Objections to Church Discipline

It would seem that with the plain teaching upon the subject of discipline as set forth in the New Testament there could be no objections registered by anyone who professed to believe in the teaching of the apostles. But, every good work or endeavor meets criticisms and objections. Are the objections valid or are they raised for some other reason?

“It Is Judging”

“Judge not that you be not judged” is probably the most often quoted and most misunderstood passage in the Bible. Jesus did not condemn the Pharisees for trying to get the mote from another’s eye. They were condemned for not getting the beam out of their own eye, first. It is talking about hypocritical judgments (Matt. 7:1-5).

Types of judgment commanded: 1) The mote hunters in Matthew 7:1-5 were commanded to judge another’s eye after removing the beam from their own eye. 2) Judging and pointing out religious error must be practiced to please God (Mt. 15:9-13). 3) “Fruit-inspection” or judging a man by his fruit is certainly approved by our Lord in the same context that says “judge not.” (Mt. 7:15-20). 4) We are commanded to “judge righteous judgment” (Jn. 7:24). This forbids harsh, unkind, hypocritical judgment. To judge righteous judgment is simply to apply God’s judgment standards instead of our own standards, always with the best interests of the judged person at heart. 5) We are commanded to judge those in the local congregation (1 Cor. 5:3,12). 6) God gave standards for judging the qualifications of church deacons and elders (Acts 6:3; I Th. 3:1-12). 7) Judgments of civil rulers are a part of God’s plan (Rom. 13:4). 8) We are told to judge in the cases of dispute which arise among brethren (1 Cor. 6:5).

There are certain types of judging which is condemned: Harsh, critical, condemning judgments, based upon guess, surmise, and speculation are forbidden. Judging by one guilty of the same practice. Judging the right or wrong of what others are doing by our own likes and dislikes (Rom. 14). Judging the motives being the deeds (1 Cor. 2:11).

The command to “judge not” is limited, modified and explained by other scriptures, and we thus conclude that it means we are to “judge not with unrighteous judgment.”

“It Shows That We Don’t Love Them”

Parents ruin their children by claiming they love them too much to discipline them. “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly.” (Prov. 13:24). Do we hate a child when we correct him for dangerously crossing the street. Correcting one in error shows great love (Pr. 27:5,6; 28:23; Eccl. 7:5). It may hurt their feelings, but feelings may be temporarily hurt and the soul be saved. If we love the Lord and our brethren we will fulfill both the pleasant and unpleasant duties given to us.

It is love for the sinner, that he may be saved by it. It is love for other brethren, that they will be purified and protected by it. Some show more love for a dog than for the Lord’s Church. They will remove the thorn from the dog’s foot, but leave thorns in the body of Christ. It is love for God, because He commanded it (1 Jn. 5:3). If church discipline seems cruel read (Dt. 21:18-21). Under that physical law, God ordered the death of the sinner. Why? “…So shalt thou put away evil from among you; and all Israel shall hear and fear” (Dt. 21:21). When Israel ceased to slay sinners, according to God’s law, God slew Israel. In order to purge idolatry from among his people in Israel, God decreed the death of the idolater (Dt. 13:11). No sin is ever settled by being white-washed. Discipline is God’s surgical scalpel for the removal of cancer from the Body (2 Tim. 2:17,18). A rotten tomato in the basket or a decaying potato in a barrel all affect those about them until the rotten ones are removed.

“No One Is Sinless”

Although it is true that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), this does not excuse the local church of disciplining sinners. They argue, “let the one without sin cast the first stone” or “people who live in glass houses do not throw stones.” This implies that we are all so imperfect that we cannot engage in any part of church discipline without being a hypocrite. There is a big difference between one who will acknowledge his fault and earnestly strive to overcome it, and one who sins, but refuses all efforts to bring him to repentance. It is true that we all sin (I Jn. 1:6-10), but we do not all “walk disorderly.” Just because all Christians make missteps in sin, does not mean they are walking disorderly. Just as there is a difference between taking a walk and taking a step there is a big difference between one who commits a sin than one who walks in sin. Withdrawal is not for imperfection in growth, not for those striving diligently, but for the stubborn refusal to repent.

“It Will Harden Their Heart”

When Jesus preached, His teaching turned many away (Jn. 6:66). Teaching baptism for remission of sins may harden some. Remember, discipline at Corinth was effective in returning the fornicator to God (2 Cor 2:6ff).

“It Kicks People out of the Church”

The Lord adds to the church (Ac. 2:42). The Lord blots the names out of the book of life (Rev. 3:5). No man has the right to cast anyone out of the Lord’s church (3 Jn. 9). When a child is disciplined they are not kicked out of the family. We do not kick them out of the assembly or the Local Church for they are still to be treated as a brother (2 Th. 3:15).

Our primary concern should be quality, not quantity. On the other hand, it may be the very thing, that will shake up and wake up those who are drifting rapidly over the falls to destruction. Some must be “snatched from the fire” (Jude 23). Though discipline may temporarily cause a drop in the local church’s membership in time it will increase with stronger members (Ac. 5:11).

“The Parable of the Tares Forbids Discipline”

Some argue: “The parable of the tares opposes church discipline by teaching us to let the saint and the sinner grow together in the church, lest while we gather up the tares, we root up also the wheat with them.”

Two laws of the logic of interpretation are 1) no man can put an interpretation on a parable, or figurative speech of any kind, which conflicts with a plain command. No scripture must be interpreted in such a manner as to contradict any other scripture, and where such contradiction appears it is the fault of the interpreter, and not the scriptures. 2) Where two passages teach upon the same topic, one of them obscure and the other obvious in meaning, the obscure must always be interpreted in the light of the obvious, and never the reverse.

This parable does not refer to church discipline. Jesus said, “the field is the world.” In human society, in the world, the wicked and the righteous do dwell together (1 Cor. 5:9-11), but wicked Christians and the Faithful ones do not. Remember the field was not the church, but the world.

This parable was given to show men like James and John that the disciples of the lowly Nazarene, could not weed out the wicked from the earth (Lk. 9:51-56). God rebukes impatient servants who would destroy sinners before the end (Mt. 13:28-30). The fire of the impatient disciples in Luke 9:51-56 would have destroyed people like the woman at the well in John 4. Not even the angels could accurately distinguish the wheat from the tares until God reveals it in the end. The harvest separation is at the end of the world. The separation in Matthew 13 is God’s work to destroy sinners, but discipline is God’s work to save sinners.

“Can’t Withdraw Without Elders”

It is assumed by some that without elders a church cannot practice discipline. There are no indications that Corinth had elders (1 Cor 3:2,3). A local congregation is spiritually organized without elders if no one is qualified (Acts 14:21-23). Corrective discipline is not an action of elders, but of the whole congregation (1 Cor. 5:4; 2 Th. 3:6; Rom. 16:17). The teaching on withdrawal is directed to all Christians, not just to elders.

– Daniel R. Vess

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Categories: The Forum