What does the Bible say about Discipline? By Jack Kettler
In this study, we will seek to understand church discipline. What does the Bible say about discipline? How does the process of discipline happen in the church? Some churches use the formula “It’s my way or the highway.” Is this process biblical in light of Matthew 18:15-17? Why is church discipline needed? These questions will be examined in this study.
As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, commentary evidence and confessional support for the glorifying of God in how we live.
“Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.” (Psalm 25:4)
Corrective measures taken church leaders or a congregation regarding a matter of sin in the life of a member, with the goal of the loving restoration of the fallen member, if possible, and the strengthening of the church for the glory of Christ. *
Question: “What does the Bible say about church discipline?”
Answer: Church discipline is the process of correcting sinful behavior among members of a local church body for the purpose of protecting the church, restoring the sinner to a right walk with God, and renewing fellowship among the church members. In some cases, church discipline can proceed all the way to excommunication, which is the formal removal of an individual from church membership and the informal separation from that individual. **
Why Church Discipline?
There are numerous warnings to stay faithful in Scripture and avoid false teachers, unrepentant sinners, especially those who are called brothers.
Warning passages for the church to beware of doctrinal and lifestyle sins:
“For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.” (Romans 16:18)
“And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:2)
“I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators.” (1 Corinthians 5:9)
“But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person” (1 Corinthians 5:13)
“And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words.” (Colossians 2:4)
“Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.” (2 Thessalonians 3:6)
“Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.” (2 Timothy 3:5)
“But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.” (2 Peter 2:1)
The above passages speak of false believers, false prophets, and immoral brothers. When encountering falsehood like this, the apostle tells us to “turn away,” “withdraw yourselves,” and to “put away.” For example, in the Corinthian Church, you had the case of the sexually immoral brother whom Paul said, “Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person” (1 Corinthians 5:13). How do you do this? Is there a biblical process to follow to keep order in the church?
There is a biblical process. The following Scriptures and commentary provide a way for discipline to happen. In addition, why discipline should happen. First, we should consider the teaching of our Lord:
“Moreover 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 thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglects to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican.” (Matthew 18:15-17)
Matthew Poole's Commentary on Matthew 18:15-17 describes the process of discipline:
“Ver. 15-17. Our Saviour very appositely addeth this to his former discourse concerning avoiding offences, that none might think that by the former doctrine he had made void the law, Leviticus 19:17, which commanded all in any wise to rebuke their neighbour, and not to suffer sin upon him, pretending that it was their duty in some cases to offend any person by that law. He here telleth them that he would not be so understood, as if they might not tell offenders of their sins for fear of offending them, this had been to have withheld charity from their souls under a presence of charity. Only in these reproofs we must keep an order, which order he here prescribes.
1. Doing it privately, between them and him alone.
2. If that had not its effect, then taking two or three with them.
3. If that also proved ineffectual, then telling it to the church.
4. If that he would not hear the church, then, let him be unto thee (saith Christ) as a heathen and a publican.
If thy brother shall trespass against thee. By brother here he meaneth any Christian; for what hath the church to do to judge those that are without? 1 Corinthians 5:12.
Trespass against thee. Some interpret this of offences done so privately, that none else knoweth them but one single person; but it is objected, that then there needed no going to him, much less were there need of any witnesses, for they could prove nothing. Others therefore understand the precept of private injuries, which are in man’s power to forgive, Luke 17:3. Others think such injuries are primarily intended, but yet the precept is not to be restrained to them, but to be understood of all offences, whether against God, ourselves, or our neighbours; and that our Saviour useth this term against thee only to distinguish the offences he is here speaking of from public scandals; for, 1 Timothy 5:20, it appeareth to be the will of God, that public and open sinners should be rebuked before all, that others may fear. The rule therefore seemeth to be given concerning private miscarriages; not such only as are done in the sight or hearing of a single person, but such as are not the matter of public fame, nor openly committed before a multitude, but being committed more secretly, are come only to the knowledge of some particular person or persons. In such cases it is the will of God, not that we should blazon and publish them, but, being certain that any Christian hath so offended, it is our duty first to go to him, and tell him of it; that is, not only tell him what thou knowest, or hast heard in matter of fact, that he hath spoken or done, but show him also the sinfulness of it.
