What Is Church Discipline?

“What Is Church Discipline?”

Intro: –

As I begin in this short study on the topic of Church Discipline, I want to say that its imposition is always one of the saddest and potentially destructive processes that any Church Leadership or Organisation can enter into. However, even so it at times cannot and should not be avoided.

Let me ask two questions and then give a summary which will be expanded upon as we progress through together.

Question – “What Is Church Discipline?” – Answer “What is Church Discipline? It’s correcting sin.”

Question – “What is the Definition of Church Discipline?” – Answer “Church Discipline is the process of correcting sin in the life of the congregation and its members.”

Summary: –

Church Discipline initially finds its starting point in the category of the “private and informal” it is further enlarged when the “private and informal” cannot have a fruitful conclusion and grows finally to a stage (when absolutely necessary) where it involves the whole of a local Church. The “Final Stage” when all other avenues have been exhausted is what is commonly called the “Final, Formal and Public” phase which would involve the removal of an individual/s from membership in the specific Church along with their participation in the Lord’s Table.

As we shall see later the real goal and aim of it is and always will be the redemption of the individual/, the protection of the sheep in the sheep fold, and always, always the ongoing honouring of the name of Christ.

What the Goals of Church Disciplining?

  • The goal of Discipline is always redemption “1 Corinthians 5:5”.
    • “….hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord”.
  • Protecting other sheep “1 Corinthians 5:6”.
    • “….our boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?”
  • Honouring the Name of Christ “1 Corinthians 5:1”.
    • “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: a man is sleeping with his father’s wife”.

Supposition Relating to Church Disciplining

So, we need to ask ourselves as Leaders “Do we want a Church that’s healthy, loving, and evangelistically vibrant? If so, then the supposition is that we need to practice Church Discipline.

The Decline of Church Discipling

Church Discipline was once common in Protestant Churches. However, as we approach the end of the nineteenth and moving into the twentieth century, Churches appear to have grown tired of holding individuals accountable becoming more interested in other things, like attracting the “un-churched.”

One sad thing is that in the “Facebook, Instagram etc… Culture” in which we now live and from the late 19th into the 20th and 21st century Churches have focused more on “product appeal than on holiness”. The quietness of voices rising up to speak for Discipline has aided its demise and it has in most cases just faded away.

When we take a look backwards into the final stages of the 19th and early 20th centuries what do we discover? We see Churches becoming more interested and becoming more identifiable as reforming societies such as we see in the emergence of the temperance movements) than in reforming themselves and maintaining good procedures of Scriptural Disciplining.

The Irony of the Principles of Church Discipling

Ironically, even though it has a biblical basis, it is a very controversial principle among Christians and Churches. Strangely, in the “World of the Pagan Unsaved” there is a ready acceptance that organisations must have a means and procedures in place to correct individuals. An example is that of a Police Officer who can be removed and prosecuted for gross misconduct, or a fraudulent lawyer who can be disbarred. A Doctor found to be malpracticing may lose his/her license to practice.

Yet, when it comes to – “The Church” where the highest standards should be maintained – we shy away from its principals.

The Inward Difficulty of Church Discipling

Sure, Church Discipline is a very difficult area of both doctrine and practice. However, it rests firmly upon the foundations of the divine authority of Scripture. It is the vital ingredient to the purity, power, progress, and purpose of the Church.

Everything in the culture of our day and age rages against any idea of correction or exclusion because it feels intolerant. But Christ means for his Church to be Trained, Exercised, and Disciplined so that they will share in his holiness.

Responsibility and its necessity should not be considered an option to be utilised as and when it’s of benefit to a specific individual or group. A Church that obeys the Word of God, will engage in the practice of Church Discipline.

A Pastor/Shepherd and along with him a Church Leadership that won’t fend off the wolves will soon find their Church Families consumed.

Baptist theologian of the nineteenth-century John L. Dagg said – “When Discipline leaves a Church, Christ goes with it.” It is equally true to say – “Churches that don’t practice Discipline undermine their own preaching.”

Ministry Undermining by Neglecting Church Disciplining

The failure of any Church or Church Organisation to practice Church/Biblical Disciplining undermines the preaching, discipling, and evangelism ministry of that Church or Organisation.

