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Church Discipline

Introduction

The subject of church discipline is a difficult but important one. Many things must be understood regarding church discipline if we are going to faithfully carry out the task that Jesus has given to His Church.

Is church discipline culturally acceptable? Many people may say that church discipline is not acceptable now; however, that is not the question. There are many things that are not acceptable to our cultural but that does not make them right or wrong. The cross is not acceptable, it is foolishness! Yet we must never deny it. The question is rather: “Is it biblical?”

So, is church discipline biblical? 

Yes. Although, if you search for “church discipline” in your Bible it won’t return any results. But the teaching is there. It is found in both Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5. 

Church Discipline in Matthew 18

In Matthew 18, we see the fourfold process of church discipline. It has been said that this passage is “severely practical as well as ruthlessly idealistic,” and so it is. So, this process, though used in formal church discipline, has practical insight for more common issues within the church as well.

If there is unrepentant sin, we are to first go to the offending party one on one and try to work things out on that level (Matt. 18:15-16). If we have not resolved the problem at that point, second, we are to go with one or two others (v. 16). Third, we see if the person does not listen, we are to tell it to the church (v. 17a) but if he or she is still impenitent then, fourth, he or she is to be treated like those outside of the church, i.e. excluded from communion (v. 17b). The next couple of verses talk about the authority that God has entrusted to the church, His representatives on earth.

Church Discipline in 1 Corinthians 5

Paul is adamant that he does not want the “so-called brother” to have community with the church (cf. 1 Cor. 5:5, 11, 13). Perhaps the three other steps of the church discipline process happened or perhaps they did not for whatever reason, that we cannot tell, but we do know that there certainly are times when it is appropriate to exclude people from church fellowship. The case in Corinth was clearly one of those times. Thus we see that the passage is not necessarilyprescriptive, unlike the principals laid down in Matthew 18, but descriptive. That is, Paul is writing a letter to tell the Corinthians what to do in that context at that time.

Putting Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5 Together

I conclude from the two passages briefly looked at that pastor/shepherds and the church as a whole are to use biblical loving wisdom in each church discipline case. There is in fact no “cookie cutter mold” for each case but simply overarching principals to be applied to each different situation.

For instance, there are many passages that seem to reference church discipline besides Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5 but some of them look quite different (Acts 8:17-24; Gal. 6:1; Eph. 5:11; Titus 3:10; 2 Thess. 3:14-15; 2 Jn. 9-10). Many of Paul’s letters deal with discipline and correction yet they look very different depending on the situation. Paul was always pastoral and wise in the way that he handled each situation (cf. Rom. 15:1; 1 Cor. 13:4-7; 1 Thess. 5:14; 2 Tim. 4:2).

Look, for example, at 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15: “If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter… have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” Paul says, “Have nothing to do with him” yet “warn him as a brother.” It is unclear what exactly this looked like in practice but it seems to me that it is a different approach to that in 1 Corinthians 5.

What I conclude then, is that church discipline is an important and clear teaching from Scripture. It, however, is not always as clear exactly how it should look in the local body in each specific case. So after we boil down all we have seen in these passages what are some overarching principals to keep in mind? (1) Keep the matter as private as you can. (2) Church discipline is done as an act of love to keep the individual from damning sin. (3) Church discipline should always be done with gentleness and love though that is not to say without boldly calling the erring person to repentance. (4) If unrepentance continues the person must be removed from the church. (5) Church discipline is ultimately done for the glory of God. We desire that Jesus’ bride be pure and holy (cf. 2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:25-27).

I believe we see from the collective passages that reference church discipline, that there is no exact formal that most always be followed. There are, however, principals laid down and a clear call to practice church discipline whatever each individual case might entail. Thus, in evaluating church discipline cases we do not simply have a list of sins, some warranting discipline and others not. Rather, we look at the witness that the person has before a lost world. We ask, Are they defacing the name of Jesus?

Jonathan Leeman talks about “A Gospel Framework for Understanding Discipline.” I think he gives a very helpful approach. The Church, as God’s representatives on earth, have been given the “keys to the kingdom.” The local church and the leaders within that church have been given the serious task of administering baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These things give credibility to the genuineness of one’s faith. In the same token, church discipline is the church removing that affirmation. It is the church formally denouncing the person’s faith. Thus, as Jonathan Leeman rightly says, church discipline is “driven by a single question: does the church still believe an erring member is really a Christian, such that it’s willing to continue declaring so publicly?”

