by: Rev. Ed Schneider. M.P.Th.
Don’t you just hate it when some “holier than thou” hypocrite starts in on someone else’s “sinful” activities? I know I do. Most of the time their motivation for judging others is not the purist example of God’s grace and healing, and yet….there they go complaining about someone else.
Now, given that as my rather transparent reaction to pointing out other’s sin as opposed to our own, it is a FACT that the Bible “requires” us Christians to discipline others within the faith. This written offering directly responds and educates on this tender but needed topic.
So..Why Should We Discipline other Christians?
- God desires his people to be pure (to be mature or to be maturing in our connection to God).
- He calls us to live holy lives, set apart for his glory (to prove, to testify to God’s existence).
1 Peter 1:16 restates Leviticus 11:44:
“Be holy, because I am holy.”
If we ignore blatant sinfulness (this is referring to willful acts that hinders your personal connection and growth toward God) within the body of Christ, then we fail to honor the Lord’s call to be holy and live for his glory.
We know from Hebrews 12:6 that the Lord disciplines his children:
“For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”
In 1 Corinthians 5:12-13, we see that he passes this responsibility on to the church family:
“It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, ‘You must remove the evil person from among you.’ “
COMMON QUESTIONS REGARDING CHURCH DISCIPLINE
If done out of a sense of “we are better than you,” yes, and scripture warns not to have this attitude. But biblical discipline, that which is done for the right reason is an act of mercy and love. This disciplinary process is to be done with prayer (Mat 18:19) and with gentleness and humility, knowing that it is only be God’s grace, we ourselves, are not being chastised at the moment….and probably may need to be disciplined at a later date (Gal 6:1-4). Discipline should be accompanied by limitless forgiveness (Mt 18:21-22). As John Chrysostom said, “[Jesus] does not say ‘accuse him’ or ‘punish him’ or ‘take him to court.’ He says ‘correct him.’ For he is possessed, as it were, by some stupor, and drunk in his anger and disgrace. The one who is healthy must go to the one who is sick.” In fact, James 5:19-20 suggests that to set aside discipline is a dire act of negligence, since it leaves the wandering brother or sister lost in his or her sin: “My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”
What motivation…what is our mind-set…How does Scripture describe this call to accountability?
The foremost motivation is repentance: “If the member listens to you, you have regained that one” (Mat 18:15). Note that this passage follows immediately the parable of the lost sheep. Even the final step, expulsion, has this goal: “…you are to hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh [i.e., the worldly nature], so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Cor 5:5).
Discipline also has the goal of the purity of the church (e.g. 1 Cor 5:6-7; 1 Tim 5:20). In this sense, it follows the example of God’s discipline of all his children (cf. Heb 12:4-12). God’s discipline can be hard to endure, but flows out of his love for us and leads to our holiness, righteousness and peace (Heb 12:10-11).
Shouldn’t we just accept that all sins…big or small…are the same in God’s eyes?
All sins merit death (Rom 6:23). However, sins differ in their effects, some being more dangerous than others, both for the individual and the rest of the church. For example, we are particularly warned of causing others to stumble (Mt 18:6-7; James 3:1), and of sexual sin (1 Cor 6:18-19).
Who should actually administer the discipline? The leaders or everyone?
Jesus calls all members of the church to this difficult but merciful task in Mt 18 (see also James 5:19-20). Gal 6:1 additionally calls on “you who are spiritual” to restore someone who falls into sin. Those who are “spiritual” are distinguished by the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:16, 22-24). 1 Thess 5:12 says to respect those “over you in the Lord and who admonish you.” So while all are called, a particular responsibility falls on the shoulders of those more mature, which will typically include those in leadership.
“Paul, though an apostle, does not excommunicate as an individual, but participates with the church in a common authority (1 Cor 5:4), exercised through [properly] elected representatives” [NDT].
Important Quotes on Church Discipline
John Calvin: “Those who think that the church can stand for long without this bond of discipline are mistaken; unless by chance we can afford to omit that support which the Lord foresaw would be necessary for us” (Institutes IV.xii 4).
Charles Finney: “If you see your neighbor sin, and you pass by and neglect to reprove him, it is just as cruel as if you should see his house on fire, and pass by and not warn him of it.” [JCL, p. 358.]
John Wesley: “I was more convinced than ever, that the preaching like an apostle, without joining together those that are awakened, and training them up in the ways of God is only begetting children for the murderer. How much preaching has there been for these 20 years all over Pembrokeshire! But no regular societies, no discipline, no order or connection; and the consequence is, that nine in ten of the once-awakened are now faster asleep than ever.” [Quoted in the Feb 2001 issue of Christian History and Biography (Charles Edward White, CH&B, Feb 2001, 20, p. 28).]
Martin Luther: “…if any man be overtaken with a fault, do not aggravate his grief, do not scold him, do not condemn him, but lift him up and gently restore his faith. If you see a brother despondent over a sin he has committed, run up to him, reach out your hand to him, comfort him with the Gospel and embrace him like a mother. But when you meet a willful sinner who does not care, go after him and rebuke him sharply.” [Commentary on Gal 6:1.]