If he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother; that is, if he confesseth the sin, and be brought to a sight of it, a sorrow for it, and a resolution against it for the time to come, thou hast gained the soul of thy brother.
But if he will not hear thee, if he either denieth the matter of fact, that he did such a thing, or (admitting that) standeth to justify the fact, as what he might do, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established: one or two more, either such as may be of more authority with him, whose words may probably be of more weight than thine with him, or who may witness the matter of fact if it be denied, or at least witness by charitable admonition of him, and his contumacy, if he refuseth to hearken to thee, and to repent and reform. What was the law of God in civil and judicial causes, Deuteronomy 19:15?
God would have observed in ecclesiastical causes: One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established. And so the words in Matthew should be translated, or at least understood; every word, that is, every matter, be confirmed.
And if he shall neglect to hear them; either refuse to speak with them, or to suffer them to speak with him; or, hearing them with his ears, if he persists to deny the fact, or to justify the fact, as if it were no sin, or go on still in the same course; (all these things are to be understood by the term of not hearing); if he shall not hear them, tell it to the church. That the term church is a noun of multitude is evident, and therefore cannot be understood of any particular person. Some would by the church here understand the political magistrate; but as this sense is embraced by very few, so it is very improbable that our Saviour should send Christians in that age to the civil magistrates, when they were all great haters and persecutors of the Christian religion, especially in cases that were not punishable by the judges; for no deliberate person will say, that the offences mentioned in this text were all of that nature as a civil judicature might take notice of them. Others say, that by the church is here meant the Jewish court called the Sanhedrim, which had a mixed cognizance, both of civil and ecclesiastical causes. There are three prejudices against this:
1. That the Jewish court was never in Scripture called’ Ekklhsia.
2. That it is not probable that our Saviour would direct Christians to go to the Jewish courts in such cases.
3. That the Sanhedrim was too great a court to be troubled with all scandals, though they did take cognizance of some things in religion, which were of a grand concern; such as blasphemy, idolatry, false prophets, &c.
Others therefore understand it of the Christian church. Against this opinion there is this great prejudice, that there was no such thing in being at that time; but I take this to be a lighter objection than those against the two other opinions:
a) Because we need not understand our Saviour speaking with relation to the present time, but the time to come, and giving laws which should take place and abide from the gathering of the Christian church to the end of the world.
b) Nor is it necessary that we should take the term church here in the strict sense, in which it is most generally used in the Scriptures of the New Testament for the general notion of the word is only a company of people called together; and in this sense, Tell the church, is no more than, Tell the multitude, make his crime more public: now what that multitude was which our Saviour meant, would easily be understood when the churches came to be formed.
But the next verse will make it more plain; Matthew 18:18, Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, &c. By the church then must be meant those who had power to bind and loose. Now though at this time there was no particular church formed, yet there were some who had a power to bind and loose. Christ had given such a power to his apostles. These were the present church, and at this time in being. They were afterwards to constitute particular churches, to whom, (when constituted), in force of this precept, such offences were to be told. There are yet further disputes, whether this offence and contumacy be to be told only to the rulers, or to the multitude. I say, to the whole church, but first to the rulers, then by them to the multitude, not to judge of it, but for their consent in casting a person out of the communion of the church. Thus the incestuous person was first accused to Paul, then cast out by the consent of the whole church, 1 Corinthians 5:3-5. For it is unreasonable to think that people should deny communion to any without knowing a justifiable cause; and to no purpose for rulers in a church to cast one out of its communion with whom the members will have communion.
