In our present day sea of church decline and failing church health, many people are focusing on the music styles, small group structures, and other elements related to the methods of “doing” church. When was the last time you attended a Monday morning fellowship breakfast among pastors where the main discussion was church discipline and how much it’s needed in our churches today? When was the last time you had dinner with another church member and discussed the value of church discipline?
The fact is, most pastors will use illustrations in their sermons about how today’s parents no longer discipline their children properly, but they ignore the need for discipline in the church. This is not a new problem. In 1984 a survey was taken regarding the subject of church discipline. The survey targeted 439 pastors on the matter of church discipline. “50 percent acknowledged situations in their ministry where discipline would have been appropriate but no action was taken. Three major hindrances to the practice of church discipline were mentioned: (a) fear of the consequences or outcome, (b) preference for avoiding disruptive problems, and (c) ignorance of the proper procedures.“1
Gregory A. Wills who is a professor of Church History at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and noted historian commented, “To an antebellum Baptist, a church without discipline would hardly have counted as a church.”2 Predating the modern era of Baptist congregations was the early church. As we survey the New Testament, the Scriptures are very clear on the fact that the early church not only needed discipline, but they practiced it. In 1 Corinthians 5:5, a man was sexually involved with his father’s wife and the people of the congregation knew about it. Paul told the church at Corinth to “purge out” and to “deliver his soul to Satan for the destruction of the flesh that the spirit may be saved.” In 2 Thessalonians 3, Paul instructs the Church at Thessalonica to refrain from keeping company with any brother (speaking of a church member) who refused to live in a Christ honoring manner. He said to refrain from having fellowship with them. He concluded by saying, “If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother” (1 Thess. 3:14-15). Titus 3:10 says, “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him.” All of these instances of discipline stand upon the foundation of Jesus’ words in Matthew 18 where He provides the explicit way that discipline is to be carried out. Discipline is always done with the goal of restoration and God’s glory. Any other goal and any other method is faulty.
As we examine a rebellious culture and point to the lack of discipline in the homes, isn’t it possible that the unbelieving community could point a finger at the lack of discipline in the church today?
Why The Decline in Church Discipline?
The Rise of Church Growth
There is no denying the fact that the evangelical church today is drunk on church growth. Bigness is an epidemic that is sweeping through the church like a black plague. It isn’t necessarily a new problem either. For instance, in 1954, the Southern Baptist Convention popularized a phrase – “A Million More in 54.” Today, we have the multisite movement and other modern trends that continue to foster the idea that a big church is somehow a better church. Many congregations are willing to turn a blind eye to sin in order to achieve their goal of more members. We must remember what John Leadley Dagg, the author of a well-known and influential church manual of the nineteenth century once said. He writes, “It has been remarked, that when discipline leaves a church, Christ goes with it.”3
The Doctrine of Tolerance
Our society is influencing the way we conduct ourselves within our local church. Like it or not, the ideology of tolerance is spilling itself over into the life of the church. We are being taught to tolerate others. We are being schooled by culture and taught to tolerate differing beliefs, faults, and habits of others. As we form our doctrine of ecclesiology, we must draw a distinct line in the sand between the factory and the local church. We may be forced to tolerate many things in the workplace, but we are taught by Christ to not tolerate sin in the lives of fellow believers (Matthew 18).
The American Individualism
Another prevailing reason for the lack of church discipline centers upon the individualistic mindset of many Americans. The tough “self-made man” of our American society has fostered the idea of an individualistic or self governed lifestyle. In other words, we don’t want people looking over our “spiritual privacy fences” and telling us what to do. Contrary to what many modern politicians say, we have a grass roots population of small government and that idea comes from a very private life. Dr. Albert Mohler writes, “Individuals now claim an enormous zone of personal privacy and moral autonomy. The congregation–redefined as a mere voluntary association–has no right to intrude into this space. Many congregations have forfeited any responsibility to confront even the most public sins of their members. Consumed with pragmatic methods of church growth and congregational engineering, most churches leave moral matters to the domain of the individual conscience.“4
The Benefits of Church Discipline
The benefits of church discipline are numerous. The church will become a more pure community of confessing believers as opposed to a hypocritical sin saturated community that brings Christ dishonor and shame. The members will learn to confront and confess and this will breed sanctification and spiritual maturity. All of this will bring God glory. What price tag can be placed on that?
