There are many traditions in churches today, many of which are not Biblically founded, yet they are not harmful and can be beneficial (ie "must have" Sunday School). There are other traditions in our churches that once studied from a Biblical perspective, are found to be wrong and unBiblical (ie the world's method of 'dating around' to find a spouse). Then there are other areas and practices that have gotten so far off course, that a fresh study would be of great benefit to correct our methods of practice. One can tell they are getting off course when they 'believe they are doing right" in the matter, but there is not the fruit that God promised there would be. Once such area is this of church discipline-an ignored doctrine in today's churches.
The fruit promised from God's Word is two fold. Either, the transgressor will be convicted and repent and then restored, or the transgressor will be chastened by the Lord even to death so that the spirit may be saved in day of the Lord Jesus (1 Cor. 5:5). The only other option is that the transgressor was never a child of God and thus was living in and by his flesh all along (which is probably the majority, truth be known). Yet, there are not enough "success" stories when it comes to discipline.
A church cannot be a Biblical church without practicing Biblical Church discipline.
The word discipline means training, cultivation, improvement, according to prescribed rules; subordination to law; administration of government and submission to lawfully constituted authority. It comes from the word disco which means 'I learn.' Discipline is the means God gave the church to assure the smooth operation of the organization and the maintenance of proper standards for membership. Its purpose is to prevent, restrain, or remove the evil that may exist, to encourage and protect the right, and to cherish the good; not to satisfy any personal prejudice, but to reclaim the wandering and guide the wayward. (From 50 Lessons on the Church by Normal Wells).
It is to the church that our Lord gave the authority to discipline (Mt. 18:17, 2 Thess. 3:6; Titus 3:10; 1 Cor. 5)
The typical practice of church discipline goes something like this: Larry gets into a vile sin and somebody finds out. They then go and tell the Pastor about Larry and his sin. The pastor will tell the other pastors and deacons about Larry and his sin and start a process from Matt. 18 where he will go and speak to Larry. Take another pastor/deacon and talk to Larry. Should Larry ignore all these, he will then tell the church about Larry's sin and they will 'vote him out'. Is this what is found in Scripture? Repeatedly, we read the goal of discipline is reconciliation! When practiced Biblically, it will be successful.
The greatest blessing that has come to our church over the years has been the result of practicing Biblical church discipline.
The Scriptures give to the church, the authority to discipline. Many call it unloving, yet the opposite is true. (Prov. 13:24; Heb. 12:6; Rev. 3:19)-to discipline is to love! Failure to discipline is failure to love, it is neglect, it is disobedience!
The Great Commission is to Evangelize (reach those on the outside with the Gospel) and to Disciple (train those on the inside). To disciple is to discipline! To teach, train, improve, correct. A church cannot fulfill the great commission without practicing church discipline!
At times discipline is preventative, other times confrontational, but should always be corrective. Discipline is based upon the holiness of God (1 Peter 1:15-16). Discipline helps a church to be holy (Heb. 12:11), to clean out the leaven (1 Cor. 5), and to embrace the holiness of God. Discipline is based upon the commands of God's Word (Matt. 18; 1 Cor. 5; Luke 17). One should discipline because it brings glory to God (Eph 3:21), restores sinning believers (Matt 18:15, Gal 6:1), produces a healthy faith (Titus 1:13), win a soul who is falsely professing (2 Tim. 2:24-26), sets an example for the rest of the Church (1 Tim. 5:20), and protects the church's purity and power (1 Cor. 5:6-7).
Who should be disciplines?Should a church discipline over every sin? Prov. 10:12 says that "love covereth all sins." Ps. 32:1 reads, "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered." It is when there is a transgression that is unrepented of, blatantly participated in, and has caused a separation of fellowship and adherence to God's Word, that a sin must be dealt with. There are some sins so serious that the Bible forbids us from overlooking:
1. Fornication (1 Cor. 5:11)
2. Covetous (1 Cor. 5:11)
3. Idolatry (1 Cor. 5:11)
4. Railer (1 Cor. 5:11)
5. Drunkard (1 Cor. 5:11)
6. Extortioner (1 Cor. 5:11)
7. Heresy (Titus 3:10)
8. Disorderly conduct (2 Thess. 3:6)
9. Laziness-not working when they can (2 Thess. 3:9-13).
10. Those that cause divisions in the church (Rom. 16:17-18).
These are sins that our Lord commands a church to administer discipline over.
