The Neglecting of Church Discipline
Church discipline has been a neglected subject in many congregations in modern times. It is one of the most abused and unused duties given to the church. Much of this is because of ignorance, confusion, false teaching, the emotional difficulty involved, lack of love and concern for erring brethren, etc.
In Isaiah’s day, ignorance was the root-sin that separated Israel from God (1:3). Seven hundred years later, Jesus saw the same tragic ignorance in Israel and cited Isaiah to describe it. Jesus said, “And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: ‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them’” (Mt. 13:14-15). Though we may not always understand God’s motive (Dt. 29:29), it is still necessary to obey. One elder explained the neglect of discipline resulted from not knowing what to do, how to do it, and where to start. Ignorance can be removed by simply studying God’s Word (2 Tim. 2:15). God will not overlook our failure to discipline because of ignorance (Acts 17:30,31).
Lack of Faith
Many brethren neglect church discipline, because they believe it will not work. Because their faith is weak and their spiritual barometer is low. One might as well say baptism will not do any good. Discipline does work. According to 2 Corinthians 2:6, the fornicator at Corinth repented with great sorrow as a result of the punishment inflicted by the many. We need it to save the church (1 Cor 5:7). Discipline is for the good of all concerned. To say otherwise is to impeach God’s wisdom. If we have the impression that it won’t work, then our faith is not as strong as it should be, and we need to do more study on the subject (Rom. 10:17).
Some Don’t Want to Cause Trouble
Discipline was never meant to cause trouble in a church. Paul speaks of peace right after dealing with corrective discipline. “Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way. The Lord be with you all” (2 Th. 3:16). “Peace” that compromises God’s Will, will cause trouble for eternity. It is sin that causes trouble. Discipline stops it’s effect from spreading and causing more trouble. When discipline is not practiced, even the sincere get discouraged.
Because it has been neglected so long, some do not know where to start or cannot find enough faithful ones to start it. This does not excuse present or future neglect. Sin begets sin. Denominations do not teach or some ever practiced the Lord’s Supper upon the first day of every week. Would they be wrong in beginning to do so? There comes a time to set in order the things that are lacking (Tit. 1:5).
What about a congregation that has members who should have been disciplined five to ten years ago but the church neglected to do so. Should they proceed with discipline upon them now?
Part of Corinth’s failure to discipline the member in sin was their pride. “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! And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you” (1 Cor. 5:1-2).
As with the church in Corinth, too many congregations are puffed up over their status that they cannot see the filth and corruption within (Rev. 2:17). Some are proud, thinking that they are doing right, but are doing it all wrong.
There are many fears related to taking discipline upon a member. There is fear: 1) of what the guilty party will do; 2) of what the guilty party’s family and friends will do; 3) of sin and guilt in our own lives; 4) of hurting someone’s feelings or 5) of tearing up the church and driving people away. Discipline will not run them off. They have already run off from God. We need to remember that we are not trying to please men (Gal. 1:10; 4:6). Discipline was designed to shame him, not hurt him; to make him a child of the light, not an enemy; to save, not destroy.
Perhaps one of the greatest fears of people today is the possibility of a disciplined member bringing a lawsuit against the church. We should fear God more than men. We ought to obey God rather than men (Ac. 4:20; 5:29). What should a congregation do if it found itself in the middle of such a lawsuit? Follow the example of the apostles when they were drug before human courts for practicing the Truth.
Elders or those who are spiritual within a congregation are to take a leading role (not a sole role) in this matter of corrective discipline (Gal. 6:1; Heb. 13:7,17). Because of incompetent leaders or because of leadership which winks at sin (Ac. 17:30,31) or because they don’t have the rest of the congregation to back them, many congregations lack the leadership to initiate discipline.
Discipline Is Often Abused
Should we reject marriage, because it is often abused. The taxation of the American people is also often abused. The money taken from us by the government is, on occasions, wasted and misappropriated. Hence, some feel taxes are altogether wrong. Nothing has been more abused than baptism. So should we quit practicing scriptural baptism? Man often believes that anything which is abused is wrong within itself and with the recognition of these abuses man is given to going to the other extreme. Usually, they can cite you instances in which withdrawal only caused division within the local church. They talk about how silly it is for a local church to withdraw from a member when all the member was to do is identify with another nearby church. At other times, congregations are too quick on the “withdraw” and then there are those which procrastinate for years before finally getting around to discipline. In far too many congregations, the members fail to draw near to the individual before there comes a need for discipline. Thus, they never associate and rarely fellowship with the brother outside the church building. In the end, they wind up withdrawing from a stranger, not a brother. Just because discipline is sometimes abused and, therefore, ineffective, does not mean it is altogether wrong and undesirable.
– Daniel R. Vess