A Tragic Example
One Sunday morning I met a couple who came to visit our church from another congregation across town. After meeting with this couple, I discovered that they had been disciplined and excommunicated from the church. A more accurate description would be that this family was excommunicated, but they were never disciplined. They assembled in the sanctuary for worship after their small groups met together and just before the service started a group of deacons stood up and announced charges against them. The charges were that this particular family had been teaching “strange doctrines.” They were excommunicated on the spot without the first warning, rebuke, or prayer in private. Needless to say, this family was in a state of spiritual shock. I researched the situation and discovered that they had some doctrinal differences with their former church, but they were certainly not teaching heresy. This situation may seem like a rare thing, but it does happen more than you might realize. Discipline must be followed in the way that Christ Jesus specified in Matthew 18.
A Personal Example
When I was in seminary in Kentucky, I became the pastor of a small and extremely rural church located in the farming regions 50 miles south of Louisville. I didn’t have an office, so on Wednesday evenings I would often arrive early and sit in a small classroom in the basement under the sanctuary to read and study over my lesson for the evening. One particular night a deacon walked in the room and asked if he could speak with me. He had been a member of the church for about 45 years and had been serving as a deacon for 40 years. I had only been serving as pastor for a little less than 2 years.
He talked with me about a decision he was wrestling with. He and his wife had both been married previously and when their spouses died, they later married one another. They had children who were now adults form their previous marriages. They also had two separate estates. This man was nearing retirement and was needing advice. He had discovered that because of his split estate and marriage to his wife, he was going to actually bring home less money during retirement than if he had remained single. His question to me was simple. “If I get a legal separation from my wife (but remain with her) for financial reasons, is it a sin?”
For this young seminary student and inexperienced pastor, this was a difficult situation to address. I responded by talking about Christ and His church. I pointed to the covenant keeping God and how He is mirrored in the marriage covenant. In short, I told him that it was indeed a sin and he shouldn’t go that direction no matter what the financial benefits were. Two weeks later, as I sat in that same room, he entered the room and told me that he had decided to go a different direction. He went ahead with the legal separation. I confronted him about it and he refused to accept my counsel. A few days later, I gathered three other men from the church and we traveled to his home to confront him. He eventually threw us all out of his living room and asked us to leave. We did as he asked. We went back to the little white country church and gathered in the center aisle, held hands, and wept for our brother as we prayed to God for his repentance and restoration.
After a few weeks passed, I tried to make contact with him but he refused to take my calls and he had stopped attending the church. A few more weeks passed and I informed him that I was going to have to present him for excommunication before the church in our next business conference. When the conference time arrived on that particular Sunday night, he refused to be in attendance. At the end of regular business, I brought the charge of discipline against our brother before the public assembly of our congregation. The charges were substantiated by the witnesses who accompanied me to his home. Once again, with tear filled eyes, the church voted unanimously to excommunicate him from the fellowship of our church. I was saddened by this entire process. I felt defeated at one level and relieved at another. If the truth were known, I was glad that this country church didn’t decide to excommunicate the young preacher rather than their 40 year deacon.
About 6 months passed on a Sunday morning I took the pulpit and noticed that on the very back row sat the man who had been excommunicated. I preached and he quickly exited out the back door without talking to me. The next week, the exact same thing happened. However, after I finished preaching he made his way down to the front and whispered in my ear, “Brother Josh, I have already asked the Lord to forgive me. I want to ask you to forgive me. I also want to ask the church to forgive me.” I immediately turned to the congregation and repeated what my brother had just said in my ear. The church responded with a hearty “AMEN!” Once again, we all left with tears streaming down our faces. This time it was tears of joy rather than tears of sorrow. Our brother was completely restored into the life of the church.
