Doctrine of Ecclesiology--Local Church Discipline

Most believers will privately confess their sins, make the necessary restitution, and restore their fellowship (1 John 1:9).  This doctrine describes the process by which a local church seeks to restore believers who are unrepentant sinners.  The process applies increasing discipline until the candidate is restored or removed from fellowship.

A Local Church Discipline Flow Chart is also provided.

Table of Contents

I. Mandate

II. Candidates

III. Witnesses

IV. Indictment

V. Judges

VI. Escalating Discipline (The Phases)

VII. Speed

VIII. Excommunication

IX. Restoration

X. Other

  1. Mandate

The local church should exercise proper discipline.

  1. Outcomes of Discipline or the Lack of It

Discipline results in positive outcomes and the lack of discipline results in negative outcomes.

". . . reproofs for discipline are the way of life, . . . (Proverbs 6:23)."

"Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid (Proverbs 12:1)."

"Poverty and shame will come to him who neglects discipline, but he who regards reproof will be honored (Proverbs 13:18)."

"Stern discipline is for him who forsakes the way; he who hates reproof will die (Proverbs 15:10)."

"He who neglects discipline despises himself, but he who listens to reproof acquires understanding (Proverbs 15:32)."

"Discipline your son while there is hope, and do not desire his death (Proverbs 19:18)."

"All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

"Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; be zealous therefore, and repent (Revelation 3:19)."

  1. Outcomes of Improper Discipline

There is harm in the exercise of improper discipline.

". . . do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4)."

". . . do not exasperate [embitter, NIV] your children, that they may not lose heart [become discouraged, NIV](Colossians 3:21)."

". . . the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God (James 1:20)."

  1. Love Replaces Discipline?

  1. No!

Love does not replace local church discipline. The same inspired writers of Scripture who proclaim the superiority of love, also command that the local church practice discipline.

". . . Shall I come to you with a rod or with love and a spirit of gentleness? (1 Corinthians 4:21)."

"I know your . . . love . . . But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray, so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols (Revelation 2:19-20)."

"Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; be zealous therefore, and repent (Revelations 3:19)."

  1. Discipline with Love

Discipline should be accomplished in a loving way.

". . . Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies (1 Corinthians 8:1)."

"And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; . . . but do not have love, I am nothing (1 Corinthians 13:2)."

"Let all that you do be done in love (1 Corinthians 16:14)."

". . . but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, . . . in genuine love, . . . (2 Corinthians 6:4, 6)."

". . . You shall love your neighbor as yourself. But if you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be consumed by one another (Galatians 5:14)."

"I . . . entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, . . . showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:1)."

". . . speaking the truth in love, . . . (Ephesians 4:15)."

". . . forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity (Colossians 3:13-14)."

"Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8)."

". . . keep yourselves in the love of God, . . . And have mercy on some, who are doubting, save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh (Jude 21-23)."

  1. The Local Church's Involvement in Discipline

Much of the Scripture in the following paragraphs is found in the context of identifying discipline as a function of the local church.

  1. Candidates

Local church discipline should be applied to all types of sinners who are believers. It is not reserved for sexual sins.

  1. Classical Sinners

This set of passages indicates that local church discipline should be applied to persons we normally think of as being ripe subjects for it--the classical sinners.



1 Corinthians 5:11; 6:7-8


1 Thessalonians 5:14


Titus 1:9, 11, 14; 2 John 7-11

False Teaching

Titus 1:10


Titus 3:10; 1 Corinthians 11:18-19

Causing Divisions

Romans 16:17

Tempting Others to Sin

2 Corinthians 12:21


2 Corinthians 12:21


1 Corinthians 5:1, 9; 10:8; 2 Corinthians 12:21


1 Corinthians 5:11; 10:7


1 Corinthians 5:11


1 Corinthians 5:11


Revelation 2:2

False Apostleship

1 Corinthians 11:27

Partaking of the Lord's Supper in an Unworthy Manner

  1. Sophisticated Sinners

This set of passages indicate that discipline should be applied to persons we normally, though incorrectly, think as not being subjects of local church discipline because of the "minor" nature of their sins--the sophisticated sinners.