What do I mean by this? For instance, a Leader might condemn theft from the pulpit, but if the thief is not removed from their membership, it is tantamount to telling the Church that theft is not that big of a deal after all. You can have both Jesus and be a thief. In addition, such a Church will soon find that it looks just like the world. Its evangelistic witness will be compromised. “Why join that Church when they look just like me only, they’re hypocritical about it?”

When a preacher says, “Christians do this and do not do that,” but then the Church fails to correct the individual who doesn’t do “this” but does do “that” will discover that the preaching / preacher’s words are seemingly less believable or important. In like manner when an evangelist says, “Christ will change you, and give you a new life,” but then is surrounded by uncorrected Church members who live just like the world, the evangelist’s words ring hollow.

Imagine for a moment the example of a maths teacher who teaches the lessons but doesn’t correct the errors. That’s not a good maths teacher.

Doing Discipline well needs a great deal of wisdom and care. Churches/Organisations should not jump right in but move slowly. Yet Discipline is a practice Churches today must recover.

The Love Shown in Church Discipling

However, there is a very important consideration, and it is that “we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” Discipline is an act of love and should always be done for the sake of love – “For the Lord Disciplines the one he loves” says Hebrews 12:6For the Lord Disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child. It is true to say that if a Leader / Church forsakes Discipline when it’s warranted is not to show love but hate – Proverbs 13:24Those who spare the rod of Discipline hate their children. Those who love their children care enough to Discipline them.

In light of this we should remember the two words Comfort and Love.

Comfort: –

  • The individual/s that are the subject of a Church Discipling them in a formal manner are to be aware that they are being offered a hand of reconciliation and comfort. That they are being assured of the Leaderships support, and simultaneously encouraging, exhorting, and challenging them to move on in God 2 Corinthians 2:7b….Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow”.

Love: –

  • The individual/s that are subject of a Church discipling in a formal manner means that there is an inclusion attitude at work. The purpose is to assure them, that the attitude of the Leadership is one of wanting to “draw them close” and doing for them everything that which will aid and support their personal growth and complete recovery – 2 Corinthians 2:8.
    • This would also, “if previously involved in public ministry” include encouraging them to get involved in ministry once there is an obvious restoration and evidence of their repentance – Luke 22:31-32” – “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers..
      • For those who were previously in a position of leadership, there should be a time of testing to demonstrate their qualifications after the pattern of 1 Timothy 3:10They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.

Reasons for and Associated Cautions to Impose Church Discipline

Extreme care needs to be exercised when approaching Church disciplining. It should be noted that the Scriptures do not provide a licence for a leadership to exercise the disciplining of an individual to satisfy its own “traditions, Church taboos, pet gripes or annoyances” it should never be our opinions or dislikes, that are guide for what is considered to be a sin.

It is just as important that a leadership avoids becoming hypercritical or “speck inspectors.” – Matthew 7:2-4For with the same judgment you pronounce, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to notice the beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while there is still a beam in your own eye…”?

The Underling Reasons for Church Disciplining

The reasons for the imposition of Church disciplining are clearly provided in the Scriptures: –

The General Causes are: –

Disorderly conduct, this is conduct which is clearly out of line with the prescribed commands of Scripture and which negatively impacts the testimony and unity of the Church – 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15.

The Specific Causes are: –

  • Difficulties between members Matthew 18:15-17
  • Divisive or factious people causing divisions in the Church – Romans 16:17-18Titus 3:9-11.
  • Immoral conduct such as those mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5Incest, immorality, covetousness, idolatry, abusive speech, drunkenness, swindling, or idle busybodies who refuse to work and run around spreading dissension1 Corinthians 5:11 Corinthians 11 and 2 Thessalonians 3:10-15.
  • False and Erroneous teaching and teaching/views which concern the fundamentals of the faith – excluding lesser differences of interpretation – 1 Timothy 1:202 Timothy 2:17-18 and also the implied areas found in Revelation 2:14-16Philemon 3:2-3Philemon 1: 15-19 and “Romans 16:17-18.

It is to be noticed that in all of the areas above the main if not the essentially predominant factors that are to guide us are: –

  • The Holy Character of God
  • The Testimony of the Flock
  • The Effect upon the Unity and Purity of the Flock
  • The Edification and Restoration of the Individual.

