Church Discipline

By Larry A. Bunch

The subject of “church discipline” is often a neglected and misunderstood one. Many times when churches “act” on this matter, they do so in haste with little or no preparation. Consequently, many times harm is done and brethren are embittered against the church acting in this realm. Our purpose in this article is to thoroughly study the subject from the Bible so as to completely understand it and be able to act in agreement with God’s will.

The Necessity of Discipline

Where there is no penalty attached to the violation of law, there is neither respect for the Law nor for the Law-giver. Juvenile delinquency results from a lack of discipline (Prov. 13:24; Eph. 6:1-4). We all recognize the necessity of discipline in the classroom and that the civil government requires punishment upon criminals (Rom. 13:1-4).

God has never tolerated trifling with His Laws. Confusion would result if there was no punishment for violation and God is not a God of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33). Adam and Eve were punished for violation of God’s instructions (Gen. 3:17-24; 2:17). The whole world, with the exception of eight righteous souls, perished in the flood because of wickedness (Gen. 6). Nadab and Abihu presumed to offer “strange fire” to the Lord and were consumed by fire from heaven (Lev. 10). Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Lord and fell dead at the apostle’s feet (Acts 5).

Similarly, there must be discipline in the church today. Note that I said similarly — not exactly like the above cases, but discipline nevertheless. There are two main differences between the above cases and discipline in the church today: 1) God does not deal directly with violators of His Law today and 2) God does not deal out punitive discipline either directly or indirectly (through agents) unless Hebrews 12 is an exception of this. Even though this is true, there is still discipline. If there is no discipline, then the effect would be the same as in the situations mentioned (classroom, parents, government)-there would be no respect for God or for His Law.


More brethren would be in favor of church discipline if they understood the broad meaning of the term. Discipline is defined by Webster as: “noun; mental or moral training; education; subjection to control; military regulation; chastisement; an instrument of punishment. Verb transitive; to train to obedience or efficiency: regulate; chastise” (New Twentieth Century Dictionary, 1962). In Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary Unabridged, 1959, it is defined as: “Noun, (1) training that develops self-control, character, or orderliness and efficiency. (2) the result of such training; self-control; orderly conduct. (3) a system of rules or methods, as for the conduct of members of a monastic order. (4) subjection to rule; submissiveness to control. (5) correction; chastisement; punishment inflicted by way of correction and training. (6) anything taught; branch of knowledge or learning. Verb transitive, (1) to subject to discipline; to instruct or educate; to prepare by instruction; to train; as to discipline youth for a profession. (2) to chastise; to punish. (3) to execute the laws of a church on. (4) to keep in subjection; to regulate; to govern. Synonyms: train, form, educate, instruct, drill, regulate, correct, chastise, punish.” We can see from this that discipline does not involve corporal punishment only, but also involves instruction and training. In fact, the instruction and training come first!

The Old Testament equivalent of “discipline” is musar which comes from yasar meaning “to bind, to tame; hence to correct, chastise, instruct, admonish” (“First Century Preaching by Twentieth Century Preachers” by Jimmy Tuten and Floyd Chappelear, p. 81). Some passages to read are Proverbs 3:11-12; 13:24; 22:15; 23:13; Deut. 8:5; Job 5:17; Psalm 94:12.

The word “discipline” (from the Greek sophronismos) does not appear in the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. It appears once in the American Standard Version (ASV) in 2 Timothy 1:7 (KJV, “sound mind”). This word means: “1. an admonishing or calling to soundness of mind, to moderation and self-control . . . 2. self-control, moderation…” (Thayer, p. 613).

However, the idea expressed in the Hebrew “yasar” is best expressed in two Greek words: 1) “paideia” and 2) “paideuo.” Thayer says regarding these words (p. 473):

“Paideia: 1. the whole training and education of children . . . Eph. 6:4 . . . 2. whatever in adults also cultivates the soul, esp. by correcting mistakes and curbing the passions; hence a. instruction which aims at the increase of virtue: 2 Tim. 3:16 . . . b. acc. to bibl. usage chastisement, chastening . . . Heb. 12:5. . . .

“Paideuo: 1 . . . . to train children: . . . to be instructed or taught, to learn: . . . 1 Tim. 1:20; to cause one to learn: . . . Titus 2:12. 2. to chastise; a. to chastise or castigate with words, to correct: . . . 2 Tim. 2:25 . . . b. in bibl. and eccl. use employed of God, to chasten by the infliction of evils and calamities . . . 1 Cor. 11:32; 2 Cor. 6:9; Heb. 12:6; Rev. 3. .:19 . . . c. to chastise with blows, to scourge . . . Heb. 12:7, (10) . . . Lk.23:26,22.”

We have seen that discipline is training, rules, submissiveness, corrections, chastisement, instruction, regulation, governing – and since we are talking about “church discipline,” it is discipline pertaining to the spiritual growth and development of the individual Christian in the local congregation and of the attitudes and actions of the members of the local congregation toward one another.

Two Kinds

There are two basic kinds of disciplinary action: (1) Instructive: This is “preventative” in nature. It is designed so the Christian can learn God’s will in order to apply it to his life and please God. Thus, the Christian avoids the second kind of disciplinary action – (2) Corrective: This is “punitive” in nature. It results from inadequate instructive discipline or the failure of the Christian to make application of that instruction to his life. These two kinds of disciplinary action will be discussed next week in the section “The Means of (How To) Discipline.”

The Scriptures Commanding Discipline

Matthew 18:15-17 (the offender is also to go to the offended, Matt. 5:23-24); Luke 17:3; Romans 16:17-20; 1 Corinthians 5; Galatians 6:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-15; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15; James 5:19-20.

These are some of the passages dealing with “instructive discipline” and all the passages dealing with “corrective discipline.” It would be good to read these passages and keep them in mind as you complete this study. (Continued Next Week). See also the tract on Church Discipline by Cecil Willis.

Truth Magazine XXI:22, pp.349-350
June 2, 1977