Church Discipline (BFM # 10 )
Text: 1st Corinthians 5:1 – 11
By: Ken McKinley
Now if you remember last time we talked about article six of the BFM – The Church and I told you all that there were certain essential ministries that the church does. The first one was the preaching of God’s Word. The 2nd was the administration of the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the 3rd one was the exercising of the gifts of its members and the 4th ministry is proper church discipline. And we’re actually going to be looking at these ministries from the last one to the first one. So today we’re looking at proper church discipline. Now this was an interesting topic for me to study in preparation for this sermon, because it’s something that most Christians haven’t talked about in over 100 years. The lack of proper discipline in churches today, is one of the most visible failures of the Church. And the problem is that we measure success in how full our church building is and how big our church building is. Somewhere along the way, some pastor decided that he could better fill his church if he allowed anyone and everyone to become members. But the problem with this kind of thinking is that it doesn’t work.
It’s the same kind of thinking that has allowed for the ordination of women and homosexuals as pastors. Churches and denominations think that if they are more inclusive then they will bring in more members and so they compromise on the doctrines given to us in God’s Word, hoping that more people will be interested in coming. And at first they do, they come, but after a period of time, we see those churches and those denominations shrivel up and fade away.
And I say this with some assurance: If Christian Churches in America don’t recover functional and proper church discipline as established in the Bible, we will continue to see our nation slide into immorality.
100 years ago, most churches not only had doctrinal statements, or creeds, or covenants, but they also had manuals of church discipline; but today, “Go and sin no more,” has been replaced with, “Judge not lest you be judged.”
So let’s look at our text again (read text).
Why did Paul write this? Did he hate the man who had fallen into this sin and want to see him destroyed? No, not at all; because this man that Paul is talking about was deeply deceived. He thought he could be a Christian while deliberately disobeying the Lord. Or he thought, and the church allowed him to think, that there was nothing wrong with what he was doing. Scripture teaches that this kind of person is deluded, and in order to show them the folly of their ways and help them, and to glorify God, then we need to show them that they are in error.
So how is a church supposed to confront someone who professes Christ, yet continues on in deliberate sin? Well Paul sheds more light on how we should do this in other passages. Turn with me to Galatians 6:1 (read). Paul was concerned with not just what should be done, but HOW it was done. Now turn with me to with me to 1st Timothy 1:20 (read). Timothy was the pastor at Ephesus and Paul tells him what to do with those who have made shipwreck of their faith. Later on in 1st Timothy, chapter 5:19-20 Paul talks about what a church should do with church leaders who are caught in sin (read). Now turn with me to Titus chapter 3:9-11 (read). Apparently, in Titus’s church, people were causing division over things that really didn’t matter.
So when we take all these passages together, we see that God cares about both our understanding of His truth and our living it out. He cares about how we live as Christians, and so we look at the things a church is supposed to do.
“Put them out of fellowship,” “Hand them over to Satan,” “Do not associate with them, or even eat with them,” “Rebuke them publicly,” “Have nothing to do with them.”
Church discipline is important because the world takes notice. They notice when the church is serious about living for the Lord, but they also notice when the church isn’t serious. The world takes notice when a pastor is more concerned with pleasing people than he is with pleasing the Lord.
Now there are some people who would say to me, “Hey Ken, this is 2009, we don’t need church discipline anymore.” And my answer to that is, “If you don’t need church discipline anymore, then I guess you don’t need the Bible anymore, because the Bible is full of examples of church discipline.” But let’s be honest, the state of the church in the US today is not very good. We do need it, and I’ll tell you why.
Remember our text? Well the man that Paul was talking about was lost in sin, thinking that somehow, someway, he could get by with doing what he was doing. We could look at Galatians and see that the people there thought it was ok that they trusted in their own works rather than trusting in the grace and mercy of God, but Paul disciplines them as well. The reason we need church discipline today is because if we love our brothers and sisters in Christ the way we should, then we should care enough about them to tell them the truth. We don’t want folks in our churches to become hardened to sin, or fooling themselves with a false assurance. We do it for them, and we do it for the health of the church as a whole. Our text tells us that a little leaven, leavens the whole lump. In other words, if its alright for so and so to do it, then its alright if I do it too.
So Galatians 6:1 tells us that if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. We don’t want people who are immature in their faith trying to correct a brother or sister who has fallen into sin. For three reasons:
1. They might be dragged down into the sin themselves.
2. They lack the authority to do so.
Let me give you an example of what I mean by that. If you have two young children, they don’t have much pull when it comes to correcting an adult. Most adults would simply laugh it off and go on doing whatever it was they were doing. But what if its another person who is young in the faith? Can an immature Christian correct another immature Christian? I don’t recommend it. Let’s take our two young children again, and one says to the other, “you’re doing it wrong.” The child that is being corrected usually doesn’t take the correction very well, but instead says, “Well look what you’re doing! You’re just as bad as I am.” And then you have a fight on your hands.
In the same sense this is what happens when you have one Christian who is new in the faith trying to correct another Christian who is new in the faith.
3. Someone who is mature in the faith has most likely already fought some pretty good battles with sin and temptation. And they are more likely to have developed discernment in these matters and are less likely to jump to any unwarranted conclusions.
Jesus gives us similar instructions in Matthew 18:15-17 (read).
So from Paul we see that it should be a mature Christian, preferably a spiritual leader, that goes to confront the sinning brother or sister, and from Jesus we see that they should confront the sinning brother or sister in private. In-other-words, we go to them, talk to them, and if they repent, we leave it at that, and don’t blab it all over church and all over town. Jesus says that if the private confrontation doesn’t lead the sinner to repentance then we are to take a witness with us, preferably someone who is mature in their faith as well. What does the witness do? Well he or she bears witness. They can bear witness to the sin of the brother or sister who is in error, but they can also bear witness to the way the concerned Christian confronts them, whether or not its done in brotherly love or in a mean, or spiteful way.
If nothing changes, then and only then does it become a matter for the congregation.
The point of all this is not to condemn a sinning member of the church, and make the church into a three ring circus. The point is restoration.
If none of those things work, Jesus says that we are to treat that person as a pagan or a tax collector. In other words, there is to be a separation. If they are a member, you remove them from membership, you don’t consider them as part of your church.
So at that point, what you do, instead of trying to get them to repent, if you happened to encounter them, you don’t try to get them to straighten up and come back to church, your goal is to get them saved. Because they’ve proved by their actions that they are not simply a Christian who has fallen into sin, but they were a person who thought they were a Christian, but have gone out from among us, to show that they were not of us.
Now let me just say this before I close.
Church discipline isn’t any more important than the other ministries of the church. I have just taken the time with it because it seems to be the one ministry of the church that many churches neglect today, more so than the others.
And like I said at the beginning of this sermon, if the Church in the US doesn’t recover the proper, Biblical example of church discipline, then the Church in the US is going to continue to slip into immorality, and mediocrity, and we will become less and less effective at reaching the lost.
Closing and Prayer.