2 Thessalonians 3:6-11; Titus 1:12


2 Thessalonians 3:11


Titus 1:10

Empty Talking

Titus 1:10; Romans 16:18


Titus 1:10


Titus 3:9

Involvement in Foolish Controversies

1 Corinthians 5:11; 11:21


Romans 16:17

Cause Dissension

1 Corinthians 10:9

Doubting the Lord's Provision of Needs

  1. General Sinners

These are passages that show the appropriateness of discipline for sins in general.



Galatians 6:1

Any Trespass

1 Corinthians 6:7-8

Doing Wrong

Matthew 18:15; Luke 17:3-4; 1 Timothy 5:20; Titus 3:11


Titus 1:12


  1. Witnesses

Two or more witnesses of the sin should give their evidence to the local church before the candidate is charged publicly. The judgment should not be made privately by the elders and announced to the assembly. The judgment should not be made without witnesses on the basis of an alleged sin that is well know. The witnesses must have observed the sin or have been present when the accused admitted his sin. They must not merely be witnesses that the accuser has confronted the accused.

  1. The Mosaic Law & Evidence Gathering

The Mosaic Law specified how evidence must be gathered.

  1. Minimum Number of Witnesses

The Mosaic Law taught that there must be a minimum of two witnesses who gave evidence of a sin before the offender could be found guilty of it.

"A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed (Deuteronomy 19:15)."

  1. In Person Testimony

Under the Mosaic Law, the witnesses gave the evidence in person before the Jewish judging body.

". . . brought him before the Council. And they put forward false witnesses who said, 'This man incessantly speaks against this holy place, and the Law; for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us (Acts 6:12-15).'"

". . . the whole Council kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus, . . . and they did not find any, even though many false witnesses came forward. But later on two came forward, and said, 'This man stated, I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days (Matthew 26:59-61).'"

  1. Witness Qualification

Under the Mosaic Law, only the testimony from godly witnesses was acceptable evidence.

". . . 'Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?' . . . He . . . said to them, 'who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her (John 8:4-5, 7).'"

  1. Obligation to Testify

Under the Mosaic Law, witnesses were obligated to testify.

"Now if a person sins, after he hears a public adjuration to testify, when he is a witness, whether he has seen or otherwise know, if he does not tell it, then he will bear his guilt (Leviticus 5:1)."

  1. Both Sides Heard

Under the Mosaic Law, both sides to a charge were heard.

"The first to plead his case seems just, until another comes and examines him (Proverbs 18:17)."

  1. False Witnesses Punished

Under the Mosaic Law, false witnesses were punished.

"If a malicious witness rises up against a man to accuse him of wrongdoing, then both the men who have the dispute shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who will be in office in those days. And the judges shall investigate thoroughly; and if the witness is a false witness and he has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him just as he had intended to do to his brother. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you (Deuteronomy 19:16-19)."

  1. Witnesses of a Transaction

Under the Mosaic Law, anyone who believed that a transaction might be challenged would cause witnesses to be present at the transaction who could later testify to the details of that transaction.

". . . he [Boaz] took ten men of the elders of the city and said, 'Sit down here . . . Buy it before those who are sitting here, and before the elders of my people . . . You are witnesses today that I have bought . . . Ruth . . . you are witnesses today.' And all the people who were in the court, and the elders, said, 'We are witnesses. . . . (Ruth 4:2, 4, 9-11).'"

In the next paragraph, it will be shown that the Mosaic rules were applied to the local church. The application of this passage to local church discipline is that when the initiator has been unsuccessful in restoring one who has sinned and he is the only witness of the sin, he should invite witnesses to the second confrontation who would later testify to the church should the accused admit to or demonstrate his sin and not be repentant (see also Matthew 18:16 and the discussion below). However, men who are witness only to the fact of a second confrontation and who have not observed the sin nor heard an admission to it, have nothing to testify later before the local church, since they would have no evidence of the sins.

  1. Application to the Local Church

The Mosaic Law's provisions for evidence gathering were applied to local churches.

  1. Church at Corinth

It was Paul's procedure to use the Mosaic rules for evidence gathering when he disciplined those in the Corinthian assembly.

"This is the third time I am coming to you. Every fact is to be confirmed by the testimony of two or three witnesses. I have previously said when present the second time, and though now absent I say in advance to those who have sinned in the past and to all the rest as well, that if I come again, I will not spare anyone, . . . (2 Corinthians 13:1-3)."

  1. Elders

The Mosaic rules were also specified by Paul to be used in the disciplining of local church elders.

"Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses (1 Timothy 5:19)."

  1. Local Churches in General

The Mosaic rules were specified by the Lord to be used in disciplining any church age believer who is accused.

"But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed (Matthew 18:16)."

  1. Special Topics

  1. Discipline without Witnesses

That local church discipline may be applied without the benefit of witnesses is not the teaching of 1 Corinthians 5:1-2. Such a teaching would violate what Paul has taught elsewhere (2 Corinthians 13:1-3). The problem had been brought to the church's attention at least once before.

". . . when you had been assembled [Greek], . . . I wrote you in my letter . . . I wrote to you . . . (1 Corinthians 5:4, 9, 11)."

Since it was Paul's procedure to use witnesses when he disciplined those in the Corinthian church (2 Corinthians 13:1-2), it must have been that the church had heard two or more witnesses of the sin during his earlier attempt to discipline the offender. Based on the testimony of the witnesses before the local church, Paul could say in the later attempt that the church should have disciplined based on the common knowledge of the sin (1 Corinthians 5:1, KJV).

  1. So Called "Public Knowledge"

"Public knowledge," not known through the application of the Mosaic rules for evidence, is simply gossip. Gossip is thoroughly condemned and should not be the basis of church discipline.

"There are six things which the LORD hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: . . . false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers (Proverbs 6:16, 19).".

". . . he who spreads slander is a fool (Proverbs 10:18)."

"With his mouth the godless man destroys his neighbor . . . (Proverbs 11:9)."

"A perverse man spreads strife, and a slanderer separates intimate friends (Proverbs 16:28)."

"He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, therefore do not associate with a gossip (Proverbs 20:19)."

"For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down (Proverbs 26:20)."

". . . I am afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what I wish . . . that perhaps there may be . . . gossip, . . . (2 Corinthians 13:20)."

"Let all . . . slander be put away from you . . . (Ephesians 4:31)."

"Women must . . . be . . . not malicious gossips, . . . (1 Timothy 3:11)."

". . . refuse to put younger widows on the list, for . . . they learn to be . . . gossips . . . (1 Timothy 4:11,13)."

". . . older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips, . . . (Titus 2:3)."

"Remind them . . . to malign no one, . . . (Titus 3:1-2)."

  1. Indictment

  1. A Specific, Named, Revealed Sin

The example of the first century church and the apostolic teaching is that discipline proceeded only in response to a specific, named, revealed sin.

". . . they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. But certain ones of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed, stood up saying, 'It is necessary to circumcise them, and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.' And the apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter. . . . they sent this letter by them, '. . . it seemed good to the Holy spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell (Acts 15:4-6, 23).'"

"It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father's wife (1 Corinthians 5:1)."

". . . when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk (1 Corinthians 11:20-21)."

"Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, . . . confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed (James 5:14, 16)."

  1. Lack of Participation in the Lord's Supper/Services

There is no teaching or example in Scripture that lack of participation in the Lord's Supper or in other services may be used in an interrogation of a candidate for discipline with the purpose of obtaining a vague admission to sins of an excommunicatory nature.

  1. Inappropriate Use of the Ordinance

Such a use of the sacred institution is this base fashion is inappropriate. A severe penalty indictment is assigned those who use the Lord's Service in an inappropriate manner. Remember that the offenders in 1 Corinthians 11 were using the Supper to divide the local church. They were using it as an opportunity to get drunk. It would be just as inappropriate to use the Supper in an inquisition.

"Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord (1 Corinthians 11:27)."

  1. Counseling

If a person is not taking part in the Lord's Supper because of his sin, a skilled counselor can use his sensitive conscience to restore him.

  1. False Guilt

Such a session may increase the guilt feelings of the believer beyond reasonable bounds and further warp his understanding of the family forgiveness that one receives through confession and which allows participation in the Supper.

  1. Judges

The entire local church, lead by its elders, are the judges. All must be qualified. The leaders in the discipline process are required to have special qualifications.

  1. Their Identity

In the church age, the evidence is given before the entire local church and the elders lead the church in its judgment.

". . . 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-gatherer (Matthew 18:17)."

". . . they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. And the apostles and the elders came together to look into this manner. Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas--Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, and they went this letter by them 'The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia . . . (Acts 15:4, 6, 22-23).'"

