Why Church Membership? Church Discipline

For the sake of Church Discipline

If we have not availed ourselves to the hard privilege of church discipline (as necessary), can we truly say we have submitted to God’s ruling in and through His church?

Of course, if your church does not practice church discipline, this point is moot. And, I might add, your church may not be a true church in the first place.

“Church discipline is rarely done in the modern church, and because it is rarely done, when it is done, it is rarely done well. As with everything, we have to turn to the Scriptures for guidance and protection.

‘I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.’

A moment’s reflection shows the need for discipline. In a fallen world, sin will seek to corrupt anything of value. When sin begins to work, the one in a position to discipline has a choice to make. Discipline is inescapable. At that point, we will either discipline the sin, or we will discipline the righteous. But as long as the antithesis between the two exists (which is to say, throughout history) we must choose one way or the other. (Jay E. Adams, Handbook of Church Discipline (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986).

Scripture does not just command the discipline. We find in the Bible five basic reasons to practice church discipline. Not surprisingly, these biblical reasons for disciplining usually anticipate and answer some of the most common objections.

First, we are to discipline to glorify God –our obedience in this matter glorifies God. We know that God intends discipline for His church (Matthew 18:15-19, Romans 16:17, 1 Corinthians 5, 1 Thessalonians 5:14, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15, 1 Timothy 5:20, 1 Timothy 6:3, Titus 1:13, Titus 2:15, Titus 3:10, Revelation 2:2, Revelation 14-15, 20). God tells us what to do, and because we are His people we are called to do it. This answers the objection, “Who do you think you are?” We do not discipline in our own name, or on our own authority. The Bible says that our good works (when defined by Scripture) glorify God (Matthew 5:16).

Second, we are to discipline in order to maintain the purity of the church. If we measure the “success” of discipline by whether or not the offender is restored, we will be forced to conclude that sometimes it “doesn’t work”. But if we see other things accomplished by means of discipline, our perspective changes. Conducted biblically, church discipline always purifies the church (1 Corinthians 5:6-8). It also prevents the profanation of the Lord’s Table (1 Corinthians 11:27). This also answers the common objection against the faith–“too many hypocrites in church.”

Third, we are to discipline to prevent God from setting Himself against the church. If we have a choice to distance ourselves from sin, and we choose rather to identify ourselves with it, then what will a holy God do? We see that God will come Himself and discipline a church which does not willingly follow Him in this (Revelation 2:14-25).

Fourth, we are to discipline in an attempt to restore the offender. We are not promised that the offender will be restored, but this end is nonetheless one of our goals. This rationale is clearly set forth in Scripture (Matthew 18:15, 1 Corinthians 5:5, Galatians 6:1). This purpose answers the objection that “discipline is harsh and unloving.” The goal is not to destroy the offender; the goal is a confrontation in which we formally protest the fact that the offender is destroying himself. Discipline is an act of love.

And fifth, we are to discipline to deter others from sin –the Bible teaches that consequences for sin detor others (Ecclesiastes 8:11, 1 Timothy 5:20). The objection here is that “people sure wouldn’t want to mention any of their spiritual problems around those elders!” But the issue is always impenitence, and if someone is intending to continue in sin impenitent, then he had better not mention it to any of the elders. But if he struggles against sin, as all of us do, then he will find nothing in church discipline except an aid in that struggle.

What does biblical discipline look like once it has been implemented? Many misunderstand what is actually being done in discipline. Discipline is not shunning or avoiding. It is rather avoiding company on the other’s terms.

The most obvious result is that the one disciplined is refused access to the Lord’s Supper, as well as the general communion which that Supper seals. But the offender is not being denied kindness, courtesy, opportunity to hear the word preached, the duties owed to him by others, or anything else due him according to the law of love. He is merely denied one thing: the right to define the Christian faith.” ~ Douglas Wilson, Mother Kirk: Essays and Forays in Practical Ecclesiology, (Canon Press, 2001), 158-159.

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