The God of the Bible is the perfect disciplinarian: “For whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth, but He (does it) for our profit that we might be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Hebrews 12:6, 10, 11). The words “Chastise” and “Discipline” are perfect synonyms, and when applied by the church, it is for the sake and development of both, the church and the erring member.
Every New Testament church is an entity with divinely vouchsafed autonomy, whereby the church is enabled to deal with and alleviate their problems. Notwithstanding, no church can ever arrive in its earthly tenure where discipline is no longer needed, but every church can by being consistent in the practice of discipline mitigate its heartaches. Obedience to Scripture is the ground of resourcefulness, and a church that is faithful in its practice of discipline will minimize its impediments. Discipline purifies the church, and the offspring of spiritual purity is church unity.
Church discipline often runs counter to the emotions and sentiment of some members of the church, but a church seeking the honor of God, the preservation of church purity, and the good of the subject, should not be deterred by the unwarranted feelings of some members in so vital a matter. When the church has exhausted all of its options, and is left without any further recourse, it must for the favor of God and the welfare of the church, invoke the biblically prescribed discipline, lest the church be found guilty of harboring iniquity (I Corinthians 13:6).
The purpose of discipline is not to un-church, but to in-church the erring member; and this lofty end should be diligently sought by the church. Whether or not the desired climax is realized, the church will be strengthened by its endeavor to keep itself pure. If the disciplined person is caused to see his error, and comes to the realization that the church was not unfair toward him in its handling of the matter, he will then know that the church was all the while seeking his good. He will own his mistake, approve the action of the church, and will seek realignment with the church. But if the offensive member is left undisciplined, he will by his evil example entice others to disrespect church authority.
God has authorized and qualified His churches to administer discipline (II Thessalonians 3:6, 14) and the church which fails to practice this divine injunction will suffer spiritual suffocation, which will, if not corrected, culminate in fearful rejection of the disobedient church by the Lord Jesus Christ.
Excisive discipline can be the means of relieving the church of many ills and difficulties; but the church needs to ever keep in mind that no form or measure of discipline absolves guilt, and it is for this reason the church should guard against making the excluded person feel comfortable with his exclusion. It is not that the love of the church for the debarred person has diminished, but for the discipline to achieve the desired end, which is restoration of the excluded person to church membership. There is of necessity a circumscription of all spiritual relationship with the excludee. Bounds must be set by the church which tends toward making the excluded person acutely aware of what he has forfeited by his exclusion. These forfeitures are of such a nature, that the excluded person cannot be productive in any phase of his spiritual stewardship, and this spiritual disability of the excluded person leaves no room for church fellowship with him (Ephesians 5:11).
The purpose of ecclesiastical ostracism should invariably be instructive, and free of undue castigation. The church has no punitive power that allows for physical infliction. It is in this divinely disallowed area of discipline that Romanism and Protestantism have shamefully and brutally erred, resulting in multiplied millions of Baptist martyrs. There is no room in church discipline for one carnal stripe, much less forty. How much more then is the guilt of blood-letting Romanism and Protestantism!
God has committed the keeping of the spiritual sword to His church (Ephesians 6:17), and has thereby given His churches power to judge those within their membership. Conversely, God has placed the carnal sword in the hands of divinely ordained governments (Romans 13:1-4), and there can never in this world be a God pleasing merger of the two.
Paul instructed the church at Corinth to exclude the incestuous man, and keep no company with him (I Corinthians 5:11). All spiritual intercourse with the excluded person should be in the main, if not altogether, restricted to rebuke and admonition; for anything more could cause the church offender to have a toned down conception of his exclusion. Patronizing of the excluded person in his contention against the church will cause confusion in the church, and confusion is the ground from which discord grows and discord is the mother of excessive criticism and this undue criticism is the begetter of alienation.
The common and hateful result of alienation within the membership of the church is spiritual deterioration and a further detraction of members. But this catastrophic situation can be avoided by realizing that hostility is an emotion of the carnal heart, and is never more wrong than when directed toward a sister or brother within the church family.
“For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” (James 3:16-18). The cause of the spiritual decline of a church is from within the church, and never from without. This is why Paul warned the Galatian churches, saying: “But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another” (Galatians 5:15). Notwithstanding, some usurpers of peace from without may try and exert an evil influence upon the church, but they can do nothing to hurt the church unless the church allows it.
