“Fellowship, Discipline, and Moral Issues”

By Olen Holderby

This is my assigned subject for this special issue; and, I appreciate the opportunity to discuss these very important topics. I begin by borrowing a statement from Jesus that says, “The last shall be first, and the first last . . .”; for, this appears to be the best approach in studying these topics together.

Moral Issues

Neither word has found place in our English translation of the Gospel; but both words have some close relatives there, and are normally understood. Webster de-fines the word “moral” (adj.) as “conforming to a standard of what is right and good.” The word “is-sues,” while found in the Scripture, it is not there in the sense we normally use it. One comment which Webster makes on this word is “point of controversy.” Perhaps this is enough to set the stage for what we wish to say.

Let us first identify these moral issues. Galatians 5:19-20 is the first list that comes to mind: Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, “and such like.” Paul’s “such like” seems to include all others mentioned in the Scriptures (Rom. 1; Col. 3; 1 Cor. 5, 6, etc.). Some of these moral issues are not so easily identified: hatred, covetousness, envy, malice, etc. Others, of course, are more easily recognized: Drinking, gambling, unscriptural marriages, murder, etc.

There is a fixed standard of “what is right and good” by which these things are to be governed. That standard is, of course, the “perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25; Phil. 1:27). Jesus demanded a higher standard in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:20). It appears that every time society lowers the standard, many in the church wish to do the same thing; and this is where/when moral issues become a battle-ground. God does not change (Mal. 3:6); Jesus does not change (Heb. 13:8); and, his law by which we are to live does not change. It cannot do so if it is the “perfect law of liberty.” I fail to see the difficulty in understanding these simple facts, or the application to moral issues.

The moral issues over which controversy is raging today are: divorce and remarriage problems, drinking of intoxicants, gambling, dancing, and homosexuality; at least this is so in my part of the country. The problems here are not to be assigned to a lack of plainness of the Scripture; rather, it seems to be a desire to lower that perfect standard. Compromising that standard cannot accomplish any-thing good. Jesus has plainly stated the only cause for divorce, and the ones who have a right to remarry (Matt. 5:32; 19:9). Any deviation from this is a lowering of the standard. The same can be said of other moral issues. In the final analysis the question would appear to be 

What is our attitude toward the standard given by the Lord? Having said these things, we are ready for the second part of our article.


Webster defines this word as, “Treatment suited to a disciple or learner; educational training, drill; subjection to rule; severe training, instruction, chastisement, correction.”

From this definition, we can easily see that discipline is both preventive and corrective.

All church-related discipline has a two-fold purpose: (1) . To save souls (James 5:20; Gal.6:1), (2) To protect the purity of the church (Eph. 5:25-27; 1 Cor. 5:6). If, for some reason, we cannot save the soul, we can protect the purity of the church, and this must be done.

Preventive discipline has to do with instructions or teaching (Acts 20:28-30; Tit. 2:11-12; Phil. 1:27; Col. 1:28; 2 John 9-11). Proper teaching will deal with these moral is-sues, hopefully preventing people from participating therein. This stresses the importance of the local teaching program; such programs should be designed to include strong teaching on the moral issues.

Corrective discipline has to do with seeing to it that all members of a local church follow the gospel or suffer the consequences. This is punishing in nature; but, it is frequently necessary. Corrective discipline begins with the effort(s) to restore the guilty to a proper relationship to the Lord (Gal. 6:1; Tit. 3:10-11); we do this in meekness and love. The fact that such people are separated from God, in a lost condition, destined to eternal torment, clearly shows the urgency of such efforts.

The immoral man of 1 Corinthians 5 was to be disciplined, the disorderly of 2 Thessalonians 3 were to be disciplined, the false teacher of Romans 16:17 was to be disciplined, and the heretic of Titus 3 was to be disciplined. Any person persisting in or continuing in sin must be disciplined.

Discipline, whether preventive or corrective is for our own good (Heb. 12:4-11). When practiced, corrective discipline is never pleasant or joyous; it fact it is grievous. But, it “yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.” Such discipline has its place even in private offenses (Matt. 5:22-24; 18:15-17), and it must be practised without respect of persons (James 2:9). This brings us to the third part of our study.


We come into fellowship with the Father and the Son through the agency of their word (1 John 1:3); and, that fellowship is maintained exactly the same way (1 Cor. 4:6; 2 John 9-11).

In the context of our study, the word “fellowship” has to do with relationship. Exactly what is our relationship to the one who has been disciplined? How do we treat them? What association are we allowed with them? The answer to these and other questions may be had through a study of some passages involved.

Romans 16:17, says that we are to “mark” the false teach-ers and to “avoid them.” To avoid is to “turn away from” and “to turn aside” (Vine). How can we avoid anyone by planning to be with them? This provides some response to our questions.

In reference to the immoral man of 1 Corinthians 5, we are told six things to do: Put away, judge them, with such a one don’t eat, not to company with, purge out, and deliver such a one unto Satan. The word “company” (sunanamignumi) is defined by Vine as, “to mix, mingle, to have or keep company with.” Does not this reflect upon the answers to our questions?

More proding for our answers may be found in 2 Thessalonians 3:6,14-15. We are to “Withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly. . .”; and, we are to “have no company with him.” Yet, Paul here says, “Count him not as an enemy; but admonish him as a brother.” To admonish anyone is to both instruct and to warn. This would appear to specify the limited contact which we may have with the one who has been disciplined.

“And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Eph. 5:11). This is an obvious command, in fact two commands: (1) Have no fellowship with, and (2) Reprove them. Beck’s translation says, “Don’t have anything to do with.” To “reprove them” may make it a necessity to be with them; but, this contact would need to be for the purpose of reproving them. Thus, again, limits are drawn for us. When we make an effort to fellow-ship those who have no fellowship with God, we become “partaker of his evil deeds” (2 John 11)

We need to “continue sted fastly” in the apostles’ fellow-ship (Acts 2:42); yet, we must not forget that, “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not the truth” (1 John 1:6). On the other hand, “if we walk in the light, . . . we have fellowship one with an-other.” This most certainly is true where moral issues are concerned! May each of our lives be such, morally, that the standard will be held above the filth and scum of the world. To that extent, we may be able to say with Paul, “Christ liveth in me” (Gal.2:20).

Guardian of Truth XL: No. 13, p. 28-29
July 4, 1996