Church Discipline – It’s Purpose

By Vestal Chaffin

“Why, I never heard of the church withdrawing from anybody,” is a statement recently heard from two members of the church in widely separated areas. Neither of these members are young in years. Both are probably in their late sixties. This points up a fault that has existed among churches of Christ for many years, and still does in many areas today. I speak of disciplinary action toward members of the church who fail to live as God directs Christians, His children. There are many members of the church who have been members for 40, 50, or maybe 60 years, who have never seen the church take disciplinary action against any member. It is not that they have never seen members who “walked disorderly,” or who have flagrantly violated God’s law, but because the church has failed to take the action that it should.

To “withdraw” ourselves from brethren who refuse to live as God commands them, is a command of God just as much as to sing, pray, teach, eat the Lord’s Supper, or any other that he has given to the Christian. Listen: “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 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 …. 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 idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat” (1 Cor. 5:4-5,11). “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 he received of us” (2 Thess. 3:6). Thus it is clearly stated that this action is a command of God.

I am convinced that this command has not been carried out in many instances, because of the unpleasantness connected with it. In many cases the offender has been associated with the brethren in the congregation where he is a member, friendships and ties have been formed that are of long standing; and, in some cases, the erring brother has relatives whom the brethren think might be offended if disciplinary action is taken. But this is no excuse for failing to carry out God’s command. They regard and esteem fleshly ties greater than that of spiritual. Consequently, the ultimate disciplinary action is never taken.

Withdrawing fellowship from a member of the church is to be used as a last resort, when all other efforts to restore them have failed. We should do all we can to convert him “from the error of his way” (James 5:19-20). We should “warn them that are unruly” (1 Thess. 5:14). We should do all we can to “restore such an one” (Gal. 6:1). If these efforts fail, then we must “withdraw” ourselves from him.

Sometimes, when this final step is taken by the church, those members who are close friends, or relatives of the one withdrawn from, become offended and will stop attending the services of the church or go elsewhere to services. Such action on their part shows that they do not know the purpose of discipline, or they are esteeming the fleshly ties greater than the spiritual salvation of a soul.

What then, is the purpose of church discipline? It is not taken to get at someone. It is not taken for revenge on the offender. But the God-given purpose of withdrawing from a brother is two fold: (1) To save the guilty party from eternal destruction, “that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:5). (2) To save the church from pollution, “Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?” (1 Cor. 5:6) The Lord wants the church to be pure (Eph. 5:25-27; 2 Cor. 11:1-2; Col. 1:22), but if we harbor sin and rebellion in the church, even in one member, others will be inclined to follow the example of the sinful one. If we fail to carry out disciplinary measures against the unruly member and permit sin to be engaged in by the members, then the church will have lost it distinctiveness and its influence for good; and it will become a hiss and a byword in the world.

After we have withdrawn from a member, we must not completely stop all efforts to save him. We are to “count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (2 Thess. 3:15). May the Lord ever give us the faith, the courage, and the wisdom to carry out His divine will in all things.

Guardian of Truth XXXI: 11, p. 339
June 4, 1987