The Fourth Step In Church Discipline

April 14, 2002 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos


I.              Review:

Step 1 informal confrontation. One on one in private. Step 2 informal confrontation. Bring along one or two others, in private. Step 3 formal and public confrontation. Tell it to the church. If it does not work. Then… step 4: Excommunication.   Mt 18:17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

II.            Public Exclusion (Carl Laney)

This according to Jesus is the fourth step in the disciplinary process of an unrepentant sinner. When the church leaders and congregation have made every effort to bring the sinner to repentance without results, they must then treat him as a pagan or a tax collector.   The reference to the “pagan and tax-collector” is illuminated by first-century Jewish culture. According to the popular religious opinion of Jesus’ day, the Gentiles or pagans were considered as outsiders with regard to the divine blessings promised Israel. A Gentile was not permitted to pass beyond the outer court into the sacred confines of the temple. The penalty for doing so was death! Tax-collectors like Zacchaeus (Luke 19:2–10) collected revenue for the Roman government. Such Jews were regarded as traitors who served Rome at the expense of their countrymen. They were regarded as apostates, outcasts from Jewish religious life. Thus the unrepentant offender is not simply put out of the community but categorized as among the worst sort of persons.   Sometimes this is referred to as excommunication. This refers to cutting off a person from church membership, fellowship, and communion. No longer is the unrepentant sinning saint to share in the activities and privileges of being a part of the church fellowship since he gives no evidence of being a believer by refusing to heed the authority of Christ vested in His leaders in the church. The church does not judge his heart, but it must judge his actions and words. By word and action he has acted “as a pagan and tax collector” does and must be treated as one.   As with the other parts of the process of confrontation, this final step of church discipline seems to many to be harsh and unloving. Some might say, “Jesus would never do that!”   We answer that objection by reminding them that Jesus Himself told us that is how we should do it.   Some will object and say that to treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector simply means to treat them as Christ did in Mt 9:9-13.   As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.   10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?" 12 On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' [a] For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."   What the objectors are saying is that we are not to remove them from the fellowship. What we need to do is to intensify our efforts by inviting them to eat with us. If they can’t be brought by pressure, try hospitality, etc. This is a wrong use of Mt 9.  And NT parallels show that Jesus has excommunication in mind.  
NT parallels of the Removal
  1 Corinthians 5—In the Corinthian church there was an unrepentant man who was having an incestuous relationship with his father’s wife. Paul said, “Shouldn't you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? 3 Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. 4 When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.).   Professing Christians who refuse to repent need to be put out of the church and turned over to the Satan-controlled worldly system so that their fleshly desire to sin may be destroyed. They may have to go down to the very depths of sin before they repent. But it is something that must be done because, as verses 6 and 7 say, “Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? 7 Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast--as you really are.” The unrepentant believer must be put out of the assembly to protect it.   Paul further said in v.11 “I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.”. Because sharing a meal with a person is symbolic of a hospitable and cordial fellowship, it is not to be allowed under the circumstances. When you put a person out of the church, you don’t have him over for a meal. You don’t treat him like a brother. You treat him like an outcast.   1Ti 1:20 “Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.” That’s remedial training. They needed to learn by experiencing the consequence of their sin. When you put someone out, the sanctifying graces of God’s assembly are no longer there. Then they may begin to think about how much the fellowship of believers really meant to them. But if a person is accepted by the people of God along with his sin, he can unintentionally be encouraged to continue in his sin.   Paul also instructed the assembly in Thessalonica to “keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us” (2Th 3:6). He also advised them, “And if anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. (2Th 3:14). Thus Paul advocated “withdrawing from, refusing to fellowship with, withdrawing friendship” and refusing “close fellowship” or “interchange” with the individual.   Now we’re not talking about people who don’t know the Lord. We want those people to be exposed to the church. We’re talking about sinning members of the church family. Verse 14 reinforces that principle: ““And if anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed.” Leave him to his shame and sin because if he truly belongs to God, He won’t let him go, though He may have to drag him very low.   Ro 16:17-18I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. 18 For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.   Tit 3:10-11 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. 11 You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.  

III.           Clarification

  1. This final step does not include applying corporeal punishment.
  1. It does not include anathemas. Calvin says:
“Those who are excommunicated are not cast into everlasting ruin and damnation, but in hearing that their life and morals are condemned, they are assured of their everlasting condemnation unless they repent. Excommunication differs from anathema [in this way]: Anathema is taking away all pardon, condemns and consigns a man to eternal destruction; excommunication, rather, avenges and chastens his moral conduct. And although excommunication punishes the man, it does so in such a way that, for forewarning him of his future condemnation, it may call him back to salvation [repentance]. But if that be obtained, reconciliation and restoration to communion await him.”  
  1. Excommunication does not include wives leaving their spouses.
Robbie Some believers throughout history have practiced an extreme form of “shunning” in which people have left their spouses because of church discipline. This is not in keeping with the spirit of Jesus’ and Paul’s instructions, which are designed to eliminate any form of spiritual fellowship from the lives of sinning brothers. A wife, for instance, can continue to fulfill her responsibilities of loving and submitting to her husband without affirming his sinful lifestyle in any way (cf. 1 Peter 3:1-2). And when Paul said “not even to eat with such a one,” he was not addressing the man’s wife but other people in the body who had considered him a “brother.”  
  1. 2Th 3:14-15 says, “If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. 15 Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.
  ”There is a sense in which you never really let him go: though you are to put him outside of the sphere of fellowship, you keep calling him back. People say things such as, “My brother is a Christian, but he divorced his wife and has been living in adultery. Is it OK if I see him?” I reply, “It’s fine for you to see him as long as you make sure you admonish him, encouraging him to get his life right by confessing and repenting of his sin.” You put such a person out for the purity of the church, but you keep calling him back as well.  

