If a church decides to obey God in the matter of church discipline, how does it go about doing it–from a practical standpoint? (Part 2 of 2)
Set an example! Ask the church to hold YOU accountable!
What a powerful example it would set for the church if the spiritual leaders of that church (official or unofficial) set an example by asking others to hold them accountable while explaining the importance of such a move.
There’s a form you could use (or adapt) for this purpose on our web site:
Hopefully, after clear Biblical instruction and with the accountability precedent set by respected spiritual leaders, other members would be encouraged to request the same kind of accountability. We need each other!
Many churches have by-laws and/or new member commitment forms to insure new members understand Christian accountability and discipline
Examples of these can be found on the Internet. The by-laws of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, CA (John MacArthur’s church) can be read here:
There is also a discussion of their policies on church discipline here:
These kinds of materials can certainly preclude misunderstandings about the procedures of church discipline.
Be patient and loving
Jesus did not attach a time frame to the procedure He outlines in Matthew 18. An individual might talk personally more than once to a sinning brother, before sharing the problem with one or two others. At that point, the two or three involved might take some time to pray for and encourage the brother to repent.
Remember, the goal is not to "go through the procedures." The goal is to help a sinning brother to realize how destructive his behavior is and to restore him to walking with the Lord.
"Telling the church" does NOT necessarily mean a pulpit announcement!
Jesus is simply commanding us to use all resources to try to bring the brother back. If one cannot do it, and if two or three cannot do it, then maybe someone else in the church can do it. So other Christians, recognized for their spiritual maturity and grace, may need to become involved. In many cases, these might be people who have been close to the sinning brother in small group Bible studies or fellowships such as Sunday School.
How Do We treat "heathen and publicans?"
We love them. We desire to see them come to repentance. But we do not pretend they are believers! And we do not enjoy the kind of Christian fellowship that we have with other believers.
If a person doggedly refuses to repent, the church’s last attempt to get his attention is to treat him as if he were an unbeliever.
In these cases, if the sinning brother attempted to attend church meetings as if nothing were wrong, Christians would not fellowship with him. That is, we would not allow him to get by with pretending that there was no problem. Sin, unrepented of, is a huge problem! We must do everything in our power to communicate that truth–with great love and grief.
It is encouraging to know that courts almost always refuse to intervene in what they rightly perceive to be the affairs of the church.
But a few churches have faced lawsuits over church discipline issues. And there are a few greedy lawyers out there who would happily encourage a disciplined church member to file a defamation of character lawsuit.
In the past, the attorney and the sinning member had little to lose and much money to be made. But more recently, Christian legal societies have encouraged churches to file counter suits in such cases to prevent greedy people from collecting God’s money for their very selfish and sinful motives. This has caused sinning members and greedy attorneys to be hesitant to file a suit which they would be unlikely to win and for which they might have to pay significant court costs.
Some churches that have lost such lawsuits have lost because they felt an obligation to continue Biblical discipline even though the member had formally withdrawn from the fellowship of the church. While that may be a difficult Biblical question, some courts have ruled that after withdrawal, the church had no basis for continuing the discipline process.
Some churches have liability insurance for extra protection against financial losses in the event of lawsuits of any kind.
Also, the existence of clear disciplinary procedures in church by-laws and new member commitments goes a long way toward precluding legal problems.
In any case, any church that allows fear of a lawsuit to intimidate us from obeying the Lord is in a pretty sad condition and needs to get serious about obeying God, no matter what the cost!
What types of sin?
Jesus didn’t say. He just said "sin." The case of 1 Corinthians 5 involved gross immorality. But any time we stumble across a brother involved in ANY sin, we should want to do whatever we can to help him come out of it!
Practically speaking, most of us can easily understand the importance of dealing with a sexual predator who has joined the church, or a scam artist who is bilking members out of their money, or an adulterer who is obviously bringing reproach to the name of Christ, or a person who is tearing up a church with his tongue. (Titus 3:10 specifically teaches that we must reject one who "stirs up division" (Greek) after a couple of warnings.)
Should we go on "hunts" for sinning brothers?
No! Nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to go on "witch hunts" or to become "inquisitors." But there are times when sin becomes known, and it is obvious that it is going to do great damage to the church and the reputation of God if it is not dealt with.
Never lose sight of the goal of restoration!
The whole point of this entire subject is to bring people back from sin before it does it’s deadly work. We should love people too much to just "turn a blind eye" when they fall into sin. We must do all that we can to restore them!