Aspects of Church Discipline

If one were going to attempt an exhaustive study on the various aspects of Church Discipline, they would likely end up writing a multi-volume book before they were done. Such an endeavor is warranted, and would no doubt be helpful to believers everywhere.

There would be just one problem: no one would agree.

Now, we may accommodate sincere differences of opinion. Two people, filled with and otherwise led by the Holy Spirit, really can come to two different conclusions regarding any Biblical text. If such an impasse occurs, then it is the attitude and decorum they bring to the disagreement that matters more. After that, all they can do is both retire peaceably from the conversation, pray and seek the Lord, and open their heart for more truth. God will lead the way and help such saints come to a better understanding of His Word.

However…

Some will disagree simply because they are disagreeable. They are proud, and knowing in their hearts the truth of their own un-submissiveness, any teaching on the aspects of Church Discipline gets their immediate disapproval, if not outright scorn.

And that’s really too bad, since rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, which is a work of the flesh that, if habitually practiced, will cause one to lose all hope of inheritance in the Kingdom of God (See 1 Samuel 15:23, Galatians 5:19-21, Revelation 21:8 and Revelation 22:15, noting the word “sorcerers” in the last two verses).

But for those of us who fear God and desire to keep His commandments, there is no doubt that we all must undertake to study and understand how the Head of the Church (Colossians 1:18) dolls out discipline.

In my review of Scripture, I have found seven methods, which are as follows:

  • Correction
  • Admonishment
  • Reproof
  • Rebuke
  • Excommunication
  • Reprobation
  • Capital Punishment

These seven methods, which I will attempt to briefly define and explain, appear to be the only ways in which Christ, Who is the Wisdom and Power of God (1 Corinthians 1:24) purifies His Body of those who would otherwise maim or defile It.

Correction:

Proverbs 3:11,

11. My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction…

God’s correction can be light and easy, or heavy and hard. It depends on the person coupled with His will at the time. But the bottom-line is simply this: a believer is presenting some kind of error, whether it be in doctrine or lifestyle. God, in love, will first attempt to bring conviction upon the man or woman, usually when they pray, and so, help them to repent, distance themselves from the error, and embrace a right understanding of what to believe or how to live.

If God is unsuccessful in reaching a person through this method, often caused by a stubborn or obstinate heart, then God will likely move upon the preachers and teachers of the local assembly and command them to preach and/or teach on/against the very error or errors the stubborn, obstinate man or woman has unfortunately accepted as truth.

When this doesn’t work, it’s not uncommon for God to begin operating the gifts of the Spirit in that local assembly, again, to try and help that brother or sister walk away from their error(s).

You will notice the pattern: God first tries a personal, individual approach. Then He tries a somewhat impersonal, more collective approach. Then He tries a completely impersonal approach that may or may not be either individualistic or collective (sometimes a gift of the Spirit occurs that is not given to an entire assembly; i.e. it’s meant for only one person, and so, is shared that way. Then again, sometimes the gift is administered by God in such a way that it is shared for all to receive and thereby be benefited).

Lastly, God may sometimes drop hints along the pathways of life, using His omniscient understanding of timing and placing to lead the person into a situation, conversation, or etc. which, if they would but listen, would realize it’s God trying one last time to help them change their minds about what they believe/teach and/or how they live.

We see therefore that Correction is something of an umbrella concept. That is, the remaining aspects of Church Discipline come under this general heading.

A final general warning regarding the various methods of God’s correction:

Proverbs 15:10,

10. Correction is grievous unto him that forsaketh the way…

God can be unapologetically unmerciful in His correction, and still, be entirely just, if and when a man or woman ever forsakes His way. Grievous is the right word, believe me.

Admonishment:

Romans 15:14,

14. And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.

1 Thessalonians 5:12,

12. And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you…

Admonishment, when looked at closely, really comes down to one word: warning. An admonishment doesn’t really try to curtail or enforce a change; it simply warns that if an attitude, behavior, or a set of ideas don’t change, difficulty or even disaster awaits.

Now, to be sure, if such a warning is believed and heeded, the person on the receiving end of the admonishment will likely change his or her ways.

In either case, what does an admonishment look like in the real world? Well, it can take several possible forms. Probably the most common form is during the preaching of the Word. The speaker will feel an unction from the Holy Spirit to admonish the assembly, warning them of possible consequences should any or even all undertake to say, do, or believe certain things.

Another common admonishment is when a parent, especially a father, trains up their child in the way he or she will go.

