Church Discipline

By Eric Norford

The doctrine is the word of God. It is the standard for the church and our lives. We must follow it to be pleasing to God.

Nothing is more unpleasant and heart breaking than for a congregation of God’s people to have to discipline unruly members. Members who will not be faithful are to be withdrawn from. Members who turn and promote false doctrine are to be marked. These are all requirements God has placed on the church collectively and individually.

Paul said that “some would depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils” (1 Tim. 4:1). Paul also stated to the elders of Ephesus this warning, “Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:30). When Christians fail to abide by the Word that they committed to following and fall away or become a false teacher, then the church is to withdraw fellowship from them.

The word “discipline” means “to chastise, correct, train, obedience to the rules.” When one does wrong then discipline is usually administered to correct them. Parents are to discipline their children for the salvation of the child’s soul (Prov. 23:13-14; 22:15). Even God disciplines or chastises his children (Heb. 12:6-11). This is to produce the kind of fruit God wants.

God rebuked his children, the Jews, when they got away from doing what he wanted. They provoked God to anger when they rebelled, disobeyed and provoked him, thus God judged them (Exod. 32:28; Num. 14; 16; 21:5-6). In the New Testament we see that God struck Ananias and Sapphira dead when they lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1-11). This resulted in bringing fear upon the church at Jerusalem.

We still must practice discipline. Some churches fail to withdraw from unfaithful, unruly members. The Lord criticized the churches at Pergamos and Laodicea. The Lord knew their works. They stood up against false doc- trine, but they allowed members to drift away from God and did nothing about it. The Lord said they needed to repent of it or else he would remove their candlestick. The Lord knows all the works of every local body of Christ. Churches that do not withdraw are in danger of having their candlestick removed. What does God’s Word say about discipline in the church? We will answer that question in our study.

We must keep in mind that withdrawal is not some- thing we use to get revenge on someone who did wrong. It is not used to hurt someone because he has hurt us, nor to put someone away just to do it. Withdrawal is to deliver one to Satan to destroy the flesh to save the soul (1 Cor. 5: 5). It is to remove the lump damaging the church, similar to a cancer in a person’s body. It prevents others from being infected and it projects a good image to the world. Church withdrawal is always a last resort!

The procedure for withdrawal is up to the congregation. First of all, there needs to be proof of guilt.

God’s word establishes this guilt, not man’s wisdom. Once God’s Word establishes guilt, there is time given for repentance. If no repentance is done, the church announces to the public assembly and to the person that fellowship has ceased to exist. The Bible does not chisel this procedure in stone because each situation determines what course of action needs to be taken. God has given us the freedom to make judgments on the procedure. Nevertheless, God has established this withdrawal of fellowship when members forsake him. It is up to the church to carry them out.

Let us notice some Scriptures that deal with discipline in the church. Please read them and study them so we may clearly know what to do when we must take this action.

Matthew 18:1-17 says, “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he 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 established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican.” The terms “publican” and “heathen” carry with it the idea of someone outside the body of Christ. Paul used the word “infidel” to describe a Christian who wouldn’t work, that he would be worse than an infidel (1 Tim. 5:8). These are terms to describe sinners who are lost. They are outside the body of Christ. How can a brother or sister in Christ be lost? They can be lost by falling away from God. They can become lost by rejecting the message of Christ. The church withdraws membership from those who do these things.

We are to consider our brethren as a publican and heathen after the procedure Jesus gives has been exhausted. Jesus describes an individual situation that can lead to a congregational situation. However, before there can be congregational action, we must follow the two things Jesus gives. He says go to that brother and try to work it out and if he does not want to work it out, then take two or three witnesses and make the same appeal. If he does not listen to these brethren, then tell it to the church and let the church deal with him. Often we are anxious to bring it to the church first, but that violates the Scripture. The ceasing of fellowship is a last resort.

Romans 16:17-18 says, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which you have learned; and avoid them. 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.” The word “mark” means “to stamp, to be branded, to identify someone or something.” We are to mark those who cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine. Division is a splitting of the body of Christ. Divisions occur because of false doctrine and brethren who leave the body of Christ for unscriptural reasons. Offenses are stumbling blocks, leading people astray. You can lead someone astray by not living right with the Bible (Gal. 2:9-13). You can lead people astray by opinionated thoughts that everyone must live by or else they are not as spiritually minded as the standard setter (1 Cor. 8:8-13). The doctrine is the word of God. It is the standard for the church and our lives. We must follow it to be pleasing to God.

God’s instructions and the doctrines of men are different (Eph. 4:14; 1 Tim. 1:10; 4:6; 2 Tim. 4:3). Someone who does not abide by the instructions of Christ is contrary to the doctrine. We are to avoid them. We must avoid false teachers and brethren who fail to abide in the doctrine of Christ (2 John 9).

1 Corinthians 5. The church of Christ at Corinth did not purge out the sin among them. Thus, they were in the wrong (v. 2). Paul’s command was to remove the person who was causing the unrest and puffing up in the church (vv. 5-7). The lesson we learn is we are to put away those who are wicked (v. 13). Paul was clear about what to do, many still forsake this and allow members to stir up trouble in the church.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-15. Verse 6 tells us to withdraw from every brother that walks disorderly, and not after the tradition of God. Withdrawal means to remove fellowship. The word “disorderly” means “not keeping order, insubordination.” Paul used the same word in 1 Thessalonians 5:14. Vine’s Dictionary says the word describes certain church members who manifested an insubordinate spirit, whether by excitability, or officiousness or idleness (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words). The traditions are not the traditions of men, but the instructions of God. Those who will not obey God, we are to note (mark) that person and have no fellowship with him, that he may be ashamed (v. 14). However, we are not to count them as enemies, but we are to admonish (warn) them as brethren. What are we to warn them of? We warn them of the Lord’s terror (Heb. 10:31; 2 Pet. 2:20-22).

Church discipline is a sign that we care about the souls of Christians. When elders withdraw fellowship, they do so with sad hearts and sorrow because of their love for the brethren. Those who will not follow the doctrine of Christ cease having fellowship with God and we are to cease having fellowship with them (2 John 9). The purpose of withdrawal is to save their soul and keep the