Much of what I have written here in the past focuses on the formative work of discipline in the church – discipleship. Within Scripture, however, we also find another form of corrective discipline, commonly called “church discipline”. This series forms the basics for a primer I wrote for The Austin Stone to understand church discipline.
- The Theology of Church Discipline
- The Heart Behind Church Discipline
- The Practice of Church Discipline
- The Outcome of Church Discipline
- Church Discipline FAQs
Frequently Asked Questions – Church Discipline
Matthew 18:17 says we are to treat a person as a Gentile or tax-collector, which is just an unbeliever in my understanding. Why wouldn’t we eat with a person who is an unbeliever?
This seems to be good logic based on Jesus’ behavior in the gospel of Matthew, and it would indeed be appropriate to eat with a professing nonbeliever. Likewise in the case of someone who has been excommunicated, meals should be shared only on the condition that they profess to no longer be a believer in Christ.
In this case, we have the biblical mandate to love them with the affection of Christ Jesus, and to consistently share the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for their sin.
If however the hard-hearted brother or sister still confesses to be a Christian and yet lives in open rebellion to the explicit commands of Scripture, 1 Corinthians 5:11 gives us clarity on Matthew 18 that we are to “not even eat with such a one.”
Isn’t church discipline judgmental? I thought we were not supposed to pass judgment on one another!
This is an excellent question as well, and thankfully, the Bible is not silent to it. Again, we refer to 1 Corinthians 5:12-13:
“For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
After indicating that we are not to eat with a person who confesses Christ but lives in open rebellion, Paul tells us in this verse that we are not to judge “outsiders” – those who are not Christians – but we actually do have the mandate to judge those inside the church. And we judge insiders through Jesus’ prescribed course of discipline.
This is not the self-righteous judgment that says, “How dare you!” or “I am better than you,” but rather the loving judgment of the elders and the church that, based on the evidence of a person’s open rebellion, they may not be born again and are certainly resisting the Spirit. We lovingly and with great grief remove them from fellowship for the church’s purity and their good, as to bring about repentance.
Church discipline is never a punishment that we give for sin – Christ took all the punishment for sin on the cross! Rather, church discipline is a loving, heartfelt rebuke that comes with great grief on behalf of those who are meting the discipline.
Finally, we want to reiterate that the objective of discipline is repentance and restoration. If the person who has been removed from fellowship repents, we are to receive them gladly back into the church and restore them gently!
If you would like to study the topic of church discipline further, below are some suggested resources:
- “A Church Discipline Primer” by Jonathan Leeman
- God Redeeming His Bride, by Robert Cheong
- Systematic Theology, by Wayne Grudem
- The Surprising Offense of God’s Love, by Jonathan Leeman
What have you found to be helpful in processing through this critical practice of the church?