Church Discipline - Part 1

Previously, I wrote about the importance of the disposition of the heart in church discipline. In this series of articles I want to expand on that a bit further with regards to the major biblical teaching on Church discipline.

Church discipline is necessary for at least two reasons: (1) Local churches can be easily corrupted by one bad apple. (2) It is a mechanism for restoration when people sin. Therefore, discipline is needed for the health of the church. In the Bible, there are two major passages that deal directly with discipline, Matthew 18:15-35 and 1 Corinthians 5.

In Matthew 18:15-35 we see the process, authority, and forgiveness required for church discipline.

Process (Matt. 18:15-17):
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he doesn't listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
We, without anybody else involved, should confront another person first if they sin against us in case there is some misunderstanding and/or it can be resolved immediately. If individual attempts are rebuffed then there should be at least one or two other people who listen to both sides of the story and also attempt to convince the other person to repent. It is important to note that the witnesses also have to agree that the charge is valid. This isn't about taking sides, it is about making sure the evidence fits the fault. If the witnesses agree that this really is a fault and it is important, then the issue should be brought to the church. Once again the church does not automatically side with the accuser, it also must listen to both sides and render a judgment.

Authority (Matt. 18:18-20):
Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.
Let's be clear that it is the Father who is in authority and He will not act unjustly. Some take this to mean that decisions that are made on earth are ratified in Heaven. This is all fine and good if the decision made is holy, but if it is unholy I would think it would be blasphemy to say in any way that God condones the decision. Many a deranged person has done evil deeds stating that God told them to do it, but that does not mean they acted in His name. Church discipline is only binding when it is done justly and God is the judge of that.

Forgiveness (Matt. 18:21-35):
Then Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven." ... Then his master summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?' And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.
This passage of discipline in Matthew starts off by describing the situation, "If your brother sins against you," but it ends with a parable of warning to the person who brought the accusation. Bringing an accusation against someone must also be accompanied with overriding desire for mercy and forgiveness. Lest we forget that we have sinned against God and been forgiven.

In the book of Matthew we see that the process of discipline is meant to resolve the problem as quickly as possible and avoid false accusations of the accused. Those who are involved in administering discipline must take their duty seriously as they seek to act in the name of Jesus. And the person who is accusing must be ready, eager, and willing to forgive.


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