If he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican; that is, esteem him as a vile person, for so they esteemed all heathens and publicans. How far this could reach beyond having an intimacy of civil communion with them, and a communion with them in the sacrament, I cannot understand; for as Christians were licensed to a civil commerce with heathens and publicans, so neither were heathens and publicans ever, that we read of in holy writ, denied the benefit of their prayers, and hearing the apostles preach. I am very well satisfied, that the primitive church did not deny to persons excommunicated liberty to be present at the prayers of the church, but it was long after the apostles’ times, and whether grounded upon any practice of theirs I much doubt. Christians had a liberty to pray for any who had not sinned the sin unto death: that they might not be present at such prayers I cannot learn from any thing in holy writ.” (1)
The strategy “It’s our way or the highway” is the easy way out. It short-circuits the process just seen in the Matthew passage. In the next passage, Paul the Church in Thessalonica has no company with those who reject the apostolic word.
“And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.” (2 Thessalonians 3:14)
Barnes' Notes on the Bible on 2 Thessalonians 3:14 explains this passage:
“And if any man obey not our word by this epistle - Margin, "or signify that man by an epistle." According to the marginal reading, this would mean, “signify, mark out, or designate that man to me by an epistle.” The difference is merely whether we unite the words “by the epistle” with what goes before, or what follows. The Greek would admit of either construction (Winer, p. 93), but it seems to me that the construction in the text is the correct one, because:
(1) The requirement was to proceed to discipline such a man by withdrawing from him,
(2) In order to do this it was not necessary that the case should be made known to Paul, for there was no supposable difficulty in it, and the effect would be only needless delay;
(3) Paul regarded the right of discipline as residing in the church itself, and did not require that cases should be referred to him to determine; see the notes on 1 Corinthians 5:2-4.
(4) Though the Greek will admit of either construction, yet it rather favors this; see Oldhhausen, in loc. Note that man. The word here used, means to mark; to sign; to note with marks; and the idea is, set such a mark upon him that he shall be shunned; that is, withdraw all Christian fellowship from him.
And have no company with him - The Greek word here means, to mix up together; then to mingle together with; to have contact with. The idea is that they were not to mingle with him as a Christian brother, or as one of their own number. They were not to show that they regarded him as a worthy member of the church, or as having a claim to its privileges. The extent of their discipline was, that they were to withdraw from him; see the 2 Thessalonians 3:6 note, and Matthew 18:17 note; compare 2 John 1:10-11.” (2)
The next passage from Timothy does not contradict Matthew it highlights one part of the process of discipline.
“Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.” (1 Timothy 5:20)
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible on 1 Timothy 5:20 illuminates this passage:
“Them that sin rebuke before all,.... This the apostle adds to the above rule, to show that he was far from screening wicked ministers, or elders, guilty of flagitious crimes, and gross enormities: for these words, though they may be applied unto, and may hold good of all offenders, that are members of churches; yet they seem chiefly to regard elders, even such who sin, who continue to sin, who live in sin, in some notorious sin or another; which is evident and known, to the great scandal of religion, and dishonour of the Gospel: and so some read the words, "them that sin before all, rebuke"; not only admonish once and again, but degrade them from their office, and withdraw from them, as from other disorderly persons, and cut them off, and cast them out of the church, and that in a public manner; and so the Arabic version renders it, “before the congregation”: which was done only in case of notorious offences: and which rule is observed by the Jews, and runs thus (h);
“a wise man, an elder in wisdom, and so a prince, or the father of the sanhedrim, that sins, they do not excommunicate him (with Niddui) always “publicly”, unless he does as Jeroboam the son of Nebat and his companions; but when he sins other sins, they chastise him privately.”'
