A Healthy Church Member Seeks Discipline (Part1)

August 3, 2014 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos


We are looking at a series on marks of a healthy church member and I am following the titles of the chapters in the book by Thabiti Anyabwile, “What is a Healthy Church Member?”

I have already presented six marks of a healthy church member and they are the following:
  1. Is an Expositional Listener
  2. Is a Biblical Theologian
  3. Is Gospel Saturated
  4. Is Genuinely Converted
  5. Is a Biblical Evangelist
  6. Is a Committed Member
Today, we are going to look at the seventh markand that is a healthy church member seeks discipline. As we look at this topic, let us ask ourselves these questions:  
  1. Is all discipline negative?
  2. What is “church discipline”?
  3. Where does the Bible mention church discipline?
  4. Why is church discipline necessary?
  For now, I will deal with those questions but next week, the Lord willing, we are going to look at the more practical question of how to implement church discipline.  

I. Is all discipline negative?

  Thabiti Anyabwile writes:   Today, when people hear the word discipline, they most likely think of negative forms of punishment like spanking a rebellious child. … But actually, the word discipline has a much broader and more positive meaning…Discipline and disciple share the same Latin root and are tied closely to the idea of education and order. The disciple is a student, one who participates in a certain discipline, who learns a profession, or who masters a body of thought. Such a person has his or her life ordered under or by the rules of a trade. So professional athletes abide by the rules of their sports. … Doctors adhere to the principles of the American Medical Association or the Hippocratic Oath. All of these are disciples of and disciplined by the principles of their field.   The same is true with the church. Discipline and order in the church provide an atmosphere for the growth and development in the lives of individual believers. It leads to Christlikeness.   Two forms of discipline occur in the life of healthy churches: formative discipline and corrective discipline. Both of these approaches to discipline have their origin in the Word of God as we see in 2Ti 3:16.   Let us look at that verse for a moment:   “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”   What this verse says is that God’s Word has two general purposes.   Anyabwile writes:   When Paul writes that the Scripture is “profitable for teaching” and “for training in righteousness,” he is describing positive or formative discipline. Formative discipline refers to how Scripture shapes and molds the Christian as he or she imbibes its teaching and is trained to live for God. While medical doctors are governed by the standards and oaths of their profession, Christians are shaped and governed by the Word of God.   Likewise, when Paul refers to Scripture as profitable “for reproof, for correction” he is describing how the Word of God confronts us and turns us away from error to righteousness. This is corrective discipline.   The vast majority of discipline in any church will be positive or formative discipline as people grow from the preached Word, as they study the Scriptures in personal devotion, and as they are shaped by fellowship and encouragement from brethren in Christ. But from time to time a brother or sister will indulge in sin and need loving reproof or correction from other members of the church who are committed to the welfare of his or her soul. …   No one lives an entire life without the need of discipline whether positive or corrective. So the healthy church member embraces discipline as one means of grace in the Christian life.    

II. What is Church Discipline?

  To many,church discipline sounds hash, something to be avoided or something that only unkind, unmerciful, legalistic, ungracious, holier-than-thou, and judgmental people pursue. The usual thing that they say is something like, “Didn't Jesus say, ‘Judge not, lest you be judged’?”   Some give lip service to church discipline by saying, “Yes that is in the Bible” but they quickly give the worst examples of those who have implemented discipline in their churches so that in effect they are saying, it should no longer be practiced because it is often abused. But that would be like saying, let us stop riding cars, buses and jeepneys, and boats and airplanes, because accidents happen on the roads, shipscollide with other ships and sink, and planes get shut down by missiles.   Evangelicals have long recognized that church discipline is one of the marks of a true church. One of the oldest doctrinal standards of the church that came from Protestant Reformation of the 16th century is the Belgic Confession written in 1561. This is how it describes the true church:   The marks by which the true Church is known are these: If the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if she maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in punishing of sin; in short, if all things are managed according to the pure Word of God, all things contrary thereto rejected, and Jesus Christ acknowledged as the only Head of the Church. Hereby the true Church may certainly be known, from which no man has a right to separate himself.     And so what is church discipline?   Our SDG Church Manual sates:   Church discipline is the process of trying to restore a professing believer, caught in a state of continuous unrepentant sin, to a state of obedience to God.   Jonathan Leeman:   Church discipline is the process of correcting sin in the life of the congregation and its members. This can mean correcting sin through a private word of admonition. And it can mean correcting sin by formally removing an individual from membership. Church discipline can be done in any number of ways, but the goal is always to correct transgressions of God’s law among God’s people.   Carl Laney in his book A Guide to Church Discipline defines Church Discipline in this way:   Church Discipline is the loving confrontations and gentle corrections or similar measures taken by an individual, church leaders or congregation regarding a matter of sin in the life of a believer for the purposes of restoring him to a godly life, reconciling him to other brethren and maintaining purity, power and progress in the church.   Laney adds:   Congregational discipline is really an act of discipleship which functions as the corollary of evangelism. Evangelism ministers to those outside the church who are in bondage to sin. Congregational discipline ministers to those within the church who are in bondage to sin.   Church Discipline functions in the same way as the rod of discipline works in the life of a child. Proverbs 22:15 says, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.” Its results are no different from the results of God’s discipline found in Hebrews 12:10-11 ESV   For they (i.e. our fathers) disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.  11  For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.   It is sad to that many evangelicals today abhor the idea of church discipline. It may sound like the Inquisition to some people. (The Inquisition is a religious court of justice established by Pope Gregory IX c. 1232 for the suppression of heresy. It was active chiefly in northern Italy and southern France, becoming notorious for the use of torture.)   Church discipline is one of the greatest blessings the Lord has given to Christian community. This is one of God’s chief instruments to produce spiritual maturity and perfection in His children.  