Carl Laney writes, “The church today is suffering from an infection which has been allowed to fester. . . . As an infection weakens the body by destroying its defense mechanisms, so the church has been weakened by this ugly sore. The church has lost its power and effectiveness in serving as a vehicle for social, moral, and spiritual change. This illness is due, at least in part, to a neglect of church discipline.”5 Today in the evangelical church, we have a very weighty decision to make. Will we continue to take in members without even calling to speak to the church they once attended? Will we continue to drink ourselves silly on church growth techniques? Will we continue to function on the ideology “whatever goes” rather than God’s Word? Dr. Albert Mohler also says, “Without a recovery of functional church discipline-firmly established upon the principles revealed in the Bible-the church will continue its slide into moral dissolution and relativism. Evangelicals have long recognized discipline as the ‘third mark’ of the authentic church. Authentic biblical discipline is not an elective, but a necessary and integral mark of authentic Christianity.”6
If we will love people to Christ with the gospel – we have a responsibility to continue that love when they turn down the pathway of sin. If we will do that faithfully and biblically, the glory of God will radiate from our church body. If we choose to follow the modern trends of our day – we will find ourselves consumed in the “Ichabod Syndrome” – a church with no glory. To love is to discipline. The church without discipline is a church without love. We as Christians praise discipline in the home, but why do we isolate discipline to the home and prevent it from the life of the local church? We must avoid this idea of churchless discipline.
Soli Deo Gloria,
Pastor Josh Buice
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1. Carl J. Laney, “The Biblical Practice of Church Discipline,” Bibliotheca Sacra 143 (O-D 1986): 357.
2. Gregory A. Wills, Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South 1785-1900, 12.
3. John L. Dagg, A Treatise on Church Order, 274.
4. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., “The Disappearance of Church Discipline–How Can We Recover? Part One”
5. Carl J. Laney, A Guide to Church Discipline, 12.
6. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., “Discipline: The Missing Mark” In Polity (2001): 43-62.
The Thursday series titled, “Butchered Bible Verses” continues today with a popular verse that is often abused and misused in the life of the church and secular community. I have tried to emphasize the importance of proper interpretation of Scripture through this series, and I pray that God will help us become Bereans as we approach the sacred text of Scripture rather than simply ripping out random Bible verses and using them for Facebook status updates and bumper sticker theology.
As we approach the Bible, we must remember that it is God’s Word in totality. Every book, paragraph, and verse belongs to God and was literally breathed out by God. Therefore, just as we have no right to abuse the intention of anyone who writes a letter to us or a story in the local newspaper, we have no right to twist the words of holy Scripture into an agenda that serves our fleshly motives. We must always seek to interpret the Bible within the immediate context while seeking to discover what the original author intended by writing the words to his original audience. This method will lead you to discover the single and authoritative meaning of the text. That too must be done as we approach Matthew 7:1.
Matthew 7:1 – Judge not, that you be not judged.
Explanation of how the text is misused
No longer are we living in a culture that knows John 3:16 as the most famous verse. We are now living in a culture that recognizes Matthew 7:1 as the most famous verse. Why? Because of religious pluralism and postmodern thinking. We are living in a postmodern world that promotes individualistic rules and subjective commands. Most people in our present culture, especially in America, desire personal space and expect people to “mind their own business.” Our present culture does not like moral and religious absolutes. They are fine with the absolutes of gravity, but they are not fine with absolutes related to sin and salvation. Our culture lives with an attitude that says: Who are you to tell me that I am wrong?
We need an answer, so where do we turn? We turn to Holy Scripture. The Word of God is our absolute standard. It is holy, inspired, inerrant, and without any mixture of error. God has revealed Himself and His standards to us in His book – the Bible. Therefore, after inspiration – God has preserved His book over the years and it stands as our absolute and final guide. We don’t need other source outside of the Word of God to provide additional revelation about our God. The Word is sufficient alone.
