The Doctrine of Church Discipline

Pastor Daryl Hilbert
www.gracebiblegillette.org

 

I.     PURPOSES IN CHURCH DISCIPLINE

A.    Restoration in Fellowship (Gal 6:1)

1.     Meaning of “restore”

a)    The word “restore” (katartizō) in Gal 6:1 means to mend a net or something broken, to repair, to fit out, equip, put in order, arrange, or adjust. It does not carry the idea of legalistic or vindictive punishment.

(1)   Restoration means to “mend, fix, or restore” the sinning believer’s fellowship with God and believers (Mt 4:21; Mk 1:9).

(2)   Restoration means to “fully train” the sinning believer to have victory over temptation and sin as well as be Christ-like (Lk 6:40).

(3)   Restoration means to “equip” the sinning believer with the spiritual means to live and minister for Christ (Eph 4:12; Heb 13:21).

(4)   Restoration means to “complete or perfect” the sinning believer to maturity (1Co 1:10; 1Th 3:10; 1Pe 5:10).

b)    Restoration is instantaneous when sin is confessed to God but also a continuous process of mending, maintaining, and maturing (present imperative – katartizō – “You must keep on restoring”).

2.     Fellowship with God (1Jn 1:3,6,7,9)

a)    The Greek word for “fellowship” is koinōnia. Basically, it means to have in “common.” Some suggest that it stems from the preposition sun which means together.

b)    When the believer trusts in Christ He is forgiven of his sins and enters into a relationship with God as his Father (1Jn 1:3). The believer will never lose that relationship but may interrupt his walk and fellowship with God through sin.

c)     When that sin is confessed, fellowship is restored with God and the believer is to walk in fellowship with God by not sinning and by walking in righteousness (1Jn 1:6,7,9; cf. 1Jn 2:1).

3.     Fellowship with believers (Mt 5:23-24)

a)    Jesus taught that fellowship with other believers held a high value to God.

b)    He taught in Mt 5:23-24 that if you are presenting an “offering” (dōron – gift) to God at His altar but remember that you have an offended brother, your first (prōtos – first in number) priority should be to make things right with your brother. Then your offering to God will be in keeping with God’s character and will.

B.    Removal of Defilement (1Co 5:6-8)

1.     After restoration, the next purpose for church discipline would be that it removes sin from the church and its influence in the lives of believers.

2.     The Corinthians had a high tolerance for sin and as a result it would influence others in the church.

3.     Sin is never stagnant but is like the active “leaven” (zúmē – yeast) in a lump of dough. The only remedy for sin, just like leaven in a lump of dough, is to remove it and start over.

4.     Typically, like the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Ex 12:15-17), the absence of leaven was a symbol for freedom from Egypt; here it was a picture of the believer’s position of freedom from sin.

C.    Warning of Believers (1Ti 5:20)

1.     Church discipline not only rebukes the “one who continues in sin” (present participle of harmatanō – sin or miss the mark), but warns the rest of the church not to sin.

2.     It causes a holy “fear” (phobos – fear or terror, Eng. phobia) in the hearts of God’s people. It is in this aspect we ascertain the phrase the “fear of the Lord.” It is a reverence for God’s holiness and the knowledge that He does not wink at sin. It also acknowledges that as His children, we have reverential trust toward Him and submit to His will.

D.    Makes Sound in the Faith (Tit 1:13)

1.     Another purpose for church discipline is so that the sinning believer will be sound in the faith.

2.     To be “sound in the faith” means to have a “sound” (hugainō – healthy) view of God’s Word as its implemented into the believer’s life.

3.     It also produces a sound, healthy, and godly perspective of sin and its destructive consequences.

II.    PERSPECTIVES IN CHURCH DISCIPLINE

A.    Mourning for the Brother (1Co 5:2; 2Th 3:15)

1.     Paul states that the Corinthians were arrogant in their tolerance of sin rather than mourning over it.

2.     “Mourn” (pentheō) means to grieve and lament. Believers are to grieve and lament over sin whether in our own lives or the lives of others.

