Why Church Discipline
Why are we pausing on James this Sunday to talk about church discipline?
At Sojourn we believe that Christ is the head of the church and that his word, the Scriptures is the highest authority for us. Jesus, through the Scriptures tells us who we are as a church and how we are to live. So, as a church we want every step we take and every decision we make to be informed by and be under authority of the Scriptures.
Why do we as a church need to practice church discipline?
- The church is a family of people who protect and put the truth of Jesus on display (1 Timothy 3:14-15)
1 Timothy 3:14-15 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, 15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.
a. We are God’s family
We are the household of God, the church of the living God. It is God’s household not man’s. Therefore, God determines how one ought to behave in His household. If we are God’s children, born of the Spirit then we resemble our Father.
Matthew 5:48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
b. Church of the living God
Church means assembly/gathering of people. We have been bought by Jesus’s precious blood and miraculously converted from enemies into sons, from those who sought only their own gain and pleasure we now desire and long for God and to be spent for him and his people.
Titus 2:14 “[Jesus Christ] who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”
c. Pillar and Buttress - Guards the Truth and puts Christ on display
Ephesians 3:10 “So that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”
Living according to God’s wisdom, his word and commandments isn’t popular in the world. It doesn’t feel strong to many, when man’s wisdom and how-to’s for life make a lot of sense. That’s why the church is a pillar and buttress that by its own life proves that the gospel is strong. But to bring this witness we must live according to the gospel. So, as we fall away from this kind of life of witness church discipline cleanses us and polishes the church’s witness before the world.
- Church discipline is part of discipleship and growth (Matthew 18:15-17)
Church discipline is good and is to be practiced continuously. As we live as a church we call and encourage one another to live for Christ and the way he called us to live. None of us is perfect therefore church discipline isn’t just recommended, but is necessary for our sanctification. We continuously call one another to repent and believe. Church discipline is a part of discipleship, as a formative and corrective discipline.
In Mathew 18:15-17 Jesus tells us what we should do and the steps we need to take if a brother sins against you.
Mathew 18:15-17 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. Mainly church discipline happens informally as we humbly and lovingly call each other to repentance. But there are times when a brother or sister won’t repent and it would need to be taken to the next steps as Jesus sovereignly prescribed. Take one or two others along with you… If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
We see that excommunication happens when a brother or sister are unrepentant in their sin after they have been lovingly confronted and pursued to repent.
The Bible also gives examples when the offense may be so serious that the only responsible decision that the church can make is to thrust the offender out of the church and view him or her as an unconverted person. In the New Testament as a whole, there are three categories of sins that reach this level of seriousness:
- Major doctrinal error (1 Tim 1:20)
- Major moral failure (1 Cor 5)
- Persistent divisiveness (Titus 3:10)
- Church discipline is loving (James 5:19-20)
James 5:19-20 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
“Church discipline would be easier if the church wasn’t made up of people. But Jesus didn’t come for buildings or institutions or events. He came to save a people for himself, sinners like you and me.
It’s this reality that makes church discipline a wonderful gift. The church is a gathering of those who through repentance and faith have received the hope of Christ’s salvation and are helping each other persevere in that hope. To neglect church discipline is to fail to love one another in that way. So, as we labor to follow Christ’s instructions for the purity of the church, we cling to the hope of the gospel both for ourselves and for those around us.
It shows love by calling out and pursuing fellow brother or sister to repent and warns of a greater judgement that is to come. It lovingly protects other members of the church from falling into sin and treating it as a norm.” Geoff Chang
The church is not a building or organization, but people. That’s why the church discipline is focused on people and how we live.
Galatians 6:1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
It is loving not only in relation to a person who sinned, but to the whole congregation. Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 compares sin to a small leaven that leavens the whole lump of dough. Sin can be compared to a cancer that from one cancer cell spreads and kills the whole body.
During Passover Israelites were to get rid of all the leaven and so Paul says that now Jesus Christ is our Passover so, as we live in him continuously, we are to get rid of sin continuously.
- Church discipline is essential in a church that fears the Lord and humbles herself before Him (1 Corinthians 5:1-8)
1 Corinthians 5:1-8 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.
For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. 4 When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.
6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
Toleration of sin is sinful. We often think that not disciplining equals to humility. We might say that we are all not perfect, so who are we to judge? But here Paul says that not confronting your brother who is in sin is arrogance. And so, he is calling them to humble themselves, repent and to remove a sinner from among them.
We might think that we show grace when we tolerate sin in someone’s life. However it’s clear that grace doesn’t allow us to sin, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2) Because on the contrary it is “training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:11-15).
“Biblical brokenness submits to the painful, risky, time-consuming, often oppressive process of church discipline. It says, "I will take the log out of my eye that I may see clearly to do whatever eye-surgery the Bible calls upon me to do." It says, "I will look to myself lest I too be tempted as I try to follow God's counsel in excluding another in the hope of reconciliation." Humility does not tell God how to be gracious. It listens and tries to obey with fear and trembling.” John Piper
When we are truly humble, we do the hard work and deal with mess of sin in our lives and the lives of our brothers and sisters and do not close our eyes. We humbly examine ourselves and lovingly pursue others’ repentance or go as far as to exclude them from the congregation. The act of excluding them brings them to repentance and ultimately the salvation of a brother/sister.
- Church discipline is about repentance and faith in righteousness of Jesus Christ (1 John 1:7-10)
Good churches make mistakes. Because every person makes mistakes. Leaders make mistakes. Pastors make mistakes. There was no man in the Bible who didn’t make mistakes and sin. That’s why we need to put our hope into the God-man Jesus Christ, who is perfect. As we pursue Christ and hope in him, we are to pursue a life of repentance. A life of transparency where we confess and repent of our sins despite the “position” held.
1 John 1:7-10 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
The church excommunicates not the one who repents but those who don’t repent, don’t confess, legalistic and justify themselves. It is people who avoid the church discipline are the ones who are Pharisees who don’t see themselves in need of correction or possibility to fall into sin.
“Which home or church would you prefer to live in—the one where everyone is “perfect”? Or the one where people confess their sin and live trusting in the vicarious righteousness of Christ? If the latter, do you take the initiative, not in correcting others, but in confessing your sin?” John Leeman
If we are to have a church where people repent and trust Jesus then each one of us needs to be quick not to correct but to repent of sin and trust Jesus.