Explanation of the text
I still remember being at summer camp as a kid with the church and seeing this guy walk down the aisle with a long beam sticking out of his eye. He was walking up and down the aisle telling people that he could see a speck in their eye and that it was dangerous and should be removed. The beam protruding out of his eye was hitting people in the face as he was trying to point out their small speck. How silly that man looked. Everyone laughed. But it left a burning imprint into my mind about this passage of Scripture. I will never forget that.
There is a right way to judge and a wrong way to judge – but Jesus says, “Judge not…” What should we do? Can we judge? Can we hold one another accountable in the Christian life? Exactly what does Jesus mean by this verse? As we look at the Scripture, we must come face to face with the reality of many other Bible verses that teach us to point out error. The Bible commands us to confront unbelievers with their unbelief and rebellion against God while pointing them to Jesus Christ for salvation. So, judgment must be rendered in some essence through evangelism (Matthew 28:18-20). Furthermore, a certain judgment must take place in pastoral ministry. For instance, the pastor is to preach the Word in order to reprove and rebuke those in his congregation (2 Timothy 4:1-5). The Bible clearly commands church discipline in Matthew 18, and this process begins in a private confrontation before it ever makes it to a public church setting. In all stages of church discipline, it would seem that judgment is taking place on the part of the accuser who confronts his brother or sister regarding sin. So, either the Bible contradicts itself or the meaning of Matthew 7:1 is often misinterpreted. Mark Dever, in his book, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, writes:
Certainly, in Matthew 7:1, Jesus did forbid judging in one sense… But for now, note that if you read through that same gospel of Matthew, you’ll find that Jesus also clearly called us to rebuke others for sin, even rebuking them publicly if need be (Matt. 18:15-17; cf. Luke 17:3). Whatever Jesus meant by not judging in Matthew 7, He didn’t mean to rule out the kind of judging He mandated in Matthew 18… If you think about it, it is not really surprising that we as a church should be instructed to judge. After all, if we cannot say how a Christian should not live, how can we say how a Christian should live?”1
The word translated “judge” in Matthew 7:1 is “κρίνω” which literally means to prove someone as guilty before God. While that is what is taking place in church discipline, it is God who has already judged through His Word. The process of church discipline requires us to confront a fellow believer of sin. That involves having discernment on whether or not something is right or wrong. We must be able to choose if something is right or wrong in order to confront someone of sin. Now, the way we do that is through the Word of God. We are not making judgments based on our own ideas, emotions, or standards. We are making judgments upon people and holding one another accountable based on the clear teachings of God’s Word.
The point is clear – false judgment is wrong! The practice of a judgmental attitude is wrong and is judged as a sin by Christ Himself. Jesus promised that those who judged (in a wrong manner) would also be judged. In other words, their judgment would be like a boomerang. Like the old saying, “What goes around, comes around.” Jesus is not forbidding any judging on behalf of the Christian, because in Matthew 18 He clearly gives keys to bind and loose in the area of judging sin within the church. We cannot forbid any attempt of biblical correction in our lives as a violation of Matthew 7:1. Hebrews 13:17 commands us to submit to our elders (pastors) in the church. The attitude that says, “mind your own business” while I live my life “my way” behind my privacy fence is the exact opposite way of life intended by Jesus for His redeemed children. Jesus never intended His children to be private people living private lives. Jesus founded the church, and the church is a visible body of believers who are to be involved in one another’s lives. This process is for the purity of His church until it is presented to Him as a bride prepared for her husband. Alexander Strauch writes, “What Jesus prohibits…is sinful, improper judging. It is the hypocrisy of condemning others but failing to see one’s own glaring sins. Jesus forbids self-righteous criticism, a hypercritical spirit, and a harsh, fault-finding mindset.“2
Judgment is a two edged sword. It can be good, but it can also be something that crosses the line of sin. It is our duty as redeemed children of the King to guard our heart against the tendency of false judgment, a judgmental attitude and speech, and practices that will cause us to receive that same type of judgment from our God. Any confrontation we make in a private setting or in a public act of church discipline must always be based on the Word of God alone rather than our ideas, thoughts, or assumptions. John MacArthur writes, “Whenever we assign people to condemnation without mercy because they do not do something the way we think it ought to be done or because we believe their motives are wrong, we pass judgment that only God is qualified to make (Jas. 4:11-12).“3
As we walk the broken road of life – let us strive to love one another and glorify our God who deserves all praise and honor!
