective. Notice Hebrews 5:12-14, and 1 Peter 2:1-3. (Compare to going to college).

 

(2) Corrective Discipline.

 

But the most diligent formative discipline will not prevent lapses from the straight and narrow path on the part of all believers. Some are sure to be overtaken by sin upon occasion.

 

This class of discipline is spoken of in Gal. 6:1 (READ). Here we are not speaking about the stubbornly and persistently sinful believers, but such as live righteously for the most part, yet are overcome by some temptation or habit, and thus they fall into sin. These are to be restored by the spiritually minded in the church. The spiritually minded in the church should go to those who have erred, and in the spirit of meekness, they should seek to recover the erring from their sin. If this plan is carried out as it should be, many of Godís children will be saved from greatly injuring themselves and the church, that otherwise would result from their protracted sinful state.

 

Another instance of corrective discipline is found in Matt. (18:15-17 READ). Here we have the case of one brother being offended by another brother in the church. Let us notice the order of settling this kind of offence. Keep in mind, this is speaking about personal offences between brethren, and not moral or doctrinal offences.

 

Go to the brother alone (or sister, as the case may be), and tell them of the offense. If they will hear you, and the offense can be resolved, then you have gained your brother, and no one else in the world has to know about the offense.

 

If this doesnít work, then take one or two witnesses from the church, and talk to that brother or sister again. These witnesses are mainly for the purpose of establishing what is said during the meeting, so that later there will be no question as to who said what to whom. And we all know how stories can get twisted around from personal bias.

 

Now, if this action does not solve the problem, and the offending party will not hear or reason with the ďcommitteeĒ (if you will), then the matter should be brought before the church. If the offending party will not hear the church, and follow the judgment of the church in the matter, then this stubborn person should be treated as a heathen and a publican. In other words, they should be excluded from the fellowship of church. This is what the Lord means here. And please bear in mind, the LORD JESUS said it, not me. This is His instruction, not mine. And this is the Biblical process of dealing with personal offences.

 

I only wish that all of us church members would learn to follow this method of resolving personal problems in the church. Too often times we take our problems and offenses everywhere except to the one weíre offended at. This only tends to make matters worse, and tends to make a mountain out of a mole hill, and a major war out of an incidental offense.

 

I want to add some personal advice on this matter of settling offenses. We all would do well to consider what I am going to say. At first, when someone offends us, donít do anything at all. Donít say anything to anyone. Take time to consider and think about the matter. Perhaps we are making something out of nothing. Perhaps the person who offended us really didnít mean to offend us at all. More often than not, they didnít. Maybe we are just out of sorts or in a touchy mood. Maybe it was a real offense, but not really big enough to make an issue of.

 

We need to be long-suffering, and patient, and forbearing with our brothers and sisters. We all have our quirks and idiosyncrasies. We all have our moods swings. We all have our bad days. We all say and do things that may be perceived as offensive. In fact, we might be plain just offensive at times. But may God help us to grow up to where we donít get offended about every little thing.

 

Please donít misunderstand me, Iím not justifying offensive behavior. We need to be equally careful not to offend others by our mannerisms. Some people like to use the excuse ďwell, thatís just the way I amĒ, or ďthatís just my mannerismĒ. Do you know what Godís answer is to you and I when we say such things? God would tell us to ďChange the way you are. Change your behavior. Change your mannerisms.Ē We have Godís Holy Word. We have his blessed Holy Spirit. We have a new nature dwelling in our soul. We have God given pastors and teachers. Change! Change! Change! is the answer of the Spirit unto His people. Letís quit excusing ourselves by blaming our old Adamic personalities. That is just a lazy way to get out of dealing with our need for change and Christian growth in our lives. And by the way, Iíve seen some good, positive growth in some of you sense Iíve been here. I want to say that Iím proud of you, but Iíd better just praise the Lord for His goodness and mercy.

 

Now back to our thought. When we are offended, let some time pass and pray about the matter before doing anything else about it. If in a reasonable amount time the offense still bothers us, and it doesnít look like it will just go away on its own, then follow the pattern of Matthew 18. Donít let it go too long, or it will fester and turn into a root of bitterness, which is much worse. But it is better if we can learn to overlook minor offenses, or take them to the Lord, and then just forgive and forget them without any other action. This is a true token that we are growing in the Lord.

 

Nevertheless, the pattern given in Matthew 18 will be necessary at times, even among the most mature Christians. May we do things Godís way and follow the Biblical pattern in these matters. It is actually required in our by-laws that we follow the pattern given in Matthew 18 for offences. More importantly, it is required by Jesus in His Word to deal with offenses in this way.

 

(3) Excisive Discipline.

 

By excisive discipline is meant the cutting off or excluding of a member of the church for some wicked offense or for a persistent course of sin. No matter how well a church may practice formative and corrective discipline, she will find the necessity,to practice discipline by exclusion from time to time.