The end is, that others also may fear; that other elders, or other members of the church, or both, may fear to do the same evil things, lest they incur the same censure and punishment: the Syriac version reads, “other men”; and the Arabic version, “the rest of the people”. The phrase seems to be taken out of Deuteronomy 13:11.” (3)
Now for an excellent dictionary article on the subject of discipline. It is an ample overview of discipline:
The Old Testament Concept of Discipline. The notion of the discipline of God, and eventually the concept of the community and its leaders effecting God's discipline, derives from the notion of domestic discipline (Deut. 21:18-21; 22:15; 23:13). God is portrayed as a father who guides his child (i.e., the nation, more rarely an individual) to do right by the experience of physical suffering (Deut. 8:5; Prov. 3:11-12). Key ideas include “chasten/chastise” (Lev. 26:18; Psalm 94:12; Hosea 7:12), “discipline” (Lev. 26:23; Deut. 4:36; Prov. 12:1), and “reproof” (Job 5:17; Prov. 6:23). While God generally administers discipline to the nation, the community through its leaders is charged with the responsibility to administer the legal code for individuals. This code deals almost exclusively with severe offenses that require the “cutting off” (normally, education) of the offender and gives few details concerning lesser offenses and remedial disciplinary measures. Furthermore, because Israel does not yet perceive itself in the modern (or even New Testament) sense as a religious community within a larger society, it is difficult to detect religious discipline as distinct from the Old Testament legal code. The seeds of accountability among the faithful may be seen in several strands of the tradition: removal from the assembly for ritual impurity (Exod. 12:14-20; Lev 17:3-9); standards for the evaluation of prophets (Deut. 13:1-5; 18:15-22); and admonitions to reprove other adults (Prov. 5:12-13; 9:7; 10:10; 19:25).
The New Testament and Personal Discipline. The notion of discipline as familial chastisement remains in the New Testament (Eph. 6:4; 2 Tim 2:25; Heb. 12:5-11). In addition, the concept is derived from Hellenistic athletics of the Christian life as “training” for righteousness (1 Col 9:24-27; 1 Tim 4:7-8; Heb. 5:14). Akin to these notions is the recurrent promise that instruction, submission to others, and experiences of pain will prepare the believer for greater righteousness and heavenly reward (Rom 5:3-5; 2 Cor. 5:16-18; 2 Tim 3:16; 1 Peter 2:18-21).
Community Discipline in Judaism and the Early Church. Community discipline was characteristic of Christian groups in the New Testament period. Paul, for example, probably borrowed some notions from Jewish groups like the Pharisees of whose disciplinary procedures he was himself a recipient. These systems of discipline developed during the intertestamental period as reform movements among the Jews, who developed ways to establish and regulate the boundaries between themselves and outsiders.
The Qumran sectaries developed an elaborate system of penalties intended to safeguard the purity and order of the community. This included a formal reproof procedure, short-term reduction of food allowance, exclusion from ritual meals, and permanent expulsion. Rabbinic traditions suggest that the Pharisees commonly imposed a “ban,” a temporary state of social isolation imposed for deviation from ritual purity laws or for heretical views and designed to recall the offender to full participation in the community. The right to put someone under the ban was originally limited to the Sanhedrin, but some time before the destruction of the temple it was extended to groups of scribes acting together. Rabbinic sources are not clear with respect to complete expulsion from Pharisaic communities in the New Testament era, but it is reasonable to assume that unrepentant banned persons and heretics like Christians would incur more severe judgment. Paul himself five times received a severe form of punishment administered by the synagogue for heresy, the “forty lashes minus one” (2 Cor. 11:24). The number of lashes was reduced from the forty prescribed in Deuteronomy 25:2-3, presumably in order to safeguard against excessive punishment.
Luke 17:3-4 may represent the seed of an originally interpersonal “reproof, apology, forgiveness” formula that occurs in expanded form for community action in Matthew 18:15-17. The community becomes involved through its leaders when personal confrontation is ineffective; community action in the form of expulsion is a last resort. This deceptively simple formula combines redemptive purpose and caution with firm resolve in the process of community accountability, and it appears to be the basis of later New Testament practice.
Community Discipline in New Testament Churches. There is insufficient material to establish a “program” or “system” of community discipline for the New Testament period or even for the Pauline churches. It is possible, however, to gain some insights into disciplinary practice in the early Christian churches by examining key Pauline texts for evidence of procedural elements, culpable behaviors, and intended effects.
