A Healthy Church Member Seeks Discipline (Part2)

August 10, 2014 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos

 

We are looking at the seventh mark of a healthy church member. Biblically and historically informed Christians recognize that one of the marks of a true church is that a church practices church discipline.They join such churches and submit to the leaders and to the discipline implemented there. It is sad that this attitude is lacking in most Christians today.

 
In his blog, Southern Baptist Seminary president Albert Mohler, writes the following:
  The decline of church discipline is perhaps the most visible failure of the contemporary church. No longer concerned with maintaining purity of confession or lifestyle, the contemporary church sees itself as a voluntary association of autonomous members, with minimal moral accountability to God, much less to each other.   The absence of church discipline is no longer remarkable--it is generally not even noticed. Regulative and restorative church discipline is, to many church members, no longer a meaningful category, or even a memory. The present generation of both ministers and church members is virtually without experience of biblical church discipline.   As a matter of fact, most Christians introduced to the biblical teaching concerning church discipline--the third mark of the church--confront the issue of church discipline as an idea they have never before encountered. At first hearing, the issue seems as antiquarian and foreign as the Spanish Inquisition and the Salem witch trials. Their only acquaintance with the disciplinary ministry of the church is often a literary invention such as The Scarlet Letter.   And yet, without a recovery of functional church discipline--firmly established upon the principles revealed in the Bible--the church will continue its slide into moral dissolution and relativism. Evangelicals have long recognized discipline as the "third mark" of the authentic church. Authentic biblical discipline is not an elective, but a necessary and integral mark of authentic Christianity.   Last week we looked at some foundational principles connected to church discipline such as
  1. Formative and corrective discipline
  2. What church discipline is
  3. Where the Bible mentions church discipline
  4. Why church discipline is necessary
  Today, we are going to begin looking at more practical issues such as:
  1. How have Christians in the past handled Church discipline?
  2. Why are most churches reluctant to practice church discipline?
  3. Who should the church discipline?
  4. What sins should be disciplined?
  So let’s consider these practical questions:  

I. How have Christians in the past handled Church discipline?

  Christians in the past took church discipline seriously.   Mark Dever, in his book Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, writes that “disciplinary actions were a substantial part of the business at members’ meetings of Baptist church in the 18th and 19th centuries. He quotes a study of churches around that period which reported that “Southern Baptists excommunicated nearly 2 percent of their membership every year”!   It is interesting to find out what sins did these Baptist churches consider of sufficient seriousness to take such action? Here’s what Mark Dever said was practiced in their church, Capitol Hill Baptist church in Washington, about 120 years ago:   Members shall be liable to the discipline of the church for the following causes:  
  • For any outward violations of the moral law.
  • For pursuing any course which may, in the judgment of the church, be disreputable to it as a body.
  • For absenting themselves habitually without good reasons, from the church at the seasons set apart for public worship.
  • For holding and advocating doctrines opposed to those set forth in [the statement of faith].
  • For neglecting or refusing to contribute toward defraying the expenses of the church according to their several abilities.
  • For treating the acts and doings of the church contemptuously, or pursuing such a course as is calculated to produce discord.
  • For divulging to persons not interested, what is done in the meetings of the church.
  • For pursuing any course of conduct unbecoming good citizens and professing Christians.
  Mark Dever says that in their church, “nonattendance … was considered one of the most sinister of sins, because it usually veiled all the other sins. When someone began to be in sin, you would expect them to stop attending.”   In Richard Baxter’s book, Reformed Pastor, he mentioned that that some ancient churches were very strict: whoever was absent from the church for three consecutive Sundays without valid reason was excommunicated.    

II. Why aremost churches reluctant toPRACTICE church discipline?

  From Peacemaker Ministries: Why are so many church leaders reluctant to carry out church discipline?
  • Some leaders fail to understand God-created jurisdictions. They forget that God has given the church and civil government separate but sometimes overlapping responsibilities and authority to deal with conflict (see, e.g., 1 Cor. 6:1-8; Rom. 13:1-6). As a result, they depend too much on civil authorities to handle problems that should be addressed by the church, such as wife abuse.
  • A preoccupation with numerical church growth also can undermine discipline. Feeling constant pressure to increase attendance, some leaders shy away from anything that might displease others or drive some from the church.
  • Other leaders are unwilling or even afraid to confront sin in the church, either because of a natural timidity or because they had a bad experience with confrontation that convinced them never to do it again.
  • Others are so concerned about emphasizing “grace” instead of “law” that they avoid anything that might even appear to be judgmental.
  • Even when pastors believe the church should be exercising discipline, they sometimes fail to do so because they lack adequate training. Since pastors are not trained, they are unable to equip their lay leaders or members.
  • Finally, many church leaders are afraid of being sued by offended members who do not want the church to involve itself in their problems. Such lawsuits do in fact occur, but usually because a church was not properly prepared to exercise discipline.
  • All of these problems are summarized in Jesus’ rebuke to the Sadducees: “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God” (Matt. 22:29). As we dig into God’s Word and draw on the power of his Spirit, we can overcome ignorance and unbelief and restore the ministry of discipline to the church.
  Let me add another reason: Many churches are influenced by the individualistic mentality of today’s culture that says, “My private life is none of your business!”  

