A Primer on Church Discipline, Pt. 2
This is the next installment on the issue of church discipline. I am seeking to give reasons why the Church is expected to actually carry this out. The primary passage is Matthew 18:15-17 which establishes the basic process on discipline. But it was also my first reason for the practice of discipline–our Lord commands it.
The second reason is simple but important seeing it practiced is a lesson to all others in the church. Sin is serious and how one is handling who is practicing sin is serious as well. It helps force people who might be flirting with sin to become serious and sober-minded again. It reminds them that they belong to a community of believers and they are not mere individuals with no accountability.
There are two examples I can point to in Scripture that help make this point. The first is in Acts 5 with Ananias and Sapphira. Here is the brand new church, just starting out. The practice at that point was to bring your offerings and lay them at the feet of the Apostles who would then oversee the dispersing of the funds as needed. Ananias had committed to give all the money from the sale of some land, but he decided, with his wife’s full knowledge, to keep some back. Apparently when he brought the money it was with the idea that he was giving all of it to the Lord. End result for both him and his wife was that they were struck dead by the Lord. Now that is discipline!
If this situation followed the advice that I have been often given by some over the years, it would have been, “don’t rock the boat.” You can hear it now, “it was just a small lie, who hasn’t done that. God is the God of love and forgiveness and we need to overlook these things.”
But the very opposite was the action of the Spirit. This is key to note because it was not the work of man to kill them. This is not some mad fundamentalist who got out of control. It was the Holy Spirit who did this. Discipline was swift and fierce, and the result in found in verse 11, “and great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.” That is one of those understatements that pop up all over the bible.
The second passage is in relation to elders. In 1 Timothy 5:20 an elder who continues to sin is to be publicly rebuked so that the rest of the congregation may be fearful of sinning. We actually have done this in our church and that was exactly the result we saw. Several men realized that they were taking their following of Jesus way to casually and it caused a bit of a season of repentance within the Body. It was not fun, but it was a good and necessary event commanded by our Lord.