A Primer on Church Discipline, Pt 5
This will be my final installment on a short series on church discipline.This is a task that is never enjoyable but nonetheless is good and right to do in the sight of God. We have seen already that it is not optional; rather it is necessary because Jesus commands it. To refuse to do it is simply sin. But it is also says that you do not care for the soul of he who sins nor the purity of the church. Both are serious issues that demand careful rethinking by those who reject discipline within the church.
Today I will give two final points regarding why we should practice church discipline: The first is that it protects doctrinal purity and the second is that it protects the office of elder.
Two passages come to mind regarding doctrinal purity:
This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered over to Satan, so that they may be taught not to blaspheme. (1 Timothy 1:18-20)
If anyone advocates a different doctrine, and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness,he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions,and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. (1 Timothy 6:3-5)
In the first passage Paul speaks of these two men whom he delivered over to Satan so that they learn not to blaspheme. What exactly is involved in this is not stated, but it is clear that it was not fun, safe, or minor. Speaking false things within the church is devastating. Young believers are easily led astray and non-Christians can be quickly confused. The church is to be a place where truth is expounded and loved. It is not to be a place where confusion and lies twist the hearts of those for whom Christ died. As the second passage makes clear, Paul has no time for a person advocating new doctrines that go counter to the Apostolic teaching. If he doesn’t nor should we.
The final reason for proper, biblical discipline is that it protects the office of elder. This protection works in two separate ways, both is keeping the office itself pure and in removing an elder who is holding on to sin and thus harming the church.
Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also may be fearful of sinning. (1 Timothy 5:19-20)
Elders are almost always on the front lines when problems arise. They are the shepherds of God’s flock. They are the ones who stick their neck on the line whenever a trouble-maker makes trouble. And this makes them very vulnerable to unfounded attacks. It is a grievous thing to readily accept accusations when there are no witnesses. This is why a church is to take great precautions to protect their elders. There must be witnesses and if there are not then the accusation is to be discarded.
However, when an elder is found to be in sin, if they do not repent then they are to be rebuked in the presence of the church. That is a painful reality that is seldom practiced. Too often they are quietly removed and no one ever really understands what happened. This leaves open the opportunity for gossip and slander. It is not an act of grace to be vague about an elder’s on-going sin. Notice that the purpose for rebuking him publicly is to have the rest of the church fearful of sinning as well.
If churches will take these words to heart they will find perhaps a smaller church, but one that is more serious about pursuing Christ in holiness and a place where purity is valued and one’s spiritual well-being is desirable.