3.     Believers mourn over sin because it offends God, nailed Christ to the cross, ruins lives, diminishes ministry, and stains God’s reputation.

B.    Spiritual Decorum (Gal 6:1b,c,d)

1.     When approaching church discipline believers are to respond spiritually and not carnally. To respond spiritually means to view church discipline from the perspective of God and His Word.

2.     Therefore church discipline is to be dealt with in a spirit of gentleness. “Gentleness” is the Greek word prautēwhich could be translated as “meekness” in its original sense. Meekness is not weakness, but balance and strength over emotions. It regards sin as sin, but understands the struggle of the sin nature in believers. It seeks to restore the believer, but not to destroy him.

C.    Humility in Temptation (Gal 6:1e,f)

1.     In addition, church discipline must be approached with an attitude of humility. Those who do the restoring must do so “looking to themselves,” which means that they need to realize that they themselves, as well as every believer, is susceptible to sin and temptation.

2.     This produces humility and guards against a super-pious “holier than you” attitude. In fact, we are able to minister only when we have a humble attitude (cf. Mt 7:3-5).

D.    Uncompromising to Sin (1Co 5:2,6-8,13)

1.     Church discipline also must be approached with the perspective of not compromising on what God calls sin in His Word.

2.     The Corinthians did not take sin seriously nor did they seem to regard sin as sin. They should have removed the sinning brother from their midst long before Paul told them to.

E.    Forgiveness at Repentance (2Co 2:5-9)

1.     Since the purpose is restoration and not punishment, it behooves believers to accept the one who has been restored.

2.     There is the need for forgiveness, comfort, love, and encouragement to the one who has sinned (7-8).

3.     Ostracizing and unforgiveness after repentance and restoration will make all restoration efforts counterproductive (7b, 9). Furthermore, the unforgiving parties will be in disobedience and sin (9).

III.  PROCEDURES IN CHURCH DISCIPLINE

A.    The Goal of Church Discipline (Gal 6:1)

1.     Before any procedures or steps are taken in church discipline, the attitudes of those in charge as well as all believers must be kept in check. According to Gal 6:1, the goal is the restoration (present indicative – katartizō – mend, mature, and equip) of the sinning believer with the Lord. It is to be carried out in a spirit of gentleness and humility.

2.     In addition to restoration, there is to be a great willingness to forgive and affirm love toward the sinning brother once he has confessed his sin and repented (2Co 2:7-8).

B.    Various Steps Toward Church Discipline (Mt 18:15-17)

1.     Go Privately (15)

a)    What is noticed from Jesus’ explanation of church discipline is that there are varying steps taken toward restoration rather than abrupt, hasty, and judicial punishment. If at any point in these steps there is confession and repentance, restoration is accomplished and discipline turns to discipleship.

b)    In respect to the offended brother, the step is to prayerfully approach the offender privately (only the two involved). The word “private” is monos and means “alone” or “without accompaniment.”

2.     Take Along Another Witness(es) (16)

a)    If that attempt fails and the sin is severe enough (not referring to minor sins), the next step would be for the offended party to take “one or two” witnesses along and meet again with the offending brother.

b)    This is done to “confirm” (histemi – stand) the facts and give an objective viewpoint toward reconciliation of both parties.

c)     The implication still applies that if there is confession and repentance, restoration has been achieved and no further steps are required.

3.     Take Before the Church (17a)

a)    If the facts are confirmed and that attempt fails, then the matter is to be brought before the church and the church is to put pressure on the offending party to achieve restoration and reconciliation.

b)    The pressure that the church would put on the sinning brother is described elsewhere as “silence and rebuke sharply” (Tit 1:11,13), “warn” (twice) (Tit 3:10), “rebuke publically” (1Ti 5:20).