The Cautions Involved in Church Discipling

When considering the profound step of a Leadership imposing Church Discipline upon someone then it is a very, very wise thing to step back and to consider: –

  • Does the offense call for Discipline and not merely one of our strongly held traditions, Church Taboos, Pet Gripes or Annoyances as was mentioned earlier? The Word must be our only criteria.
  • Reflect on how we too have sinned in the past and heed the warnings of Galatians 6:1” – “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted”.
  • Prayerfully bring the matter before the Lord in prayer before the confrontation takes place 1 Samuel 8:6But when they said, ‘Give us a king to lead us,’ this displeased Samuel; so, he prayed to the Lord”.
  • Importantly, do not procrastinate. Why? Because the longer the delay, the more difficult the condition can become.
  • Forgo any form of gossiping or even talking to others about it until the individual has been spoken with in private. This is seen clearly in the sense of Matthew 18:16 – “But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that “every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses which reminds us of the principle found in Deuteronomy 19:15 which says One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offence they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses

One thing that is really important is that a Church/Organisations Leadership guard and protect the person/s and the flock from rumours and a slanderous tongue – Proverbs 6:19b; 10:19; 11:13; 18:8, 21; 20:19much trouble can be caused by gossip and slanderous tongues and so very often those involved in this are themselves in need of disciplining and censorship albeit that they may been connected with the aggrieved parties involved.

The Outworking of Church Discipling

So, now having laid some foundational thoughts let’s take a look at the actual outworking of Church Disciplining.

Let me first say that Church Disciplining does not necessarily involve an individual Church forbidding the individual/s from coming to its weekly services. Of course, there are some circumstances which perhaps would involve a threat of physical harm to others. However, Church Services are open to the Public  weekly gathering is usually open to the public, including nominal Christians and non-Christians. The principle of inclusion of the pagan lost is seen at work in 1 Corinthians 14 where it speaks of the unbeliever attending standard Church Services.

It would be a wise thing for the Local; Leader along with the Elders to together explain to the congregation that it is both hoped for and desired that the disciplined individual will continue to attend the Church and sit under God’s preached Word. However, there are restrictions, these being that they are barred from the Lord’s Supper (to protect themselves) and as a disciplining principle – 1 Corinthians 11:27–28Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  

As a prelude to the practical outworking and steps of Church Disciplining, I want to re-emphasise something that is really vital. Church Disciplining has the opportunity and danger of being carried out really badly and in fact it can even become both abusive and a means of “getting even” with an individual/s. How does this happen? Easily when the Church/Organisation requires from someone blatantly what the actual Scriptures do not require. This also can happen when pastoral sensitivity on a case-by-case basis is not adhered too.

The Steps Involved in Church Disciplining

Step Number One – Private and Informal Stage

I have mentioned earlier on in this study together that all Church Discipling will begin at stage one which is the Private and Informal Stage. What is it that Jesus plainly says to us? He says – If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brotherMatthew 18:15 When it says “against you” this is inclusive of the Church as a whole also. It would be a wise move for anyone contemplating doing this to have a confidential meeting with their Pastor / Leader before progressing further and in the case of a “Church Wide Offence” that the Pastor and Elders meet together first.

Jesus wants and warns us to refrain from gossip and confront sin in four particular ways: –

  1. Privately
  2. Quietly
  3. Directly
  4. Lovingly

There is love expressed towards the person caught in sin and a desire to see them restored and rescued from its consequences. There is love expressed towards the members of the Church Community and the desire is to prevent them from being led astray. There is love expressed towards the non-Christian neighbours reflected in a desire to have the Church Community presented as a holy witness. Of course, paramount to this is the love expressed towards the Lord in a desire to reflect him.

The reason amongst many is that the “supposed offence” might simply be a misunderstanding and it will give the supposed offender the opportunity of setting things right.

In all circumstances the motive being expressed when dealing with the possible offence is to correct a sin and must always be wrapped up significantly in love. The love is not simply for the individual but also for others in the Church Community, as well as the pagan non-Christian neighbours who may discover the problem.

The question arises and it is: – “Does every offense require this kind of confrontation?” The Answer would be “Not necessarily”. After all, in 1 Peter 4:8we read Love covers a multitude of sins. Many do and so we need wisdom at this early-stage number one.