Pastor Josh Buice
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1. Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Crossway, 2000, p. 155-156.
2. Leading With Love, Lewis and Roth, 2006, p. 158.
3. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary Matthew 1-7, Moody, 1985, p. 433.
In 1 Peter 4:7-19, Peter instructs the Christians of his day to serve and suffer – all for the glory of God as the end approaches. These Christians were experiencing trials, but the most difficult and fiery trials were still to come. Yet, Peter encouraged them to remain faithful in their service and in their suffering in order to bring great glory to God and to prevent the Word of God from being blasphemed.
Love in the Midst of Discipline
Peter emphasizes love and continuing in “fervent love” one toward another within the church. According to 1 Peter 4:8, love covers a multitude of sins. Now, it is important to realize the context of this passage before just lifting that sentence out of the surrounding text and using it to say something that Peter did not intend. Peter was not encouraging the church to sweep sin under the rug, turn a deaf ear to sin, or to pretend that a fellow brother in Christ is not committing adultery on his wife. He was not saying that at all. He was merely emphasizing the fact that as brothers and sisters in Christ, we are all full of imperfections that should be laid to rest when possible in order to love one another and worship together.
What Peter was not saying was that we should overlook a brother or sister who is living in rebellious and unrepentant sin. Those who use this passage to override church discipline are seeking to align Christ and Peter against one another. In fact, church discipline is not the opposite of love – it is love. John Leadley Dagg, the author of a well-known and influential church manual of the nineteenth century, noted, “It has been remarked, that when discipline leaves a church, Christ goes with it” (A Treatise on Church Order p. 274). For a body of believers to allow a person to continue in a pattern of unrepentant sin is the opposite of love. The very people who claim that church discipline is a bad thing do not understand biblical church discipline. Dr. Mohler also says, “Without a recovery of functional church discipline-firmly established upon the principles revealed in the Bible-the church will continue its slide into moral dissolution and relativism. Evangelicals have long recognized discipline as the ‘third mark’ of the authentic church. Authentic biblical discipline is not an elective, but a necessary and integral mark of authentic Christianity” (Discipline: The Missing Mark In Polity (2001): 43-62.). Therefore, those that Peter was writing to were able to allow genuine love to permeate the church, cover sin, and reign in their hearts at the same time as they practiced discipline upon those sinning members who were unwilling to repent.
Love in the Midst of Suffering
If there is one place in the world where Christians should be able to find a safe haven from the world – it is in the community of the church. In Peter’s day, the Christians were suffering greatly under trials and persecution. When they came together, love was essential for healing the wounds caused in the world. It was a support group. It was a place of love and support where hurting hearts could experience healing. Peter encouraged these suffering Christians to continue in fervent love in order that their love would cover sin.
Unfortunately, today’s church seems to do the exact opposite. Often Christians find themselves being beat down, discouraged, and further stressed out by the gossipers, backbiters, and complainers that assemble with them for worship each week. In many cases, young Christians either slack off greatly or find another church in hopes that their problems will be solved. Most of those Christians end up figuring out the pattern within the local church. That pattern is often not summarized by the word “love.” Is it any wonder that pastors leave churches every two years? Is it any wonder that most churches are not growing and remaining strong? The majority of the churches today are focused on problems, critical toward one another, gossiping about one another, and involved in practices that do not honor God and bring glory to His name. Love is the key to having a great church that glorifies God and cares for one another. The assembly of believers is the one place that all Christians should be able to retreat from the suffering and problems of the world. The church should be a place of love.
