The Matter Of Church Discipline

Matthew 18:15-20

            When the matter of church discipline comes up, most people run to one of two extremes. They either ignore the teachings of our Lord altogether; or they make church discipline a matter of great importance and rigorously pursue its exercise. Be sure to take note of the fact that, while it is mentioned in a few places, church discipline is taught and expounded no where in the New Testament except in these six verses. It is not a matter of paramount concern. We should be far more concerned about getting sinners converted and into the kingdom of God than about how to get the unruly out of it. Yet, in these verses our Savior does give a direct command for the discipline of his house, and lays down general guidelines that are to be followed.

            THE OFFENSES DEMANDING DISCIPLINE ARE RADICAL AND, IF LEFT UNSETTLED, DESTRUCTIVE. Sinners in this world, though washed in the blood of Christ and sanctified by his Spirit, are sure to offend one another from time to time. But the offenses that demand discipline are not petty gripes, personality clashes, and silly spats. It is utterly ridiculous and totally unchristian for grown men and women to be divided over peevish, insignificant differences. All matters of insignificance are to be treated as such (Matt. 5:38-42).

            THE DISCIPLINARY OFFENSES SETFORTH IN THE NEW TESTAMENT ARE SPECIFICALLY IDENTIFIED. Because our Lord does not name the offenses that demand disciplinary action, we must look elsewhere to discover what they are. But they are clearly set before us as :(1.) Financial, Business Offenses Between Brethren (I Cor. 6:1-8); (2.) Divisive, Bickering Offenses (I Cor. 3:17; Eph. 4:29-31); (3.) Clearly Established, Publicly Known Moral Offenses (I Cor. 5:1-5); and (4.) Heretical, Doctrinal Offenses (I Tim. 1:20; II Tim. 2:17-18; Tit. 3:10). Such issues as these must be dealt with because, if they are left unattended, they will destroy the peace of the church, the influence of its ministry, and the souls of men.

            THE STEPS TO BE TAKEN IN DISCIPLINE ARE CLEARLY ESTABLISHED, SO THAT THOSE WHO HAVE OFFENDED MAY BE MOST EASILY WON, WITH THE LEAST DEGREE OF PUBLIC SCANDAL. The object is to win the offender, not to punish him, expose him, reproach him, or destroy him. Therefore, the offense is to be dealt with in the most private manner possible. We must never build walls and fences that make it hard for the offender to get back into the “good graces” of the rest. Always strive for leniency when dealing with the offenses of others. When Christ says, “Tell it unto the church,” that does not necessitate a public hearing! But it does forbid discipline by councils outside the local assembly. Church discipline is a private matter, to be handled by each local church as privately as possible, through her appointed pastors and elders, whose job it is to rule the house of God (I Tim. 3:4-5; Heb. 13:7, 17).


Don Fortner