3 Functions of the church:
1. Evangelism – brings those lost in sin through the gospel of Jesus Christ (Mark 16:15; Romans 1:16).
2. Edification – builds up the members so they can be conformed to the image and character of Christ in all they do (Ephesians 4:11-15).
3. Church Discipline – helps those who are ensnared by sin to be liberated from that sin (Galatians 6:1).
Introduction: The church is by definition the assembly or gathering of God’s people, i.e. the members of his household, under the authority of Jesus Christ (cf. Eph. 1:22-23 and Eph. 2:19-21). However, since there is a human element to the church, there is the need for divine directives and guidance (this will include discipline) in order for God’s people to know how they “ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” (1 Tim. 3:4) The purpose of this study is to show what the bible teaches on Church Discipline.
Church Discipline defined: The assertive and corrective measures taken by an individual, church leaders, or the congregation regarding a matter of sin in the life of a believer. It is designed to help restore a member caught in sin.
I- What is the purpose of Church Discipline?
1) To maintain sound doctrine and faith:
“As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work which is by faith.” (1 Tim. 1:5).
“This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth.” (Titus 1:13-14).
2) To maintain unity, purity, and faith to the glory of God and testimony of the church:
“I urge you brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naïve people.” (Rom. 16:17-18).
“Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.” (Phil. 3:17-18).
“Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” (Eph. 5:11).
“For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach and that for the sake of dishonest gain.” (Titus 1:10-11).
“If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” (2 Thess. 3:14-15).
“See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Heb. 12:15).
3) To rebuke the offenders and promote godly fear:
“Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.” (1 Tim. 5:20).
“Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage –with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.” (2 Tim. 4:2-3).
4) To remove the (obstinate) offenders:
“Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast –as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” (1 Cor. 5:6-8).
“That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. ‘A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.’ I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be.” (Gal. 5:8-10).
5) For decency and order in the church:
“In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together, as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it…When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.” (1 Cor. 11:17-18, 27-29 & 32).
6) For the edification (and strengthening) of the church:
“This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority –the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down.” (2 Cor. 13:10).
“And we urge you brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.” (1 Thess. 5:14-15).
“For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.” (1 Thess. 2:11-12).
7) A church that fails to exercise discipline experiences four losses:
a) Loss of purity (1 Corinthians 5).
b) Loss of spiritual power. You grieve the Holy Spirit and He will eventually leave (Joshua 7, where Israel was defeated because of Achan’s sin and Revelation 2:5, where the lampstand refers to the Holy Spirit).
c) Loss of progress. A church will not grow where sin abounds (John 15:1, 2).
d) Loss of purpose. We are called to be holy (1 Peter 1:16).
II- How church discipline is to be performed?
1- Based on the teaching of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ:
“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matt. 18:15-18).
2- With gentleness and patience:
“Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.” (Gal. 6:1a).
“Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage –with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Tim 4:2).
3- With authority and severity:
“This will be my third visit to you. ‘Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses’. I already gave you a warning when I was with you the second time. I now repeat it while absent: On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others.” (2 Cor. 13:1-2).
“Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self condemned.” (Titus 3:10-11).
“Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.” (1 Tim. 5:20).
“When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.” (1 Cor. 5:4-5).
“Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.” (1 Tim. 1:18-20).
4- Other churches are to be warned:
“Alexander the metal worker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message.” (2 Tim. 4:14-15).
5- Upon their repentance; they are to be taken back into full fellowship and love in Christ:
“If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you, to some extent –not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.” (2 Cor. 2:5-8).
III- Who is authorized to perform discipline in the church and by whose authority?
Matthew 18:18 “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in Heaven.” (Jesus to his disciples who later became the 12 Apostles).
2 Corinthians 10:8 “For even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than pulling you down, I will not be ashamed of it.” (the apostle Paul).
Titus 1:5,9 “The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.” “He [i.e. the elder] must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (the apostle Paul to the evangelist Titus).
Titus 2:15 “These then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.” (the apostle Paul to the evangelist Titus).
Hebrews 13:17 “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (the Hebrew writer to the Hebrew Christians)
Galatians 6:1-2 “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself or you also may be tempted.” (the apostle Paul to the churches in Galatia).