The topic for this session is discipline in the local church. It is an expansive subject and one can easily spend 6 sessions on this. If we boil it down to it?s essence it is basically 3 levels as highlighted in the following Scripture: Gal 6:1-2; Matt 18:15-17, 1 Cor 5:1-13 and 2 Cor 2:4-8. It is, admittedly, a difficult subject to deal with although it is entirely Biblical and must be taught.
It seems that the last time the speaker heard the message spoken to him was as a teen but then the only time it is really addressed again is when there is a dire problem happening among the assembly. What winds up happening, practically, is a great inconsistency from assembly to assembly about what discipline is and how it should be applied.
One brother in particular, known to the speaker, was extremely likeable and well-cherished by many in their gathering. The day came when the man was arrested and convicted on serious crimes of fraud; it was in the Scotland papers. The church had to discipline the man but what wound up happening was a huge rift in the gathering where some of the believers left saying things like ?Judge not so you be not judged? and ?love others as Jesus loved you?. The speaker started really delving into the topic of discipline then and created a chart (extremely helpful says rey) which was since then expanded into a booklet.
The purpose of this meeting is to answer five particular questions and one summarizing question: (1) Why the need for discipline (2) what is the purpose of discipline (3) what type of offense does Scripture describe and what penalty is there for it (4) who is responsible for dispensing discipline and (5) what is the criteria for restoration. Questions 4 and 5 will be answered underneath their specific category of offense as per question 3.
Why the need for discipline in the Local church?
Every society has rules of conduct and within those societal rules there is a system of enforcing those rules. We are all in agreement that one must stop at a red light but if you break said rule of conduct you may endanger your own life as well as the lives of others. Thus the need for people to enforce the rules: policemen. And if a policeman catches you breaking that rule of conduct you may be penalized with a ticket or even the loss of your drivers license.
Biblically speaking, Israel had a very long list of rules of conduct with a wide variety of punishments from rendering a person unclean to stoning them outside of the camp. In each case the punishment is commensurate to the crime. That being the case, the local church must also have it to maintain orderly conduct within the gathering.
What is the purpose of Discipline
Firstly to prevent the spread of infection in the local church. Paul used the image of leaven to describe the permeating infection within Corinth and Galatia: although they were different types of offenses. In Corinth it was moral error: a man sleeping with his step-mother. Paul says that the church was infected and puffed up. Yet in Galatia the problem was Doctrinal in nature and they were to remove the leaven.
Secondly, to deal with the offense as described in Scripture. For these disciplines are not contrived by men but are written in the word of God. If we are to be in accord with Scripture we must be in accord to what it says about discipline.
Thirdly, to serve as a deterrent for others. Paul would say that some (of a certain type of error) are to be rebuked publicly so that others may fear and perhaps think twice before falling into the same type of error.
Fourthly, to restore the offender into fellowship with God and the Assembly. The person who has committed the error has broken fellowship in some form and discipline is aimed at restoring that fellowship. Therefore discipline is never to be dispensed vindictively or in anger with a view towards destruction but in love with a view towards restoration. Note the book of Judges which follows 7 major cycles of Sin, Discipline, Repentance and Recovery. The criteria for restoration is always contingent upon repentance; one should not forgive someone who has not repented nor should someone not-restore a person who has repented.
Note the example of Joseph who was cast away by his brothers. He did not forgive them although he acknowledged that God had worked things out to His purposes. Joseph tested them. First with harsh treatment while hearing their words ?this is done because of what we did to our brother Joseph?. Secondly with the test of the stolen cup and seeing how they treat the other son of Rebekah. In a moving scene, Judah stands up for Benjamin and puts himself in the place of his younger brother. But it was only after the boys had admitted their sin and truly repented that Joseph forgave them.
