Do you know how to give an answer to church members who oppose the use of church discipline? Here are some possible objections you may encounter!
"It’s not really that big a deal. After all, we are all sinners, aren’t we?"
God is very clear about the destructiveness of sin in His Word. It is a theme that runs throughout Scripture.
"For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Ro 6:23 ESV)
"Woe to the wicked! It shall be ill with him, for what his hands have dealt out shall be done to him." (Isa 3:11 ESV)
"Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life." (Ga 6:7-8 ESV)
If we can begin to see sin as the horrible, destructive, deadly, poisonous thing that it really is, we will begin to see it from God’s perspective and phrases like "hating even the garment polluted by the flesh" (Jude 1:23) will begin to make sense to us.
"Church discipline is unloving. We are commanded to love sinners."
Is it unloving to urge a person whose body is ravaged by infection to take antibiotics? (Even if they don’t feel ill at the time?) Or to urge a motorist to turn back when a bridge is out? (even if they are really enjoying their drive?) Or to urge someone with cancer to undergo surgery to remove it? (even though they may not be in pain yet and the surgery might be very difficult?)
Obviously we must always communicate in a loving manner. But sometimes the most loving thing we can do involves a kind of "painful honesty."
It is precisely because we love people that we obey God’s principles to help them come out of sin, before it does even more damage to them and their loved ones. To refuse to exercise church discipline is actually very unloving!
"Church discipline is judgmental. We are commanded not to judge others."
Actually Paul told the Corinthians that they were responsible for judging those who were in the church. (1 Corinthians 5:12)
It is very important that we agree about what definition we have in mind when we use the word "judge."
Do we mean, "to jump to conclusions" or "to condemn a person (as opposed to their sinful behavior)" or "to assume the worst in people" or "to assume that people have bad motives?" If so, then obviously we must not "judge" others.
But Biblical church discipline does none of these things.
When we see others entrapped by sin, we must "judge" that the sin must be dealt with before it does even more damage than it already has. We must "judge" (make a decision) that we will do everything in our power (and in particular, everything God has commanded us to do) to bring the person to change their mind about the sin.
"Church discipline is arrogant. We are commanded to be humble."
It is very foolish to be arrogant. In fact, God warns us that when we seek to restore a sinning brother, we must be very careful not to fall into the trap of spiritual pride (Galatians 6:1-3). Jesus also warned us to make sure we had the "beam out of our own eye" (spiritual pride would certainly constitute a "beam"!) in order to help others overcome their sin (Matthew 7:3-5).
But on the other hand, God does not command that we reach a state of "super-sainthood" before we obey his commands to confront others who have fallen into sin. It is not humble to refuse to do that. It is disobedience.
"The sin of others is none of our business. We need to mind our own business."
This attitude shows a wrong view of the nature of the church. It certainly is our business when a fellow Christian falls into sin. God has made it our business. Becoming a member of the body of Christ implies becoming submissive and accountable to one another (1 Peter 5:5). We are not a group of isolated individuals stumbling on our separate ways through life. We are "members of one another"–part of one and the same body of Christ.
"If we confront others about sin, they may leave the church and we will have no opportunity to reach them."
It is not up to us to decide that the consequences of obeying God in any matter are worse than the consequences of disobeying Him. Often, it is an act of faith to obey God when it seems that the immediate consequences are worse than disobeying Him. But, long range, in hind sight, we will realize that it is always better to obey God–even when it seems that the obedience is leading to short range difficulties.
Even if a straying church member becomes angry and leaves the church because he or she has been confronted, God can use that admonition later on to bring them to repentance.
On the other hand to "leave well enough alone" will invariably lead to great pain and suffering later on–even if they "stayed in the church."
We must not second guess God about which path will be most likely to lead to their repentance and restoration. The dilemma is similar to that of parents who must discipline their children, even though a child may react in great anger at the time. Dealing with the short range (and misplaced) anger is better than the destruction that comes later on.
"Our church is so weak that to exercise church discipline would tear it to pieces."
If done with wisdom, love, gentleness, and patience, church discipline can strengthen and revive a weak church.
It is true, some of the "tares" that we have grown to love may get angry and leave the church. That is certainly heart-breaking and grievous in the short range.
But, if done Biblically, in the long range the result will be a church (perhaps a bit smaller!) that is powerful in the Lord and that brings Him great glory!
So… how does a weak church learn how to exercise Biblical church discipline? Read the next post!