Step Number Two – Semi Formal Stage with Others

It is always the hope and desire that Stage No 1 will settle the matter in hand and a good, edifying and Christ Glorifying conclusion has been reached. However, human nature being as it is does not always see this outcome.

In the event that the first – Private and Informal Stage – does not go as hoped and the individual is recalcitrant and has an obstinate and uncooperative attitude towards the approach perhaps is even expressing a stiff-necked attitude and perhaps is a troublemaker then after perhaps further attempts the matter then will require step two.

Jesus puts it in this way to us: – If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnessesMatthew 18:16.

Jesus here is portraying the Deuteronomy 19 principles of a courtroom in ancient Israel. Let me say clearly that this is not permitting a “mob justice” at work but rather showing a “due process” presuming that the individual/individuals are not guilty of any offence but are wanting to examine the situation together.

The due process might in some cases not agree with the original thought of offence and justify it as a total misunderstanding borne perhaps out of a critical, bitter, and even vengeful spirit. This is particularly the case in the situation where non-Christians or back slidden Christians are involved who are wanting their “pound of flesh” – A Pound of Flesh relates to a debt or punishment, especially a cruel or unreasonable one, that is harshly insisted upon. An allusion to Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, in which the moneylender Shylock demands he be paid the pound of flesh promised as collateral for a loan.

Step Number Three – Formal Stage with Church Leaders bringing the Issue to the Church.

Things have gotten really bad if step number three has been reached. What it means is that the two or three witnesses agree that the Individual/Individuals are remaining recalcitrant.

Jesus is again very clear here in what should be done and He through the Scriptures and the Inspiration of the Holy Spirit says: – If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church – “Matthew 18: 17a”.

Does step number three need to happen immediately? I would contend No! Perhaps the Church Leadership and other involved Leadership Individuals might spend weeks or months  seeking for the individual’s repentance before telling the whole Church.

The Formal Stage with Church Leaders is really the last resort and taken only after every other avenue of reconciliation / repentance has been exhausted.

It would of course be the Pastor/s and Elders who lead this process. They, too, should heed Jesus’ instruction about two or three witnesses. Means they should never stand in front of the congregation armed with little more than “best guesses” or interpretations of a person’s heart. Rather, they should only bring facts that everyone agrees upon.

The leaders don’t need to expose every detail of every sin, particularly when they might embarrass other members or involve sexual information that could cause people to stumble.

It is well to remember that the “whole church is not a jury, called to pore over the facts and debate the matter late into the night”. The job of the Church is to trust the elders’ recommendation. However, sufficient information should be given to allow the congregation to decide patiently and with integrity.

In this situation the whole of the Leadership Team should wholeheartedly stand behind and with the Pastor/Shepherd in this way the Church as a whole recognises that it is not one individual with an “axe to grind” who has gotten things to this point.

It will also show that everything has been done Decently and in order1 Corinthians 14:40 The word Decently is the Greek word euschemonos. Other than this verse, the word euschemonos is only found two other times in the New Testament – Romans 13:13 and in 1 Thessalonians 4:12 in both instances, it is translated to do something honestly or to walk honestly. It carries the notion of something that is done properly as opposed to improperly. It has to do with intent and motivation more than outward action, although such a good intention always results in right actions.

The word Order is the Greek word taksis. It carries the idea of something done in a fitting way or something done according to order. The Jewish historian Josephus used the word taksis when he recorded the orderly way in which the Roman army erected their camps – indicating their camps were orderly, organized, and well-planned. The commanders didn’t engage in last-minute planning. Their camps were not hastily thrown together but rather set up in an organized and thoughtful manner.

Step Number Four – Final Stage

If all efforts have been exhausted, then the final step of disciplining is brought into play. Let me say right here that the word – Ex-Communication” does not indicate mean a Church is consigning an individual/s to hell it doesn’t even mean the church is declaring with certainty that someone is a non-Christian. No one certainly has that power vested within them.

This step is in reality simply means that a Church to which the individual/s no longer affirms their profession of faith and they are removed from membership.

In this instance again the Scriptures say that the individual/s are to be considered as “outsiders” as a “Gentile or Tax Gatherer” – “Matthew 18:17b” – “And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector”.