The church should never lose sight of its coveted objective in the exercise of excisive discipline, which is to correct and reclaim the excluded person. Therefore, it is the obligation of the entire membership of the church to be exceedingly careful in its relationship to the excluded person, so as to do nothing that would impair the effectiveness of the discipline, and thereby cause the church to come short of its cherished goal (Romans 16:17; James 5:20).
Excisive discipline may seem at first to some to be unduly rigid or severe, but it is not so, for there is no element of cruelty in it, and it is not without pardoning flexibility. When the U.S. Marines drums one out of the Corp, he is stripped of all identification with the Corp, his buttons and insignias are torn from his uniform, and he is sent on his way; never to be restored to the Corp. Sister branches of the military would not for the briefest moment consider receiving the dishonorably discharged Corpsman into their branch of the military. But the excisive discipline of the church is not that absolute, but has an amazing remedial power in it, whereby the discharged person may be joyfully restored to membership in the church.
However, there is a growing and prevailing tendency toward disrespect among the Lord’s churches for the disciplinary authority of sister churches. The autonomy and independence of the local church should never be infringed upon by any external power, and we need to remember that church independence does not include the right for a church to ignore the disciplinary authority of churches of like faith and order. Nevertheless, some churches and pastors in defense of receiving excluded people say: “No church or preacher can tell our church whom we may receive or not receive into our membership.” This haughty attitude and conduct has been the means of sundering long standing friendships, and has gone far in negating the authority of local churches over their membership.
No two New Testament churches are totally free of practical or doctrinal variance, and in some cases the nature of the variance is such, that so as to avoid rivalry, fellowship between the varying churches must be and will be accordingly circumscribed. But New Testament churches should never be competitors one with another, and should rejoice at the betterment of conditions in every sister church. Howbeit, and to our shame, this is not always the case.
It is possible for a church to err in its practice of excisive discipline, but it is not likely. Moreover, no sister church is better qualified to judge in the matter than the church that administered the discipline. When a child is disciplined by its Mother, it does not run to the house of its Aunt, and say: “My Mother gave me a whipping, and I want to live at your house.” If such an instance occurred the Aunt would tell the child, “You go straight home, and apologize to your Mother.” The Aunt’s motive in rebuking the child is deep concern for the welfare of the child, and love and respect for her sister. However, it appears in our time that this kind of honor between sister churches is disgracefully on the wane.
After the offending brother has become obdurate and disregards the twice repeated effort toward reconciliation by the offended brother, Christ said: “Tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican” (Matthew 18:15-17). In these words Christ was speaking by way of anticipation to all of His churches, and while the words “heathen” and “publican” are not synonymous with reprobation, they do mean one with whom there can be no church fellowship (Romans 16:17, II Thessalonians 3:14).
Ethics has never reached a higher plain than that which is found in the government of New Testament Baptist churches, and never more so than in the matter of church discipline. This is why excisive discipline is the last measure to be used by the church in its effort to reconcile an erring member. When a member is scripturally excluded from a New Testament Baptist church, it is divinely incumbent upon all sister churches to honor the action of the disciplining church, for Christ speaking to His churches, said:
“Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18). This is an awesome truth, but it does not say, there is absolutely no way an excluded person can be taken into the membership of a church of like faith and order. But it does emphatically teach that ALL New Testament churches should be exceedingly careful so as not to receive people into their membership whose exclusion is “bound” in heaven. GOD FORBID!
No man can ever extricate himself from his responsibility to God, and no bona fide church member can ever bring his responsibility to the Lord’s church to a conclusion. Exclusion of a person from the membership of a New Testament Baptist church does not terminate the excluded person’s responsibility to the excluding church. On the contrary, exclusion draws attention to his shortcomings, and highlights his responsibility and duty toward the amendment of his error and his need of reconciliation to the church.
While the excluded person is not, during the time of his exclusion, under any further disciplinary authority of the church, he is yet subject of the authority of the Head of the church, Jesus Christ, and will be dealt with by the unerring government of God. Adam’s exclusion from the garden of paradise did not absolve or free him of his responsibility to God. The excluded person is yet a subject of Divine authority, and his primary duty is to repent of his offense against the church and seek restoration of membership in the church.
(The Baptist Herald - October, 1992)
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