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Church Discipline| July 10, 2024

Updated: 4 days ago


During the second week that I taught Bible study, I was asked this question in class: “How would you handle a situation where a leader of the Church was found to be committing adultery?” I answered the question by saying that if I was the pastor, I would be obligated to remove the individual from their leadership position(s). After delivering the message last week about how we are watchmen, I reflected on the question and felt that I had not done my due diligence in providing you the Scriptural references that provided the foundation for my answer. I need to correct that so this evening we will be looking at Church discipline and why it is important to God. Our primary focus tonight is to allow God to speak to us about Church discipline by reading what He has declared in His Word. We are going to read a lot of Bible tonight without much additional explanations from me as His word is self-explanatory. 


So what is corrective church discipline? Church discipline is the process of correcting sin in the life of the congregation and its members. This can mean correcting sin through a private word of admonition. And it can mean correcting sin by formally removing an individual from membership. Church discipline can be done in any number of ways, but the goal is always to correct God’s people when they transgress against His instruction to live lives that are holy before Him as we see in First Peter 1:15-16, which states “(15) But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves in all your conduct [be set apart from the world by your godly character and moral courage];  (16)  because it is written, ‘YOU SHALL BE HOLY (set apart), FOR I AM HOLY.’” (Amplified Bible) This correction of sin is not a retributive action; it’s not enacting God’s justice, per se. But rather, it’s remedial, prophetic, and proleptic. Remedial in the sense that it’s meant to help the individual and the congregation grow in godliness, in God-like-ness. By prophetic, it shines the light of God’s truth onto error and sin. It exposes the spiritual cancer in an individual’s or the congregation’s life, so that it can be removed. Finally by the term proleptic, it’s a small picture of judgment in the present that, if heeded, can help the person avoid an even greater judgment with potential eternal consequences.


The biblical concept of discipline combines the nuances of training, instruction, and firm guidance with those of reproof, correction, and punishment. In Hebrew culture, discipline was an integral element of household life. A father disciplined his child with the rod if necessary, precisely because he loves him and desires him to experience life as approved by God. The concept of God as disciplinarian was derived from the parent-child relationship. As recorded in Deuteronomy 8:5, “You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the LORD your God chastens you.” God is a loving Father who desires His children to experience fulfillment, but who knows that obedience to His revealed will is the condition for realizing this goal. The imposing of discipline in the life of individuals is evidence of God’s enduring love and commitment. Hebrews 12:5-7 says, “(5) And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: "MY SON, DO NOT DESPISE THE CHASTENING OF THE LORD, NOR BE DISCOURAGED WHEN YOU ARE REBUKED BY HIM; (6) FOR WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE CHASTENS, AND SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES." (7) If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?”   


Paul provided most of the guidelines for how the Church should discipline another believer. We will spend the rest of our time reading through a few examples from Scripture. Now, if you recall from my sermon on our being watchmen, some believe that what a person does “outside” of the Church walls is their own business. Is this true? Let’s allow God’s word to inform us as to if this is correct. You are going to see a theme running through most of these verses and that theme is protecting God’s Church.


Situations Addressing Sin


Matthew 18:15-17: “(15) If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens and pays attention to you, you have won back your brother. (16) But if he does not listen, take along with you one or two others, so that EVERY WORD MAY BE CONFIRMED BY THE TESTIMONY OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES. (17) If he pays no attention to them [refusing to listen and obey], tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile (unbeliever) and a tax collector.


First Timothy 5:19-20“(19) Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. (20) Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.” 


Galatians 6:1: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” The goal of Church discipline is restoration through repentance. What we must understand is that when a member is disciplined, it is for the sole purpose of helping the person restore their relationship with God, not the church. This is why it is so important. The individual must repent and consent to completing a restorative process of counseling and encouragement with proof change. It is done in love and out of a sincere concern for the member.


First Corinthians 5:9-13“(9) I wrote you in my [previous] letter not to associate with [sexually] immoral people, (10) not meaning the immoral people of this world, or the greedy ones and swindlers, or idolaters, for then you would have to get out of the world and human society altogether! (11) But actually, I have written to you not to associate with any so-called [Christian] brother if he is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater [devoted to anything that takes the place of God], or is a reviler [who insults or slanders or otherwise verbally abuses others], or is a drunkard or a swindler, you must not so much as eat with such a person. (12) For what business is it of mine to judge outsiders (non-believers)? Do you not judge those who are within the church [to protect the church as the situation requires]? (13) God alone sits in judgment on those who are outside [the faith]. REMOVE THE WICKED ONE FROM AMONG YOU [expel him from your church].” 