There is no evidence that would give the word, "church," the meaning, "elders." That is, there is no Biblical evidence that discipline is the exclusive purview of the oversight.

This was also the practice of the early open "Christian Brethren:" ". . . in 1838, and apparently disturbed by the trend elsewhere to renounce all formal government within the churches, Müller and Craik had withdrawn into retreat from Bristol for two weeks to give themselves to prayer and meditation concerning matters of church structure. They had returned with carefully matured convictions on eldership and discipline. They considered that it was the mind of God that there should be recognized elders within the church. These elders were the appointment of the holy spirit, their call being a personal call of the spirit, but confirmed by possession of appropriate qualifications by God's blessing upon their work. These elders were to be acknowledged and their judgment submitted to, but acts of discipline were to be settled finally in the presence of the church, as an act of the whole body . . . (Roy Coad, A History of the Brethren Movement, pages 155-156)."

  1. Their Qualifications

Believers who participate in discipline should be spiritually mature enough to deal with the sinner in humility while not falling to the same temptation. Elders who lead in public discipline should have successfully disciplined their own household. Elders who are close relatives or friends of the accused should not lead in discipling the candidate. All who discipline should have enough skill at counseling to recognize those who are at a loss to know how to cease sinning and disciple them rather than to continue to formally discipline them.

  1. Spiritually Mature

All believers who participate in the discipline of another should be spiritually mature--both able to thwart any temptation to sin and able to deal with the sinner in humility rather than with pride, self-righteousness, and arrogance.

"Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one of us shall bear his own load (Galatians 6:1-5)."

  1. Not Caught Up in the Same or Worse Sin

"And why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye (Matthew 7:3-5)."

  1. Elders Qualifications & Family Discipline

  1. Qualifications

Elders must manifest certain attributes to maintain their office, partially due to their responsibilities to lead in discipline.

". . . namely, if any man be above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. For the overseer must be above reproach as God's steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict (Titus 1:6-9)."

  1. Family Discipline

Elders with problems in their own household should be disqualified from leading the process of judging others. Indeed they are not qualified to be elders if they do not meet all the criteria.

"He must be one who manages his own house hold well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?). . . . (1 Timothy 3:4-5)."

Scripture teaches that the method a father uses to discipline his children may be repeated in the method he uses to discipline the church as an elder (1 Timothy 3:4-5; Titus 1:6, in which qualifications, including "having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion" are given in order to make sure elders can lead discipline in a proper manner [Titus 1:9, ". . . that he may be able both to exhort . . . and to refute . . ."]). If the child has a conduct problem, the method that the father used to discipline the child may be at fault (Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21) and the father should not have the opportunity to use a possibly defective method of church discipline as an elder. It is hard to determine that it was not the father's fault. Therefore, the passages indicate one should error on the side of disqualification.

  1. Impartiality

Scripture also calls for impartiality in judgment.

"You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not fear man, for the judgment is God's. . . . (Deuteronomy 1:17)."

"I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing noting in a spirit of partiality (1 Timothy 5:21)."

The steps of discipline should be applied in the same fashion to every candidate for discipline. Short cuts should not be taken to speed the process along. Deals should not be made with the candidate to modify the standard process in order to make discipline more palatable to the candidate, his family, or his friends. Discipline needs to be applied as carefully to church leaders and gifted men and women as it is to persons who are the least "connected" in the church.

One area in which impartiality should be shown is in the case of relatives. It is a cornerstone of the American system of justice that judges, prosecutors, and jurors are disqualified from proceeding against an accused person who is a relative. The purpose is to avoid actual partiality or the appearance of partiality. In some cases such a judge may protect his family by being too lenient, in other cases he may want to set an example of his "impartiality" by being too aggressive.

  1. Counseling Skills

Those who judge should have counseling skills so that they may discern between one who stubbornly refuses to rectify his sinful life and one who is at a loss to know what to do about his sinful life. In the latter case, those who are judges should restore him through discipleship and not expose him to increasing discipline.

"I appeal to Euodia, and I appeal to Syntyche, to give up their differences and live at peace in the Lord. Yes I ask you, my faithful and true yokefellow, who are now by my side, who will deliver this letter to the Philippians, to reconcile them again: for I cannot forget how zealously they seconded my efforts on behalf of the Gospel. I invite Clement also, with the rest of my fellow-labourers, whose names are enrolled in the book of life, the register of God's faithful people, to aid in this work of reconciliation (Philippians 4:2-3, Lightfoot paraphrase)."

