Is Church Discipline Biblical?

The Goal is Church Restoration

Church discipline is a very touchy topic to most Churches. However, it is not that touchy to the Bible. Church discipline is a very Biblical Concept directly from Jesus Christ. In fact, the first directions that Jesus gives on the Church is in regards to Church discipline (Mt. 18:15-20). It is only after he mentions Church Discipline that he discusses discipleship (Mt. 28:18-20). So how important was it to the early Church? It is the first response a Church should give to growing too big without discipleship. We see that true discipleship goes alongside of discipline in order to prevent on-going sin. Church discipline is loving one another. Thankfully, the wonderful process that Jesus gave us means that we rarely reach the fourth stage because the Spirit of God works in the person to be convicted of their sin and seek restoration. Church restoration should happen at even the smallest group setting with accountability. For instance, small group leaders should be accountable to the elders for all things, including the doctrine and practice of their small groups. Small groups should bring matters that need prayer, discipline, and help to the elders for oversight, shepherding, and restoration. The goal is Church restoration. However, it is called Church discipline because the Christian may refuse to confess their sin, repent, and restore themselves and ultimately need to be removed from fellowship (Mt. 18:17). Below are the 4 steps that we take in trying to restore a Christian before seeking discipline.

4 Steps To Practice Church Restoration

We should practice Church discipline on the following command of Jesus in Mt. 18:15-20 and also keeping in mind the goal of restoration from James 5:13-30; Gal. 6:1-5; and Psalm 51:

Church discipline is loving one another.

2 Biblical Examples

Ananias and Sapphira – We see an extreme case of discipline happen in Acts 5:1-11 with Ananias and Sapphira. They lie to the Holy Spirit about their tithing because of their hypocrisy and desire to impress the members of the Church. They were both killed because they ‘put the Spirit of the Lord to the test’ (Acts 5:9). The result was a Church that increased their sense of reverence, ‘a great fear came over the whole church’ (Acts 5:11), which purified the Church in-gathering. Church discipline keeps the Bride pure and removes sinful practices from going un-checked. It restores the Church and is a beautiful thing that can even save a soul and cover a multitude of sins (James 5:20).

David and Nathan – Nathan confronted David 1:1 about his sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 12:1-15). David initially lied and then eventually confessed that he had ‘sinned against the Lord’ (2 Sam. 12:13). This confrontation resulted in the confession and restoration of David’s soul (Ps. 51) and a blessed life from David’s confessing of the sin (Ps. 32:1-5). However, it also came with an aftermath of consequences, including the death of his child with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 12:14).

Some Real Examples

Small Group Parties – I am reminded of a situation at a former Church where a young adult small group leader used the Church Facebook page to promote outreach events. However, the outreach events slowly turned into parties with lots of alcohol and inappropriate dancing. The group leader was approached by the young adult pastor for lunch and eventually dissolved and removed the events for the safety of the Church and the purity of the Bride of Christ.

Critical Spirit – Some people can’t help but to complain and comment every time they hear something they don’t like in a sermon. You’d be surprised the letters and emails pastors get. There was a situation where someone kept being critical of our sermons and said, ‘we need more feel good sermons and less expository preaching.’ I personally reached out to them to meet and discuss the philosophy of ministry from Scripture. I met the person expecting them to have a Biblical discussion and not to address beliefs on the basis of emotion. They refused to change their opinion initially and had no Biblical case for their argument. I asked them to take some time and look at the Bible and we’ll meet again. Myself and another pastor then offered to meet them for counsel and give them Bible lessons and books to read on the subject so we can come to a mutual understanding. The person actually began to love expository preaching because of our discussions and reading together. The critical spirit was restored to a thankful spirit. Praise God!

Adultery – Third, I am reminded of a former Church where I heard of a man committing adultery 7 times within the first year of marriage. The pastors and elders began working with the married couple through Biblical counseling and meetings to seek restoration.  However, over the course of a year and a half (period of grace), the offending party refused to submit to further counseling and didn’t want to leave the extra-marital affairs. The pastors and elders had no choice but to follow Mt. 18:17, and consider him the same as an outcast and remove his privilege of fellowship in the Church. They announced the offense to the congregation and told them to seek him only for the sake of his repentance and restoration, but not for fellowship. It was a sad day, but also a beautiful one that showed the elders put the purity of the Bride of Christ first.

In Conclusion

A lack of Biblical restoration for years (or Church discipline) will lead to spiritual compromise in the health of a Church. We shouldn’t only limit the sins to gross sensual sins, but also the small things like pride, anger, lust, greed, a lack of self-control, a bitter spirit, etc. The beautiful thing about Church restoration is that true disciples have deep relationships that feel open and honest to discuss these issues in private (i.e. 1:1). A true disciple is willing to repent and restore their sin (Ps. 51:1-12), ever before they reach the final stage of discipline (Mt. 18:17).

Soli Deo Gloria

David J. Lupinetti is the Associate Pastor at San Tan Bible Church in Arizona. He has a passion for Expository Preaching, Biblical Counseling, Discipleship, and Evangelism.

One response to “Is Church Discipline Biblical?”

  1. […] Mediate Restoration if Possible – It’s sad, but often there are others involved that are hurt or a part of the problem. Our goal in Biblical counseling is to attempt restoration. The Bible is clear that brothers and sisters in Christ should be able to work out their differences and not get into long-lasting sinful behaviors against one another (Matt. 18:15-21). This includes disunity (1 Cor. 1:10-17), immorality of any kind (1 Cor. 5); lawsuits (1 Cor. 6:1-9), selfish conflict (James 4:1:12), a lack of hospitality (1 John 3), or even a boss who is to forgive a fleeing worker who needs to return to their labor (Philemon). In fact, restoration is so important to our faith that James ends his epistle with the theme of the truth restoring others from their sins (James 5:19-20). If one party is not willing to seek restoration, then it becomes a discipline issue and may even reveal their true spiritual state (Matt. 18:17). Sadly, many jump from Church to Church avoiding accountability and dealing with prior situations that demanded restoration. Perhaps this is a part of what Jesus had in mind with his parable about the tares among wheat. Ultimately, God will deal with the final judgment (Matt. 13:24-28, 36-42). For more on Church restoration and discipline see my previous article: Is Church Discipline Biblical? […]

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