Galatians 6:1-5 suggests that the first step in correction of an erring believer is personal, private, and gentle (cf. 2 Col 2:5-11; Eph. 4:29-32; Col. 3:12-13; 1 Thess. 5:14-15). The stress on humility and readiness to forgive on the part of the person who admonishes recalls the teaching of Jesus (Matt. 7:1-5; 18:21-35). The notions of self-searching censure and eagerness to effect heartfelt reconciliation, practically nonexistent in Qumran and rabbinic sources, are pervasive in Paul's letters. Indeed, Paul's disciplinary practices are convincing as remedial rather than punitive measures only to the extent that they are infused from start to finish with a pure desire for the good of the offender.
Some offenses, or the stubbornness of some offenders, require that the wider community of believers and its leaders become involved. The command to “take special note of” (2 Thess. 3:14) those who are disobedient may be understood as a command to “keep written records concerning” such persons (cf. “watch out for” dissenters, Rom. 16:17). This formal element, employed at Qumran, may have been appropriate in the case of more serious offenses, especially if the accumulation of witnesses would have a bearing on further action. “Rebuke” or “refutation” is a common term in the Pastoral Epistles, which may pertain more to doctrinal correction by community leaders (1 Tim. 5:20; 2 Tim. 2:25-26; 4:2; Titus 1:9 Titus 1:13; 2:15). Either “marking” or “rebuking” on the part of community leaders may constitute “witnesses” as required in the case of divisive persons in Titus 3:10-11 and in the case of elders in 1 Timothy 5:19. Paul equates warnings with witnesses when he writes of his impending third visit to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 13:1-2). It is not clear whether warnings could be construed as witnesses ex post facto, but this may have been an intentional flexibility designed to avoid the legal elaborations of the Qumran sectaries and Pharisees. It also allowed the apostle and his delegates to “troubleshoot” freely with the immature and often contentious local communities.
A survey of the key passages does not strongly support the view that disciplinary action becomes increasingly centralized and formalized through the New Testament period. Rather, it appears that a pattern exists wherein jurisdiction rises in the community hierarchy according to the severity of the offense. Thus we observe that commonly occurring misbehavior is handled by all believers individually (Gal. 6:1-5; and parallels); warnings are administered generally by the community (Rom. 16:17; 2 Thess. 3:6-15); the factious and elders are disciplined by apostolic delegates (1 Tim 5:19-22; 2 Tim 2:25-26; Titus 3:10-11); and the most serious cases are taken up by the apostle himself (2 Cor. 13:1-2; 1 Tim. 1:19-20; probably 1 Col. 5:3-4; cf. Acts 5:1-11; 8:20-24). Admittedly, the evidence is too sparse to insist on a rigid structure. It is equally possible that, as in the case of Qumran, the group acted through its local community leaders when problems were brought to their attention, and higher authorities like Paul or his delegates acted when they deemed it appropriate. As in the case of the witness-warning sequence, a flexible adaptation of contemporary Jewish practice fit the dynamic spirit of the movement and the occasional aberrations of its local leadership.
When an individual did not respond to warning(s) or committed a serious offense, it became necessary to effect social isolation. The expressions used in the New Testament to convey this idea do not specify what is meant. Matthew 18:17 commands the community to treat the offender “as a pagan or a tax collector.” Romans 16:17 tells believers to “watch out” for wrongdoers; 1 Corinthians 5:11 and 2 Thessalonians 3:14 enjoin, “do not associate” with offenders; 2 Thessalonians 3:6 commands, “keep away from” the disobedient. First Corinthians 5:11 is more specific in instructing believers not to eat with those under discipline (cf. 2 John 10-11). This recollects the Pharisaic ban, under which the offender was cut off socially from all but his immediate family. As in the case of the ban, the individual feels ashamed (2 Thess. 3:14) and, when proven repentant (it is not clear how), is welcomed back “as a brother” (2 Thess. 3:15; cf. 2 Cor. 2:5-11; Gal. 6:1).
