Thursday, February 17, 2011

Church Discipline

On occasion, a Christian will wander away from the straight and narrow way and find himself ensnared by sin through ignorance or willful disobedience. It then becomes necessary for the church, particularly its leaders, to actively seek repentance and restoration of that Christian.

One means by which the church seeks to lovingly restore wandering believers is the process of church discipline. When a sinning believer is rebuked and he turns from his sin and is forgiven, he is won back to the fellowship with the body and with Jesus Christ. The goal of church discipline, then, is not to throw people out of the church or to feed the self-righteous pride of those who administer the discipline. It is not to embarrass people or to exercise authority and power in some unbiblical manner. The purpose is to restore the sinning believer to holiness and bring him/her back into a pure relationship within the assembly.

The Scriptures are loaded with instructions for carrying out discipline and correction in the church towards offending believers. But most pastors and church leaders find confrontation so undesirable to be involved in, that they usually put it off until it is too late, or it is never employed at all.

While trying to discover how to motivate people to be holy, I have learned that you can’t just preach holiness and then be indifferent to how the people respond. The Bible makes it abundantly clear that the church must enforce a biblical standard of holiness (see Matthew 18; Acts 5; I Corinthians 5; and 2 Thessalonians 3). We have to have to deal with sin. It’s not enough to make announcements or post rules of behavior.

Here is how church discipline is to be administered:

Step One: Tell the person His or Her Sin Alone. (Matthew 18:15)
Step Two: Take Some Witnesses. (Matthew 18:16).
Step Three: Tell the Church (Matthew 18:17a)
Step Four: Treat Him or Her as an Outsider (Matthew 18:17b; I Cor.5:2, 4-5, 9-11).

It’s comforting to know that heaven supports us in the process of discipline, because Christians often naively think that confronting sin is being unloving or unkind. But what we’re really doing when we administer church discipline is doing God’s work of fighting sin in the church and lining up with heaven.

In closing, we must remember that they goal of church discipline is to restore the sinning brother or sister. Church discipline is also the key to the purity of the church, and a pure church is a healthy church that can have an impact upon the world.

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