  1. Escalating Discipline (The Phases)

An attempt must be made to restore the candidate before more severe discipline is applied. More severe discipline should only be applied if the candidate is continuing without interruption in the sin. More severe discipline is only applied to those who are reprobate, those who have ceased from making even the most primitive efforts to resolve their problems.

  1. Application of Increasing Phases of Discipline

When is an increasing phase of discipline applied?

  1. When steps to restore have failed

More severe discipline is applied only when an attempt to restore the believer has failed.

"And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. And 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-gatherer (Matthew 18:15-17)."

"Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. And if anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of the man and do not associate with him, so that he may be put to shame (2 Thessalonians 3:12, 14)."

"Reject a factious man after a first and second warning . . . (Titus 3:10)."

". . . I gave her time to repent; and she does not want to repent of her immorality. Behold, I will cast her upon a bed of sickness . . . (Revelation 2:21-22)."

  1. When the sin is continuing

More severe discipline is applied only when the sin is continuing. In the Greek, every passage that requires increasing discipline and that is definitive, utilizes verbs indicating the sin is continuing without interruption. There is no sin that, because of its special nature, requires the response of increasing discipline even though it has ceased.

". . . keep your eye on those who cause dissentions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting (Romans 16:17-18),"

"It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father's wife. And you have become arrogant, and have not mourned instead, in order that the one who had done this deed might be removed from your midst (1 Corinthians 5:1-2)."

". . . you come together not for the better but for the worse. . . . when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; . . . Therefore when you meet together, . . . For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep (1 Corinthians 11:17-30)."

"Now we command you, . . . that you keep aloof from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us (2 Thessalonians 3:6)."

"Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, . . . (1 Timothy 5:20)."

". . . that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. . . . they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach, . . . paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth (Titus 1:9-14)."

"Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned (Titus 3:10-11)."

". . . those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. . . . Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, . . . If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; . . . (2 John 7-10)."

  1. Non-Application of Increasing Phases of Discipline

When is an increasing phase of discipline not applied?

Even under conditions when the knowledge of the interruption of sin is based solely on the candidate's word and his long-term success is questionable, more severe discipline must not be applied.

"Then Peter came and said to Him, 'Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?' Jesus said to him, 'I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven . . . (Matthew 18:21-22).

". . . If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' forgive him (Luke 17:3-4)."

  1. Speed

The steps of discipline should progress without delay but should be accomplished gently so that rebellion can be minimized (Galatians 6:1; Ephesians 6:4) and with pauses between steps so that time is given for repentance (2 Peter 3:9; Revelation 2:21).

". . . , restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted (Galatians 6:12)."

". . . , do not provoke your children to anger; . . . (Ephesians 6:4)."

"The Lord . . . is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9)."

". . . I gave her time to repent; . . . (Revelation 2:21)."

  1. Excommunication

Excommunication begins when the candidate is informed that he may no longer participate in the functions of the assembly. Should the sinner rebel and attend the Lord's Supper, the elements should not be passed to him if this can be accomplished in a dignified manner. Should he attend any other function of the church, he should not be allowed to participate actively. Although a believer may be excommunicated, the assembly should not cease to pray for him. Excommunication should be limited to the context of assembly functions. Those who are parties with the one who is excommunicated in families, marriages, vocations, and so forth should respond to the sinner in such institutions as normally as possible.

  1. The Extent

These passages teach the extent of excommunication.

"Reject a factious man . . . (Titus 3:10)."

". . . turn away from them (Romans 16:17)."

". . . removed from your midst (1 Corinthians 5:2)."

". . . deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, . . . (1 Corinthians 5:5)."

". . . not to associate . . . not even to eat with such a one (1 Corinthians 5:11)."

". . . Remove the wicked man from among yourselves (1 Corinthians 5:13)."

". . . let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer (Matthew 18:17)."

". . . keep aloof . . . (2 Thessalonians 3:6)."

". . . do not associate with him . . . (2 Thessalonians 3:14)."

  1. Treat as a Nonbeliever? No.

A believer who is excommunicated should not be treated as a nonbeliever and allowed to attend the functions of an assembly in which nonbelievers are welcome.

"I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters; for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he should be an immoral person, or covetous or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler--not even to each with such a one (1 Corinthians 5:9-11)."