In several instances, it appears that Paul goes beyond measures intended to recall erring individuals to a final expulsion from the community. The key text in this regard is 1 Corinthians 5:1-5, where Paul responds to a case of incest by commanding, “hand this man over to Satan,” an expression employed similarly in 1 Timothy 1:20. It is clear that the early church understood the realm of Satan to be everywhere outside the fellowship of believers (2 Cor. 4:4; Gal 1:4; Eph. 2:2) and that Paul's expression here denotes expulsion from the community. That the sentence is reformatory is confirmed by the fact that Paul ends the pronouncement in 1 Corinthians 5:5 with the express intent that the offender's spirit may be “saved in the day of the Lord”; similarly, 1 Timothy 1:20 notes that “Hymenaeus and Alexander were handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.” The phrase in 1 Corinthians 5:5, “so the sinful nature may be destroyed,” is ambiguous. It almost certainly denotes physical suffering, but it is unclear whether the sufferer's life will be spared by repentance.
Behaviors Subject to Discipline. Doctrinal deviations that create division in the community are a problem for Paul (1 Cor. 1:10-11; 11:18-19; cf. Heb. 12:15), and the disciplinary measures in Romans 16:17 and 2 Corinthians 13:1-2 appear to respond to division caused by heterodoxy (cf. Gal. 5:2-12 ). The Pastoral Epistles are dominated by this concern and 1 Timothy 1:20 is a clear case in point. The danger of heresy and resultant factions to the integrity of local communities and the movement as a whole is obvious. It is not clear, however, to what extent aberrant views that did not cause splits could be tolerated. Moral deviations are in view in the two most lengthy passages, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 and 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 (1 Tim. 5:19-22; is ambiguous cf. James 5:19-20; 1 John 5:16-17). The charge that some were “idle” in Thessalonica is taken by many to denote inactivity in expectation of an imminent parousia, but it is more likely that Paul's instruction reflects a social situation typical of a large port city, where many laborers were inactive for periods of time and dependent on patrons. Within the community of believers, some appear to have begun to presume upon the Christian goodness of patrons, and the system was in danger of devolving into freeloading, resentment, and division (perhaps echoed in 1 Cor. 11:18-19). In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul is obviously concerned about porneia [porneiva], sexual sin (vv. 1, 9, 11), but he also condemns any “so-called” brother (cf. simply “brother” in 2 Thess. 3:15) who is “greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber” (v. 11 NRSV). The fact that the list is expanded in 6:9-10 with special attention to sexual and property values suggests that it is not random, after the fashion of contemporary moralists, but is consciously directed at the sins of Corinth. These are of course not the only offenses subject to discipline (cf. Gal. 5:19-21), but they are particularly dangerous to the Corinthians. Although the list does not specify the extent of the sin, it does convey a very strict moral accountability. The reason for this ethical rigorism is implied in Paul's allusion to Deuteronomy 17:7 in 5:13, “Expel the wicked man from among you.” The opposite of wickedness for Paul is not cultic purity but holiness in the sense of the Spirit-controlled life of each member of the unified community. Deviation from holiness will retard the growth of the entire body, or “leaven the lump.”
Effective Community Discipline. For the individual offender, the New Testament practice is clearly intended to produce repentance in an atmosphere of support and forgiveness. For the community, to hold its members accountable through disciplinary measures will maintain the moral integrity of the group. All of these principles are present at least to some extent in the contemporary Jewish practices that were apparently adapted by the primitive church, albeit in a less systematized form. The unique and potentially potent aspect of the New Testament concept of discipline is the infusion of Christ-like love into disciplinary practice. Philippians 2:1-5, although it does not address discipline directly, expresses concisely the principle behind the scattered references on the subject. The incentive of love, the sharing of the Spirit, the humble attitude that is, the mind of Christ is that which makes it possible to hold another person accountable. Thus the key to effective discipline is its reflexive element. The one who holds another accountable is first accountable to be a loving person. When this is true of a community of believers, isolation of an offender will be a compelling remedial force; the community's power to persuade or to punish brings a person back into obedient fellowship. It is the community's ability to demonstrate love in its Spirit-transformed living that constitutes a compellingly attractive force. Thomas E. Schmidt (4)
From the historic Westminster Confession of Faith on discipline:
Chapter XXX - Of Church Censures
III. Church censures are necessary, for the reclaiming and gaining of offending brethren, for deterring of others from the like offenses, for purging out of that leaven which might infect the whole lump, for vindicating the honor of Christ, and the holy profession of the Gospel, and for preventing the wrath of God, which might justly fall upon the Church, if they should suffer His covenant, and the seals thereof, to be profaned by notorious and obstinate offenders.
