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 confrontationAn 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:
- It is possible for you to disobey the very principles you teach.
- We really need the body of Christ in order for us to see our blindspots.
- 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.
- The way of the Lord in dealing with conflict and sin committed against you is the best way.
II. Step Two: Private Confrontation in the Presence of WitnessesIn 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.
- 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.
- Sometimes they are mature counselors can help you settle the matter by bringing new objectivity to the situation. The accuser can be wrong.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Tell the elders first in their capacity as ruling authorities of the church.
- 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…)
- 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.
- The members could also be informed through a letter.
- 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.
- 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
- 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).
- 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 ClosingJesus 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.