Church discipline is a necessary action. Although it is not a pleasant event, God commands the church to withdraw itself from members who will not repent of certain conduct.
Matthew 18:15-17 "Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.' And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector."
1 Timothy 1:20 of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.
Romans 16:17 Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.
1 Corinthians 5:9-13 I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner -- not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore "put away from yourselves the evil person."
2 Thessalonians 3:13-15 But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good. And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
1 Thessalonians 5:14 Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.
James 5:20 Let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.
"Church Discipline: Its Effect Upon Fellowship of Saints"
Robert F. Turner
As we "edify in love" (Eph. 4:16), or "teach and admonish" in singing, or study, pray, and sacrifice together; we are assisting one another to be faithful to the Lord. We have need of one another (1 Cor. 12:14-f), and the more we recognize and supply that need, the closer will be our fellowship, the more effective our day by day "discipline by example." Our spiritual brothers must become our peers, whose approval or disapproval mean the most to us. This is the sort of communion that gives meaning to the various scriptures on corrective discipline, and without which they lose their effectiveness.
Disfellowship HAS meaning only to the extent that fellowship HAD meaning to us. Would you rather your social companions go to hell than for them to be embarrassed by the truth? Are you embarrassed by the truth? Are you embarrassed that God's people are different from those of the world? Is your relation with Christ and the saints of secondary, or thirdary, importance in your life? If "Yes," then you will balk at church discipline. You will neither be profited by it, nor will you profit others in its application. Discipline works only with those who try to serve the Lord.
I can hear it now. "Those people do not need discipline." I fear this comes from brethren who view discipline as a means of forcing people to serve the Lord. "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal." (2 Cor. 10:) We cannot force the discipline of the gospel call, nor of Christian service, upon anyone. We deal with adult men and women whose hearts must be made captive to Christ.
Consider our first example. "If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained by brother" (Matt. 18:15-17). The object is to gain the man, not your way. The clear message is that he is in the wrong, and you, your helpers, and finally the whole church speaks in an effort to bring him back into fellowship with God. The church can neither put him in, nor take him out, of such fellowship except as he is persuaded to act. Failing in this, they recognize him for what he has made himself--"as one of those without." Neither hate, spite, nor vindictiveness is indicated here. Do you "hate" or "spite" a non-member when you fail to call upon him for public prayer or service??
In 1 Thess. 4:10-12 Paul "besought" those brethren to quietly work and tend to business, but apparently some gave no heed. So in 2 Thess. 3: he "commands" them to "withdraw from every brother that walketh disorderly" or "out of step" with apostolic teaching. "Note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother" (vss. 14-15).
"That he may be ashamed" shows the effectiveness of their action would be contingent upon an earlier fellowship. If he "didn't give a hoot" this withdrawal of approval and company would not beneft him. "Count him not as an enemy" shows no hostile feeling was to accompany the correction, and "admonish as a brother" describes the attitude to be maintained. Expositor's comment: "Disapproval, as a means of moral discipline, loses all its effect if the offender does not realize its object and reason, or if it is tainted with personal hostility." If a church cannot demonstrate this attitude it is incapable of exercising scriptural discipline.
It is to our shame and discredit that our next example more clearly describes current situations in churches of our day. In 1 Cor. 5: Paul uses one verse to define a sinner in Corinth; and devotes the remainder of the chapter to upbraiding those innocent of the first sin, because they had made no effort to correct it. "Ye are puffed up" (we are too holy to discuss such things), "and have not mourned" (business as usual--funeral spirit kills our 'enthusiasm'), "that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you" (Oh, that would be interfering with his personal life). Haven't you heard it??
Paul says, "when ye are gathered together.." This thing has, through neglect, passed the earlier stages. All members are involved--not just the elders, though they should lead. 2 Cor. 2:6 states the punishment was "inflicted by the many." In Matt. 18: it was "tell it to the church." In 2 Thess. 3: Paul commanded "brethren." The "spiritual" among the Galatian brethren had obligations (6:1-f). NO PASSAGE puts these matters into the hands of some episcopacy which represents "the church." We can not escape responsibility by saying "Our elders won't do anything about it." Elders have leadership responsibilities, but their judgment is not divine mandate.