The Manner and Motivation of Church Discipline

How should we approach church discipline? We must do so with much gentleness and humility (1 Thess. 2:6-7; 2 Cor. 10:1; Col. 3:12-14; 2 Tim. 2:24-25; Phil. 4:5). We must remember that we too are sinners, we are not above the very same sin they are being disciplined for. That is why Paul says, “If anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” And then he says, “Keep watch on yourself.” Why Paul? (we ask), “Lest you too be tempted” (Gal. 6:1). We, you and I, are not above sin, any sin, and we should not act as if we are. As Paul says elsewhere, let the person that thinks they stand take heed lest they fall (1 Cor. 10:12).

We must remember that the goal in church discipline is restoration. We want those living in sin to repent and once again join the fellowship. If they do repent then we, as the church, must cheerfully welcome them back (I think of the prodigal son here). Notice, that after Jesus teaches on church discipline in Matthew’s Gospel he teaches on forgiveness (Matt. 18:21-35).

Conclusion

We may not have an exhaustive how-to-book on church discipline but we are given principals that can and indeed need to be applied in each individual case. We, as the church, are God’s representatives on earth and so we must seek to have His church be holy and filled with true followers of Christ. Therefore, as is warranted by the situation, we must practice the steps outlined in Matthew 18, though of course with appropriate Christian sensitivity.

Suggested Resources

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March for Life 2019

I am going to March for Life in Washington, D.C. today so I thought I would share my thoughts on abortion. First, though, let’s look at a little bit of the… 

Background of Roe vs. Wade

Roe v. Wade was decided 46 years ago on January 22nd 1973 by a vote of 7 to 2[1]. The court affirmed the legality of a woman’s right to have an abortion. The court held that the some of the Texas statutes violated the right of privacy. They held that a woman has a right to have an abortion under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.[2] Since then there have been approximately 61million surgical abortions in the United States.

Justice Henry Blackmun wrote an opinion that stated that the restrictive abortion laws (from Texas and Georgia) were unconstitutional.[3] “Blackmun’s opinion stated that because of uncertainty about the medical and moral status of the fetus, the state could not adopt a particular theory of when life begin—they could not decide, for example, that because life begins at conception fetuses have the same rights as newborn infants.”[4]

Although some deny that Roe established a right to abortion on demand, that was its practical effect, as The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States says.[5]

The Sanctity of Human Life

Human life is sacred. This truth is grounded in the Bible. The Bible teaches us that humans are made in the image of God (very often referred to by the Latin imago Dei). This truth is seen in various places in Scripture (Gen. 1:26-27; 5:1-3; 9:6; 1 Cor. 11:7 Col. 3:10; James 3:9) but the most prominent is Genesis 1:27: “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”

So, Christians are called to have concern for and show compassion to all people. Humans–all humans–have great worth! We have worth beyond what we do, we have worth in who we are. We also are to follow the model of Jesus who showed concern for all people.

The Christian Call to Action

The Bible calls us to action. The Bible calls us to stand up for the oppressed (Is. 1:17) and to speak for those who cannot speak (Prov. 31:8-9 cf. 3:27).[6]

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Practice Unproductivity (part 1)

“Practice unproductivity,” what?! The phrase, especially outside of DC, sounds almost heretical. You probably cringed when you read it and you’re probably tempted to stop reading. 

It’s important to realize, when I say, “practice unproductiveness” that I’m not saying binge YouTube, play candy crush, or Fortnight. Please don’t do any of those things. I’m actually talking about Sabbath rest…

Sacrifice and Sabbath Rest

Aren’t we supposed to be living sacrifices? Isn’t that what Romans 12:1 says?

Living sacrifices don’t spend their time sitting around eating bonbons. They die. They give themselves away.

Charles Spurgeon essentially worked himself into the grave. And the Apostle Paul was absolutely willing to spend and be spent for the sake of the gospel.

So, what does the Bible say? Sacrifice or Sabbath rest? 

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Is Homosexuality Part of God’s Good Design?

“Why does a person’s sexual preference matter? If a guy loves another guy why can’t they hook up? Why would God have a problem with that? God created everything, right? So, did He create homosexuality?”