1 Peter 4:8 – Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins (ESV).
Pastor Josh Buice
Have you been around people who constantly want to gossip and make private accusations against your pastor? You may not think it’s that big of a deal or you may just pass them off as having a rude personality, but have you paused to consider the fact that such rude and slanderous behavior is sinful?
Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 5:19 – “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.” The office of an elder (pastor) is one that must be respected. God has called that person to that office and anyone who has an accusation against that man must be extremely careful in how that accusation is carried out. Satan often uses false accusations to harm pastors and their ministries, therefore, when a pastor is confronted with a sin it must be handled very carefully.
BEWARE: Accusations Must Follow the Biblical Model
Paul said that accusations are to be made against a pastor only on the basis of two or three witnesses. This is to be done in order to provide accountability and protection for the pastor in such accusations. This allows for the accusation to be heard, investigated, and substantiated before it goes before the entire church. John Calvin once said, “It is a sign of a perverse and treacherous disposition to wound the good name of another, when he has no opportunity of defending himself.”
This statement by Paul completely outlaws accusations that are made privately in the form of gossip, text messages, e-mails, anonymous blogs, or over the phone behind the pastor’s back. Those types of accusations are nothing more than slanderous attacks against the office of elder (pastor) and God takes that type of thing very seriously. That is why Paul speaks of this in 1 Timothy 5:19.
John MacArthur writes:
There are always people eager to falsely accuse a man of God. They may do so because they resent his calling, reject his teaching, resist biblical authority, resent virtue, or are jealous of the Lord’s blessing on his life. Ultimately, however, they demonstrate by making such accusations that they have become messengers of Satan. Such false accusations are one of his most dangerous weapons. Joseph, Moses, David, Jeremiah, Nehemiah, and our Lord Jesus Christ all suffered from false accusations. 
Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” It is an unprofitable thing to reject and undermine the leadership of your pastor according to the writer to the Hebrews. Anyone who seeks to gossip against or attack their pastor behind his back should be viewed as one who is in clear violation of God’s Word and a tool of Satan.
1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 says, “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you,  and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.” Again, we see that the pastor should be esteemed (respected) highly in love because of the work he is called to do. What work? The work of laboring in Word and doctrine and shepherding the flock of God.
BEWARE: Receiving Unbiblical Accusations is Sinful
According to 1 Timothy 5:19 – the elder (pastor) is to be accused before two or three witnesses – not in a private conversation behind his back. Essentially, what Paul is saying is that before accusing your pastor of sin, the same process followed for other sinful believers (found in Matthew 18:15-20) in the life of the church must be followed for your pastor. Therefore, any member of the church or leader in the church who accepts an accusation against their pastor in a private setting without hearing it before the pastor himself is guilty of sin. Why did God put these things in Paul’s heart as he wrote 1 Timothy? As Paul was writing to a young pastor named Timothy – he desired to provide specific guidelines as to how pastors are to be accused of wrongdoing. Paul understood that the wolves would come out in opposition and attack the pastor who truly labors in the Word. So, he placed some guidelines for how a pastor is to be accused in order to prevent false gossip, the rumor mill, and wolves who have a thirst for blood from bringing an attack against their pastor that could destroy his ministry.
Therefore, it goes without saying, if a pastor has sinned or done wrong, he should be confronted. This confrontation should be done in the proper manner. If the pastor does not repent, the accusation should be presented before the church in order to further admonish him and call for him to repent. If at that point, the pastor still does not repent, the church should move through their proper steps of removing him from serving since he has a rebellious heart and is unwilling to repent of sin.
To confront your pastor of sin is a very serious charge and should be taken extremely seriously. John Piper once provided the following counsel to his pastoral staff about unity:
The New Testament warns against gossiping. The Greek word translated “gossip” means whisper or whisperer. In other words, the focus is not on the falsehood of the word but on the fact that it needs to be surreptitious. It is not open and candid and forthright. It has darkness about it. It does not operate in the light of love. It is not aiming at healing. It strokes the ego’s desire to be seen as right without playing by the rules of love. 