"Deliver unto Satan" means publicly recognize and declare the sinner for what he is. The declaration does not make him a child of the devil; his actions have done that (Jn. 8:44). Paul "delivered unto Satan" Hymeneus and Alexander (1 Tim. 1:20), and had no hesitancy in saying so. Even in such radical treatment the purpose is "that they may learn not to blaspheme" or, "for the destruction of the flesh that the spirit may be saved..." In coming to Christ the "old man" of the flesh should have been put to death--but such flagrant proof that old ways yet live cannot be tolerated. If the "gospel call" discipline did not "put to death" such conduct, corrective discipline must be exercised. If the offender has a "spark" of concern for fellowship with God, the withdrawal of fellowship by those who are trying to "walk with God" may cause him to see his lost and undone condition.
And finally---if it doesn't, such evil leaven must be removed from the church. This is not the first consideration, but it is certainly not an element of discipline to be ignored. THE SPIRITUAL NATURE AND GOAL OF EACH LOCAL CHURCH, ITS SPIRITUAL CHARACTER, IS HIGHLY DEPENDENT UPON THE EXERCISE OF DIVINELY ORDAINED DISCIPLINE.
In a discussion several years ago, talk turned to the court case involving a woman in Oklahoma who was suing the church because they had withdrawn from her. As the discussion turned to argument, someone finally said, "I just can't believe a loving God would want the church to do something like that."
Whether it is called withdrawing fellowship or church discipline, it is one of the most controversial (in worldly thinking) things we do. In fact, for the most part, what we call the liberal churches have all but abandoned the practice. Many have pronounced it an idea which is no longer relevant to the needs of the church today. They say it serves no purpose to ostracize a fellow Christian.
That kind of thinking would surprise the apostle Paul, for when he wrote to the church at Corinth, he was deeply disturbed about the kind of immorality they were permitting to go unchecked among them. The immorality (a man who had his father's wife) was bad enough, but what concerned Paul was the attitude of the brethren at Corinth, "And you have become arrogant, and have not mourned instead, in order that the one who had done this deed might be removed from your midst" (1 Cor. 5:2).
Paul goes on to explain that he had already judged this man in need of deliverance to Satan (vv. 3-5). He also explains the principle of leaven to the Corinthians: "Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, not with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (vv. 6-8).
The point is, if unchecked, the sin of the man would continue to have an ungodly influence on the church, to the point that some could be drawn away from the faith. This was not what God wanted for His church.
From there, Paul instructs the church, not to avoid sinners in the world, but to remove themselves from sinners in the church (those who would not repent). He pronounces it their duty to judge those in the church, closing with, "Remove the wicked man from among yourselves" (v. 13). In addition, Paul similarly instructs the Thessalonians, "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep aloof from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us" (2 Thess. 3:6).
It should be pointed out that this is not excommunication. The offending brother is not "kicked out of the church." He is, rather, counted as lost. And the act of discipline is not intended to be permanent, although it may have to be. Discipline in this case serves two purposes. First, it keeps the church pure by letting all know that unrepentant sinners are considered lost, no longer a part of the family of God. Second, it is designed to bring the lost one back to God by letting him see how empty his life is without God and his brethren (Paul says, "that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" 1 Cor. 5:5).
It is this second goal which was accomplished by Paul's instructions to Corinth. In his follow-up letter to them, Paul comments on what has obviously become a penitent man, "Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, lest somehow such a one be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him" (2 Cor. 2:6-8).
The act of disciplining an unruly member is difficult, even painful, for a church. Often there are family members still present, and at the very least, there is the love that all have for one of their brethren, but God's plan works. It has, in the past, produced repentance in those who went on to serve the church in important ways. It is an overlooked, but effective way of dealing with those who refuse to obey God's word.
We cannot allow the world's views to obscure our duty to serve God, to keep the church pure, and to see that even the vilest of sinners are brought back to His salvation.