A Primer on Church Discipline, Pt. 4
This will be my fourth installment on a short series on church discipline. A key mark of a faithful church is the proper, biblical practice of discipline of those who identify with that church. Too often this is an ignored practice in the church except for the most egregious acts. For others, the process of discipline is not for purity in the church, but a means to manipulate the people into an unbiblical submission. Either way, it harms the church for whom Christ died. However, proper discipline honors Jesus and purifies the local Body.
A fourth reason for the practice of discipline is that it protects unity, rather than destroys it. It is interesting that often the reason given to not discipline is that they want to ‘love’ that person or they desire to not create problems where people will struggle with the decision and act and dissension might then occur.
Notice Titus 3:10, “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning.” For the one who stirs up strife and dissension in the church there is to be little tolerance. You don’t just move the guy to a different ministry or have him sit in a different section. Instead you give him two warnings and then he is sent out of the church. You reject him as a fellow believer, or as Paul says in the very next verse, “knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.”
Paul gives a different instruction to the one who is simply disobedient to the Word in 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15, “If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” Note command—do not associate with him, meaning to mingle, mix or hang out.
This helps us see the idea of the fourth stage of discipline in Matthew 18. There is a genuine break in relationship and loss of fellowship. The purity of the Church is more important than a relationship that existed between the one who is unrepentant and the rest of the Church. It does not allow for a hateful attitude from the Church, we are to speak to him like a brother, but not in some casual, flippant manner, but one that involves warning. In our society today the goal Paul gives is somewhat shocking—to bring shame.
We don’t like shame today and see it as something that ought never to be done. And it is wrong when done for the wrong motives, to simply humiliate and dishonor a person. But it is proper for the church to expect obedience from its members. It is proper for us to hold one another accountable for the things taught. We cannot simply ignore and turn our backs upon those in sin—for then we are guilty of not loving them as a brother or sister. When you see an enemy moving toward something that is bad you simply shrug your shoulders, but not so with your brother.
And what Paul was envisioning here was that these undisciplined people would come over for a meal, expecting to get a meal and be refused. He would try to get in on the conversation, and they would ignore him or tell him to be quiet. They would not accept his advice (being a busybody). They would not bring him into a close fellowship and allow him to simply sit there and look foolish. There is an assumed goal, that when this occurred that the person would repent, come back into obedience and be restored.