Why We Must Have Discipline in the Church
Tom M. Roberts
Is there some compelling reason why we must have discipline in the church? Is it worthwhile? Is the cost too great to pay? What are the reasons that faithful Christians will consider in the light of such difficulties?
Brethren, we really don't have any say in the matter, if we want to be pleasing to God. God has always demanded of His people a standard of purity and this is ignored only to our folly. Personally, I always operate on the principle that God's rules have reasons (whether I understand them or not). A Jew under the Law of Moses was forbidden to eat pork (and other unclean animals). Today, we can deduce sanitary reasons why, with their lack of refrigeration, etc., this was a good law. Likewise, the laws concerning touching dead bodies and certain types of diseased persons were good, even though ancient Jews did not understand about germs and contagious diseases. But faithful Jews obeyed the laws of God from faith, not because they always understood why. And so must we obey today, for "we walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthains 5:7).
The word of the Lord teaches us: "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us" (2 Thessalonians 3:6). Do we believe it? Will we obey it? I believe I know why God said to do it and can demonstrate Biblical reasons for doing it. But that God has commanded it should be enough.
Brethren have been known to sit around in business meetings and discuss whether or not the local church should exercise discipline. Invariably, some brother of repute (or dispute) will raise weighty objections and the ensuing discussion finally winds down with no decision reached, except to put it off 'til a more convenient season. I think sometimes that more business meetings are held on the plains of Ono (Nehemiah 6:2) where compromise and policy politics are the norm than on the battlefields of the vale of Elah (1 Samuel 17:2) where David defeated Goliath. Indeed, fear, indecision, respect of persons, ignorance and politics often bear more weight in business meetings than the word of the Lord. I say this to our shame. It is not ours to question "why," though the why's are answered, as we will demonstrate.
The term "disorderly" is aptly illustrated by military troops on parade. If a typical "Gomer Pyle" character is marching, he will be out of step and it will be noticable to spectators and troops allike. His cadence will not fit and will disturb the marching pattern of the rest of the troops. Likewise, when a member of the church walks "disorderly," he destroys the way the church is perceived by others, both internally and externally. The church is to be known as the body of Christ, walking in unity (John 17), "fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love" (Ephesians 4:16). Discipline of a wayward member is an attempt to regain this unity that is being destroyed by sinful walking. Such unity and scriptural attempts to maintain this unity by discipline has been called "making the members goose-step together" by cynics and some who do not like the "coprporate body" concept of the local church. But unity demands discipline.
The people of the Lord should be noted for their purity of living. Conversely, nothing brings reproach to them more than those who live ungodly. The Corinthian church felt the effects of sinfulness among its members (1 Corinthians 5) and they were warned that such sin is like leaven (1 Corinthians 5:6), "leavening the whole lump." The answer was to "purge out therefore the old leaven" (vs. 7). In words too plain to be misunderstood, Paul taught "to deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (vs. 5). Note that he prefaced these instructions by stating that it was to be done "in the name of our Lord Jesus" (vs. 4), or "by the authority" of Jesus. The Lord's people have the Lord's blessing to say to their members and to the world at large that we will not permit ungoldiness to continue among us. The church of the Lord is not for everyone! Let the ungodly repent or depart.
Christians should reflect in themselves the character of God. Of Him, it is said that "He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). Can we have any less a desire for the salvation of the lost and be like God? Discipline is motivated out of respect for souls regardless of charges to the contrary. The guilty may rage, sympathizers may calumniate, the world may scoff; we know what motivates us in these matters. We are trying to win a brother. Part of the instruction of the apostle to Corinth was "to deliver such a one to Satan," but the result to be gained was "that the spirit may be saved." Let the timid of heart realize that we have not done all that God says to do to save the lost when we fail in this measure. Don't weep crocodile tears about the condition of the church until we have done what Jesus commanded. Must we face God in Judgment for our failures in discipline?
The church that practices discipline is a stronger church afterward than before. Not only is the impurity removed but the church will be strengthened. When Corinth did what they had delayed doing about the fornicating brother, it was said of them, "what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge..." (2 Corinthians 7:11). In surgery, a diseased organ is removed and its poision can no longer sap the strength of the body. Whether by repentance or by withdrawal of fellowship, when a sinner is corrected, his leaven can no longer work to the detriment of the church. We think a man foolish who refuses to cut out a gangrenous growth, but a church that permits sin to rob it spiritually is sometimes called "sound" (healthy). I suggest there are other criteria to "soudness" than fighting institutionalism. How can a church be healthy and permit sin to run unabated, unchecked and debilitating? Healthy growth requires removal of things that would impede its growth.
Most everyone knows enough about love to know that it is not the sticky, syrupy, sentimental mush of denominationalism, the "700 Club," etc. And we ought to know enough to know that it seeks the other's good (1 Corinthians 13:5). Like a parent, Christians know that love sets limits. Who has not seen a gushy, permissive parent ruin a child while maintaining their "love?" A church may protest that it loves its members but if there is not an understanding of the reponsibilities of love, little good will be done. Brethren, love disciplines. The final measure has not been demonstrated when we allow our bethren to engage in sin without "reproving, rebuking, exhorting" (2 Timothy 4:2). God loves, but He will chasten (Hebrews 12:5-9). Pershaps it is better stated: God chastens because He loves. Is the quality of our love better than that of God when we fail to do as God does? Generally speaking, we reverse the order: we claim to love our brethren, therefore do nothing; whereas, we ought to discipline because we love.
It is assumed that our readers understand that earlier forms of discipline should have been expended before actually withdrawing from a brother or sister. Such things as Bible study, gospel preaching, personal appeals, prayers and much patience should characterize faithful brethren seeking to "restore" the fallen (Galatians 6:1). Depending on the circumstances, witnesses should be involved, a plurality of concerned brethren. And, let us state clearly, that there are times when good brethren are charged with not practicing discipline when, in fact, they have restored fallen Christians and have not had to resort to withdrawing. Of the many forms of discipine, withdrawing is only one and should be the court of last resort, everything else failing.
But having done all these things, let us not fail to trust God's way to the final measure: withdraw from the disorderly. Trust God that this is the best way and do not question nor seek to circumvent the counsel of God. Souls hang in the balance -- and ours may be included.
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