Ephesians 6:4,

4. And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Proverbs 22:6,

6. Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

This can take the form of what any sort of disobedience or rebellion in the home will get them should they not comply with the rules and laws laid down by God in His Word as enforced by dad and mom. Personally, I have warned both of my children of various consequences should they proceed with some activity. It might be a warning designed to protect them, as in “Don’t climb on the back of the couch. You are going to fall down and get hurt”. Or it could be a warning designed to instill a healthy fear of punishment, as in “If you don’t obey X, then I will be forced to exact Y as a punishment”.

God’s admonishments often work the same way. Most are protective, and some are prohibitive. But all are necessary, when they come from Him.

Reproof:

Reproof is when an admonishment fails. God tried to warn someone ahead of time. They didn’t heed the warning and proceeded into folly. Then, after the fact, God reproved, that is, He scolded them, for their wrong doing. In this way, reproof is like chastisement. It is punishment meted out.

God may thoroughly chew someone out in the Spirit, and they will know it. Many times, however, (and this is what so many people don’t like), God will use a member of the Body to reprove a person for their wrongs. As a matter of fact, ministers of the Gospel are commanded by an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ to reprove the members of the Lord’s Body (See 2 Timothy 4:2).

I have been reproved, just to admit it. It can be humbling; it certainly doesn’t feel good. But when it is done in love, it is never abuse, even if we don’t like it or think it’s unjust. Reproof must be accepted and embraced as a fundamental aspect of the Messianic life. It is good for the soul.

Rebuke:

Ecclesiastes 7:5,

5. It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools.

First Timothy 5:20,

20. Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.

Titus 2:15,

15. …rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.

Revelation 3:19,

19. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.

As you can see, rebuke is frequently used in the Holy Scriptures. This is just a small sampling. Do a search sometime on the subject. You will be bombarded with verses.

So what is a rebuke? Honestly, a lot of people get rebuke confused with reproof. While there is some overlap, a rebuke stands on its own merits and is different. Primarily, the thing to remember is that a rebuke comes after a reproof, especially if the reproof does not bring about the changes God demands must take place.

A rebuke, then, is an official, public censuring whereby a member of the Christian community is forbidden from some X by the authority invested into the assembly by the Head of the Church. The Lord Jesus has and will again authorize His people to bring one of their own to justice.

The pattern often looks something like this:

God wants to correct one of His children. But they are stubborn and will not submit. He tries multiple times in multiple ways. Nothing works. Out love, God exposes the error, which is now sinfulness, to the assembly through whatever channels He deems fit. The brother or sister is first warned. When the warning is ignored, and the sinfulness persists, that person is then brought before a servant of the Lord, and is reproved or scolded for their continued wrong-doing/thinking. If repentance isn’t demonstrated by the reproved, an official castigation is decided upon and enacted by the leadership of the assembly against the unruly member.

This castigation can take many forms:

  • Removal from ministry, including the loss of ministerial credentials
  • Shunning
  • Barred from partaking in the Lord’s Supper
  • Excommunication (which will be addressed next)

Lest anyone think these are not Biblical actions, check your Word again.

3 John 1:9-12,

9. I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not.
10. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church.
11. Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God.
12. Demetrius hath good report of all men, and of the truth itself: yea, and we also bear record; and ye know that our record is true.

Diotrephes was not living righteously. He was in multiple, grave errors, and yet, was nonetheless one of the ministers/leaders in this assembly. He just had an overblown sense of importance. This pride led to other errors and sins, which led to his eventual fall as a minister and leader. John removed him and set Demetrius up in his place.

Romans 16:17,

17. Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.

Schismatics are to be pointed out (i.e. marked, from the Greek word skopeo, meaning to espy, hence the English word scope). Once they are named and marked, they are to be avoided, i.e. shunned. Allowing such people to have continued contact with the church is harmful, even to the elect.

2 Thessalonians 3:14,

14. 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.

Schismatics who are allowed free access to the people of God will never learn to be ashamed of their conduct, thus allowing them to feel a continued sense of justification for the division they are causing. God will not have this. He will order His servants to separate a schismatic from the assembly on pain of collective judgment (Compare to Revelation 2:5).

And just in case further proof is needed, I give you Proverbs 6:16-19,

16. These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him…
19. …and he that soweth discord among brethren.

You will note that the seventh on this list is what completes the Lord’s hatred for such things. By being the seventh on this list, sowing discord among the brethren becomes an abomination to God.

2 Corinthians 10:20-21,

20. But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils.
21. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils.

