Church Discipline: Conclusions

grace2.jpgLet’s take a moment and reflect on what the scriptures teach us about church discipline.

As you’ve seen, I like to make charts. I particularly find it helpful to break things down based on the faith, hope, love or Christ, Savior, and Lord threesomes.

Here’s a chart from an earlier lesson:

To become saved     Baptism To stay saved      
Hear, believe, confess the gospel Faith Accept Jesus as Son of God   Faith Accept Jesus as Son of God Faith Faith
Repent Penitence Accept Jesus as Lord   Penitence Accept Jesus as Lord Love Love
    Accept Jesus as Savior     Accept Jesus as Savior Only Hope

Notice, the church discipline fits into the same categories as our salvation.

There are those who are struggling to repent, who are toying with sin and considering leaving the Lordship of Jesus. And there are also those who have completely left Jesus–or never have really knelt before him–but who pretend to be Christians to take advantage of the flock.

And then there are those utterly without faith, some of whom not only deny the faith but try to spread their faithlessness within the church.

Finally, there are those who divide. There are two sources of division–a lack of hope or failure to truly let Jesus be their Savior–and a lack of love or a failure to truly yield to the Lordship of Jesus.

In other words, a failure continue in those things that save can lead to being removed from the fellowship of the church. These aren’t arbitrary rules–they’re just the natural outworking of grace and its limits.

The way the church responds to these threats depends on whether the discipline is for those inside or outside the church–not that it’s always easy to tell!

And it depends on the immediacy of the danger to the church. We act quickly to protect the souls of our members or to protect them from predators.

For those in the church, normally, the response is patient, prayerful, gentle, humble rebuke and instruction.

But if that person’s soul is at risk because he’s fallen out of love with Jesus, he may have to be disfellowshipped in hopes of bringing him to repentance–this being a compassionate, “tough love” approach.

The person without faith is, of course, in no sense a Christian and must not be treated as such. If he tries to spread his faithlessness, the church cannot give him a platform. “Diversity” and love for the lost do not extend to giving aid to the enemies of Jesus. A seeker, of course, is to be welcomed.

However, there are people, either saved or lost, who must be expelled to protect the remainder of the flock. The divider is to be warned and expelled–even if he’s a believer–because he is destroying God’s house. Those who come to steal or take advantage of the naive must be warned and expelled.

If the harm is sufficiently imminent, we expel first. If a member is found to be a stalker, we can counsel and pray with him far away from the women and children. If he’s a conman, his platform to deceive must be immediately removed.

Where the division is due to selfishness (one symptom of a lack of love)–the color of the carpet–disfellowship is hardly the place to start. Rather, the idea has to be to restore an atmosphere of love–an atmosphere that may have been missing for years. Some serious apologizing and reconciliation may be needed, perhaps even by the leadership.

Elderships are forced to wrestle with these sorts of problems all the time. Failing to properly classify the problem in scriptural terms often leads to a failure to truly resolve the problem. People get their feelings hurt, leave, or even divide the church when discipline is handled badly.

But love goes a long way. So long as the congregation feels that the elders truly care more about their well being than their own, a church will put up with a lot to stay together.

However, an eldership bent on protecting the preferences of certain but not all members, on maintaining power at the expense of love, or demanding overly strict doctrinal conformity is a bad eldership and won’t be able to hold its congregation together. After all, you can’t be guilty of the things that get people disfellowshipped and be an effective shepherd of the flock.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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