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Church Discipline

Imagine society, or even your home, without any rules. No regulations. No law. No consequences. A place where anyone can do whatever they want, without any repercussions. In that type of environment, total chaos would reign. There would be complete disorder, confusion; a total lack of organization and structure. What if the church operated the same way? No rules. No regulations. The members do whatever they want, whenever they want. They come and go as they please. You’d have chaos, disorder and confusion. Yet, there are many congregations of the Lord’s people that either never engage in discipline, and if they do, it is on an inconsistent level.

There’s a three-fold purpose to discipline: to maintain the purity of the church; we love that brother or sister and we don’t want to see their soul in hell; and for members to fear the potential consequences that result from leaving the Lord. Here are three passages that address church discipline:

Matthew 18:15-17: Jesus outlines a step-by-step process if a “brother sins against you” (v. 15). If the sin is not repented of privately, the church is to get involved, even, if needed, to the point of treating him “like a heathen and a tax collector.” That fellowship has been broken. They have put distance between themselves and Jesus, and you and I need to mimic the exact same thing that has happened between them and Jesus. The relationship has changed, and it’s an act that the entire church participates in.

I Corinthians 5:1-13: What had the local church in Corinth done with a member who was actively living in sin and wouldn’t change? Nothing. The tolerance of sin will work its way through the entire congregation, and pretty soon, sin will be rampant (v. 6-7). There are several key phrases in this text, including “not even to eat with such a person” (v. 9). Do we care more about having a great meal with a withdrawn Christian or saving their soul (v. 5b)?

II Thessalonians 3:6-15: Verse 6 makes it clear that withdrawal is a command. The objective is for the withdrawn person to feel lonely and ashamed (v. 14). They once enjoyed a healthy, strong connection with God’s family, but because they’ve chosen sin, they lose all that. We still love them and pray for them (v. 15), but the social interaction must stop—the hunting, golfing, shopping, ballgames.

I Cor. 5:5b says “that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” There’s a very fundamental purpose for church discipline—restoration is the ultimate goal. Too often we worry about “feelings” when we ought to be most concerned about their spiritual condition because we love their soul.

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