More About “Church Discipline”

By O.C. Birdwell, Jr.

On the next page in this magazine on the “Letters” page there is printed a response to my article “How To, in Administering Church Discipline” (Vol. XXVIII, wish to No. 19). I read the letter before its publication and make a few observations concerning the letter and my article.

I welcome constructive criticism, and stand ready to make correction anytime I have misused Scripture or have contrary New Testament teaching. On the other hand, I do not delight in being accused of misapplying Scripture in order to make a point. Especially is this so when such is clearly not the truth. I am accused of misapplying Acts 9:26. I am charged as follows: “He implies that the decision to be ‘joined’ to a church rests solely in the will Of the individual seeking membership.” I did not imply any such thing. Here is what I wrote. “The local church may accept, or reject, such a person. The account in Acts 9 shows both actions.” Does that sound like I taught that membership rests solely in the will of the individual seeking membership”?

I believe, and taught, that either can terminate the member ship without agreement from the other party. In the I which disagrees with my article, disappointment is expressed that “voluntary rescission of membership” was not discussed in the special issue. Concerning this question I forthrightly state that I believe anyone can, of his own free will, sever his relationship with a church. I do not have to have the church’s permission before I can have my membership from that church. Rescission of membership may be honorably or dishonorably done, but in either case, it may be done! I want no part with any group, in any fashion, anywhere, from whom I cannot separate myself if I so desire. I simply reject on its face, and also as being false and dangerous, the doctrine of “you cannot leave until or unless we say you may leave. ” How in the world is this kind of teaching “hamstringing churches in their efforts to those who have erred and have even caused divisions in some places”? Do you want these people, unrepented, in your fellowship? If one leaves, goes into worldliness, into denominationalism, or denies the faith, what are you going to do to him? You say “discipline him,” but I again ask what are you going to do to him? Are you going to have an inquisition and burn him at the stake? If he says, “I am sick of you people, stay away from me” (this has been said) what are you going to do? Refuse to have fellowship with him? This is foolishness. There is no fellowship to withdraw. He wants nothing to do with you, and is saying “stay out of my sight.” One was recently overheard to say, “I have difficulty withdrawing fellowship from someone with who I have no fellowship.”

Good brethren, let me tell you something. If anything is “hamstringing churches” relative to this subject, it is the teaching and practice of “discipline” that has no basis in Scripture.

Concerning those who leave a congregation, I wrote the following: “Should there be those who ask to be no longer a part of the congregation, make a public congregation announcement to that effect. If they go back to the world or into denominationalism, let everyone do all within their power to teach and convert the sinner from the error of his way (James 5:19). If they go to a faithful church, bid the God’s speed, and wish them well.” Thus, when one leaves and goes into sin, brethren are so informed and understand that he is no longer a part of the congregation. Such an announcement serves every purpose which the Bible demands and probably is all that brother Asher practices he “withdraws” from those who have quit attending. Effort is made to convert the lost brother (this is discipline.) This is what I said in my article. What else does Scripture teach must be done? Please, my friend, cite me the book, and verse.

Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 23, p. 726
December 6, 1984