Church Discipline

We introduced this subject on the editorial page; indicating the relation of initial instructive discipline to fellowship with God. But discipline should not stop with the call of the gospel. “Together” activities of the saints add another dimension to fellowship — the joint participation or sharing of “fellows” in their endeavor to serve God — and this also calls for a type of discipline. As we “edify in love” (Eph. 4:16), or “teach and admonish” in singing, or study, pray, and sacrifice together; we are assisting one another to be faithful to the Lord. We have need of one another (1 Cor. 12:14-f), and the more we recognize and supply that need, the closer will be our fellowship, the more effective our day by day “discipline by example.” Our spiritual brothers must become our peers, whose approval or disapproval mean the most to us. This is the sort of communion that gives meaning to the various scriptures on corrective discipline, and without which they lose their effectiveness.

Disfellowship HAS meaning only to the extent that fellowship HAD meaning to us. Would you rather your social companions go to hell than for them to be embarrassed by the truth? Are you embarrassed by the truth? Are you embarrassed that God’s people are different from those of the world? Is your relation with Christ and the saints of secondary, or thirdary, importance in your life? If “Yes,” then you will balk at church discipline. You will neither be profited by it, nor will you profit others in its application. Discipline works only with those who try to serve the Lord.

I can hear it now. “Those people do not need discipline.” I fear this comes from brethren who view discipline as a means of forcing people to serve the Lord. “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal.” (2 Cor. 10:) We cannot force the discipline of the gospel call, nor of Christian service, upon anyone. We deal with adult men and women whose hearts must be made captive to Christ.

Consider our first example. “If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained by brother” (Matt. 18:15-17). The object is to gain the man, not your way. The clear message is that he is in the wrong, and you, your helpers, and finally the whole church speaks in an effort to bring him back into fellowship with God. The church can neither put him in, nor take him out, of such fellowship except as he is persuaded to act. Failing in this, they recognize him for what he has made himself — “as one of those without.” Neither hate, spite, nor vindictiveness is indicated here. Do you “hate” or “spite” a non-member when you fail to call upon him for public prayer or service??

In 1 Thess. 4:10-12 Paul “besought” those brethren to quietly work and tend to business, but apparently some gave no heed. So in 2 Thess. 3: he “commands” them to “withdraw from every brother that walketh disorderly” or “out of step” with apostolic teaching. “Note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (vss. 14-15).

“That he may be ashamed” shows the effectiveness of their action would be contingent upon an earlier fellowship. If he “didn’t give a hoot” this withdrawal of approval and company would not benefit him. “Count him not as an enemy” shows no hostile feeling was to accompany the correction, and “admonish as a brother” describes the attitude to be maintained. Expositor’s comment: “Disapproval, as a means of moral discipline, loses all its effect if the offender does not realize its object and reason, or if it is tainted with personal hostility.” If a church cannot demonstrate this attitude it is incapable of exercising scriptural discipline.

It is to our shame and discredit that our next example more clearly describes current situations in churches of our day. In 1 Cor. 5: Paul uses one verse to define a sinner in Corinth; and devotes the remainder of the chapter to upbraiding those innocent of the first sin, because they had made no effort to correct it. “Ye are puffed up” (we are too holy to discuss such things), “and have not mourned” (business as usual — funeral spirit kills our ‘enthusiasm’), “that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you” (Oh, that would be interfering with his personal life). Haven’t you heard it??

Paul says, “when ye are gathered together..” This thing has, through neglect, passed the earlier stages. All members are involved — not just the elders, though they should lead. 2 Cor. 2:6 states the punishment was “inflicted by the many.” In Matt. 18: it was “tell it to the church.” In 2 Thess. 3: Paul commanded “brethren.” The “spiritual” among the Galatian brethren had obligations (6:1-f). NO PASSAGE puts these matters into the hands of some episcopacy which represents “the church.” We can not escape responsibility by saying “Our elders won’t do anything about it.” Elders have leadership responsibilities, but their judgment is not divine mandate.

“Deliver unto Satan” means publicly recognize and declare the sinner for what he is. The declaration does not make him a child of the devil; his actions have done that (Jn. 8:44). Paul “delivered unto Satan” Hymeneus and Alexander (1 Tim. 1:20), and had no hesitancy in saying so. Even in such radical treatment the purpose is “that they may learn not to blaspheme” or, “for the destruction of the flesh that the spirit may be saved...” In coming to Christ the “old man” of the flesh should have been put to death — but such flagrant proof that old ways yet live cannot be tolerated. If the “gospel call” discipline did not “put to death” such conduct, corrective discipline must be exercised. If the offender has a “spark” of concern for fellowship with God, the withdrawal of fellowship by those who are trying to “walk with God” may cause him to see his lost and undone condition.

And finally—if it doesn’t, such evil leaven must be removed from the church. This is not the first consideration, but it is certainly not an element of discipline to be ignored. THE SPIRITUAL NATURE AND GOAL OF EACH LOCAL CHURCH, ITS SPIRITUAL CHARACTER, IS HIGHLY DEPENDENT UPON THE EXERCISE OF DIVINELY ORDAINED DISCIPLINE.