A Primer on Church Discipline, Pt. 3
This is my third installment of a biblical examination of church discipline. A practice that is rapidly not a visible part of the Church today. I have pastored now for fifteen years and every time our church brings a person to 3rd or 4th stage people comment on how they have never seen it done before. Sad but not surprising.
I am giving reasons for church discipline and so far we have two. The first is simply because Jesus commands it. Don’t let your eyes pass over that sentence too fast. It is a command and it is not negotiable. That alone is enough for many churches to stop and give thought to why they can have 75-1000 people in attendance and yet somehow no one is ever brought forward for discipline. The second reason is that it teaches the people to fear sin and hate it. That is rather self-explanatory so on to the third reason.
Third, it promotes the health and holiness of the local church body. Yep, discipline makes the church healthy. It should not be shocking to any who read this blog to realize that if you are playing loose with a holy walk and then a fellow believer is named in front of the church in third stage discipline for doing the very same things that you will see the wisdom of rejecting that sin in your life and fight it as only a gospel-believing person can fight sin.
The key passage for this point is 1 Corinthians 5. I won’t post the chapter here due to space so open your bible and read through it right now. [insert Jeopardy music here while I wait] Notice how vss 1-2 describe the situation. They were openly tolerating sexual sin that even the unbeliever would be shocked over and were proud rather than ashamed. A Church should be mourning when sin is winked at or approved of rather than confronted. They were proud that they were “open-minded” but Paul was sickened.
I point you to verse 3 if you are one to say that we aren’t allowed to judge another person. He will then task the whole church with judging each other in verse 12. The last thing a church member does is ‘mind his own business’ but this is often the very idea that is pushed in many churches.
Notice also the means by which it is accomplished in verses 3 and following: The whole church involved in the name of Jesus Christ. It is a total Body experience and it is not hidden from sight. I make this point simply because it is common for churches to quietly make bad situations go away. Things like pedophilia and adultery. Here is a sad example: A church I candidated at to be pastor had hired one man three years earlier to be their pastor. A former Bible college president and a pastor for over twenty-five years. Shortly after he took the positions charges were made that he had sexually touched a young child. In the course of the investigation it was discovered that he has been dismissed from the Bible college and each of his former churches for this very thing. None of the groups did anything else and they kept it quiet. Paul would have choices words for each of them.
Finally, note the goals–it is save his soul (vs. 5) and the church is purified (6-8). This teaches that your sin is not private, it becomes a cancer to the body of Christ. This sin is not your run of the mill sins. It is scandalous in nature and Paul is quick to act.
There is no indication here that they needed to take a lengthy process of examination and witnesses. The sin was known therefore judgment is simple and fast. An example would be a man in a homosexual relationship, or adultery, or abandonment. When they are gross and obvious they require no head scratching, and wondering if all the facts are in. Rather a fast and certain judgment is proper and expected.
One side note, when we read about the man’s soul being saved in verse 5 there are two ways you can take that. The first is that the man was never actually in Christ. The second option would see this in the sense of the doctrine of perseverance, where only those who persevere show themselves to have truly believed. I choose the second.