III.  WHO SHOULD the church discipline?

  According to the Lord Jesus:   Mt 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.   The kind of person Jesus says we should confront is a “brother.”The term “brother” implies someone who professes to be a Christian and identifies himself or herself with the community of a biblical church. According to 1Ti 3:15, the local church is a household of God so that its members are commonly called brethren.   According to the apostle Paul:   1 Corinthians 5:9-11 ESV  9  I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people--  10  not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.  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.   Notice that Paul says the process of church discipline is not designed for “the immoral people of this world,” but only for those who bear the name “brother” but is immoral in some way. Thus our responsibility to confront specific sin is limited to those who claim to be Christians and share fellowship with others in a Bible-believing church.   When it comes to unsaved people or those who call themselves “Christians” but adhere to a false doctrinal system, our responsibility is to evangelize them. We may discuss some specific sin with them, but it would only be for the purpose of helping them to see their sinfulness and need for a Savior.   Of course, there may be some instances when we need to remove them from the church, as when they are starting to bring division and confusion to the church, or they are bringing trouble to some believers as in cases of swindling, seducing them into immorality, etc.  

IV. What Sins Should BE Disciplined?

Great care must be exercised here.   The Lord Jesus says that we should confront our brother if he “sins,” but what exactly does He mean by this? Should we confront everything we see in someone else that could possibly be wrong, or should we only confront some sins that are “big ones”?   The Bible does not distinguish between “serious” sins, which are open to confrontation, and “minor” sins, which are not.  
  • In 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.
  • Luke 17:3 … If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him…
  (Note: The Greek word for “sins” in the above verses is hamartano, a general term used for any kind of sin.)  
  • Paul said in Gal 6:1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. …
  New Testament examples of sins that were confronted in the early church contain a great variety. They include heinous crimes such as sexual immorality, idolatry, drunkenness (1Cor 5:11), and false teaching (Gal. 1:9; 2 John 9-11), as well as many “everyday” sins like covetousness, hurtful speech, cheating (1Cor 5:11), legalism (Gal. 2:11-14), divisiveness (Titus 3:9-11), personal conflict (Phil. 4:2), deceit (Acts 5:1-6), and even laziness (2Thes 3:6-13).   Let me lay down the general principle:   All violations of the biblical standards of doctrine and behavior require some form of discipline. The corrective action taken will vary according to the reaction of the offender, but known sin requires some response.   Only those who refuse to repent of sins after being confronted with Christ’s demands will undergocorporate church discipline.   Because of the potential extremes in this matter, it will be helpful to provide a clear and complete answer to this question. Let us try to look at this more carefully.  
  1. Discipline only ACTIONS forbidden in Scripture.
  This means we must be careful not to discipline based on a mere preference outside of Scripture.   Romans 14:1-4 ESV  As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.  2  One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables.  3  Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.  4  Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.   
  1. Discipline Onlysins of action
  Evaluating an attitude alone is extremely difficult with our human limitations and judging what is in someone’s heart is simply wrong. A statement like “you have a bad attitude” is frustratingly vague and does not provide a solid foundation for discussion of the problem.  
  1. DISCIPLINE sinful action that cannot be overlooked.
  Not every offense call for confrontation and lead to formal church discipline. If we took the time to confront every possible sin that other Christians commit, we would probably have little time for anything else. Inconsiderate words and actions, selfish oversights, and prideful thoughts expressed in some way are rampant in any body of believers and particularly common in family relationships. There are times when the offended party should simply overlook many of those offenses, choosing to suffer wrong and forgive without being asked or without formally confronting the offender.  
  • Proverbs 19:11 ESV Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.
  • 1 Peter 4:8 ESV Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
  Growing in biblical love and humility will help you to cover more and more offenses (especially those committed against you), and growing in biblical wisdom can help you to decide what sins should not be overlooked because of their harmful consequences.   WHEN CONFRONTATION IS OPTIONAL  
  1. Whenever possible, especially if the offense is petty or unintentional, it is best to forgive unilaterally.
  For the sake of peace, to preserve the unity of the Spirit, we are to show tolerance whenever possible.   Ephesians 4:1–3: Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.   Love “is not easily angered” (1 Cor. 13:5, niv).  
  1. If you are the only injured party, even if the offense was public and flagrant, you may choose to forgive unilaterally.
 
