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The Blessing of Church Discipline

The Blessing of Church Discipline

by Richard Nichols

Originally published in
The Christian Informer
April, 1998


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Last updated:
September 15, 1998.

JESUS' GREAT commission says, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you" (Matthew 16:18,19).

It is a fairly easy matter to teach Christ's commands, so that the people know what the commands say; it is a far more difficult task to teach people to observe them. It is easy to teach a child what to do; it is much more difficult to train a child to do it. But the proper training of the child requires that it be taught obedience, even by punishment, if necessary. Now, as discipline is "the treatment suited to a disciple or learner," it is evident that the second part of the great commission enjoins the whole work of discipline, the education and training of Christians in all things that pertain unto life and godliness.

We speak of a well disciplined child as one who behaves well, that is, has learned the difference between right and wrong, and tries very hard to always do right. He is one who does not speak out of turn, obeys, learns from correction, is respectful to those who are older, is courteous to everyone, and when chastised, takes it well. When he slips and does wrong, he does not resist punishment, nor when punished does he try to retaliate either physically or verbally, and is reformed by that punishment. Of course, we all know the traits of someone's well disciplined son or daughter, but all of those traits should be ours as disciplined children of God.

In harmony with this second command of the commission, Paul demands admonition of the disorderly, encouragement of the faint-hearted, support of the weak, long-suffering toward all, and, when the circumstances of the case render it necessary, exclusion from fellowship (See 1 Thessalonians 5:14; 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 1 Corinthians 5:3-13). Paul reprimands their tolerance, and forbids retaining the incestuous person in the fellowship of the church at Corinth, and, in doing so, he forbids us to retain such a one in our fellowship today. He lists several classes that are included in this prohibition -- fornicators, covetous persons, idolaters, revilers, drunkards, and extortioners (1 Corinthians 5:9-11). When proper and wholesome discipline is exercised and maintained in the church, as it should be, exclusion from fellowship will rarely be necessary. Yet it is sometimes necessary; and when demanded by the Scriptures, it should be done without shrinking from its responsibility. Some have refused to obey this teaching, and have therefore become unfaithful to Christ.

It is terribly inconsistent to demand of converts the law of admission into fellowship in the book of Acts, and refuse ourselves to obey the law of disfellowship in the letters to the Corinthians and the Thessalonians. One is proclaimed and bound "in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ" just as much as the other. Remember, "For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." It is just as great a sin in the sight of God to be unfaithful to the law of discipline, as it is to be unfaithful to the law of pardon. It is just as condemning to be unfaithful to the second part of the commission as to the first part. We must "not shrink from declaring the whole counsel of God," if we want to be "pure from the blood of all men."

THE TRUE DESIGN OF DISCIPLINE

What are the objects to be accomplished by discipline in the church? We know that whatever the work or task before a person, the end to be gained will have a great influence upon his whole effort. The objects to be achieved by church discipline should influence and control the whole work of discipline. Everything that is done should be done in harmony with, and in view of, the purposes of discipline. What, then, are these purposes? The design of church discipline is to accomplish three important objectives or purposes.

TO MAINTAIN THE HONOR AND AUTHORITY OF JESUS CHRIST

The apostolic commission rests upon the universal and supreme authority of the exalted and coronated Messiah now seated at the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:34). All authority in heaven and earth is given unto Him. He commissioned His apostles to make disciples, and to "teach them to observe" all His commands. We have seen that this involves the entire work of training or discipline. These apostles, who are representatives of Christ's authority, enjoin upon us the law of Christ that requires us to use all reasonable and proper efforts to reclaim those who go astray; and if these eforts, faithfully performed, prove unsuccessful, to exclude the disorderly and rebellious from the church (1 Thess. 5:14; 2 Tim 4:1; 2 Thess. 3:6; 1 Cor. 5:5-13). This work of discipline, from first to last, is laid upon the church by Christ Himself, the Founder and Head of the church; hence, the honor and authority of Jesus Christ are at stake in this matter. To maintain the honor and the authority of Christ among men. This is one of the objects of discipline.