III. Where does the Bible mention church discipline?

  There are many Bible passages we could look at concerning discipline but let us look at some of them:  
  • Mt 18:15-17
  • 1Co 5:1-13
  • Gal 6:1
  • 2Th 3:6-15
  • 1Ti 1:19-20
  • 1Ti 5:19-20
  • Tit 3:10-11
  Taking all of these passages together, we see that God cares about both our understanding of His truth and our living it out. He cares especially about how we live together as Christians. All kinds of situations mentioned in these passages are, according to the Bible, legitimate areas for our concern—areas in which we as a church should exercise discipline.   Did you notice how serious were the consequences of the sins mentioned in those passages?  
  • 1Co 5:2 - Let him who has done this be removed from among you.
  • 1Co 5:5 - you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,
  • 1Co 5:9,11 - But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler —not even to eat with such a one.
  • 1Co 5:13 - “ Purge the evil person from among you.
  • 2Th 3:6 - keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.
  • 2Th 3:14-15 - If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.
  • 1Ti 1:20 - I have handed over to Satan
  • 1Ti 5:20 - As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.
  • Tit 3:10 - As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him
  Is Paul just an unusually severe kind of man? What did Jesus say about the person who refused to listen even to the church? “If he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Mt 18:17).This is what the bible says about church discipline.  