I appreciate those questions. They are important because sex and sexual identity are deeply personal as well as powerful.[1] So, the main question seems to be: Did God create homosexuality, is it part of God’s good design? In order to answer this question, I need to ask you a question. Do you consider yourself a tolerant person?[2] Will you hear me out and listen to my perspective?

If you answered that you are a tolerant person, that’s great. That will be helpful as we look at this controversial subject. So, I ask you to kindly consider my perspective on this question.

I want to be faithful to what I believe the Bible teaches because through it God shows His love and grace. So, as we consider this question, I deeply want the love and compassion of Christ to come through. He loves us all and wants us to have abundant life here and now and forever. Yet, life holds many struggles and temptations.[3]

As we consider this question, we are all caught up in God’s story, a story that can be summed up as creation, fall, redemption and new creation. What does the Bible have to say about this issue? The Bible provides directions to protect us and help us thrive. This is part of God’s good design. The directions include prohibitions against certain types of sexual activity. Those that violate the directions God has given often suffer for it. Individuals that struggle with homosexuality need to realize that natural disposition does not justify it any more than any other sin. And the fact that society elevates sexual fulfillment to the point of communicating that it is the purpose of life does not exempt it from God’s prohibition any more than any other sin. If you are struggling with this issue, then join the rest of us sinners and turn to Christ, who is good. God has given us the means to live within His good design.

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Is abortion morally justifiable?

Here are a few things I left out of the video…

Thinking and talking about abortion is very difficult but also important. I, therefore, ask that you consider what I say before discounting it. I have strived to consider the subject with compassion and candor. So, out front, I want to say two things: First, I believe abortion is clearly wrong and cannot be morally justified in any circumstance. Second, and very important, there is grace, forgiveness, and hope for those who have had an abortion.

We all do wrong. The Bible says everyone is a sinner. But it also thankfully says that whosoever—liar, thief, cheat—goes to Jesus in faith and repentance can receive new life and be saved by the grace of God. All our sins can be washed away. First John 1:9 gives us all hope: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” It is vital that we all remember that there is grace, forgiveness, and hope for all!

And here are some statistics about abortion in America that I left out too…

  • Since 1973, there have been 59,000,000 reported and legal abortions. That’s more than the total population of California and Virginia.
  • There were 908,000 abortions in 2015.
  • 1/4 of American women will have an abortion by the time they are forty-five.
  • Reasons why women have an abortion:
  • 1% listed rape or incest
  • 6% listed potential health problems
  • 93% listed social reasons:
  • Abortion brings several health risks:
    • Breast cancer
    • Ectopic (tubal) pregnancy
    • Bad effects on future pregnancies
    • Becoming sterile
    • Sexual dysfunction
    • Mental health risks

Why should I believe the Bible? (pt 8)

Many decide not to follow the Bible because it is in their opinion morally restrictive. However, we as humans need a definitive source of morality. We need a moral guide and the Bible is… 

Moral

As we have said, many people struggle with the morality that the Bible presents. D.A. Carson has said, “Many Christians slide away from full confidence in the trustworthiness of Scripture for reasons that are not so much intellectual as broadly cultural.”[1] Many people, for example, do not agree with the Bible’s opposition towards homosexual practice.

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Why should I believe the Bible? (pt 7)

We have already looked at many reasons why we can believe the Bible. Yet, there are still many more. Here we briefly look at the Bible being trustworthy because it is… 

Prophetic

The Bible contains all sorts of fulfilled prophecies (see e.g. “The Prophecy of Daniel 8”), particularly about Jesus. These attest to the Bible’s uniqueness, truthfulness, and authority.

“Whatever one may think of the authority of and the message presented in the book we call the Bible, there is a world-wide agreement that in more ways than one it is the most remarkable volume that has ever been produced in these some five thousand years of writing on the part of the human race.

It is the only volume ever produced by man, or a group of men, in which is to be found a large body of prophecies relating to individual nations, to Israel, to all the peoples of the earth, to certain cities, and to the coming of One who was to be the Messiah. The ancient world had many different devices for determining the future, known as divination, but not in the entire gamut of Greek and Latin literature, even though they use the words prophet and prophecy, can we find any real specific prophecy of a great historic event to come in the distant future, nor any prophecy of a Savior to arise in the human race…”[1]

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