TO PRESERVE THE PURITY OF THE CHURCH

The church, the spiritual body of Christ, should be kept pure, as best we can do that as frail men. The parable of the fish net (Matthew 13:47-50), and the nature of the work to be done in the church, preclude absolute puroty. Church members are not persons who are beyond the reach of sin, but they are seeking or "following after holiness," or "the sanctification without which no man shall see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14). In "perfecting holiness in the fear of God," members may vary in degrees of spiritual maturity, depending upon their progress in godliness. But the church has a right to demand that its members shall be seeking after holiness, and shall be "striving to abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul" (1 Peter 2:11). They should not be given over to sin, but be motivated and controlled by holy aims, purposes, and principles.

Those who are not seeking after holiness, who are not trying, at least, to live worthy of the gospel of Christ, have no business calling themselves disciples of Christ. They need to be converted! Hence, we find such injunctions as the following: "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted" (Galatians 6:1), and "Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins" (James 5:19,20). We cannot be policemen, but since souls are at stake, we must make the effort to help each other to be right before God.

If the efforts fail, the persons must be disfellowshipped, or the church itself will become corrupted. So Paul says concerning the exclusion of the incestuous person, and all such persons, "Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened" (1 Corinthians 5:6,7). Leaven is a symbol of corruption, or wickedness. As leaven, or yeast, works in the flour-mixture and imparts to each particle of the mass its own condition, so wicked or corrupt persons in the church bring those under their influence into the same state of wickedness witht hemselves. Malicious talkers are also a disease to the body of Christ. When the human body is diseased, gangrene begins, the gangrenous member must be amputated, otherwise the gangrene will spread, and death will result. So it is when there are those in the church "word will eat as doth a gangrene" (2 Tim. 2:17, R.V.), they must be cut off from the congregation, otherwise their influence will spread through the church, and the death of the congregation will be the result. Therefore, discipline must be maintained in order to preserve the health of the body of Christ, in order to protect the purity of the cchurch, so that we all may be part of that which the Lord will present unto himself -- "a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish" (Ephesians 5:27).

TO SAVE THE MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH

"Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners." The salvation of men is the object of the entire work of each church of Christ. The work of evangelism is to save those who are outside of the church by bringing them to Christ, and baptizing them into Him; the work of discipline is to save those in the church by building them up in Christ Jesus our Lord. Each congregation must constantly hear sound doctrine which encourages only that which is right and holy, and condemns falsehood and sin. The entire task of training, admonishing and correcting church members is done with a view to their salvation, because there is a future and eternal salvation which Christians are to work toward "with fear and trembling." This work involves the encouragement of those doing well, the instruction of the ignorant, the conviction of those in error, the correction of wrong-doers, the restoration of transgressors, and the discipline of all in righteousness. And in cases of wicked and disorderly persons who will not repent, exclusion from fellowship.

Even withdrawal from fellowship, when necessary, is for the salvation of the transgressor. Notice what Paul says of the exclusion of the wicked man in the church at Corinth. He commands the Corinthians "to deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Corinthians 5:5). Consequently, EVEN IN THE EXTREME MEASURE OF DISFELLOWSHIP FROM THE CHURCH, THE OBJECT OF THAT PART OF DISCIPLINE IS THE SALVATION, NOT ONLY OF THE CHURCH, BUT OF THE TRANSGRESSOR HIMSELF.

To save the erring, to deter faithful Christians from falling, to reclaim the wayward, and to restore them to the good and right way, to guard the flock and to keep the sheep from going astray, to train Christians in righteousness to the extent that, "denying ungodliness and worldy lusts, they should live soberly and righteously and godly in the present world," "having promise of the life which now is, and that which is to come,"-these are the purposes to be accomplished by the work of discipline in the church. Do we love our souls and the souls of others enough to obey God?


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