I want to address an issue that is completely biblical, but rarely ever upheld in most churches in our culture today: church discipline.
Let me define and then explain church discipline and then make a few observations about it.
Church discipline is grounded in a word that our culture hates…ACCOUNTABILITY. You see, whether we like to admit it or not, we are all created by a God of absolute authority. He has given His authority to several key institutions in our world: His Church, the State (government), and the Family. He commands us to bring ourselves under his authority in all of those areas. We are hard wired from birth to naturally resist God’s authority on every level, whether disobeying our parents, rebelling against civil government and laws, or bringing ourselves under the authority of a church that teaches and preaches the Word of God. But nonetheless, God commands us to submit to those in authority over us.
So church discipline is necessary when a church member (someone who has willingly brought themselves under the authority and accountability of a local church) decides to willfully live in open and unrepentant disobedience to the Word of God. Essentially the church says, “Based on the authority God has given to us, we are putting you out from our fellowship with the prayer that you will soon repent of your sin and turn back toward God.”
The scriptural basis for this can be found in Matthew 18:15-17 which says:
“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
In this passage we see Jesus lay out a clear step for reconciling conflict and sin within the church:
- Go to your brother one on one and communicate.
- If he slams the door in your face, take two other people back with you.
- If he slams the door in all of your faces, involve the church.
- If he rejects the church’s attempts to hold him accountable, treat him as a non-believer (that is to say, expel him from the church).
The apostle Paul instructs the church in Corinth to do this very thing to a man who was involved with sexual sin with his father’s wife (can you say gross?)! In 1 Corinthians 5:4-5 Paul says,
“When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.
So there you have a quick rundown on the biblical basis for church discipline and the command that the church has to hold it’s members accountable when they choose to live in open and unconfessed sin against the Lord, the church, and others.
Now let me share a few of my observations on church discipline.
1. Most churches NEVER practice this level of accountability!
Why? Because only a healthy church that truly believes God’s Word is authoritative and to be obeyed would do such a thing. Therefore, many churches would rather tell people what they want to hear rather than firmly, but lovingly holding their feet to the fire when it’s needed.
2. People who do not really know Jesus Christ DO NOT understand it!
No matter how loving and caring a church has been with an unrepentant brother or sister in the faith, when the church has to make that painful step of disciplining the member out of the church you can be certain that critics will line up to coddle and protect the guilty party and condemn the church that is simply obeying Scripture.
3. God ALWAYS honors obedience to His Word and eventually the Truth wins…EVERY TIME!
The RESCUE Church currently finds itself in a fire storm of criticism and negativity because we have recently had to make the painful decision to remove one of our members who blatantly walked out on his wife and refused every one of our attempts to reach out in love and help restore their marriage. This person took a holy covenant to be faithful to his wife in the sight of God and our church family and now we are simply holding him accountable to the covenant that he made. God values marriage and says it’s worth fighting for! Therefore, we value marriage and we’re willing to fight for a person’s marriage even when they are not.
This is God’s Church! Jesus Christ is the head of our church. He has promised to build his church and has declared that the “gates of hell will not overcome it”! Whether popular or not, whether understood by everyone else or not, we will come down on God’s side of the issue and rest in the knowledge that He has our backs, our fronts, and our sides! In the end truth wins!