IV. Why is church discipline necessary?

  1. To reclaim offending brethren.
  1. Matthew 18:15 "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.
  Notice the word “gained” in verse 15. The Greek term is translated and used in several ways in the NT.  
  • Sometimes it means “to gain,” “to accumulate,” “to earn” or “to make” money. Matthew 25:17 ESV So also he who had the two talents made (or gained) two talents more.
  • Sometimes it is used in the sense of gaining possession of something which is or great worth. Philippians 3:8 ESV … For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain
  • Sometimes it also means to win a person to Christ or to save an unbeliever.1 Corinthians 9:20 ESV To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law.
  And so putting all of those ways the NT translates the Greek word, we get a better understanding of the goal of church discipline. The clause in Mt 18:15, “you have gained your brother” includes the idea of gaining possession of something which is of great worth. This pictures the sinning brother as a lost valuable treasure that needs to be regained or won over to God’s side. Its purpose is to save a person from his backslidden condition and restored to walking according to God’s standard once again.    
  1. Galatians 6:1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
  The Greek verb translated “restore” is a medical term used in secular Greek for setting a fractured bone. It is also often used of mending what is broken and torn as in a broken and torn net that needs mending. What is wrong in the life of the fallen Christian is to be set straight. He must be restored to healthy state so that he can be used again for God’s purposes and glory.  
  1. 1Corinthians 5:5 - you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.
  The man in Corinth (1Co 5:1-5) thought that it was OK to have an affair with his stepmother. He though he was in good standing with God. Out of our love for him Paul wanted to see church discipline practiced. He did not want the offender to be hardened and confirmed in his sin. “Deliver to Satan” is a strong term for excommunication or placing a person outside of the church, back in Satan’s domain. This in turn leads to extreme physical suffering or illness or even physical death which lead the offender to repentance and salvation.   From those passages we learn thatthe purpose of discipline is to restore the sinning brethren to right conduct and right relationship with God and fellow men. It is intended to bring them back into God’s holy and righteous standards. It is to help those who are blinded or deceived by sin to come to their senses and turn away from the error of his way. To put it in another way, church discipline helps our sinning brethren to get back into the path towards perfection in Christ.   Joshua Harris: Why should you be excited about the potential of being expelled from a church? I gain a wonderful sense of protection in knowing that if I committed a scandalous sin and showed no repentance, my church wouldn't put up with it. They would plead with me to change. They would patiently confront me with God’s Word, and eventually, if I refused to change, they would lovingly kick me out. … Church discipline is an expression of love. It’s a way to try to restore a sinning brother as well as a way to protect the witness of the church.  
  1. To deter others from sin.
  1 Timothy 5:20 ESV  As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.   That verse is in the context of discipline of Elders. Paul told Timothy that if a leader continues in sin he should be rebuked publicly so that the rest of the congregation will be afraid to commit the same sins.   I think this is the same effect that we see in Acts 15:5, after Ananias and Sapphira were killed by the Lord because of their sin of lying. And great fear came upon all who heard of it.   We have a similar effect in the book of Deuteronomy where we have Laws Concerning Witnesses.   Dt 19:15-20 “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established. 16 If a malicious witness arises to accuse a person of wrongdoing, 17 then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days. 18 The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, 19 then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. 20 And the rest shall hear and fear, and shall never again commit any such evil among you.  
  1. to purge out of the evil influence that might infect the local church.
  • Paul asks rhetorically in 1Co 5:6-7, “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?”
  • 1Co 15:33 - 33 Do not be deceived: “ Bad company ruins good morals.”
  • Titus 1:10-11 - For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.
  • Illustration: a divisive spirit.
  1. To maintain the corporate witness of the church.
  • Mt 5:16 - In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
  • Jn 13:34-35 - A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
  • 1Co 5:1 - It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father 's wife.
  • 1Pe 2:12 - Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
  Mark Dever:   Church discipline is a power tool in evangelism. People notice when our lives are different, especially when there’s a whole community of people whose lives are marked by genuinely trying to love God and love one another. When churches are seen as conforming to the world, it makes our evangelistic task all the more difficult.   The state of the churches in America today is not good. Even if the membership numbers of some groups look okay, as soon as you ask what the membership numbers actually stand for you start finding the trouble.   Illustration:   Dr. William Russell Owen is accredited with the statement that of all the present day church members,
  • 5% do not exist,
  • 10% cannot be found,
  • 20% never pray
  • 25% never attend the services,
  • 30% never read the Bible,
  • 40% never give,
  • 50% never attend Sunday night services,
  • 60% never give to missions,
  • 75% never accept any responsible position,
  • 85% never go to prayer meeting,
  • 90% never practice family worship,
  • and
95% never win a soul to Christ
  1. To prevent giving cause for God to set himself against the local church.
  • 1 Corinthians 11:31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.
  • Revelation 2:14-25 tells us how sin within the local fellowship in Pergamum and Thyatira resulted in God dealing with them directly.
  1. To glorify God, as we reflect His holiness.
  This is the most compelling reason to practice church discipline.  
  • Tit 2:4-5 - and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.
  • Titus 2:9-10 Slaves are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well- pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.
  • 1Pe 1:14-16 - As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.
  God’s holiness was the reason for correction and even exclusion in Old Testament times, as God fashioned a people for himself. This was also the basis for shaping the New Testament church (2Co 6:14-7:1).   14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,    “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,and I will be their God,and they shall be my people.17 Therefore go out from their midst,and be separate from them, says the Lord,and touch no unclean thing;then I will welcome you,18 and I will be a father to you,and you shall be sons and daughters to me,says the Lord Almighty.”   1 Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.   Christians were supposed to be conspicuously holy, not for our own reputation but for God’s. We are to be the light of the world, so that when people see our good deeds they will glorify God (Mt 5:16). Peter says the same thing in 1Pe 2:12 “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”   God wants His people to reflect His holy character. The picture of the church at the end of the book of Revelation is of a glorious bride who reflects the character of Christ Himself, while “Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Rev 22:15).   Biblical church discipline is simple obedience to God and a simple confession that we need help. We cannot live the Christian life alone. Our purpose in church discipline is positive for the individual disciple, for other Christians as they see the real danger of sin, for the health of the church as a whole, and for the corporate witness of the church to those outside. Most of all, our holiness is to reflect the holiness of God.These are the reasons why seeking Biblical church discipline is a mark of a healthy church member.