By Rick Billingsley
“I know thy works, and thy labor, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil . . . “
The above quotation is taken from Revelation 2:2. Paul had foretold that grievous wolves would trouble the Ephesian church (Acts 20:29), and we see here a fulfillment. However, the Ephesians did not bear in their midst the company of evil men who were morally or ethically base in their character. This attitude toward evil men is most commendable; for they were and are unlike many congregations then and today. Today, many congregations are too tolerant toward their members who need to be disciplined.
“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” (1 Cor. 5:7). “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 ye received of us” (2 Thess. 3:6). It is evident from these Scriptures that discipline is a Bible subject. Yet, it has been avoided, neglected, and even abandoned by many churches of the Lord. The root meaning of “discipline” comes from the Greek word dais, which means instruction, but in the course of time it came to be used for moral training, chastening, and punishment. The subject naturally divides itself into two parts: (1) the spiritual discipline of the soul, and (2) the congregational discipline of offenders. The latter subject will be discussed in this article.
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27). For self-protection and self assertion the church has to exercise a strict discipline. Its well-being and very life depends upon the suppression of abuses and the expulsion of persistent and gross offenders. Toleration would mean unfaithfulness to Christ and degradation in example before the community. The duty of maintaining an adequate discipline is one of the most difficult and most important tasks confronting the church today.
Discipline is two fold: instructive and corrective. Instructive discipline is positive and preventative in nature. It is primarily concerned with laying out the rules-training by education (Deut. 6:4-12; Prov. 22:6; Acts 20:38; and Heb. 13:7). Perhaps the problem of discipline that the church is facing today is due to the lack of teaching concerning the subject. For years, many of the Lord’s body have failed to provide proper teaching on discipline. It has been one of those negative “no-no” subjects that many avoid teaching. Education is necessary in all subjects including discipline.
Corrective discipline is both positive and negative. It is unpleasant but must be carried out for the good of the offender and the church. This discipline does not consist of corporal punishment, imprisonment, fines, or civil incapacities; but in the administration of admonitions and rebukes. When these are without effect, and the offender. continues impenitent, the Bible teaches that we are to mark them, avoid them, not to keep company with and not to eat with them (Rom. 16:17; Phil. 3: 17; 1 Cor. 5:5,9,11; 2 Thess. 3:14). All of the terms above express the idea of revealing the unruly one and not to have association or agreement with such a person.
This discipline is to be administered to: a brother who sins (Matt. 18:15-20), one whose heart is not right or filled with wickedness (Acts 8:18-24), one causing division or becoming a stumbling block before other fellow Christians (Rom. 16:7), a brother who is a fornicator, covetous, idolater reviler, drunkard, extortioner (1 Cor. 5:11), one who hath caused sorrow (2 Cor. 7:8-12), one who is overtaken in a fault-paraptomate-to fall away from the teaching of the apostles (Gal. 6:1-3), one who is unruly (1 Thess. 5:14), one who walked disorderly and keeps not the word or traditions of the apostles (2 Thess. 3:6,14,15), those who lose their faith and make shipwreck of their faith (1 Tim. 1:19-20), those that sin-the elders that sinned (1 Tim. 5:19-20), unruly men, vain talkers, those who teach error, those who deceive (Tit. 1:10-16), a man who is a heretic, schismatic, a follower of false doctrine (Tit. 3: 10), one who errs from the truth (Jas. 5:19-20).
It is obvious from the above description that any person who abides not by the principles of Christianity as given to man through the word of God is subject to instructive or corrective discipline. It is safe and justifiable to say that any brother or sister who refuses instructive discipline is subject to corrective discipline.
We can go beyond and say that any congregation of the Lord that does not administer discipline to an impenitent brother or sister in Christ, has erred from the truth, and therefore is in great need of discipline themselves. Our generation has witnessed a great threat to the church because of the legal incident that occurred out west, but who knows what the next generation will experience or what the future holds for the church? Should persecution stop the church from carrying out God’s will? God forbid! The Ephesian church was rare because they would not tolerate evil, and in this the Lord commended them. Brethren, let us be like the Ephesians and not tolerate such evil and let us not lose sight of the purpose of discipline; to restore the offender and to keep the church pure that we too can be of this rare breed-faithful to the Lord, not only in discipline, but in all aspects to Christian principles.
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 19, pp. 595, 599
October 4, 1984