Contrarily there is Absalom who was forgiven without ever repenting for killing his brother. Joab convinced David to have Absalom move closer to home?but David was wise in this respect; he knew it was wrong. He still kept him apart. But when they were that close, all that had to be done was bring Abasalom into David?s presence and he forgave him with kisses. Absalom went on to deceive and tear the kingdom from David
What type of offense does Scripture describe and what penalty is there for it; who is responsible for doling out the penalty and the restoration and what is the criteria for restoration?
There are seven categories of error?some of which do not require excommunication. Again, one must recognize the offense and where it falls before doling out a discipline which may either be too harsh or too light depending on the circumstance. Matthew 18 is too often used as a catch-all for every situation but resorting to Mathew 18?s prescription in some offenses would lead to multiplied error!
Offenses that overtake a person (Gal 6:1). They are not habitual and they take the person for a moment but the person recognizes what they did is wrong. It is a one time offense as in Peter?s case who denied the Lord with oaths and curses?but this wasn?t his habit. Immediately after he recognized what he was doing he went out and wept. ?You who are spiritual? are to restore this person. In other words, it?s not just anyone who falls into error but someone who can gently come along side of the person, recognize that the person isn?t in the habit of doing this and get them back on their feet.
The Unruly, Disorderly, Vain Talkers and Deceivers. These are the aggravated assaults among believers and are so often the cause of disruption within the local body. They are to be marked, warned, withdrawn from, admonished (2 Thes 3:15) and have their mouths shut (Tit 1:11). If they?re spoken to and continue in their offense, they might slide into reviling which may then require excommunication.
Brother (or Sister) against Brother (or Sister). Most of the time, Elders don?t spend most of their time dealing with doctrinal error but rather with this type of offense for they are personality clashes. The one who does the work here is the offended party in three stages: stage 1, try to resolve it personally. If the brother repents, you forgive, over. If that doesn?t work (in other word, the brother doesn?t repent) you acquire witness. This is serious if there are witness and the brother should recognize this but once again, if the brother repents in this case then you forgive and it?s over. Lastly if the brother doesn?t repent it is told to the church?this is his last chance for repentance without excommunication! Even before the church he can still repent and then be forgiven!
Neglect of one?s family and household (1 Tim 5:8). This is the idea of a person who does not support his family or home purposefully?not the idea of a person who is out of a job, has been trying to get a job and just can?t acquire a job. This person can get a job but refuses to and his home is neglected?he is to be immediately excommunicated from the body. Only upon repentance and returning to take care of his family can he be restored.
Perverting the Gospel, adhering to false teaching, refusal to submit to sound doctrine or being a heretic. Scripture, in these cases, is always the final court of appeal; but we must be mindful of what we?re doing. We must always be exceedingly careful to go over the matter and see if what is being said is truly a heresy or rather a difference of opinion. Some may believe in a pre-tribulation rapture and others don?t?that?s not a doctrinal error, that?s just difference of opinion. There are fundamentals of the Faith and they need to be examined. If the error occurred in private they are addressed privately but if the error occurred publicly they are to be addressed publicly. The person, says Paul, is to be warned twice then excommunicated (Titus 3:10-11).
Fornication, Covetousness, Idolatry, Reviling, Drunkenness, Extortion (1 Cor 5:1-13). These things can spread quickly, like leaven in baking, and completely infect the local body. Paul tells the Corinthians instead of culling the leaven, they have rejoiced in it and have thus been puffed up with infection! This type of error requires excommunication by the local body, upon discovery.
Note there is a question about Litigation. In today?s age, there is a real possibility that the ruling body who disciplines a believer may wind up being on the receiving end of a lawsuit. As a speaker, one is not in a position to give legal advice but one can say that nothing must interfere in the administration of the word of God. You may suffer the consequences of a lawsuit but you do it while adhering to the word. But one must also be careful and take heed, being mindful to implement any protections that are not contrary to the Word of God so as to prevent such a thing happening. The speaker doesn?t know what those things may be?but it may be important to try to implement certain things in your own local gathering.