In our study of the Laodicean church, I have used a word that sounds scary to some. It conjures up thoughts of church councils, trials, judgment, and torture. The word is discipline.We speak of discipling our children and most of the time we mean we have given them some sort of punishment to modify their behavior. This is not the way the Bible uses the term.
Discipline is related to disciple which in its verb form means to teach. In the noun form, it is a person who is taught. The purpose of discipline is to instruct and to correct through instruction. It does not need to be considered a form of punishment.
As it concerns the Laodicean church, the counsel the Lord gave them was not punishment but an appeal for them to change their ways and to receive Him back into the church. This is always the goal of discipline. It is to restore to fellowship and to bring us back into harmony with the Lord and our fellow church members. Thus, discipline is not considered punitive but formative.
We become confused about discipline when it must be stepped up to the next level. Sometimes we must protect the church by removing members that are involved in serious sins. We always remember that each of us is sinful, but there are some sins that are categorized as too harmful to the testimony of the body to let them go unanswered. These offenders must have their membership rescinded until they repent of their sin. There is no greater temporal judgment we can pass than to remove someone from fellowship.
We learn this biblical and effective method from Paul’s instructions to the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 5. A man in the church was guilty of a sexual sin and had to be removed. Paul was concerned about the reproach on the name of Christ and how it would harm the church’s testimony. Later in 2 Corinthians, we learn the discipline worked. The man repented and was restored to fellowship. This is the expected result when a believer is confronted with his sin. If he does not repent as a response to this serious action, we are to assume he is an unbeliever. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to draw His people to Him. If this does not happen, what are we to assume but that they do not belong to Christ?
Removing members for sexual sins should not be a point of contention between us. The scriptures are clear what needs to be done. However, some offenses may not seem as serious, but they too warrant excisive discipline. We remove members for non-attendance which is often seen as an inconsequential action. It is merely procedural and does not carry the same weight as removal for other reasons. Is this true? I do not believe so.
The reason for removal does not change the eternal weight of the Lord’s most important institution. Non-attendance shows contempt for the Lord’s work. This contempt is also a sign of unbelief. We cannot love Christ if we do not love His church. The church is not helped by members that do not attend. Often, they are involved in a deep sin that we are not aware.
Our duty is to protect our church. The Lord expects the purity of the body. Therefore, we will follow the instructions in the Bible. When we obey, we reflect the proper understanding of discipline. Christ wants only dedicated people in His church, and so do we.
Pastor V. Mark Smith