The phrase in Matthew 18:17, ". . . let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer," does not mean we should treat excommunicated believers like the unsaved and allow them to attend Gospel meetings. The first century Jew who read this command knew that his contact with the one who had been excommunicated should end since it was the practice of Jews to throw tax-gathering Jews out of the synagogue--even to the extend of discovering what coins in the treasury had been given by him and rejecting them also.

  1. Restoration

The one under discipline who interrupts his sin should be quickly restored. The elders should announce his restoration to the assembly and forbid gossip about the matter.

  1. The Mandate

The local church is under the obligation of restoring those whom they have excommunicated. The doctrine for the church that is taught by our Lord in Matthew 18:15-20 is illustrated by the parable of the unforgiving slave in 21-35. The parable teaches that believers should forgive the sins of others because their Father has forgiven them of so much.

". . . You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you entreated me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, even as I had mercy on you? (Matthew 18:32-33)."

". . . forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you (Colossians 3:13)."

  1. Change of Mind

When the one under discipline has had a change of mind about his sin to the extent that it has been interrupted, discipline has achieved its goal and no further discipline should be taken.

". . . if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother (Matthew 18:15)."

  1. Speed

One who has been successfully disciplined should be quickly restored.

"Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, lest somehow such a one be overwhelmed by excessive sorrows. Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. . . . in order that no advantage be taken of us by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his schemes (2 Corinthians 2:6-8, 11)."

  1. Some Purposes

  1. To Cooperate in God's Work

The Father is working for such restoration.

"What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? (Matthew 18:12)."

". . . we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? (Hebrews 12:9)."

  1. To Bring Joy to God

The Father rejoices when errant believers are restored to fellowship.

". . . he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray (Matthew 18:13)."

  1. To Liberally Bestow Forgiveness

The Father requires that we liberally bestow forgiveness upon errant believers who have a change of mind about their sin.

". . . how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? . . . up to seventy times seven (Matthew 18:21-22)."

  1. To Reflect the Attitude of God

Forgiveness is appropriate since the Father initiated fellowship with us thorough the forgiveness of so much.

"'Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, even as I had mercy on you? (Matthew 18:33).'"

  1. To Escape God's Anger

We will become objects of the Father's discipline if we are not obedient to forgive others.

"So shall My heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart (Matthew 18:35)."

  1. Gossip

Gossip is abhorrent to our God (see the previous discussion). It is one of several sins that are generated within a congregation when someone is publicly disciplined.

"For I am afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what I wish and may be found by you to be not what you wish; that perhaps there may be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances; I am afraid that when I come again my God may humiliate me before you, and I may mourn over many of those who have sinned in the past and not repented of the impurity, immorality and sensuality which they have practiced (2 Corinthians 12:20-21)."

Elders should exhort the assembly not to commit the sins of verse 20, above, when there has been an incident that required discipline. If such sins are committed, those who commit them should be disciplined

X. Other

  1. Leadership

Like all others at the local church, this doctrine is applicable to elders and deacons (1 Timothy 5:19-24).. When it is successfully applied, the leader could remain in or be restored to fellowship with the church. However, his status as a leader is another thing. To be qualified, elders and deacons must habitually demonstrate various qualifications (e.g., 1 Timothy 3; Titus 1). Thus, a fallen elder or deacon may be restored to fellowship but not necessarily to his previous position of leadership.

  1. Suits

Government, not the local church, is given the responsibility to judge and punish criminals. However, Scripture forbids believers from taking other believers to secular court in disputes (1 Corinthians 6:1-8). Rather, this process of discipline should be applied (1 Corinthians 6:1-5). In fact, the Apostle Paul teaches that it is better for believers to be wronged than to take their disputes before the secular courts (1 Corinthians 6:7).

  1. Arbitration

Some believers and organizations have found it useful to include clauses requiring Christian arbitration in various agreements such as contracts and by-laws. For more information, contact the Institute for Christian Conciliation, a division of Peacemaker® Ministries.

  1. Conflicts of Interest

In churches and parachurch organizations, leaders should avoid conflicts of interest. Such conflicts sometimes result in disputes. A conflict of interest resolution will help eliminate such disputes. A Christian lawyer specializing in churches and parachurch organizations could provide assistance.

HOME © 2001-2002, Ken Bowles -- September 30, 2010, Edition

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