An Introduction To Church Discipline

February 3, 2002 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos

  We are looking at the factors for our perfection. We have seen three: personal effort, corporate effort and divine effort. We have looked at Divine Effort and learned God’s initial work (regeneration) and continuing work (God’s discipline). Those two are not the only features of God’s effort but they illustrate to us God’s effort and determination to mold and change His children until they become like His Son Jesus Christ in holiness, righteousness, goodness and other moral qualities.   Today, as we continue in our series on Christian perfection I would like us to focus on another factor towards that end which is Corporate Effort. I am referring to the involvement of others, particularly, the local church in the life of the believer so that he becomes perfect in Christ. The Bible clearly teaches that the church or fellowship is one of the most important factors God uses for the formation of Christ’s character in us. In particular I want to concentrate on one aspect of corporate effort: Church Discipline.   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 true church can be recognized if it has the following marks: The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel; it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them; it practices church discipline for correcting faults.   But it is a sad to note that just like God’s Discipline, Church Discipline is one of the least talked about subjects within the church. Many are afraid to discuss it. I think this is one of the reasons why some of us have not yet decided to join and be committed to the church. They are afraid of Church Discipline. To their disadvantage, they do not realize that 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.   Carl Laney in his book, A Guide to Church Discipline, writes that “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, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him.” Its results are no different from the results of God’s discipline found in Heb 12:10-11   Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.  

I.              Let us look at some passages in the New Testament to see what good results of Church Discipline.

  1. The first passage in the NT that talks about Church discipline is found in Mt 18:15.
  Mt 18:15 If your brother sins against you,  go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.   John MacArthur says of this verse: The goal of church discipline is not to throw people out, embarrass them, be self-righteous, play God, or exercise authority and power in some unbiblical manner. The purpose of discipline is to bring people back into a pure relationship within the assembly.   Notice the word “won” in verse 15. The Greek term is translated and used in several ways in the NT.
  1. a) Sometimes it means to gain or to accumulate, to earn or to make money.
  • 25:17 So also, the one with the two talents gained two more.
  • 4:13 Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money."
  1. b) Sometimes it is used in the sense of gaining possession of something which is or great worth.
  • 8:36 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?
  • 3:8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ
  1. c) Sometimes it also means to win a person to Christ or to save an unbeliever.
  • 9:20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law, so as to win those under the law.
  • 3:1 Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives,
  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 won over” 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 backsliden condition and restored to walking according to God’s standard once again.   MacArthur has this to say: That pictures the sinning brother as a lost valuable treasure. That is, in fact, the heart of God: each soul is a treasure to Him. The church needs to have that same sense of concern. We can’t allow one to just float away as we say, “Well, I don’t know where that person is, but I really can’t get involved.” We must work to restore a sinning brother or sister because that soul is of value to God and to us…. The goal of church discipline is not to throw people out, embarrass them, be self-righteous, play God, or exercise authority and power in some unbiblical manner. The purpose of discipline is to bring people back into a pure relationship within the assembly.  
  1. Turn to another passage, Gal 6:1
  Gal 6:1 Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.   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. Turn to 2Th 3:13-15
2Th 3:13-15 || 13 And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right. 14 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.    Paul describes how the Thessalonian Christians should deal with idlers who disobey his instructions. First, they are urged to keep on doing right—“never tire of doing what is right”. Exemplary conduct serves as a constant reprimand to wrongdoers. But Paul also says that the Thessalonians should deal firmly yet charitably with the sins of their brothers. Anyone refusing to comply with the work ethic set out in this letter was not to be associated with. “Do not associate" implies "let there be no intimate association [with him] so that he might be ashamed of his behavior. (Connect this to 2Th 1:11-12 With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. 12 We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.)  
  1. Turn to 2Ti 2:25-26
2Ti 2:25-26 Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.  
  1. Turn to James 5:19-20
James 5:19-20 My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.    From those passages we learn that Church 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. 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.   The Westminster Confession of Faith, tells us why it is necessary: Church discipline is necessary,
  • for the reclaiming and gaining of offending brethren, (Gal 6:1—Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.),
  • for deterring of others from the like offenses, (1Ti 5:20—Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly so that the others may take warning),
  • for purging out of that leaven which might infect the whole lump, (1Co 5:6-7 Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast…)
  • for vindicating the honor of Christ, and the holy profession of the Gospel,
  • and for preventing the wrath of God, which might justly fall upon the Church, if they should suffer His covenant, and the seals thereof, to be profaned by notorious and obstinate offenders. (1Co 11:31-If we judged ourselves we would not come under judgment)

II.            Why are people afraid of Church Discipline?

  If that is the good that results from Church discipline then why are so many afraid of it?  
  1. Fear of Outcome
  2. Fear of rejection
  3. Fear of the person leaving the church
  1. Ignorance of procedures. What sins are worthy of discipline? Scarcity of positive models.
  1. Preference for avoiding church problems
  1. Unbiblical Attitudes Towards church Discipline (Inquisition)
  MacArthur Why has the church strayed from such a noble venture? Some people feel that a disciplining church runs around checking on everyone’s sin. I’ve had people ask me, “What do you have, the Grace CIA or Secret Service spying on everyone?” But that isn’t the idea. We merely have a tremendous hunger to fulfill God’s desire for His church to be holy, and we put a very high value on the worth of a soul that belongs to God. We refuse not to show the proper concern. We’re not content with letting someone drift away.   Some say, “Well, So-and-so went astray, but I’m not going to say anything because who am I? He chose his way. I’m not going to run his life.”   Others secretly relish the fall of others because it makes them feel spiritually superior. But that is really a sickness called pride. If you can smugly remain indifferent to your brother’s sin, thinking that you’re better than he is, you are far afield from the heart of the Shepherd. In fact, you are guilty of sinning as much as your brother.   I was touched by what one Christian said of his own experience: “I’ve often thought that if I ever fall into a sin, I will pray that I don’t fall into the hands of those censorious, critical, self-righteous judges in the church. I’d rather fall into the hands of the barkeepers, street walkers, or dope peddlers because the church people would tear me apart with their long, wagging, gossipy tongues, cutting me to shreds.” I’m sure there are a lot of people who have had that experience.   Instead of making excuses about why we don’t carry out our responsibility to discipline, we need to be obedient, having the heart of the Shepherd, who attempts to bring the lost sheep back into the fold.  

III.           An illustration 1Co 4:14-21

  1. He admonishes them (4:14-- I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you,)
  “warn”-literally put into the mind. Fee: It has the primary connotation of trying to have a corrective influence on someone, an admonition that is designed to correct while not provoking or embittering. Such correction may include warning, but it also implies counsel and appeal.   It is more than teaching which chiefly is to impart truth. Admonishi has in view the things that are wrong and call for warning. It is better than the word remonstrate which is more on censuring or blaming to put right behavior. Admonish is to warn based on instruction.   Paul didn’t just pray for them, he wrote them to admonish them. As their spiritual father, eh showed his concern by rebuking, instructing, encouraging, warning, putting into their minds the importance of what he says.  
  1. The discipline involved the element of love. (4:14b,15)
I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you, as my dear children. 15 Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.  
  1. The one who initiated the discipline was himself accountable. (4:16--6 Therefore I urge you to imitate me.)
  (See 1Pe 5:1-2,3--To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers…3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.  
  1. Paul employed practical measures to ensure their obedience. (4:17)
17 For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.  
  1. True discipline will not be indifferent to disobedience. It will pursue discipline to obtain its goal. (1Co 4:18-21)
18 Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have. 20 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. 21 What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a whip, or in love and with a gentle spirit?