 

A. The purposes of excisive discipline.

 

1) The good of the excluded person. Whenever the one excluded seems to be a saved person, this should be the uppermost purpose. And even when it is clear that the offending person is lost, we should hope that his exclusion will help to bring about his salvation.

 

Paul recommended the exclusion of the incestuous man at Corinth first of all for "the destructionof the flesh," that is, the carnal nature, ďthat the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.Ē We should pray for the excluded that God will use the discipline for their own good.

 

In the case of the man at Corinth we see that the discipline accomplished its desired purpose. From 2 Cor. 2:6-8 we see that this man repented. Many erring disciple has been awakened and brought to his senses by exclusion from the church.

 

2) The good of the church. Paul assigned another reason for the exclusion of the man at Corinth. He tells them to purge out the old leaven because "a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump." Cf. 1 Cor. 5:7, 8. The church must exclude the wicked in order to protect the rest of her membership. The example of the wicked, if they are left in the church, will tend to corrupt the entire church.

 

3) The glory of Christ. Even if the church did not need to exclude the wicked for their own sake, or for the protection of the rest of the membership, she should do it for the glory of Christ. The church is His body. It represents Him in the world. It dishonors Him for His body to be defiled with wickedness. Christ certainly was not sinful, vile or wicked, therefore His body must not be permitted to be guilty of these things.

 

B. Offenses worthy of excisive discipline.

 

These offenses may be divided into three kinds; viz.,

 

(a) Personal offenses. We already dealt with personal offenses in Matt. 18:15-18. We want to add one additional note here about personal offenses. A church should not allow a member to bring a grievance against another member before the church, until the two other steps of going to the offending party have been followed.

 

(b) Doctrinal offenses (Rom. 16:17; 1 Tim. 6:3-5.) In these passages, excisive church discipline is what Paul is referring to for those who continuously teach error. Would it be good practice to keep persons in church membership that Paul told the whole church to avoid? And suppose these false teachers insisted on teaching or preaching the church? Would it be wise to permit them to continue as members of the church. NO! It was Paulís intension that false teachers must be excluded from the church for their doctrinal error. Otherwise great harm would come to the church, and many might be led away by their errors and their lives made ship-wreck.

 

We want to note that in the cases we just mentioned, these false teachers were propagating their errors and causing division in the church. Such conduct calls for discipline. The case is different, however, with those who do not understand the truth as they should, but are teachable and do not conduct themselves so as to cause division in the church. It is of this class that Paul speaks when he says. "Him that is weak in the faith receive ye" (Rom. 14:1).

 

(c) Finally, there are the moral offenses. Notice: 1 Cor. 5:1-13, 1 Cor 6:9-11, 2 Thess. 3:6-15.

 

I think these verses cover most of the moral sins and offenses that church members might be guilty of, for which they should be disciplined by exclusion. There should be no question as to Paulís meaning in any of these cases. The language used in 1 Cor. 5 and 2 Thess. 3, clearly speak of church discipline by exclusion from church membership. Those vile sinners who shall not inherit the kingdom of God in 1 Cor. 6:9-11, certainly should not be on the church role! We all were guilty of sins of various kinds, some of them extremely vile sins, but we were washed from our sins, and we donít live in them and practice them anymore as we did when we were unsaved.

 

I want to make a point here about discipline for these kinds of moral offenses. Once it has been established by the church that a person is guilty of moral sins that are worthy of exisive discipline, the church should carry out the discipline without giving the guilty person space to repent. The person should be informed of the disciplinary action that the church is taking, but the church is not bound to, nor should it give the person some period of time to repent before taking the action.

 

Prolonging discipline in these cases only serves to ďleaven the whole lumpĒ. Not only that, but prolonging discipline will also bring the Lordís displeasure, and subsequent judgment upon His church. (Notice Numbers 25:1-13).

 

Now, of course, if the person guilty of the offense realizes the sin that they have done, and come before the church confessing their sin and seeking forgiveness, then I believe the church can except their repentance and forgo the disciplinary action.

 

Conclusion:

 

Being a member of one of the Lordís Churches is serious business. May each and every member of Calvary Baptist Church take our membership seriously, and walk godly, and orderly before the Lord, His church, and the world around us.

 

Church discipline is to be carried out in the spirit of love, and in meekness, and in humility. It is not performed to hurt the guilty party, but to help them, and to restore them into a right place of fellowship with the Lord and with His Church.

 

It is also conducted for the good of the body, for the good of maintaining sound doctrine in the case of doctrinal sins, and for the purity of the body in the case of moral sins.

 

And church discipline is ultimately performed for the glory of the Lord.

 

In every case it should be for the good the offending person, for the good of the church as a whole, and ultimately for the glory of God.

 

If we practice church discipline in consideration of these things, then God will bless our obedience to this important Bible teaching.