The Third Step In Church Discipline

April 7, 2002 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos

  We are looking at the role of the church in the perfecting of believers. We are looking specifically at the responsibility of the church to implement church discipline.   We are into the steps of church discipline and we have already learned two of them from Matthew 18:15-16.   First Step: Private and informal Confrontation just between the two of you. If your brother sins against you, [c] go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16 But if he will not listen,   Second Step: Private and informal Confrontation in the presence of witnesses.  take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.'  

I.              Step one: private confrontation

An Experience: I had an experience lately where the first step was applied to me. I sent a letter to a certain brother mentioning why I think that his actions were wrong on certain points. At the end of the letter, I mentioned the action I took and that I would only withdraw it if he apologized in public.   He couldn’t sleep the whole night. He felt that I have sinned in the action I took. He felt that I should have talked to him personally first, following the instructions of Christ in Mt 18 before taking that course of action. For him, my sin couldn’t be overlooked. As I said, he wasn’t able to sleep the whole night. This was because he was “talking” to me the whole night. He felt that harm will come to others because of my sin. He felt that the sin will create an unreconciled relationship between the two of us.   And so, the first thing he did the next morning was to call me up and ask if he could talk to me about the letter I sent him.   When he came to my office he appreciated me for accommodating him in spite of short notice. He told me honestly how he couldn’t sleep the whole night because of the letter. And then he asked me if I wanted to express in words what I wrote in my letter with elaboration so that he would clearly understand my issues.   After that, he goes on to explain why his side and at the same time tells me that my actions were wrong in not approaching him in directly. He said it not because he was looking for a fight. He tried to prove to me from Scriptures that I was wrong. His intent was to make me realize the seriousness of my sin in not following Mt 18, but he allowed me to show him where he too might be wrong.   His purpose was to reconcile me to the truth and to bring healing to the broken relationship between the two of us. Now that experience taught me very important lessons:  
  1. It is possible for you to disobey the very principles you teach.
I received only second hand information. I should have confirmed it with the person who was really involved. I should have approached the person to clear the matter first. I should have first asked, Is it true that you said this? Why did you say it?  
  1. We really need the body of Christ in order for us to see our blindspots.
  1. It really helps if the approach of the one who confronts is gentle and with the goal of bringing restoration to the truth and to one another.
  1. The way of the Lord in dealing with conflict and sin committed against you is the best way.
  And so that is the first step: Private Confrontation. It is loving confrontation done in private. [No “copy furnished” emails please. No open letters. Almost everyday we read in the newspapers open letters to the president or to this or that establishment. No wrong use of media. There is no excuse. It should first be confidential. It stops gossips. It prohibits defamation. It shows genuine concern for offenders. It cancels any potential damage to the body of Christ and dishonor to the name of the Lord.  

II.            Step Two: Private Confrontation in the Presence of Witnesses

In case the first step does not work what should be done next. The next step is found in Mt 18:16:   But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.'   There are three possible roles these one or two others may take.
  1. Sometimes the one or two individuals you take along are actual witnesses to strengthen the reproof-- they ensure that the reproof was true and not prejudiced.
  2. Sometimes they are mature counselors can help you settle the matter by bringing new objectivity to the situation. The accuser can be wrong.
  3. Sometimes the one or two others you bring along can serve as future witnesses to protect from any misrepresentation in case the disciplinary process goes to the third step.
  The witnesses have the same goals as at first: to win the brother over to the truth, to the offended brother, to God, to the group. They are not there just to accuse. They confront with the gentleness, with love and with compassion.  

