On Church Discipline

This article is about matters of the Church.

In a conversation with a brother the other day, the following questions came up:

excommunication“Is it ever appropriate to put someone out of a church or fellowship? Aren’t we supposed to show Christ’s forgiveness?”

“If we should remove a brother from fellowship for the sin of, say, pursuing a lifestyle of homosexual behavior, shouldn’t we also kick out the habitual gossips, drunks, liars and tax cheats? After all, if the penalty for any sin is the same, then shouldn’t we treat them all the same?”

I’d like to address the second question first. Simply put, the question confuses the eternal penalty for sin with temporal consequences. While it is true that the ultimate penalty for any sin is death (Rom. 3:23), the consequences and penalties for sin in this world can be as varied as the types of sin we commit.

Even a quick reading of the Scripture shows this; most of the last half of Exodus deals with what the appropriate punishment or restitution for different sins should be.

In the New Testament, both Jesus (in Matthew 18:15-20) and Paul (1 Corinthians 5:1-5, for example) give instruction concerning church discipline. The offender is to be confronted privately, and if he remains unrepentant, again with two or three members of the church or ministry that are witnesses to the sin. If the offender is still unrepentant, he is to be brought before the membership, and if STILL unrepentant, is to be excluded from the fellowship.

Keeping in mind that the purpose of church discipline is to bring the offender to repentance and reconciliation, the answer to the first question becomes clear. We are to show Christ’s love to each other both individually and corporately. If, as it is viewed throughout Scripture, sin is like a cancer, how can it be loving to either the assembly or the individual to allow that cancer to spread?

To continue with the analogy of sin as cancer, there are differing treatments for cancer, ranging from simply removing a tumor to major surgery or amputation to courses of chemical and radiation treatments. While the ‘cancer’ must be removed, the nature and extent it has spread will determine the treatment – the goal is to help the patient recover with the minimum amount of pain and damage to healthy organs. The most radical treatments are reserved for the most dangerous or aggressively spreading cancers.
Likewise, excommunication(or ‘kicking out’) is reserved for two classes of sin: sexual sin and other habitual or blatant sin that would bring a bad reputation upon God’s church. In any case, removal from fellowship is only an acceptable discipline when the sinner is by word or deed unrepentant. If he is willing to refrain from the sin in question and submit to the discipline of the assembly (under God’s direction and in love) for the purpose of restoration, then he may remain in fellowship.

Therefore, it is loving, Godly, and prudent to discipline the brother in habitual sin. Whether that extends to banishment from fellowship, disqualification for ministry positions, or something else is dependent upon the individual situation. While the ‘cancer’ must be removed, the nature and extent it has spread will determine the treatment – the goal is to help the patient recover with the minimum amount of pain.

That is why Warrior of Faith has a high standard of conduct when it comes to full membership. We as an assembly of God’s people are called to show not only His love, but His holiness to the world. Do we fall? Of course we do, but we get up, take our ‘medicine’, and get back to battle!

— Cowboy

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

Gotquestions.org has a well written article about church discipline with many Biblical references.

Bible.org has another article, with a slightly different emphasis.

Christianity Today has an article showing how one church administers discipline, and has some very good guidelines.

The following passages deal with the subject of discipline, are a good starting point for further study and reflection:

I Corinthians 5
II Thessalonians 3
Titus 38-11

I Timothy 3:1-13 gives the qualifications for church leadership. Read through them, and note the habitual sins that are DISqualifications.

–Cowboy

3 Responses to On Church Discipline

    • At the end of each article, I post links to other sites with more information on the topic. Many of these sites cover other topics as well. I encourage you to check them all out!

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