Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.  Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:1-2)
The subject of church discipline is so foreign to many Christians that they do not recognize the terminology and have no understanding of what we mean by it. The reason for this is the utter neglect of churches to practice one of the beginning principles Jesus taught the early church. I find it remarkable that in Matthew’s Gospel there are only three direct references to the church. Two of these are in Matthew 18:17 which deal with the subject of church discipline. I do not think we can escape the conclusion of the importance of the topic.
If you do not know what is meant by church discipline, the easiest definition I can give relates to the holiness of the Lord’s church. The church of Christ is a group of baptized believers that are bound by the commandments of Christ and have covenanted together to do God’s work. Primarily, this work is to uphold the truth of God’s word and to evangelize the world for Christ. Included in this commitment to do the Lord’s work, is the agreement for each member to be held accountable to the standard of righteousness set by the Lord Himself. Anything that has God’s sanction must reflect the character of our holy and righteous God. Therefore, God expects His people to live lives of purity and holiness.
Scripture refers to the church as the body of Christ. The metaphor of a human body is used to show how closely connected we are to each other in that every action we perform has an effect on the entire body. Once we become members of the body, we are not free to act independently of each other. The sin of any member of the church is a reflection on all the other members and is a reproach upon the name of Christ. In order to protect the reputation of the church and the name of Christ, we are commanded to carefully watch the activities of each member to be sure they promote rather than retard God’s work. While church discipline is good for the entire body, we must also understand it is best for the individual. The goal is that every member would enjoy the blessings of obedience. We never discipline to harm but to enhance the fellowship each member can have with the body and with Christ. In short, discipline preserves the purity of the body.
Despite the obvious critical mandate for discipline, the numbers of churches that practice any kind of discipline are very few and far between. It is supposed that church members will not tolerate the intrusion of scrutiny in their lives. I find this to be a completely bogus claim, for if a person is yielded to the Holy Spirit, he desires intimacy with the Lord that can only be achieved by obedience. Nothing could be desired more than to have fellow believers in Christ faithfully warn when they see them going astray. The Holy Spirit led person wants all gracious influences to be employed to keep them in the fellowship of the Spirit. If this is not the desire of the church member, do we or Christ desire them to be a part of the body? The Matthew passage clearly says those that walk disorderly and refuse the correction of the church are to be treated as unbelievers. This is critical because only truly regenerated believers are eligible for church membership.
There is much to be said on this subject and it is not something we can choose to ignore. To do so is to defile the body of Christ with sin. Please carefully consider the responsibility placed on every member. We are to guard against sin in our lives and to lovingly guard against it in the lives of others (Gal 6:1-2).
Pastor V. Mark Smith