III.           Step Three: Public anD formal Corrective Summons.

  Again what if this second step still does not work? We now go to the third step.   Mt 18:17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church…   Now this is a major change. The local church is now officially made aware of and involved in the problem.   Most problems in the church can be solved by faithfully applying the principles involved in the first two steps in church discipline, but sometimes the leadership of the church and the body as a whole need to become involved when all other efforts have failed.   The words of Jesus, “If he refuses to listen to them....“ is not the same as the wordings from the previous verse (“If he does not listen...“). It indicates that the offender has shown a stubborn unwillingness to deal with the problem. It is only such a hardened refusal to listen that moves the process on to these latter steps.   In fact, the words “If he refuses to listen even to the church...“ later in the verse connote a sense of shock at the hardness of the offender’s heart.   Jesus says that we should tell the problem to “the church.” The Greek term (ekklesia) is used here for the local church.   Public Censure found also in other NT verses. This shows that the Jesus intends for the congregation to know about the sin and to have a part in bringing the brother or sister to repentance. This kind of public exposure and direction to the congregation is not only found in Matthew 18:17 but also taught and exemplified repeatedly in the New Testament:
  • Ro 16:17 I 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.
  • 1Co 5:1-2 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father's wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn't you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?
  • 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.  
  Both Timothy and Titus were intended for the congregation:
  • 2Ti 4:14 Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. 15 You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message.
  • 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.
  Because this third step of discipline is found not only in the teachings of Christ but also in other parts of the NT, every church should practice it out of obedience to the Word of God.     What are the implications of this involvement of the church?   Calvin: The third step is not to be entrusted to an individual, but rather to a “lawful assembly. Paul, though an apostle, does not himself as an individual excommunicate according to his pleasure, but consults with the church, that the matter may be transacted by common authority. Censure, if not heeded, may lead to further censure or excommunication.   Excommunication,” says Calvin, “is done with the knowledge and approval of the church; in this way the multitude of the people does not decide the action but observes as witness and guardian so that nothing may be done according to the whim of a few.”   MacArthur: Remember that discipline isn’t the task of one person. The apostle John said in 3Jn 1:9-10 I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. 10 So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.   Here was a self-appointed guy throwing people out of the church. But it is not one man’s task to decide that. If we ever have to put a person out of the church, it is only because he refuses to repent after one person has gone to him, followed by two or three, who are in turn followed by other believers in the assembly. No single person is calling all the shots; many people are out there trying to restore the brother. And if he still does not respond, then the motion goes into effect to put him out.   2Co 2:5-8 If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you, to some extent--not to put it too severely. 6 The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. 7 Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.     How to go about it?  
  1. It is not to be done by suddenly accusing a brother in public while in the middle of a regular worship service where unbelievers and non-members are present.
  1. Tell the elders first in their capacity as ruling authorities of the church.
(Note: Frequently in the Old Testament when God wish to speak to Israel as a whole, He summoned and addressed the elders, who then conveyed the message to the people
  • Ex 19:3,7 Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain and said, "This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: 7 So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the LORD had commanded him to speak.
  • Dt 31:28,30 Assemble before me all the elders of your tribes and all your officials, so that I can speak these words in their hearing and call heaven and earth to testify against them…30 And Moses recited the words of this song from beginning to end in the hearing of the whole assembly of Israel…)
  1. One must tell the church at a meeting of its membership duly called by the elders in a decent and orderly manner for that purpose.
  1. The members could also be informed through a letter.
  In any letter or meeting informing the congregation about the unrepentant brother, clear instructions must be given not only about how to deal with the offender while under discipline, but about the fact that this is privilege information, belonging to the members of the congregation alone.   Illustrations In Grace Community Church that may or may not involve a public proclamation. Sometimes the leaders disseminate word through the fellowship or study groups in which the person is known. Other times it may be announced at a Communion service.   In Guiding Light policy: The board of elders will first hear the matter from the witnesses and decide if it should be told to the congregation. If it is clearly an issue of unrepentant sin, then they will send a registered letter to the offender telling him about the process, asking him to repent, and warning him that his name will be mentioned to the congregation at the next service. If he does not answer the letter or otherwise communicates that he is unwilling to work on the problem, then one of their pastors will mention his name at the service, telling the members of the church that he has sinned and that they should contact him and call him to repentance.     What should the congregation be told about their duties to the brother who is undergoing official church discipline?  
  • The local church must hear the case (Tell it unto the church.) The members of the church must attend such solemn assemblies. They cannot be indifferent to it. They cannot say, well the offender is my friend. I don’t want our relationship to be affected.
  • The congregation must be encouraged to:
  • Pray for the offender
  • Avoid a critical spirit
  • Beware of pride: That will never happen to me” (1Co 10:12)
  • Remember the purpose. What is the purpose of discipline? Restoration. So tell the church to try to win him back. An individual went—no response. Two or three went—no response. Now we’ll all pursue this person’s restoration.
  • The congregation should be told to take this matter of church discipline seriously. The Lord promised that He in the midst of the church that undergoes this process. We are to honor this process.
    What are the benefits of this wider confrontation?  
  1. Telling the church is good for those who sin.
  • Without the increased confrontation, the offender will probably not change and will continue to labor under the guilt of their sin and the chastening hand of God upon their lives. But this pressure from the church body is often used by the Lord to bring them to a joyous repentance and forgiveness
2Co 2:6-8 The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. 7 Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.  
  • Also, because their previous network of accountability was apparently not sufficient to keep them from being trapped in sin, they will need specialized help and greater accountability if they repent and need to be restored.
  • Widening the confrontation to the whole body allows the whole body to participate in such a restoration (Gal 6:1-2).
Gal 6:1-2 Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently… 2 Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.  
  1. Telling the church is good for the church.
  • When sin is confronted before the whole congregation, the whole congregation is challenged toward personal purity. Each member will be made aware of the gravity of sin (especially the seriousness of the particular sin that is being mentioned). Scripture commands, “1Ti 5:20 Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.
  • Also, the congregation will develop a respect for leaders who are willing to obey a difficult command from the Lord, and they will be instructed by example to obey the commands that are hard for them to obey.
In Closing
Jesus commands us to “tell it to the church” when the first two private confrontations fail. Dropping the issue without doing that is to disobey Christ. A church that neglects these commands of Christ is no better than a church that neglects preaching or the ordinances f.
  • Rev 2:14-16 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. 15 Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
  • Rev 2:20-23 Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. 21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. 23 I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.
  Christ in those verses is saying that those local churches have tolerated sin in their midst. They have failed to apply church discipline. And so Christ himself is going to deal with the offenders severely (c.f. 1Co 11:30-32). Shall we wait for God’s direct intervention?   In Corinth Paul said that they cannot be indifferent to sin. The church needs to deal with it. He censured them for their neglect to remove the sinner in their midst (1Co 5:1-2,12-13). In 1Co 5:1-2, he was not so much angry towards the immoral offender as he was towards the church because of their pride--their lack of humility and submission to the words of Christ. Christ commands the church to be involved in this process.   So if our church does not practice it, the members have a responsibility to lovingly confront the leaders to apply the third step of discipline. Convince them by showing them what the Bible has to say about it. Remind us of this teaching I just shared to you. Pray that the leaders would be willing to listen, learn, and change their practices.   If they are not, then that would be a reason to look for another place to worship. However, if the church you attend is unwilling to practice church discipline, but there is no better one in your area, then you should follow the process in Matthew 18 as far as you can personally and leave the rest in the Lord’s hands. Leaving the church altogether is not an option. Paul didn’t tell the people of Chloe in Corinth to leave the church.