No person should be on a campaign to constantly confront their pastor of wrongdoing unless he is clearly living in sin. That’s why Paul makes it clear – only receive an accusation against an elder on the basis of two or three witnesses. Those people in the church who are constantly on a slander attacks against their pastor should likewise be held to the standards of discipline found in Matthew 18. A perpetual gossiping tongue in the fellowship of a church creates an atmosphere of confusion and that individual proves to be a messenger of Satan. Church discipline should be done with the utmost care and respect, and in all cases, it should be done with a goal of restoration.
Therefore, true believers should work together, worship together, pray for one another, help one another and have the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace that comes through Jesus Christ. The church should always watch and beware of attacks against their pastor and against one another because the wicked one is always looking to stir up confusion and harm the ministry of Christ in the community. It is the role of the church to stir up love and good works – not confusion, slander, gossip, and other sins that hinder the work of Christ.
1. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, 1 Timothy, 221.
2. “What I Said to the Pastoral Staff About Unity Amid Differences“
Dr. R. Albert Mohler, in his article titled, Church Discipline: The Missing Mark writes,
Without a recovery of functional church discipline – firmly established upon the principles revealed in the Bible – the church will continue its slide into moral dissolution and relativism. Evangelicals have long recognized discipline as the “third mark” of the authentic church (Polity, Mark Dever, ed. pg. 43).
In his article, Dr. Mohler is quoting the Belgic Confession of 1561. It is the goal of Dr. Mohler to show that the early church practiced discipline, and the historic accounts of the church prove that discipline was not only practiced, but was an essential mark of a true church. In the premiere text given to church discipline, Matthew 18:15-20, our Lord discusses the exact plan a church should follow in the matter of discipline. The question we must ask today is, does discipline work?
The Early Church
First, it should be noted why discipline worked for the early church. In the early church setting, the body of believers were closely bonded together in love having been saved out of a vile world of sin. As a result, these believers bonded together as a family. The church in a particular city would often meet together as a full group of believers, and they did not have First Baptist, Second Baptist, Calvary Baptist, and Lighthouse Baptist Churches on each block as an individual rode through the city on his mule. The local church in each city was generally small (especially in comparison to our cities) and as a result the body of Christ became very close. The body often cared for one another and showed love to one another. Therefore, if you had a sinning brother, and he refused to repent after two meetings (private and with other witnesses), he would be brought before the church as a whole. If the brother did not repent on the third opportunity (once in private, once with witnesses, and once before the church), he would be put out of the church and treated as a publican and tax collector. The individual would not be able to ride his mule down the road to Second Baptist and join their assembly after being put out of his former church. Therefore, being excommunicated from the body of believers and repelled by the membership was a grave thing to consider. Due to the great benefits of love, care, and protection that was available under the membership of the local church, a person who was in danger of being put out of the church had to consider the lasting consequences. Excommunication would be detrimental to the sinning individual, and therefore, it was feared by the body.
The Modern Church
Today, many different factors are present in the equation of church discipline. First, we must note the amount of local churches in our day. We have many different Baptist churches, as well as other denominations that have bodies of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, if a person is bought before his church in a matter of sin, and he refuses to repent, excommunication (as the final step) is not as frightful as it was for the believers of the early church. For instance, when a person is excommunicated from one fellowship, he can ride in his B.M.W. down the road to the next Baptist church and obtain membership very easily. Therefore, the scare factor is not as prevalent in our culture as it was for the early church.
