What does God say about Church Discipline?

Photo Credit: Junior Libby

Photo Credit: Junior Libby

Today, church discipline is perceived as an unkind action. People don’t like the idea of confronting another person because of its supposed negativity. Consequently, few churches are practicing church discipline today. In this essay, I will argue church discipline is a biblical command, and when done properly, strengthens the health of the church.

Jesus told us in Matthew 18:15-17 if someone sins against you, go and point out their fault between the two of you. As Christians, it’s our responsibility to tell the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). If someone is in a state of continual disobedience, the word of God says they need to repent or will perish (Lk. 13:5). Since we don’t want our brothers or sisters to perish, it’s truly loving to confront them about their sin. The ultimate goal is to restore them to a proper relationship with Christ, which can only happen through honesty and integrity.

If the person doesn’t listen, then the Bible says to take one or two along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of more than one witness. Beforehand, you were being sensitive by not informing others about a certain struggle another friend had. However, if that individual is unwilling to give up their sin, then you are encouraged to bring another individual with you to confront it. I believe the importance of bringing a witness is to show the sinner it’s not just you, but there are others who agree change is necessary.

If they refuse to listen to a group of believers, then it’s time to tell it to the church (Matt. 18:17). For example, if someone betrayed their spouse by committing adultery, should the church pursue him and call him to repentance, or let him go on in the lifestyle of this destructive sin? Of course the loving response is to confront the man. The ACBC website says the purpose well: “Discipline of erring Christians is not optional but mandatory, since it is intended to protect God’s reputation, to reconcile and restore sinners, to maintain the purity of the church, and to deter sin.[1] Thus, it’s important to have godly men and women speak truth to an erring person so they might be reconciled back into a loving relationship with God.

Finally, if a person doesn’t listen to you, a group of believers, or the church, then the last course of action is to treat them as an unbeliever (Matt 18:17). The Bible gives an example in the Corinthian church of a man who was sleeping with his father’s wife. The apostle Paul stated, “Shouldn’t you have gone into mourning and put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this (1 Cor. 5:1-7)?” According to this passage, the most loving reaction toward sin is to deal with the perpetrator first. If he doesn’t want to change, then the church is obligated to protect their people by keeping the warped man from having contact until he is rightfully restored back to God.

Church discipline is not an easy task: Either churches are too lenient and allow sin to infiltrate the Church or they are too strict and cause division and hardship. The key is to tell the truth in love and make it a goal to restore the person back to proper fellowship with God and His people. I believe this is the correct role church discipline should play in biblical counseling.

[1] “Church Discipline: Association of Certified Biblical Counselors.” Available at: http://www.biblicalcounseling.com/before-you-begin/theological-considerations/church-discipline/

2 comments

  1. Oh, what an avoided topic, indeed. But, like the parent who must discipline a child, despite the personal pain and anguish of doing so, discipline has to be done. There’s no love without it, only enabling.

    1. Just like Proverbs 27:6 states, “Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.” In other words, it’s more loving to tell a person the truth about their sin than it is to ignore or worse, comfort them in a sin that will lead them to further agony. Thanks for your comment Anthony!

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