4.     Ostracize or Excommunicate (17b,c)

a)    When all attempts have failed by the believing community and the church, the final step is excommunication. Excommunication is defined by Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 11th edition as: exclusion from fellowship in a group or community or an ecclesiastical censure depriving a person of the rights of church membership.

b)    In essence this means that the sinning believer is to be ostracized from the church and the believing community.

c)     Jesus stated that the sinning brother was to be treated as if he were a “Gentile or tax collector.” Since Jesus was speaking to Jewish believers, a “Gentile or tax collector” would be someone outside the Synagogue without the rights and privileges of that assembly.

d)    Thus an unrepentant believer is kept from the church in order to bring him to repentance, to prevent his sinful influence from spreading, and to prevent a bad testimony upon God and His church. Other expressions for excommunication used in the Scriptures are “do not associate with” (1Co 5:11; 2Th 3:14), “expel them” (1Co 5:13; cf. De 17:7), and even “hand over to Satan” (1Co 5:5).

e)     However, it must be understood that the sinning brother is not to be considered an enemy but admonished as a brother (2Th 3:15) in order to be restored to the fellowship of the Lord and the church.

C.    Church’s Authority

1.     The following verse, Mt 18:18 (cf. 1Co 6:1-4), shows that God has given such authority to the church along with the ministry of the Holy Spirit, in order to keep His church pure.

2.     Authority is not given to the church to be the “church police” but a mandated privilege and a duty to carry out God’s will for His people.

IV.  PERSONS OF CHURCH DISCIPLINE

A.    Sinning Brother (Mt 18:15-18)

1.     This refers to a believer who commits a grave offense towards another believer and remains impenitent and rebellious.

2.     There must be recognition and repentance of the sin before restoration.

B.    Overtaken Brother (Gal 6:1)

1.     This is a believer who was not looking to sin, but was not watching out for a sin either, and the sin eventually overtook him.

2.     The goal of the “spiritual” (i.e., leadership, church) is to be restoration with humility and gentleness.

C.    Immoral Brother (1Co 5:1-2)

1.     This would apply to any “immoral” sin (porneia – fornication, adultery, or immorality in general, Eng. pornography), though this particular sin was rare even among the pagans (1).

2.     Paul was just as grieved with the church allowing this sin to go on as he was with the immoral brother (2).

D.    Unruly Brother (2Th 3:6,10-15)

1.     The text speaks of one who was “undisciplined” (ataktōs – strictly, of soldiers who will not obey orders, disorderly; hence unruly, undisciplined, Fri), but the context refers specifically to being idle and neglecting financial responsibilities.

2.     The word “undisciplined” would secondarily apply to any believer who is disorderly and rejects the instruction of God’s Word (13).

3.     They were not to associate with the sinning brother though he was to be treated as a brother and not an enemy (15).

E.    Sinning Elder (1Ti 5:19-20)

1.     Those in church leadership do not have a license to sin, and are to be rebuked publicly (20).

2.     However, to avoid self-serving and misguided attacks, there must be two or three witnesses (19).

F.     False Teachers (Tit 1:10-16)

1.     False teachers who make inroads in the church are to be rebuked severely and silenced (cf. 1Ti 1:20; 2Ti 2:17-18; cf. 1Co 15:12).

2.     Nevertheless, Paul showed considerable patience for believers (Gal 3:1) who were misled doctrinally. He patiently taught the Corinthians about resurrection.

3.     Both Jesus and Paul spoke strongly against false teachers (Gal 5:12; cf. Mt 23:27).

G.    Divisive People (Tit 3:10-11; Ro 16:17-18)

1.     A “factious” (hairetikos – loyalty to unbiblical views, or one who causes divisions) person may be one who causes serious doctrinal divisions within the church or a person who causes divisions in general rather than focusing on edification of the body.

2.     Such a person can cause devastating effects in the church and is to be dealt with severely (1Co 5:1-4; cf. Pr 6:16-19).