  • Joseph for example, was the victim of a grievous wrong at the hands of his brothers. They plotted to kill him, then sold him into slavery. Years later, when famine drove the wicked brothers to Egypt in search of food, Joseph recognized them and freely forgave them, without any expression of repentance on their part.
  • Stephen’s prayers for those who stoned him are another example of unilateral, unconditional forgiveness.
  WHEN CONFRONTATION IS NOT AN OPTION   These generally involve more serious sins not petty or picayune complaints, but soul-threatening sins or transgressions that endanger the fellowship of saints. In such situations Luke 17:3 applies: “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.” In such cases, if a brother or sister in Christ refuses to repent, the discipline process outlined in Matthew 18 applies.   When the following conditions exist, it becomes unloving and wrong to ignore the problem:  
  1. When ignoring an offense might hurt the offender, confrontation is required.
  Sometimes choosing to overlook an offense might actually injure the offender such as when the sin the person is ensnared in some sinful habit. Overlooking the sin is not an option. Love for the sinning brother requires that you confront and seek to restore.  
  • James 5:19-20 ESV My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back,  20  let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
 
  • Hebrews 3:12-13 ESV Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.  13  But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
 
  • 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.
  Sins that require confrontation because of their potential for harm to the sinning person include serious doctrinal error, moral failure, repeated instances of the same offense, sinful habits or destructive tendencies, or any other transgression that poses a serious danger to the offender’s spiritual well-being.   If you are not confident that the person is growing in the direction of Christlikeness by regularly confessing his sin and working to change, then confronting his sin may be the only way to expose his spiritual inertia and help him to avoid God’s chastening.  
  1. When a sin is scandalous or otherwise potentially damaging to the body of Christ, confrontation is essential.
  Some sins have the potential to defile many people. Hebrews 12:15 warns of such dangers: “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.”  
  • Matthew 18:6 ESV but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
 
  • 1 Corinthians 12:26 ESV 26  If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
 
  • 1Co 3:16-17 Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.
  The responsibility is incumbent on every member of the body not only to “stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24), but also to exhort one another, so that no one becomes hardened through “the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13).   Open sin is always a scandal in the church and must be dealt with. It is not our prerogative to “forgive” those intent on living lives of flagrant disobedience. The entire church suffers when this sort of sin is permitted to exist. Such sin is like leaven, working its way through a lump of dough. Covering such sins, overlooking the evil, is never the right thing in such situations.    
  1. Any time an offense results in a broken relationship, both the offense and the breach must be confronted, and reconciliation must be sought.
  When you think often about the sin and think badly of the offender, then confrontation is necessary for the sake of unity in the body.  
  • Matthew 5:23-24 ESV So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,  24  leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
 
  • In 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.
   
  1. If you observe a serious offense that is a sin against someone other than you, confront the offender.
  When we see that someone else has been sinned against, it is my duty to seek justice. (The only exception to this would be when the offended person himself chooses to ignore a personal slight or insult. This was the case when David forbade Abishai to wreak vengeance against Shimei.)   While we are entitled, and even encouraged, to overlook wrongs committed against us, Scripture everywhere forbids us to overlook wrongs committed against another.  
  • Isaiah 1:17: “Learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”
  • Jeremiah 22:3: “Thus says the Lord, ‘Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor. Also do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood in this place.’ ”
  • Lamentations 3:35–36: “To deprive a man of justice in the presence of the Most High, to defraud a man in his lawsuit—of these things the Lord does not approve.”
    Next week we are going to look at the four major categories where corporate church discipline should be implemented. I suggest that you read the SDG Church Manual to prepare yourself.  

Conclusion

  There are so many wonderful benefits of church discipline, according to John Flatt, Jr., a contributor in the Book Reforming Pastoral Ministry. He says,   The name of Christ is protected, the reputation of the church is guarded, gossip is squelched, the way is paved for obedience in other areas of church life, unity is ultimately promoted, others are deterred from sin, the opportunity for self-examination is afforded to all members, the erring person may be rescued from the clutches of sin, real hope for biblical change is encountered, the congregation is strengthened, the pastor and other leaders possess a clear conscience, the church is viewed as a caring body, and Christ’s continued presence is assured. These are just a few of the tangible benefits of biblical discipline.   Mark Dever, Twelve Challenges Churches Face:   Biblical church discipline is simple obedience to God and a simple confession that we need help. We cannot live the Christian life alone. To neglect to discipline sinners is to neglect our proper business, to act to ruin the church for which Christ died, and to harm the person caught in such sin. To refuse to judge sin in the church is to obscure the gospel, harm ourselves, especially the weakest and most vulnerable among us—those trapped in their sins—and to dishonor God Himself. It has been said, and truly, that when discipline leaves a church, Christ goes with it. Let us pray that Christ will never desert this church, and that we will never desert Him.