By Elmer Towns
Dr. Falwell has often stated that a church is like a family. Thus, a church may have ties of great difficulties and problems, even "family feuds," but there should be a prevailing spirit of love and concern for each member within a church. Whenever individuals (members of a church) cause offenses or divisions within their church, then it is the responsibility of that church to exercise church discipline.
The purpose of church discipline is to rebuke a brother of sister for causing an offense or trespass in hope of causing them to seek repentance and to right the wrong they caused by their actions. The church has an obligation to show Christ-like love and assist the individual toward cleansing, forgiveness, and restoration.
The correct procedure in church discipline is included in the following five steps:
1. First step: Note and mark those who are in need of discipline (II Thessalonians 3:14; Romans 16:17).
2. Second step: Arrange a private meeting with the offender (Matthew 18:15).
3. Third step: If this fails, set up a second meeting, this time with several other members of the church present (Matthew 18:16). During these preliminary private and semiprivate meetings, the individual should be repeatedly admonished (Titus 3:10), rebuked (II Timothy 4:2), and warned (I Thessalonians 5:14).
4. Fourth step: As a final resort, the unrepentant one is to be brought before the entire church (Matthew 18:17; 1 Timothy 5:20).
5. Fifth step -- Upon refusal to submit to church discipline, the guilty party is to be spiritually excommunicated. This constitutes two fearful things, a denial and a deliverance.
a. He is to be denied of Christian fellowship!
(1) "Avoid them" (Romans 16:17).
(2) "Withdraw yourselves from" (II Thessalonians 3:6).
(3) "From such withdraw thyself" (I Timothy 6:3, 5).
(4) "Reject" (Titus 3:10).
(5) "Have no company with him" (II Thessalonians 3:14; I Corinthians 5:9, 11).
b. He is to be delivered over to Satan! (I Corinthians 5:5; I Timothy 1:20).
Within the process of church discipline, all individuals are to maintain a proper heart attitude towards the individuals being disciplined. They are to avoid both vengeance and arrogance. Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted (Galatians 6:1). In addition, all individuals are required to view the individual being disciplined as an erring brother and not a bitter enemy. Yet, count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother (II Thessalonians 3:15). Those responsible for administering the discipline should approach the erring brother with sorrow and not sarcasm (I Corinthians 5:2; II Corinthians 2:4). They should be ready to forgive the brother when repentance occurs (II Corinthians 2:7; 7:10, 11).
There are four reasons as to the purpose of church discipline:
1. It is to maintain the standards of the church (Acts 5:11-16; Matthew 5:13-16; Romans 2:24).
2. It is to keep sin from spreading throughout the church (I Corinthian 5:6, 7; Joshua 7:3).
3. It is to help the guilty person find his way back to God (II Corinthians 2:6-8).
4. It is to escape God's two-fold judgment upon habitual sinning Christians.
a. Sickness (I Corinthians 11:30).
b. Physical death (I Corinthians 11:30).
It should be noted that the church is responsible for disciplining all its members. It has no authority to judge or discipline unbelievers or non-members of their particular church.
The individual who receives church discipline may react in three different ways:
1. He can despise it, that is, treat it too lightly (Hebrews 12:5).
2. He can faint under it, that is, treated too seriously (Hebrews 12:5 II Corinthians 2:7).
3. He can be exercised by it (Hebrews 12:10, 11). (THE DOCTRINE OF
THE CHURCH, by Dr. H. L. Willmington, pp. 69-73).
It should be noted, with regard to the proper attitude for those who have experienced the misfortune of being involved in church discipline (either party), it is the Christian's responsibility to extend loving sensitivity to their needs. We would do well in our churches to remind ourselves that Christ bears with us in all weaknesses. We who are in Christ and walk in His steps should be careful to maintain the same attitude toward the brother or sister who has gone through the traumatic experience of church discipline. This should include a genuine sensitivity to their needs and a loving desire to assist them towards cleansing, forgiveness, and restoration within the church.
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