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03/04/2012 / Test All Things

The Necessity of Christian Discipline

One thing almost completely missing in the church today is biblical church discipline. It is an almost unheard of for anyone to be excommunicated from the church, except for gross sin (they are not always disciplined even for that). People who live unchristian lives are allowed to remain in the church as members. Unbelievers serve in church offices. Ministers are allowed to preach anything and everything, no matter how unbiblical it may be. Sin, unbelief, backsliding, disobedience are rarely even rebuked.

Especially this is true of many thing which are counted “little” sins, but are especially destructive when allowed to remain unrebuked and unchecked in the church. It would be an unusual thing for sins such as speaking evil of others and gossiping to be rebuked, or for sins such as envy, hatred, or strife to be named as sin, yet they are destructive both of the church and of the service of God (Proverbs 26:17-28; Matthew 5:21-24). They are like the little foxes that spoil the vines (Song of Solomon 2:15).

The result of this lack of discipline is that sin in all its ruinous power flourishes and grows in the church, so that eventually the church is ruined. As the Word reminds us when speaking of sin in the church of Corinth: “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (I Cornthians 5:6). Indeed, even the lack of first love, though everything else was in place, brought on the church of Ephesus the threat of having its candlestick removed (Revelation 2:1-7).

Christian discipline reaches its conclusion in censure and excommunication. In spite of the fact that such action is not pleasant, it is of the utmost importance for the safety and well-being of the church, and so Scripture speaks of it often (Matthew 18:15-17; I Corinthians 5:1-13; I Timohy 1:19-20; II Thessalonians 3:14-15; Revelation 2:2).

In Scripture this aspect of Christian discipline is described in terms of delivering a person to Satan (I Corinthians 5:5; I Timothy 1:20), of excluding him or her from fellowship (Matthew 18:17; II Thessalonians 3:14), especially from the fellowship of the Lord’s Supper (I Corinthians 5:11-13). In some cases at least it involves an actual trial of those who have sinned (Revelation 2:2).

That Christian discipline involves such extreme measures is probably the chief reason it is seldom carried out. Nevertheless, it is important not only for the well-being of the church, but for the salvation of the sinner. I Corinthians 5:5 (cf. also I Thessalonians 3:14), having described discipline in the strongest possible terms, insists that its main purpose is “the destruction of the flesh” and the “salvation of the spirit” in the day of the Lord Jesus. One of our church’s confessions, therefore, refers to it as “the last remedy.”

Discipline does not, however, just mean excommunication. It involves watchfulness and rebuke on the part of all the members. Matthew 18 teaches that the church as a whole is not even brought into the matter unless the sinner, when confronted with his sin, refuses to repent. We are convinced, then, that there would be little need for formal discipline and exclusion from the church if the members faithfully fulfilled these responsibilities. Would God it were so.

By Herman Hanko

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