If it gets to this stage then the offence of the individual must manifest unrepentance, meaning the person is refusing to let go of the sin or to fight against it. It must be outward, meaning the sin can be seen or heard. It must also be significant, significant enough for the Church as a whole is feeling unable to continue affirming someone’s profession of faith.

The Purpose & Goals of Church Disciplining

The goal of discipline is always restoration. I’ll repeat that because it is essential that all understand it – The goal of discipline is always restoration.

The act of Church Disciplining is never that of punishment. It is discipline and discipline is designed to train and restore.

Paul knew and taught this and expressed it by saying: – You are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord1 Corinthians 5:5”.

So, what is its purpose of Church Discipling in a nutshell?

I’ll simply list the purposes in order that further study and reflection can be put to use.

1To bring glory to God and enhance the testimony of the flock 
2To restore, heal, and build up sinning believersMatthew 18:15; 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15; Hebrews 12:10-13; Galatians 6:1-2; James 5:20
3To produce a healthy faith, one sound in doctrineTitus 1:13; 1 Timothy 1:19-20
4To win a soul to Christ if the sinning person is only a professing Christian2 Timothy 2:24-26
5To silence false teachers and their influence in the churchTitus 1:10-11
6To set an example for the rest of the body and promote godly fear1 Timothy 5:20
7To protect the church against the destructive consequences that occur when churches fail to carry out church discipline. A church that fails to exercise discipline experiences four losses: 

So, what is its Manner Utilised in Church Discipling?

Again, I’ll simply list the purposes in order that further study and reflection can be put to use.

1Discipline must be done by those who are spiritual, truly walking by the Holy Spirit and growing in the LordGalatians 6:1
2Discipline must be done in a spirit of humility, gentleness, and patience, looking to ourselves lest we too be temptedGalatians 6:1-2; 2 Timothy 2:24-25
3Discipline must be done without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality1 Timothy 5:21
4Those who walk disorderly are to be admonished, warned, and appealed to in love. This admonishing is not restricted to church leaders but may be done by any person in the body with another if that person is Spirit controlled and spiritually minded1 Thessalonians 5:14-15; 1 Timothy 5:1-2; Ephesians 4:15; 2 Timothy 4:2 cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:14 with Galatians 6:1
5If there is no response in repentance and obedience, then the sinning believer is to be rebuked publicly and members of the body are to withhold intimate fellowship through the process and procedure of group disapproval and social ostracism as prescribed in the next section, Procedures for Church Discipline below. This action has a two-fold objective2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15; Titus 3:10; 1 Timothy 5:20

Conclusion: –

In conclusion we need to remember that discipline in the name of our Lord always includes a readiness to forgive. The many or majority who discipline must also be ready and eager to forgive, comfort, and reaffirm their love to the sinning person – 2 Corinthians 2:6-8”.

What Should Be Seen in the End – Forgiveness & Proof


What is the role of the Church after there has been a restoration achieved through the disciplining? Well! as is the goal of restoration, the role of the church must change after there is repentance. This means accepting the person and forgetting the past – 2 Corinthians 2:7a” – “so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow”.

However, the question could be asked – How do we know when repentance is genuine? What is our responsibility when the sinning party acknowledges their wrong and claims repentance?

Well! Two Scriptures provide us with the clues to the puzzle.

Luke 3:8when they “. . . “bring forth fruits in keeping with repentance.

Acts 26:20that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.

In all cases a genuine repentance will be self-evident by deeds and attitudes.

The repentant person will: –

  1. They will freely acknowledge their sin – 1 John 1:9Proverbs 28:13a”.
  • They will cease the activity for which they were disciplined or at least seek help if it’s a case of life dominating patterns – Proverbs 28:13bGalatians 6:1f” – James 5:19-20”.
  • They will make restitution and/or ask for forgiveness from those hurt as it is applicable – Philippians  18-19Matthew 5:23-24”.
  • They will demonstrate a genuine change of heart, a real concern and godly sorrow over their actions, not in order to be forgiven, but because of the harm caused to the glory of God and the hurt caused others – 2 Corinthians 7:8-11Psalm 51:17”.
  • They will begin to manifest the fruit of the Spirit and a concern for the things of Christ – Galatians: 5:22f”.

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