Procedure of Church Discipline (Part Two)
Church discipline requires that the church listen and speak. Jesus said, “And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church” (Mt. 18:17). The purpose for this command is manifold: frustrations of caring Christian can now be overcome because there can be positive response from all the body. Corrective discipline becomes a function of the body life (1 Cor. 12:25,26). The sinful brother might be recalled because of the very diversity of individual members who try to correct him. The disorderly will be warned and vividly impressed about his wrong (1 Th. 5:14; Tit. 3:10,11). “Rebuke” is epitimao meaning “to set a weight upon, to tax upon,”. Hence, the object in rebuking a sinner is to make him feel the weight of guilt and the impending tax or penalty for sin. There must be sincere, diligent effort to restore the disorderly (Gal. 6:1,2). “Restore” is from hatartizo meaning “to mend, to furnish completely, is translated ‘restore’ in Gal. 6:1, Metaphorically, of the restoration, by those who are spiritual, of one overtaken in a trespass, such a one being as a dislocated member the of spiritual body. The tense is the continuous present, suggesting the necessity for patience and perseverance in the process” (W.E. Vine, p. 290).
● Involves Collective Action
Some think Church discipline is an “official” action of the church that does not involve the membership. Others say it is an individual matter only, to be done only when and as each person sees fit. They believe it does not involve the church at all. Yet, Paul clearly told the church at Corinth: “When ye are assembled together” (1 Cor. 5:4,5, KJV). The procedure often used is: The congregation is informed of the efforts that have been put forth and next, the congregation is then given the name or names of those toward whom such efforts have been put forth. A public statement should be made, or read, that all may know and have part in the action. Each one is then urged to do what he or she can to restore the erring brother to faithfulness. If at the end of a reasonable period of time (ten days to two weeks) restoration has not been made, the next step is taken.
No independent and individual punitive discipline is acceptable. It is the duty of the whole church to support the action (1 Cor. 5:9-11; 2 Th. 3:14). Those of the congregation who uphold the one disciplined should also be disciplined as disobedient to God and thus walking disorderly. No church nor Christian elsewhere has a scriptural right to extend association to the one disciplined as long as he refuses to repent. However, it is the obligation of each congregation to check and make its own autonomous decision.
● Involves Public Identification of Sin and Sinner
We are to mark and note the sinner. “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them” (Rom. 16:17). “And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed” (2 Th. 3:14). The words “mark” and “avoid” are the same as “take note” and “do not associate”. “Lit. Set a mark on” (Vincent, 4:71). “to mark, note, distinguish by marking” (Thayer, p. 474). “Mark” means “to look at, observe, contemplate, to mark…to fix one’s eyes upon, direct one’s attention to, anyone: Rom. 16:17; Phil. 3:17…” (Thayer, p. 579). These involve public recognition of sinner’s fellowship with Satan and his severance of fellowship with God (1 Cor. 5:5; Eph. 5:11; 1 Tim. 1:19,20). Marking them by name: Paul did this with Demas, Hymenaeus, Philetus, and Alexander the coppersmith.
● An Individual Responsibility
Paul commanded the brethren at Thessalonica “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us“ (2 Thess. 3:6). The phrase “withdraw yourselves” means “to remove one’s self, withdraw one’s self to depart,..to abstain form familiar (social contact) with one” (Thayer, p. 587). Withdrawal is both an individual and a congregational matter. We withdraw ourselves (individuals). Yet, this results only when one refuses to hear the church (the congregation). The withdrawal announcement is to take place when we are “gathered together” (1 Cor. 5:4). It is just an announcement and not the withdrawal itself. The withdrawing is to take place in the life of each Christian after the announcement has been made. The scriptures do necessarily infer that some kind of an announcement is to be made.
● Difference Between Association and Fellowship
Fellowship is spiritual partnership and participation. It should be understood that no brother or congregation determines our Father’s fellowship for Him. When a congregation undertakes to discipline an erring brother or sister, following God’s instructions in the processes, they (the congregation) are obeying God’s Will regarding their fellowship with God. When Christ determines to remove the candlestick, either of an individual or a congregation, we cannot decide or know (Rev. 2;4,5). How merciful and longsuffering He will be with an individual or a congregation not one of us can know nor determine. Congregational discipline deals with our relationships within the local church, not a brother’s fellowship with God, nor his fellowship with his employer, nor with his fellowship within his personal human family. That is any relationship outside that of the local congregation.
The word “association” comes from the Greek word sunanamignumi. The base mignunmi means “to mingle” or “to mix”. The prefix sun carried the idea of “with” and ana means “up”. Thus, lit. it means “mix up with” or “to be mixed up with” or “to mix together with”. Associating with one another is a command (Acts 2:44,45; 4:32; 14:21,22; 28:15; Rom. 12:13; Heb. 13:1,2). When a brother refuses to repent, all social contact must be withheld. Nine phrases are used to emphasize the point that the sinful, impenitent brother was to be expelled from their recognition of fellowship and association. They are:
● “be removed” (1 Cor. 5:2)
● “deliver to Satan” (5)
● “purge out” (7)
● “remove the wicked man” (13)
● “keep aloof from” (2 Th. 3:6),
● “take special note of that man, and do not associate with him…” (14)
● “mark” and “avoid” (Rom. 16:17)
● treat him as a “heathen and a publican” (Mt. 18:17).
● “reject” (Tit. 3:10).
The terms “avoid” in Romans 16:17 and “withdraw” in 2 Thessalonians 3:6 and “reject” in Titus 3:10 are equivalent commands. The word “avoid” means “to turn away from keep aloof from, one’s society;…” (Thayer). The word “reject” means “to shun, avoid:…Tit. 3:10″ (Thayer, 482). “Withdraw” means “…that you keep aloof from…” (2 Th. 3:5, NASV). “Avoid” means “to depart or withdraw form: to keep away from; stay clear of” (Webster). “Ekklino, to turn away form, to turn aside, lit., to bend out of (ek, out, kno, to bend)…of turning away from those who cause offenses and occasions of stumbling…” (Vine, 91).
The Lord’s plan will work, if we will only work His plan. God gave us the plan of discipline. We need to work it. Remember, nothing is settled with the Lord until it is settled right. Overlooking sin in the church will not save unfaithful brethren; it will only condemn us.
Each of our Lord’s formal disciplinary steps infers compassionate concern for the accused individual. Each step infers respect for confidentiality and for accuracy of information in dealing with the accused. Initial steps infer a desire to clear the accused of guilt without telling it to the church.
– Daniel R. Vess