So how is the church to practice such discipline Biblically? In Luke 17 we can see another model of discipline. Please note the following from this text:
I. Sin is Present (vs. 1). Offences will come, and they will need handled. Most churches need to quit ignoring sin issues and a constant disregarding of holiness and realize our Lord told us they would be there-Handle them!
II. Simple are Perceiving (vs. 2). The world and a younger generation are watching and learning from how we handle sin. Perhaps this is why we have reared such a generation that doesn't fear God, doesn't hate sin, and is ignorant in church discipline; they never saw the generation before them deal with it! It must be taught that our Lord hates sin and there is a penalty for sin.
III. See it Personal (vs. 3). "If thy brother trespass against THEE." As a church, we are a body, one body, and if part of a body is wrong, it defiles the whole body. As a church, we most take care of our own members.
IV. Steps are Planned (vs. 3-4) If someone is wrong and is in sin such as we have discussed, there are clear Biblical steps to be followed. (Matt. 18)
A. You are to go to the person. Tell him alone, no one else. In that first church, the Lord was the 'Pastor' and the disciples the members. He told THEM to go to the transgressor. In Luke 17 it was the disciples that were to rebuke the transgressor. 2 Thess. 3:6 it is the 'brethren' at the church at Thessalonica that were to rebuke the transgressors. In Romans 16:17 it was the brethren that were to rebuke the transgressor. Each member, as they see the sin, should go to the transgressor discreetly in a spirit of meekness (Gal. 6:1) and confront the sin and call the sinner to repentance. Usually there will be more than one member who sees the transgression taking place and if each member does such privately, the transgressor is being overwhelmed with an outpouring of love and concern for the sinner-it's not just the pastor 'getting on to him.' The normal attitude in response is "well, who am I to judge?" Exactly! This DEMANDS PERSONAL DISCIPLINE AND WILL RESULT IN A PURER CHURCH-exactly why and how our Lord established it.
B. Take another with you to confront the transgressor (vs. 16). If the transgressor will not hear the individuals privately, the member is to take another member with him. This will no doubt enlighten others in the church as to the transgression, will confirm to others the transgression, but will undoubtedly show the transgressor that his church is concerned for him. It is established by the mouth of 2 or 3 witnesses (Deut. 19:15; 1 Tim. 5:19). Now the transgressor is seeing the seriousness of his sin, feels the love from his church, and should be convicted if he is a believer of his sin. Again, it's not the pastor and deacon threatening him, but his church loving him. (I will add here, that a pastor is a member of the church and too should participate in such).
C. Tell it to the Church (vs. 17a). If the transgressor will not hear the individual brethren, nor the 2 or 3 brethren that all have come to him, then it is the responsibility of the members to bring it before the church. By this time, having done all things Biblically, this comes as no 'shock and surprise' to the church, but rather a time of mourning and prayer as a church. The church all has one mind and has seen and attempted to reach the transgressor. Much, much, prayer has been put into the matter. There have not been just two visits by the pastor and deacon, but 50-60 members who all have gone to the transgressor in love. It is now that the entire church is made aware of the transgression and the entire church now has a responsibility to reach the sinner. It is not at this time a vote it taken to remove the sinner. For Scripture teaches then...
D. "If he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen..." (vs. 17). The entire church has now gone to the transgressor. I know I have never seen this done, sadly. One can only imagine the overwhelming of love and concern and conviction this would place upon the transgressor. Unfortunately even then, some will not 'hear the church.' It is then...
E. Regard as a heathen (vs. 17). It is then the transgressor is to be excluded from membership. It is then the church would vote to remove them from the church in hopes that they will be restored as a result of the chastening of God. (1 Cor. 5:13, 11). The transgressor during this time should be treated as a lost person. Would we allow a lost person to come to church? Yes! Would we invite a lost person to the Lord? Yes! Would we fellowship, pray with, observe the ordinances with a lost person? NO! We would be burdened and pray for them in hopes that they get right with the Lord! There is an unBiblical spirit of 'Kick them out' in some churches, when it ought to be a spirit of mourning and calling and praying for reconciliation! Oh that we would reconsider our practicing of church discipline in accordance to God's Word.
V. Summons for Perfection (vs. 5) A proper practicing of church discipline would result in a maturing, increased in the faith, more holy church where sin is acknowledged, abhorred, and abandoned!
May we no longer ignore this doctrine of discipline; but rather practice and truly be a Biblical church!