Summary: Discipline has become, not simply the neglected command of the Master, but it is dismissed as the unworkable solution as the churches attempt to apply psychology to do the work of God.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
Discipline is virtually unknown among the congregations of the Lord in this day. When discipline is administered, there is a surprisingly strong reaction from untaught or disobedient church members. Throughout the years of my service among the congregations of the Master, I have frequently heard church leaders bemoan attitudes of rebellion witnessed among the members. Yet, when discipline is called for I have frequently heard those same church leaders lament, “That won’t work.” In the eyes of many church members, discipline is the unworkable solution to conflict in the church.
While evangelical churches are united in acknowledging Jesus’ teaching concerning discipline as it is recorded in our text, it is virtually neglected across the spectrum of churches identified as holding to the Faith of Christ the Lord. Realistically, church discipline had as well be absent from our Bibles. I suspect that a major reason for this neglect is that we have become so culturally sensitive that we are effectively biblically illiterate. Knowing what is written is a long way from doing what is written.
I am under no illusion; I know that even though we may know what is written, should the need for discipline arise, cultural sensitivity, personal loyalties or fear of consequences will impel some to cry out that we have no business judging anyone. Tragically, every casual Christian knows the words of Jesus that cautions Christians, “Judge not, that you be not judged” [MATTHEW 7:1]. However, few know that we are responsible to judge ourselves [see 1 CORINTHIANS 11:31]. Moreover, we seem ignorant of Jesus’ teaching that we are to “Judge with right judgement” [JOHN 7:24]. Likewise, dissenters from common sense and the Word seem unaware of Paul’s rhetorical question, “Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge” [1 CORINTHIANS 5:12]? The church is responsible to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God” [1 JOHN 4:1].
It should be obvious that judgement falls within the purview of the congregation. This is clearly evident from the summary statement Jesus provides which is recorded in John’s Gospel: “If you [plural] forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you [plural] withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” [JOHN 20:23]. It should be obvious, both from this statement and from the text we will consider today, that the church is responsible to judge both what is taught and the actions of its own members.
There is a significant consideration I must note before moving beyond this point. It is a plea for those who love the congregation, yet hold themselves apart from uniting with the congregation, to consider the implications of their choice. Those who are not members of the church have neither warrant nor right to judge those within the congregation. Whenever the church holds its own accountable, those who are not members of the congregation must be excluded from the deliberations, save for evidence they may be asked to present. In other words, those outside the congregation may present evidence, if such is required, but they are debarred from all discussions.
There is a final consideration. The message deals with the theme of conflict in the church. I suppose that when we hear of conflict, our minds turn almost automatically to personal confrontations. Perhaps we have witnessed confrontation between individuals, or between a cabal and church leadership, and we are hard-pressed to move beyond that. However, the conflict may be an ethical violation that is known only to a few individuals—perhaps even to only one person other than the violator. It is possible that the conflict consists of moral transgressions which, though known to only a few individuals, has the possibility of insinuating itself into the very fabric of the church. Certainly, it must be known that the conflict may arise from doctrinal deviation which, if not addressed, promises ruin for the assembly. Move your mind beyond the thought of mere disagreement to actions or attitudes that threaten the health of the congregation, and you will begin to understand the serious nature of the message. Now, turn your attention to the words of the Master as He instructed us through instructing those first disciples.