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Welcome back to week 50. We hope the past week has been a blessed one for you. Last week we briefly examined Christian Counselors and whether or not we should agree with them. This week we will briefly consider church discipline. Does your church practice it? If not, should we be willing to graciously encourage our leadership toward this position?

Thankfully, our home church, Pine Grove Baptist Church, does practice the church discipline methods which are commanded in Matthew 18:15-20.[1] However, your home church may not practice what is commanded. Notice we said, “commanded.” That’s right. The practice of proper church discipline is a command. 

Let’s review this command. Church discipline, is in fact, full of commands. In Matthew 18:15-20 Jesus is telling us how to do church in light of verses 12-14. In verses 12-14 we see a man willing to leave his 99 sheep in order to rescue the one that has gone astray. We see, likewise, that the Father in heaven rescues sinners so that they do not perish. The word “perish” refers to spiritual devastation, not eternal destruction (cf. John 10:28). The Father seeks to rescue a sinning believer so that he or she not undergo spiritual devastation.

One of the ways He accomplishes that is through Christ’s body, the church. In verses 15-20 it is the coming church that is supposed to step in and seek the sinner so that they do not perish. How does the church do this? Jesus gives us four steps, four commands to seek the sinner, how to seek him, and why to seek. He says:

If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. ~Bold ours.

Notice the four commands in bold print. When there is a sinning believer, the church is to take four steps in order to discipline him or her. We are to go show him his sin in private (i.e., one on one). Next, if that is rebuffed, we are to take some witnesses with us. If he still refuses to listen, we are to tell the matter to church leadership. The ultimate point in all of that is to win our brother or sister back, to help them come back into sanctified living, to help reconcile them with Christ and man, to win our brother (v. 15). 

However, if he or she does not listen to all the efforts to help, we are to expel them from the church. We are to put them outside the body of Christ where any unbeliever would naturally be. Then, we are to evangelistically pursue them as we wound any unbeliever. While we are pursuing them with Scripture, we would be observing their responses to the Word. On one hand the person(s) may respond with confession, repentance, and obedience to God’s Word. In this case, in 2 Corinthians 2:5-8, the Apostle Paul commands the church body to fully restore the person(s) to fellowship.

 However, on the other hand the person(s) may respond with further rebellion against God’s Word. Failure to submit to Scripture is a hallmark of an unbeliever (Rom. 8:5-8). In this case the person(s) has failed to submit to all the efforts of the church to reach them. That is strong evidence of an unconverted heart. We dare not let the self-deception continue by failing to discipline them appropriately. In this case, not only would we expel them from the church we would even be commanded to deny socializing with them (1 Cor. 5:9-13).[2] If we follow Christ’s directions, with Christ’s heart for an unbeliever, verses 18-20 tell us that heaven will be in agreement with us.

Therefore, because of the clear command in Scripture, if your home church does not practice church discipline, lovingly encourage them toward this position. You should encourage them for the following reasons. One, it is a biblical position spelled out clearly in Scripture. Two, it conforms to the biblical principles of confronting sin (Matt. 5:23-24). Three, it seeks unity in truth with brothers and sisters in Christ (Rom. 12:18; Heb. 12:14a). Four, it protects the church by removing immorality and other sin from within the church (1 Cor. 5:1-13). Lastly, it glorifies God. It does this by conforming our orthopraxy (i.e., the practical outworking of our theology) to Christ’s desires of a pure and undefiled church (Eph. 5:25-27).

The idea of church discipline should not be to kick someone out. It should be a measure used to bring about godly sorrow and true repentance in the transgressor through the removal of relationship with others and through putting the person(s) out into the Godless, world’s system in order to suffer the consequences of their sinful choices, which is also done with the hope that the consequences are used by the Lord to draw the person(s) to Himself. If this, by the grace of the God, does occur, if this does draw them to Him in repentance, then the individual who has been excommunicated can be restored to fellowship within the church body (2 Cor. 2:5-8). The hope and aim of church discipline is reconciliation with the sinner in order to glorify God. This is the gospel message. We all ought to be practicing it.  

We hope our short time considering church discipline was helpful. It is a practice we cannot afford to bypass. If we do, we are insubordinate, unloving, and failing to glorify God.

[1] Several other references to the reason and practice of church discipline are: 1 Cor. 5, 2 Cor. 2:6, Gal. 6:1, Eph. 5:11, 1 Thess. 5:14, 2 Thess. 3:6-15, 1 Tim. 5:19-20, 2 Tim. 3:5, and Titus 3:9-11.

[2] At the same time this does not necessarily mean that we would stop pursuing them with the Gospel. However, the time could come when we even stop giving the Gospel to them. If the person(s) become belligerent to the Gospel that would be a reason to stop pursuing them with it (Matt. 7:1-6). Yet, we wouldn’t necessarily stop praying for their salvation, in this case.

Foundations of Biblical Counseling: Christian Counselors