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Church Discipline: Part 2

July 25, 2009

Church Discipline: Part 2

            We began looking at the biblical doctrine of church discipline last week and saw that it has several facets. Church discipline could be over a private or public offense (although we’ve not defined specifically what those are yet) or it could be formative or corrective discipline. Recall that formative discipline is the normal, everyday process of being corrected by the word of God, hearing the word of God preached, examining oneself before the Lord’s Supper, etc.  Corrective church discipline is what most people think of when they hear the phrase ‘church discipline. Many associate it with the idea of ‘kicking someone out of church.’ Again, this is not the goal of corrective church discipline. The goal is to seek the restoration of the fallen member to fellowship with the Lord and the local church body. But it may lead to being excommunicated. So exactly what is the process of church discipline?

To understand corrective church discipline let’s look at Matthew 18:15-20: “”If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. 17 “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. 19 “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. 20 “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” First of all, we need to see that this passage lays out the process of church discipline and/or correction and doesn’t speak to the exact sins that need to be addressed to instigate church discipline. Biblically speaking we must balance the issue of church discipline with the wisdom of how “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8) and it is a ‘man’s glory to overlook a transgression.” (Proverbs. 19:11) We will look at the sins that call for corrective church discipline in another article. But here we see the process outlined that we should follow.

Notice the discretion that the bible places on dealing with the sin of others. First it uses the conditional participle ‘If’. The sin must be clearly known, not based on hearsay or reading into someone’s actions. It must be an identifiable sin. This is a word of warning to those who wish to gossip. Scripture has strong admonition against falsely slandering someone: “He who spreads slander is a fool.” (Proverbs 10:18)  See also Mark 7:21-23 where it associates slander with murder, an evil heart, and defilement of the person who speaks it. So the first aspect we see of corrective church discipline is that it must be based on facts. Facts that are observed and not hearsay from other gossips. 

Second, it must be a professing member of the body of Christ. It says, “if your BROTHER”. We are not to go around to everyone and point out their sins. The unrighteous are going to sin because it is what is natural for them to do.

Third, the bible calls us to discretion. We are to show our brother his sin ‘in private.” This also implies that we are not to involve unnecessary people in the ordeal. YOU are to go to the member in PRIVATE, not with a crowd of people who have no relation to the problem/sin/issue involved. Scripture, even with the sinning member, always wants to protect the people involved from unnecessary criticism and broken relationships.  Corrective church discipline may call for more people, but the first step is to involve only those directly involved with the sin issue at hand. If others decide to make themselves a part of the issue, they now become responsible before God for the problem – and that is more sin to answer for!

We’ll continue more with this passage and the process of church discipline next week. In the meantime, study this passage thoroughly so that you yourself could teach others the process involved in church discipline.

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