IV.          Correct Attitude towards them

Excommunication doesn’t mean we should treat the unrepentant people badly. How do we treat the unbelievers? By sending missionaries to them. It means to reach out to him in witness, but not to relate to him as a member of the body of Christ.   Laney: As strong as this disciplinary step is, it is still intended to bring about repentance. The attitude of the church members is crucial in carrying out this most serious step in discipline. As Sproul acknowledges, “God Himself, like the prodigal’s father, lets people depart from Him when they are determined to go, but He lets them go with tears.” Excommunication must be motivated by love and exercised in such a way as to encourage the possibility of genuine repentance and restoration.   It does not mean absolutely no contact between believers and offenders under discipline (2Th 3:14-15 If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. 15 Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.   The word “warn” communication of some sort.)   Christians should avoid being unkind to an excommunicated member, but they should also avoid words and actions which may lead the offender to think that the sin has been forgiven and forgotten without the requisite repentance. Certain kinds of social contact which involve the implications that “all is well” should be avoided (1Co 5:9-11).   Carl Laney, Guide to Discipline: The communication would not be of warm, friendly, “buddy-buddy” type. It would be a statement to the offender that he is standing outside the fellowship of the church and is urged to repent. The church must avoid unnecessary social interchange with the sinning saint. A wife may speak to her husband, and an employee to his boos about necessary matters, but social interchange in a positive edifying, encouraging manner must be avoided.   [Illustrate how I dealt with Manny C.)

V.            The Authority of the Church (Mt 18:18-20)

  Mt 18:18-20 I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be [e] bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.   19 Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."   MacArthur Jesus said in v.18, I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Those are rabbinical terms undoubtedly familiar to our Lord’s Jewish audience. They simply refer to the rabbi’s telling a person whether he was still under the bondage of sin or freed from it.   If you are a sinning person in a church and somebody comes to you and you don’t repent, and two or three come to you and you don’t repent, and the whole church is pursuing you and you don’t repent, we can say that your sins are bound on you. That is what the Father has already determined in heaven. On the other hand, if you are in sin and we come to you and you eventually repent with a broken heart, we can say that your sins are loosed, and thereupon we welcome you into the fullness of the fellowship. We are merely doing on earth what has already been done in heaven.   It’s comforting to know that heaven supports us in the process of discipline, because people often think that if you try to confront sin and call it what it is, you are being unloving. But what you’re really doing is fighting God’s battle and lining up with heaven.   In verse 19 Jesus says, “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.” When all of you [obeying Christ in applying church discipline] are in harmony with regard to the person you are confronting, the Father also will be in agreement with you.   This verse is not talking about a blank check for prayer, although it has been taken out of its context and misapplied in that way. It certainly isn’t saying that if you can get any two people to agree, God has to give you what you’re agreeing for. The “two” here means two witnesses in a case of church discipline regarding a sinning person, and they really want God’s will to be done. After having followed the biblical pattern, they can be confident that God’s will indeed will be done.   Verse 20 says, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” You’ve probably heard that verse applied to prayer meetings, but that is another misinterpretation. Remember the context: the “two or three” are the witnesses in a discipline situation. These common misinterpretations illustrate why it’s so important to teach the context of Scripture.   We have the confidence that not only is the Father acting in heaven with us (v. 19), but the Son is here on earth with us as well (v. 20). Never are you more actively fulfilling the will of God and the work of the Son than when you are acting in the purging and the purifying of the church. We all have to be a part of that process as ministers of holiness.   The members are to support the decision of the church. ~ When our Lord’s procedure is followed correctly, the decisions of the church correspond to the decisions of heaven itself, therefore, no one who has been placed under biblical discipline can legitimately walk away from that church saying, “God knows my heart, and He’s on my side.” ~ Rather, the process of loving confrontation has shown him or her to be one to whom God is opposed (cf. James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5). That is why you should uphold the action of the church by withdrawing yourself from such a person (2Thes 3:6, 14).   Expositor’s Bible Commentary: 17 The Greek expression, "let him be to you," the "you" is singular. This suggests that each member of the church is to abide by the corporate judgment and reminds the reader of the individual responsibility each believer has toward the others.   Not to do so would incur God’s discipline.
  • 2Chr 19:2 Jehu the seer, the son of Hanani, went out to meet him and said to the king, "Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the LORD? Because of this, the wrath of the LORD is upon you.
  • 2Jn 1:8-11 Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. 9 Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. 11 Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.

VI.          Benefits of This discipline

  1. The final step of discipline, putting someone out of the church, is good for the sinner because God often uses this removal to severely chasten him and bring him back to the Lord.
  When he has been “delivered to Satan” (1Cor 5:5; 1Tim 1:20)—which means he has been sent out into the worldly realm where Satan rules (2Cor 4:4; Eph 2:2)—it becomes much harder for him to maintain a semblance of moral purity or a false assurance of God’s blessing. Being “out there,” we hope, will help him realize his pathetic state and cause him to long for reconciliation with Christ. This is what Paul means when he says that as a result of the destruction of his sinful nature:  his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1Co 5:5).  
  1. The final step of discipline is also good for the church as a whole because people living in sin cannot help but have a negative effect on the spiritual health of the body.
  Paul also wrote to the Corinthians, “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump” (1Co 5:6-7). The purity of the church as a whole is dependent upon the purity of its individual members. .