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Church Discipline: Part 5

August 14, 2009

Biblical Church Discipline: Part 5

                Last week we left off on the discussion of Matthew 18:15-20 (which at this point it would be good to reread!) about taking 2 or 3 witnesses to confront the sinning brother. Again, what is the primary purpose of church discipline? It is to restore the fallen member. However, if after restorative church discipline has been taken and the person refuses to repent, then it will lead to excommunication to protect the church and its purity in obedience to our Lord’s command.

                So what is the next step if the person won’t listen to ‘2 or 3 witnesses’? Scripture commands us to ‘tell it to the church.’ (vs. 17) At this point the person is not excommunicated but is at the last step before being removed from membership. This is a very critical role. Here the sinning member’s issue is brought before the entire congregation to weigh in on the matter.

                There are several advantages to eventually having the whole church involved. For one, the wisdom of the entire church is brought to bear on discerning the issue(s) at hand. Scripture states that ‘In abundance of counselors there is victory.” (Prov. 24:15)  Also, the church is able to hear the testimony of former attempts by others to win back the sinning brother. The sinning member will have no grounds to stand on to stay in his sin.

                Another important reason to follow the biblical pattern by bringing the sinning member before the church is because of the legal situation today in America. Suppose that a sinning member refuses to repent of their sin and be restored by the church. Then the church acts obediently to the Lord and excommunicates him. What if he decides to sue the church for ‘defamation of character’? What is the church to do?

Courts look at what’s called ‘due process’ which means a person/group has done sufficient actions to prevent the situation or prepare for the issue at hand. For example, the church would say before the judge: “Your honor, our records show that we have done everything possible to restore this person according to the bible and the church’s constitution and by-laws. The person as a member agreed to submit to the policies of the church, which included church discipline. We also have other witnesses who also went and tried to help the person. Then the person refused so we followed our procedures and brought the person before the church. The person still refused and so we reluctantly had to excommunicate him.”  It shows that the decision was not an arbitrary act by a select group or one individual who ‘runs’ the church. Legally, the church has followed due process.

Again the most important reason we follow these steps is not to keep from being sued, although that is wise, but because it is a command of our Heavenly Father and because we want to see the sinning member restored.

So what does vs. 18-20 mean? What does it mean for 2 or 3 to be gathered together? Bind and loose what? That’s next week! Think about these things as we seek to lead the church to be a biblically based and obedient body.

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