V.    PURSUING OVER SIN (Ro 6:6-14)

A.    “Realize” The Old Self Is Dead (6,9-10)

1.     The believer must realize that his old self (sin nature) has been crucified with Christ because of his identification with Christ (6).

2.     Christ died to sin and death “once for all” (ephápax – a single and complete occurrence; i.e. once and for all) (9-10).

3.     Since sin and death no longer has mastery over Christ through His sinless atonement, sin and death no longer have mastery over the believer.

4.     Christ’s death and resurrection is not only the basis for forgiveness of sins and eternal life, but also the basis for living the Christian life.

B.    “Reckon” The New Self Is Alive (11)

1.     The believer must “reckon” (logízomai which means to count, credit, calculate or “count a fact as a fact”), because of His identification with Christ’s resurrection, that his new nature is alive to God (11).

2.     The fact is that the believer “is” dead to sin and “is” alive to God. The believer does not have to hope this becomes a reality. It “is” a reality. Now the believer must make an objective reckoning to this reality in his life. This reckoning must be done by the believer continually (i.e., present imperative).

3.     It is difficult to always see ourselves as alive spiritually when so often we are prone to fleshly living. But the Christian life is always lived by faith and it is by faith that we are to believe that we are alive to God. Regardless of emotions, feelings, and even circumstances, the believer is positionally alive in Christ.

C.    “Refuse” to Let Sin Reign (12)

1.     Since it is a fact that a believer is dead to sin but alive to God, he must refuse to let sin reign in his life.

2.     This is a present imperative which could be translated, “You must keep on refusing to let sin rule in your life.” It is accomplished through the believer’s continuous volition regardless of the believer’s emotions or lusts (epithumía impulse, desire, or craving) in the mortal body.

3.     The word “reign” is the verb form of the word king (basileúō). Believers are not to let sin rule and reign or be king and master over them.

D.    “Recommit” Yourself to Obedience to God (13-16)

1.     In addition to refusing to let sin reign, the believer is to continuously recommit himself to obedience to God.

2.     Rather than presenting himself and his members to sin, the believer is to “present” (pres imper – parístemi – lit. to place alongside, place at one’s disposal, cf. Ro 12:1) himself to God for the purpose of “obedience” (hupakoúō – hear and obey, listen to, mind) resulting in righteousness (16).

3.     Note the divine and glorious declaration that “sin shall not be our master” (14).

VI.    OBSERVATIONS AND APPLICATIONS

A.    Church Discipline Applies to the Church not the World

1.     These principles do not apply to the world outside the church.

2.     However, these principles can guide the believer’s prevailing spiritual attitudes in his interaction with the world’s situations.

3.     These principles also guide the believer when he finds himself faced with lesser offenses among the community of believers.

B.    Don’t Sin! If you are Sinning, Stop!

1.     Don’t sin, because sin is a serious violation to God and His holiness.

2.     If you are sinning, stop it immediately because of your fellowship with the Lord and the possible consequences of sin.

3.     If necessary seek spiritual help in overcoming sin and temptation.

C.    Walk in Victory over Sin

1.     In conclusion, by “realizing,” “reckoning,” “refusing,” and “recommitting,” the believer will avail himself of his powerful position in Christ and will have victory over sin.

2.     Through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, only Christ will be the believer’s Master.

D.    Walk in a Spirit of Grace and Forgiveness

1.     God holds believers and the church accountable to walk in holiness.

2.     God also holds believers and the church accountable to walk in a spirit of grace and forgiveness with respect to those who are overtaken in sin.

E.    A Battle To Be Reckoned With

1.     There is a battle to be waged in the Christian life. The war has been won by our Champion-Savior, but there are myriads of skirmishes that must be fought in the battle with sin.

2.     Do not grieve if you find yourself always in the midst of skirmishes with sin. Rather fret, grieve, and awaken if you hardly ever hear the trumpet sound and you have no bruises to show for your worth as a soldier in the King’s army.

 Used by Permission.

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