Subjects of Church Discipline
One the most common areas of disagreement in regard to church discipline is just who are subject to discipline. Some limited it to just those who committed sins which are specifically mentioned in scriptures.
Those Specifically Mentioned
Jesus mentions those who refuse to correct personal offenses against brethren should be disciplined by the church (Matt. 18:15-17). Paul includes both those who cause division (Rom. 16:17) and those who are factious (Tit. 3:10). False teachers would cause both division and factions (2 John 9-11). False teachers have always tried to lead God’s people astray (2 Pet. 2:1). Paul warned the Ephesian elders about them (Ac. 20:28-30). We are not to tolerate them in the church (Rev. 2:20). We are to deliver them to Satan (1 Tim. 1:20). Withdraw from those destitute of truth (1 Tim. 6:3-6). Those who pervert the Gospel, let them be accursed (Gal 1:6-9). We cannot walk hand in hand with those who would hinder the truth. They will cause the shipwreck of our faith (2 Tim. 2:17,18).
In 1 Corinthians chapter five Paul lists not only fornication but also several other sins (1 Cor. 5:11).
- The term for “fornication” is porneia which does not mean immoralities in general, but includes all sexual immorality. “Prostitution, unchastity, fornication of every kind of unlawful sexual intercourse” (Arndt and Gingrich, p. 699) Fornication would include adultery, homosexuality, prostitution, immodesty, use of pornographic literature, incest, etc.
- Next he mentions drunkards, that is, those habitually intoxicated.
- The covetous are those with a lustful desire for material things. “Literally it signifies one who wishes to have more of a thing than he ought to have; one who is greedy of money, or of sensual pleasure. One inordinately desirous of something belonging to another”(MacKnight). Coveting is condemned throughout the Bible (Lk. 12:15; Eph. 5:3; Heb. 13:5; Rom. 1;29; and 2 Tim. 3:1-4).
- Discipline applies also to idolaters, that is, worshipers of anything other than God. “The word idolaters is derived from eidolon (idol) and ‘latris’ (servant, slave) and has as its meaning a worshipper or servant of false gods. Originally eidolon signified a phantom or shadow, something unreal as opposed to that which was genuine. The Septuagint adopted eidolon as its translation for false gods in contrast with the true God. In the next stage of development, the words was applied to anything that was a representation of a false god” (Lightfoot).
- Revilers are users of abusive language, harsh bitter speech. Also they are called railers or slanderers. At times the railer may use abusive language against individuals at other times his “railing accusations” may be against the entire congregation. It results from refusing to “consent to wholesome words” (1 Tim. 6:4).
- Extortioners are those guilty of plundering, robbery, dishonest gain, to obtain something forcibly from someone unwilling.
- Busybodies (2 Th. 3:11) are those who wander about from house to house speaking things which they ought not to speak, I Tim. 5:11-13. Those “who have no business, but are busy with everybody’s business” (McGarvey). God classifies busybodies with murderers (1 Pet. 4:15,16).
- Paul mentions those who are lazy (2 Th. 3:11). They won’t even support their own families (1 Tim 5:8). The sluggard always has an excuse (Pr. 20:4) but God hates laziness (Pr. 6:6-9). They are in a pitiful condition (Pr. 24:30-34).
- In 1 Timothy 1:19,20 Paul mentions those who blaspheme.
- Paul mentions those elders who continue in sin (1 Tim. 5:17-20; Ac. 20:29,30). What sin? Any sin he refuses to repent of.
Those Generically Included
There are some serious problems if we try to limit those who are to be disciplined to just those specifically mentioned above. Not only wouldn’t there be authority for disciplining those who forsake the assembling of the saints, but there would be no authority to withdraw from those who commit abortion, for liars, murderers, gamblers, drug addicts, social drinkers, etc.
Paul commanded the church at Thessalonica to withdraw “from every brother walks disorderly” (1 Th. 3:6). No partiality toward any brother is to be permitted. Every brother includes those who are influential, powerful, rich, a relative, preacher, teacher, elder, etc. (1 Tim 5:17-20).
The term “walks’ is a present participle, indicating a continuous manner of conduct. There is a great deal of difference between an occasional lapse in doing our duty to God and in walking that way consistently.’”
“Disorderly” means “out of ranks, (often so of soldiers) irregular, inordinate, deviating from the prescribed order or rule” (Thayer, 83). “Lack of order…neglect of order or system; irregularity…” (Webster). “Walk: figuratively signifying the whole round of the activities of the individual life whether of the unregenerate, Eph. 4:17. or to the believer, I Cor. 7:17; Col. 2:6…negatively, …not disorderly, 2 Th. 3:6” (Vine 1207). They are walking disorderly by not following God’s Will (2 Th. 3:6,14). “Not after the tradition” and “obey not our word by this epistle”. Thus, those who disobey God’s will in anything they do or don’t do and continue in it, refusing to repent (turn their walk around).
Specific illustrations of “disorderly” are given as “idle” and “busybodies”. The word “neither” places side by side things that are equal. Disorderliness and idleness are thus equally related to God’s Law as violations of it, but the two are not identical. “Disorderly” is a broader term than “idle,” and includes any form of disobedience.
The works of the flesh are things that will keep one out of heaven. Thus, those guilty are disorderly and if they continue in those they are walking disorderly. When one commits abortion he is walking disorderly. Also, those who forsake the assembly are walking disorderly for he disobeys Hebrews 10:25; I Corinthians 11:24; 16:1,2.
After Paul tells the Corinthian church to take disciplinary action on the fornicator he gives a list of other sins that require discipline. The list closes with toioutos – “such a one”. Which reveals that these are not the only sins which can break the association of brethren; these are sins representative of any rebellion against God.
Corrective discipline involves all brethren who commit sin and any sin. There are no small or insignificant sins. Any sin that we commit is a transgression of the law (1 Jn. 3:4) and will separate us from God (Is. 59:1,2). If one has the right to commit one “small” sin, all have the same right. Sets up a distinction between “withdrawing” and “non-withdrawing” sins – between sins that are equally bad. This can’t be unless there are some sins which will not damn the soul (Js. 2:10). Every known sin for which a man will not repent is to be subject to withdrawal.
What about those who are members of another congregation. A local church can only discipline their own members (1 Cor. 5:1-2; 1 Pet. 5:1-3; 1 Th. 3:6,11). All congregations are independent and autonomous bodies of believers, self-governing under our Father’s Will in the New Testament. Since each congregation is independent and self-governing and cannot issue edicts for, or receive them from, other congregations.
This does not mean that another congregation’s withdrawals should be ignored. If with open arms a congregation receives one they know has been justly disciplined by another congregation they would be endangering the person’s eternal welfare by giving him a false sense of security. A disciplined brother should be encouraged to return, if possible, and make things right with his previous church family.
– Daniel R. Vess