The Need For Church Discipline
“Why, I never heard of the church withdrawing from anybody.” This statement came be heard across the nation in the New Testament church by those who have been members for forty years or more. Why? Not because such is not taught in the Bible, but because this has been a neglected subject in many places. Little is taught on it, and less is practiced.
There are many differences and problems related to church discipline because brethren over the years have not been taught. There are extremists. Some cry for love and tolerance. Others are professional purifiers. It is one of the most abused and unused responsibilities in the church today. Much of this is because of ignorance, confusion, false teaching, the emotional difficulty involved, lack of love and concern for erring brethren, etc.
The objective of this study is to simply learn what church discipline is, how to do it, and how to overcome the various misconceptions surrounding it. To comprehend any doctrine of the Bible one must 1) study all or most of the passages relating to it and 2) study it systematically and thoroughly. To consider any false doctrine one must first study the Bible’s teaching on the subject before they can honestly and/or accurately teach against a false doctrine. Therefore, we will first, define church discipline, then study the various texts dealing with this subject, next outline the procedures, identify the subjects, purpose, and manner of church discipline, consider the time involved in this process, and then study some objections and false doctrines related to this topic.
The Need for Discipline Within Society
To our society, the term “discipline” is a dirty word, cruel and barbaric. We live in an age that wants no restraints or controls. Lack of discipline pervades society. Disregard for authority is evident on every hand. A lack of respect for law and for those who enforce the law has brought us to our lowest ebb in morality, to our highest crime rate in this country. A lack of discipline in the home has brought us a wave of juvenile delinquency. Parental authority is not respected. Teachers have become fair game for mental and physical abuse because students know they will not be severely punished. Adultery, homosexuality, incest, violence and crime against society and God’s law are the norm rather than the exception. Those involved in adulterous marriages, social drinkers, false teachers, immodest dress, gambling, etc. fill churches and are welcomed into the congregations with open arms. They are not afraid to sin because they are not afraid of sin, do not fear God, and have no fear that brethren will discipline them.
In contrast with this, the Bible teaches discipline and respect for authority in all walks of life. One of the greatest needs of our day is discipline. Every organization, no matter the size, has to regulate or control itself.
The Bible teaches us to respect civil government (Rom. 13:1-4.) Christians may have never lived under a more ruthless government than Rome. Society sees the necessity of discipline in that it provides laws, as well as trials and punishments of violators.
God has also demanded that discipline be maintained in the family. “He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him promptly” (Proverbs 13:14). “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). Much of the juvenile delinquency rampant today is caused by parental delinquency, because no discipline was practiced upon the child in the home. A home cannot exist without authority and discipline. If everyone is the “head of the house” no one is.
The Need for Discipline Within the Church
The church is God’s family (1 Tim. 3:15), school (1 Tim. 3:16), army (1 Tim. 1:18; 2 Tim. 2:3), kingdom, etc. and like all these requires discipline.
Every member of the church is to submit to the loving discipline of the Father (Heb. 12:5-11). God has always demanded discipline to be maintained among his subjects. (Examples: A man was caught picking up sticks on the Sabbath (Ex. 20:8; Num. 15:32-41); Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire before the Lord, (Lev. 10:1-7); Achan took of the spoils of the city of Jericho, (Josh. 6,7); and Ananias and Sapphira attempted to lie to God (Acts 5:1-11). Concerning the discipline we receive from God the Hebrew writer states: 1) Don’t be indifferent or stoic about it (12:5a). 2) Don’t be discouraged about discipline for it is for your good(12:5b). 3) Discipline is an expression of love, 6a. 4) Discipline is proof of sonship (12:6b). 5) Discipline is a family matter (12:7). 6) To be without discipline is to be an illegitimate child (12:8). 7) Discipline brings respect to the one who disciplines (12:9). 8) Discipline is good for one even if it seems to be bad at the moment (12:11).
Discipline begins with the individual. Paul had to buffet his body and keep it under control (1Cor. 9:26,27). He is to crucify the flesh with passions and lusts (Gal. 5:24) and trains self to be godly (1 Tim. 4:8). When one will not maintain personal discipline he will become the subject of public discipline.
Every member is responsible to elders’ discipline (1 The. 5:12,13; 1 Tim. 5:17-19; Heb. 13:17).
Every member is responsible for the discipline to one another (Ac. 11:23; 1 Th. 3:11,12; Heb. 3:12,13; 10:24,25; Eph. 5:19).
– Daniel R. Vess
Perfecting the Royal Law
Christians are not immune to the temptation to show partiality and favoritism based on the carnal blessings such as riches and fine clothing. The wisdom of the Old Testament warns against being a respecter of persons. “These things also belong to the wise: it is not good to show partiality in judgment” (Prov. 24:23). “To show partiality is not good, because for a piece of bread a man will transgress” (Prov. 28:21). God is not a respecter of persons (Rom. 2:11) and our faith in Him cannot be contaminated with such a sin.
Two men come to worship. One is clearly rich by the way he dresses and his ring. The other is wearing dirty clothes having just come from a menial low paying job. The rich man is given a good seat and the poor man has to sit on the floor. By doing so they have passed judgment upon a brother based upon his financial worth. To think this way about our brothers in Christ or even visitors to the assembly is wicked.
James gives several reasons why this is wrong. First, God chose the poor so why do mere men choose to devalue them. They can be rich in faith even though they lack money and fine clothes. They are heirs of the all the spiritual riches of the church just like everyone else. They love God just like all other true Christians do. The poor man has been honored by God and dishonored by God’s children. Furthermore, the rich have been known to use their status to oppress others and manipulate the courts in their favor. The members of the church are called Christians and children of God. They wear the names of perfect impartial deity. When they behave this way favoring the rich and dishonoring the poor, they end up guilty of blasphemy. They also fail to keep the royal or supreme law which calls upon Christians to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18; Matt. 22:36-40; Mk. 12:28-31; Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14). “Love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:10). Instead of keeping this law they are sinning and breaking the law. What good is it for a Christian to be faithful to his wife and then kill his neighbor? He is still a criminal. What good is it to love the rich if you dishonor the poor man?
The judges of the poor and rich will be judged by God’s law. It is a law that frees man from the worldly considerations of value Those saints who are merciless in their judgment of others will face a life and after life where the Judge of all men will repay the same judgment to them. If they had show mercy to the poor instead of judging their value based on their income they would have overcome their judgmental favoritism.
– Daniel R. Vess