IV. For the better attaining of these ends, the officers of the Church are to proceed by admonition; suspension from the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper for a season; and by excommunication from the Church; according to the nature of the crime, and demerit of the person.
What if there is a false witness against a brother, see (Psalm 27:12)? Bearing false witness is warned against in God’s law, (Exodus 20:16). Do the accused have rights to be heard and make a defense? See *** below for a Presbyterian book of church order and how to conduct a biblical trial that provides for both the accused and the accuser biblical protection.
As a personal note, I have been involved in a case of church discipline where I brought charges against a person for holding false doctrine. The case made it to the presbytery (regional) level of the church since the local church where this happened was unable to handle the case properly and needed help from the larger church body. The trial was avoided when the presbytery appointed advisors to work with the local church session (elders) and the person accused. It was not a fun process, but there was a process, which avoided the situation getting out of hand and causing disruption in the local church.
Finally, the objective of discipline is always the restoration of the sinner:
“To deliver such an 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).
Quotes on discipline:
“There is no purpose in having a basis or a confession of faith unless it is applied. So we must assert the element of discipline as being essential to the true life of the church. And what calls itself a church which does not believe in discipline, and does not use it and apply it, is therefore not a true church.” (5)
“Discipline which is so inflexible as to leave no place for repentance and reconciliation has ceased to be truly Christian; for it is no less a scandal to cut off the penitent sinner from all hope of re-entry into the comfort and security of the fellowship of the redeemed community than it is to permit flagrant wickedness to continue unpunished in the Body of Christ.” (6)
“The principal use of this public discipline is not for the offender himself, but for the Church. It exceedingly tends to deter others from the like crimes, and so to keep the congregation and their worship pure. Seneca could say, “He who excuses present evils transmits them to posterity.” And elsewhere, “He who spares the guilty harms the good.” (7)
1. Matthew Poole, Matthew Poole's Commentary on the Holy Bible, Matthew, Vol. 3, (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1985), p. 85-86.
2. Albert Barnes, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARYCOMMENTARY, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, 2 Thessalonians, p. 3818-3819.
3. John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, 1 Timothy, 9 Volumes, (Grace Works, Multi-Media Labs), 2011, p. 92-93.
4. Walter A. Elwell, Editor Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House), pp. 177-180.
5. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, What is an Evangelical? (Carlisle, Pennsylvania, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1992), p. 83.
6. Philip Hughes, 2 Corinthians, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1962), p. 66-67.
7. Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, (Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Banner of Truth Trust Chapter 2, Section 5), p. 98.
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com
For more study:
The Constitution of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America https://reformedpresbyterian.org/downloads/old/constitution2010.pdf
*** The Book of Discipline
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . E-1
I. Definitions, Principles, and General Disciplinary Action . . . E-2
1. The Scriptural Foundation and Basic Principles of
Church Discipline . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .E-2
2. Dealing with Sin in the Church—Personal Responsibility . . . . E-3
3. Dealing with Sin in the Church—Corporate Responsibility . . . E-4
4. The Imposition of Church Censures. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .E-5
5. Rights of Appeal. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .E-7
6. Repentance, Forgiveness, and Restoration after Censure . . . E-8
II. Special Disciplinary Process of Formal Trial . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . E-9
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . E-9
1. Parties and Jurisdiction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . E-9
2. Instituting Judicial Process . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . E-10
3. The Trial of the Case . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . E-12
4. Removal of a Case from a Lower to a Higher Court . . . E-15
Church Discipline: The Missing Mark by R. Albert Mohler https://www.the-highway.com/discipline_Mohler.html