Treatment of Sinner in Church Discipline

After the congregation has followed the proper process in disciplining the member who will not repent, it is essential that the whole congregation know how to treat the one disciplined.

Do Not Socialize with Them

We must quit keeping social company with the one who has been the object of church discipline and will not repent. No more hunting, fishing, golf, sewing, shopping, picnics, games, etc. until there is true repentance. Some think so long as they do not eat with an unrepentant member that they can still keep company in all other ways. But we are to treat him as a heathen and a publican. Jesus said of the sinner, “and if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector” (Mt. 18:17). The way in which the Jews regarded Gentiles and publicans is illustrated in Luke 5:30; Acts 10:38; 11:2,3.

“What did I do to draw nearer to that brother or sister before the situation arose calling on me to withdraw? It involves getting to know one another, knowing one another’s strengths and weaknesses. How can I “rejoice with them that do rejoice” or “weep with them that weep,” when I have made no effort to know them? What if an erring Christian was never made to feel a part of the family of God? Or, having once felt a part of the family, fell away with little or no contact from other Christians. How effective would our withdrawing be on that person? It would not be very effective. It is unrealistic to think one can walk into another Christian’s home for the first time and simply tell them to straighten up, and think you have done all that you can. It requires a sense of “family” that will only come from spending time together. It requires drawing near before one has to withdraw. It is sad to say, in some cases, the closeness between brethren is absent, indeed this absence may contribute to the problems in the first place.

Do Not Eat a Social Meal with Them

“But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person” (1 Cor. 5:11).

To eat with a man was to acknowledge him as a worthy equal. The Jews rebuked Peter, because he ate with Gentiles, that is, those of Cornelius’ household (Acts 11:3), thereby recognizing them as equals. The saints are to have no interchange of hospitality with the sinner which would imply brotherly recognition. Whatever implies endorsement must be avoided. It means to give no encouragement in anyway to the evil one is doing. John wrote, “whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds” (2 Jn. 9-11). To extend association to those from whom the church has withdrawn is to be partakers of their evil deeds, (2 Jn. 11).

This of course, does not refer to incidental eating, such as, in a restaurant, at school or work, at the different table, etc.

Some have suggested that this means we are not to eat the Lord’s Supper with the one disciplined. The Bible does not teach closed communion. Each man is to examine himself regarding the Supper (1 Cor. 11:27-29). 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 is not referring to the Lord’s Supper. Whatever Paul forbids our doing with a brother that is a sinner, he allows or permits us doing with a man of the world. The phrase “no not to eat” is in apposition to “not to keep company” found in the same verse. It follows that the eating forbidden is eating engaged in with the world, hence, a common meal. If reference is to the Lord’s Super, then men and women who belong to the world you are assumed to eat the Lord’s Supper.

Make Sinner Ashamed

The purpose behind the brethren noting and disassociating the unfaithful impenitent brother is “that he may be ashamed” (3:14). The term “ashamed” in the text means “to turn one upon himself, and so produce a feeling of shame, a wholesome shame which involves a change of conduct” (Vine). When the fornicator at Corinth was disciplined the result produced godly sorrow (2 Cor. 2:6,7). Discipline is to destroy the influence of the flesh (1 Cor. 5:5). Disassociation by the brethren is to teach them the seriousness of sin (1 Tim. 1:1,9,20). Withdrawing of oneself from the sinning brother lets him know that he is in the grasp of Satan (1 Cor. 5:5).

Not as an Enemy

Paul said the disciplined member is not to be regarded as an enemy. “Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (2 Th. 3:15). Church discipline of a member does not mean that we should refuse to speak to the person if we meet him on the street. It does not justify our acting in an uncivil manner toward him. It does not mean we would cease to show any kindness and compassion toward him or that we would refuse help to him in trials and afflictions. We will still be interested in seeking his salvation, just as we would a heathen man, yet in such a way as to leave no doubt regarding our attitude toward his life. It means no social communion or association with him until he repents. If you tell him every time you see him that he should repent, he will soon repent or start avoiding you. An erring brother who in an unrepentant state is his own worst enemy. What he needs in the faithful brethren is a truth friend who will rebuke him. Brethren need to continue to love him for his soul’s sake. After all, the faithful are even commanded to do good to and love their enemies.

Admonish Him as a Brother

Instead of treating the sinful brother like an enemy, spiritual brethren should “admonish him as a brother” (2 Th. 3:15). This does not mean we should turn up our noses at the erring. God forbid! Our contact with the erring should be for spiritual reasons, not social. They need to continue to seek opportunities to save this brother (Gal 6:1). Church discipline is positive peer pressure at its best.

Do Not to Throw out of the Church

The apostle John was going to rebuke Diotrephes for tossing some of the saints out of the services (3 John 9,10). God does the adding of the saved to the church (Ac. 2:47) and He does the subtracting (Jn. 15:2). “To remove the wicked man from among you” is not referring to his physical presence in the church building but to our social agenda or calendar.

Have No Fellowship

“And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them” (Eph. 5:11). This would be a proper response to those of the world and those brethren who have gone back into the world.

Fellowship is the result of our mutual relation with God. We are bound together in the local assembly in order that we might draw strength from one another by mutual edification. This fellowship is dependent on our being like-minded (Phil. 2:2). It is impaired when any fellow fails to maintain his like-mindedness with other fellows. Other-mindedness instead of like-mindedness.

The principle taught here would apply to all who have been disciplined for not abiding in the teaching of Christ. They are not to be encouraged, aided or endorsed. This has no reference to people with whom we may have differences on matters of judgment or opinion.

We are not forbidden to have religious and social communion with him or to do anything that would sanction, encourage, or lend support to his sinful life.

– Daniel R. Vess

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