The Modern Discipline Dilemma
There are several factors that create what I call the “modern discipline dilemma.” Unfortunately, when a person is excommunicated from one fellowship, often he or she is welcomed into another local body of believers. Thus, the individual is able to completely evade biblical church discipline. There are three factors that fuel this modern dilemma, and we as church leaders, pastors, and laypersons must work to avoid such dilemmas in our day in order to guard the purity of the local churches and force disciplined individuals to face their discipline and repent! The three factors of our modern discipline dilemma are listed below:1. The Amount of Churches2. Greedy Church Leaders3. Unbiblical ChurchesModern Dilemma (Factor #1 – The Amount of Churches)The amount of churches in a typical city is unbelievable! For instance, according to the website of the Southern Baptist Convention (www.sbc.net), there are more than 100 churches in a 16.25 mile radius of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. See the stats by visiting this page [Click Here]. These stats only record the SBC affiliations, so there are actually more than 100 churches in the 16.25 mile radius of the SBTS campus.This presents a large dilemma. What happens when someone desires to avoid discipline? Could they possibly join another one of these churches undetected? Yes, it is very probable. Therefore, this presents a very serious dilemma in our day. We must work to create some network that prevents disciplined members from avoiding proper and biblical discipline.Modern Dilemma (Factor #2 – Greedy Church Leaders)Unfortunately, many church leaders do not check out prospective members before accepting them into their churches. Often people walk an aisle and are voted upon immediately following the invitation and accepted into the local church without any discussion of their salvation, the belief system of the local church (expectations of members and church constitution), or previous membership status in other churches. This dilemma is faced due to greedy church leaders who are more interested in numbers and money than they are about preserving the purity of the local assembly.Modern Dilemma (Factor #3 – Unbiblical Churches)It goes without saying that many churches today are far less biblical than they should be. Certainly no church will be perfect until Christ returns, but specific essentials are necessary before a local assembly can be called a true church. One of the qualifications and essential marks is a regenerate membership. A true church is made up of believers who have been called out of a world of darkness and sin and adopted into the family of God through the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The Greek word, (ekklesia) which is translated “church” in our New Testament, means a called out assembly. Therefore, if an assembly is willing to accept members into their body without a valid testimony or examination to ensure that the individual is a true Christian, the assembly would be better suited under the name of “social club” than church.With assemblies that welcome unregenerate members into their assembly, it becomes very easy to avoid, escape, and allude proper discipline which is being carried out upon a sinning member.
What are some possible solutions?
There are several possible solutions to this problem. First, with our technology today, a database could be established under the SBC website that would enable church leaders (pastors and elders) to provide information (name of individual, city, and church name) about all excommunicated individuals who never sought reconciliation and repentance. This data would only be available to the leadership of the church and not accessible by the general public. The data could be protected by a secure connection and available only through passwords given to SBC churches. When a person seeks membership status in a local SBC church, their name could be searched through the database of the system in a matter of seconds and it would provide information on them if they had been disciplined in another church and excommunicated from their fellowship. The major set back to this possible solution is the fact that other churches outside of the SBC would not have access to the database, and therefore, individuals who were disciplined in a church in another denomination would be able to bypass the database check.Another solution to this problem would be to dismember any church from the SBC that does not make church discipline a priority in their church. If church discipline is an essential mark of a true church (as history verifies), the SBC should only accept churches into membership who meet the qualifications of a genuine church (discipline being one of the qualifications). Money should not be the driving force behind membership! It is not recognized as a qualification for membership into the local church, and it should not be the determining factor for membership in the Southern Baptist Convention.While I do not claim to have all of the answers, I do see a need for change and reform that will make a difference for Christ Jesus. It is my prayer that we as church leaders will take a step in the right direction and exalt Christ as we head in the right direction. The answer to all of our problems is not more people and more money. The way to a solution will be discovered when local assemblies return to a biblical foundation based upon the essentials of a true church!
I conclude that discipline does work! Although much reform is needed to ensure that all disciplined members are forced to face their discipline, nevertheless, discipline works! The Lord Himself stated in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” This verse is speaking in regard to church discipline! Therefore, it should be noted that when biblical church discipline is carried out, our Lord Christ is present! Furthermore, discipline is successful in all cases, even when members evade and join other fellowships. Discipline is not successful only when disciplined members repent, it is successful in all cases because it protects the purity of the church of Jesus Christ.For God’s Glory!Rev. Josh Buice