There are a few myths regarding church discipline that I’d like to briefly respond to and clarify. First, let’s re-read the Lord Jesus’ words commanding this process.
Matthew 18:15 “If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he won’t listen, take one or two more with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. 17 If he pays no attention to them, tell the church. But if he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like an unbeliever and a tax collector to you.
Church discipline is unloving.
Jesus commands us to love one another (John 13.34-35) and commands us to confront sin, correct, and even excommunicate if necessary (Matt. 18.15-17). Because Jesus is not incoherent or contradicting himself, the logical conclusion is that church discipline is a necessary way of loving other Christians in unrepentant sin.
Church discipline is legalistic.
It can be. But so can telling the truth, not cheating on your spouse, or loving your neighbor. Does that mean we shouldn’t do it? The bottom line is that it’s a command and it must be obeyed by churches and Christians who love and follow Jesus Christ. Yes we must check our hearts to make sure we’re loving God and others, and that we’re doing it with a conscious rest and trust in the gospel, but we still must obey the command to discipline (like all other commands according to Matthew 28.20).
Church discipline’s goal is to excommunicate someone.
This is not the goal. The goal is restoration of the sinning brother or sister. Or in Jesus’ terms, “winning your brother.” The tools we use to serve the sinning brother in leading them to restoration are the steps of church discipline, with the last one being excommunication. Excommunication is the last tool used in the process, but not the goal to be accomplished.
Church discipline is finally decided and enacted by the leadership.
The Lord Jesus says, “If he pays no attention to them, tell the church. But if he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like an unbeliever and a tax collector to you” (Matt. 18.17). So the church as a whole, not just the leadership, practices these last steps of discipline and the church as a whole is to treat the unrepentant brother or sister as an unbeliever.
What do you think about church discipline? Have you had any good or bad experiences of this as a church member? Leave a comment below.