Second Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15“Now we command you, believers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by His authority, that you withdraw and keep away from every brother or sister who leads an undisciplined life and does not live in accordance with the tradition and teaching that you have received from us….(14) Now if anyone [in the church] does not obey what we say in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be ashamed and repent.  (15)  Do not regard him as an enemy, but keep admonishing him as a [believing] brother. These verses were actually part of what Paul address about people being idle and not working.


These Scriptures address situations for Church discipline that pertains to those who are sowing discord amongst the congregation; people who are constantly stirring stuff up.


Sowing Discord / Respecting One Another


Titus 3:10-11: “(10) After a first and second warning reject a divisive man [who promotes heresy and causes dissension, ban him from your fellowship and have nothing more to do with him], (11) well aware that such a person is twisted and is sinning; he is convicted and self-condemned [and is gratified by causing confusion among believers].” 


Romans 16:17-18: “(17) I urge you, brothers and sisters, to keep your eyes on those who cause dissensions and create obstacles or introduce temptations [for others] to commit sin, [acting in ways] contrary to the doctrine which you have learned. Turn away from them. (18) For such people do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites and base desires. By smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting [the innocent and the naive].”


Second Timothy 2:14, 24-26: “(14) Remind the people of these facts, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God to avoid petty controversy over words, which does no good, and [upsets and undermines and] ruins [the faith of] those who listen….(24) The servant of the Lord must not participate in quarrels, but must be kind to everyone [even-tempered, preserving peace, and he must be], skilled in teaching, patient and tolerant when wronged. (25) He must correct those who are in opposition with courtesy and gentleness in the hope that God may grant that they will repent and be led to the knowledge of the truth [accurately understanding and welcoming it], (26) and that they may come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.”


Second Timothy 3:5: Holding to a form of [outward] godliness (religion), although they have denied its power [for their conduct nullifies their claim of faith]. Avoid such people and keep far away from them.


First Thessalonians 5:12-14“(12) Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to appreciate those who diligently work among you [recognize, acknowledge, and respect your leaders], who are in charge over you in the Lord and who give you instruction, (13) and [we ask that you appreciate them and] hold them in the highest esteem in love because of their work [on your behalf]. Live in peace with one another. (14) We [earnestly] urge you, believers, admonish those who are out of line [the undisciplined, the unruly, the disorderly], encourage the timid [who lack spiritual courage], help the [spiritually] weak, be very patient with everyone [always controlling your temper].”


Proverbs 6:16-19: “(16) These six things the LORD hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him: (17) A proud look, A lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood,  (18)  A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that are swift in running to evil,  (19)  A false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren.


Second John 1:10-11:  “(10) If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching [but diminishes or adds to the doctrine of Christ], do not receive or welcome him into your house, and do not give him a greeting or any encouragement; (11) for the one who gives him a greeting [who encourages him or wishes him success, unwittingly] participates in his evil deeds.”


Jude 1:22-23:  “(22) And have mercy on some, who are doubting; (23) save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy but with fear, loathing even the clothing spotted and polluted by their shameless immoral freedom.”



Why Church discipline? We must remember above all else that the church is called to guard the name and glory of Christ. Church discipline is about the reputation of Christ and whether or not the church can continue to affirm the verbal profession of someone whose life egregiously mischaracterizes Christ. The sins and circumstances of sin will vary tremendously, but this one question always needs to be in the forefront of a churches’ thoughts: “How will this sinner’s sin and our response to it reflect the holy love of Christ?” After all, to care about the reputation of Christ is to care about the good of non-Christians. When churches fail to practice church discipline, they begin to look like the world. They are like salt that has lost its saltiness, which is only good for being trampled upon. “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.” (Matthew 5:13) They are no witness at all to a world lost in darkness. Also, to care about the reputation of Christ is to care about other members of the church. Christians should want to look like Jesus, and church discipline helps to keep his holy picture clear. Finally, to care about the reputation of Christ is to care about the individual caught in sin and their relationship with Christ. There is absolutely no way that I can profess to love and care about you and know that you are on your way to hell and not tell you! I hope that this lesson provides you with the background understanding of why Church discipline is so important to God and therefore to each and every one of His children.

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“Til all the ransomed church of God is saved to sin no more"

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