Here, Paul is making a point of reference regarding worship and communion. Since heathens sacrifice to demonic spirits, if we are going to act like heathens, we have no right to partake in the true worship of God. There is no fence straddling allowed. If a member of the Christian community is going to act the fool and give himself or herself over to the lusts of their flesh to behave like an un-covenanted Gentile, then they can’t drink from the cup nor eat from the table, of the Lord. This is what it means to be barred from partaking in the Lord’s Supper, and leads directly into the very next aspect of Church Discipline:

Excommunication:

This level of discipline is very severe, and should only be considered when the circumstances surrounding a member of the community absolutely warrant it. While we all could banter about what sins do and do not warrant it, there is one sin which, if practiced, inescapably calls for immediate excommunication. That sin is fornication.

First Corinthians 5,

1. It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife.
2. And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.
3. For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed,
4. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,
5. 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.
6. Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?
7. Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:
8. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
9. I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:
10. Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.
11. But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.
12. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within?
13. But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.

You will note that this chapter deals with literal acts of fornication. But fornication often takes on a metaphorical meaning in Scripture, too. When applied in a non-literal way, God uses the word fornication to describe idolatry. The penalty is just as, if not even more severe. See the following:

Revelation 2:18-23,

18. And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass;
19. I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first.
20. Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.
21. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.
22. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.
23. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.

This is the Lamb of God speaking, in case you didn’t know. The Lord Jesus says that He will personally slay whoever this “Jezebel” is, and not only her, but all of her “children” as well. Anyone who follows this false prophetess into idolatry has an appointment with the Lord at the gallows.

And just in case you thought this was an isolated incident, one that required a special reaction from the Lord, read Revelation 2:12-16,

12. And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges;
13. I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.
14. But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.
15. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate.
16. Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

The Lord will personally fight against His own Bride? Yes, if they are allowing themselves to fall into fornication/idolatry. Jesus will not play nice with a harlot.

1 Corinthians 10:22,

22. Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he (taken from a passage on idolatry)?

What’s the implication of this verse? It’s this: You vs. the Son of God means you lose, always.

And this is why excommunication is in the Scripture. God will not allow an unholy people to continue to call on the name of the Lord out of an impure heart, thus reproaching the name of Jesus Christ in front of the rest of the world (Compare to Romans 2:24).

Instead, God will toss a person out of the assembly to protect and purge His people of the negative influence, with the hope that maybe someday, the excommunicated member will come to their senses, repent, and desire to be re-introduced back into the assembly (See 2 Corinthians 2:1-9 for proof).

Reprobation:

When things come to this, I want you to know, Dear Reader, no member of the Church has anything to do with it. This is strictly speaking, a sovereign act of God. When all other attempts at correction fail, and God omnisciently knows He can do no more through grace to save a backslider, He then not only removes them, or has them removed through excommunication, He also throws them away like trash, giving them up to total depravity.

Romans 1:24 and 32,

24. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves…
32. …they which commit such things are worthy of death…

At this point, the likelihood that this fallen brother or sister is ever coming back is next to nil.

Hebrews 6:4-6,

4. For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,
5. And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,
6. If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

I’m not saying it never will, or that it never has, but if God ever applies the word “reprobate” to someone (a word that means rejected and useless), it’s almost a guarantee that they are headed for the Kidron River Valley (Search the “Brook Kidron” in the KJV if the reference is unfamiliar).

Capital Punishment:

It’s the last on the list for good reason. I know of only one example in the New Testament: Ananias and Sapphira.

Acts 5:1-11,

1. But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession,
2. And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
3. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?
4. Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.
5. And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things.
6. And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him.
7. And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in.
8. And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much.
9. Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out.
10. Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband.
11. And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.

I have never heard of this happening in the modern day Church. I hope it never has to. Like reprobation, this level of correction is not given into the hands of men and women of God to administer. In fact, it’s really beyond correction. This is flat out judgment. But, as a judgment, it nonetheless acts as a correcting principle in the Church, since, if ever God were to do this, as it happened then, so it would happen now: a great fear would fall upon the surviving members of the assembly, and no one would dare mess with God and His Kingdom ever again.

And that is the essence of all correction: to get people to stop putting the love, grace, mercy, and patience of an otherwise Jealous, Dread Sovereign Creator and Annihilator to the test.

So, there you have it. The seven Biblical aspects of Church Discipline. None of this is pretty or even, on the surface, very encouraging. And yet we should be encouraged. Encouraged to know that God cares enough about us to get in our way in order to help us avoid the devastation of an eternal mistake.

And that, brethren, is a love I know I cannot live without.

Peace and God bless,

Devoted to His fear,

votivesoul

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~ by votivesoul on 01/21/2014.

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