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