Purpose of Church Discipline
In last week’s bulletin the improper motives of church discipline were considered as well as the main motive, which is to save the soul of the erring brother. However, there are several other reasons God has commanded church discipline.
To Protect the Church
Discipline is to purge the church of its complacency toward sin. “Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor. 5:6-8). There is a broad tolerance for sin in the world. There is a too much tolerance for sin in many churches. In many congregations there is little moral difference between the church and the world. Sometimes the sin tolerated in the church shocks the world. Paul told the church at Corinth: “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife!” (1 Cor. 5:1). If the church does not exercise more discipline in the future than in the past, the area of separation between the church and the world will be so narrow that it will be difficult to see. Many, like Corinth of old, have “become arrogant” or proud of their permissiveness (Rev. 2:20). This complacent attitude toward sin is enough to allow the whole lump to become leavened. They are Christians now, thus they should hate sin. Christ warned churches about tolerating, or tampering with sin. (Ephesus, Rev. 2:2,6; Thyatira, 2:20-25; Perganum, 2:14,15).
Secondly, church discipline preserves the purity of the Church. It protects it from the contagious, progressive, and contaminating effects of sin. Sin’s contaminating effect is compared to leaven (I Cor. 5:5,6) and gangrene (2 Tim. 2:17,18). Our cooks know how to use leaven. In making sour dough pancakes the cook saves a “starter’ from the dough each time. This is the to be put in the new dough over night to leaven it. Just as a small part of a cake of yeast will leaven a huge mixing bowl full of dough, so “a little leaven” tolerated in the church will do massive damage. We cannot permit the leaven of the world into the church. There is no room nor reason for a starter from the old batch. We should emulate the Israelites who searched the darkest places of their homes to be sure all leaven was removed (Ex. 12:15,20; 13:7) for the Feast of Unleaven Bread. It is like a rotten apple in a barrel or cancer in the body or like weeds in the garden. A little sin allowed to remain in the body will destroy the whole body (Rev. 2:5; 18:4).
Sinners will corrupt others if not promptly removed. Solomon wisely warned, “because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil” (Eccl. 8:11). Just as the lepers were to be removed from communities, (Numbers 5:1-4) in the laws of the land when one is permitted to get away with criminal activity, others try to get away with it as well. Sin attracts sin and the unrighteous are not satisfied until they have partners in their unrighteousness. If one can abuse a brother and not be disciplined, then…. one can refuse to live as the Lord requires, then…. another can teach false doctrine, then… Remember, it only takes a few cold sinners to quench the fire of any congregation.
The church is to be made of the purified. Of those who have had their souls purified in obeying the truth (1 Pet. 1:22; Rom. 6:17,18). Their garments have been washed in the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 7:14). They must keep themselves pure (1 Tim. 5:22; 1 Pet. 1:13-16). Christ desires to present His bride without “spot or wrinkle, or any such thing” (Eph. 5:25-27). God’s intentions are to keep us pure (1Tim. 5:22; 4:12; (2 Cor. 6:17,18). Sinners constitute spots or blemishes in the purified body (2 Pet. 2:13). The greatest enemy that the church has is internal corruption (Tit. 1:16; Jd. 16; 1 Tim. 6:5).
Discipline is needed to preserve the influence of the church. It is the defense of the good name of the church. Every effort must be made to show the world that the church of Christ will not tolerate moral evil within its ranks. The church is to be the “pillar and ground of the truth”, thus it can never display partiality for sinners, no leniency for transgressors. All churches have either a good or bad influence before the world (2 Cor. 3:2; Phil. 2:14,15). Corinth had a bad one (1 Cor. 5:1). When sinfulness is tolerated by the church it nullifies our claim of being a New Testament church. The action of 2 Thessalonians 3:6 suggests that we are trying to obey, protect, and defend all that God revealed through the apostles.
A church that does not discipline will lose the respect of decent people in the community and of those Christians who desire to follow Christ sincerely. The world will have a lot more respect for the church if it is trying to keep itself clean than it will have for a church which tries to hide its sins. Thinking men and women do not want to belong to a hypocritical institution. They do not want membership in an organization that preaches one thing and practices another.
When a man of the world can truthfully say that he lives a better, cleaner life than the average church member, or when he can truthfully say there are too many hypocrites in the church, we may know that the church is not exercising discipline as it should.
Having been ordained to save the world, it is often hard put to save itself. We are the “sinner’s Bible; we are the scoffer’s creed.” We cannot bring the world to Christ by compromising with evil. An unconverted church cannot convert the world to Christ.
Who will appreciate the need to be affiliated with a church that condones the same sins it is trying to convert them from.
Discipline will not destroy the influence of the church. When Ananias and Sapphira were punished, it caused respect by the world (Ac 5:11). It might bring a stimulating and amazing awakening message to an unbelieving world.
To Respect the Will of God
Proper discipline will: maintain Christ’s honor, (Js. 3:16-18. Proper discipline will help maintain Christ’s authority. He has all authority (Mt. 28:18). The church is subject to Him (Eph. 1:22). We must discipline with his authority (1 Cor. 5:4). We must discipline to who that we are subject to Christ’s authority (2 Cor. 2:9; Rev. 2:5). We are commanded to “do all to the glory of God”(1 Cor. 10:31) and to cause men, by thus living, “to glorify God” (1 Pet. 2:12).
To Strengthen Faithful Christians
Discipline produces godly fear among the members (1 Tim. 5:19,20; Acts 5:1-11). It demonstrates to others that sin is not permitted. Paul commanded, “those who are outside God judges. Therefore ‘put away from yourselves the evil person’” (1 Cor. 5:13). If all members were informed as to what they may expect when sin is allowed to rule their lives, very little corrective discipline would ever be needed. Every effort should be made to develop every member of the church into the highest possible usefulness in the service of the Lord. The church is a store house of untold power, much of its power is allowed to lie dormant.
When members are called upon to discipline a fellow member, it puts their obedience to God’s Will to the test. Concerning the penitent member Paul noted in 2 Corinthians 2:8-9: “Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him. For to this end I also wrote, that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things.”
– Daniel R. Vess