by L. S. Walker
THE MEANING OF “DISCIPLINE”: The word “discipline” means: (1) To regulate one’s moral and mental training according to strict rules. (2) To develop his character. (3) To cause him to render strict obedience to the teachings of God’s Word. (4) To inflict punishment for disobedience.
THE DOCTRINE OF CHURCH DISCIPLINE
The Doctrine of Church Discipline is founded on the emphatic Word of God. That this is true there can be no doubt. Jesus said to His church: “Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven,” Matt. 16:19. The writer of this treatise has a burden on his heart to see the Baptist churches all over the land made better and enabled to do more for the cause of our dear Master. Undisciplined churches are robbed of their power to witness effectively for the Lord, because of sin, in their membership. In this they are severing their fellowship with their Lord. God cannot, He will not, bless a church in sin. In His Word we read: “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin,” James 4:17. A church that will not discipline its members is either ignorantly or willingly disobeying the Word of God. If God had not intended for His churches to have exercised discipline over their members, He would not have inspired His writers to put it in His Word.
THE REASON OR PURPOSE OF CHURCH DISCIPLINE
1. It will aid the church in getting rid of her unregenerated members. Of course, no church should, in reality, have any unregenerated members, however, many of them, perhaps, most of them do have some people in their membership who are unsaved. Certainly, an unsaved person cannot live a Christian life. He has no spiritual background. He has no foundation for his life. His life is being built upon the sand rather than upon the eternal Rock of Ages, Jesus Christ, the only true foundation for salvation, I Cor. 3:11. Hence, to exercise strict church discipline will help to keep the church free from such members.
2. It will aid in chastening the erring children of God in the churches. It will cause them to repent of their sins and weaknesses of the flesh.
3. It will be a constant reminder to the church and to the world that God’s justice in judgment will find, the wicked in whatever state, condition or society they may seek to live.
4. It will increase the membership among those who want a clean, wholesome spiritual environment in which to live. There are times when some churches would exercise their authority in church discipline were it not for fear of offending some one.
On this point let us reason together a little. What about offending God and His church? Is it all right to offend the Lord? Is it all right to offend His church? Do you think we should consider the personal feelings of an individual and neglect our duty regarding church discipline? Or should We do our duty toward God regardless of the individual’s personal feelings in the matter? Do you think we should fellowship wrong for the sake of members? The Lord says, “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them,” Eph. 5:11. We may not be responsible for the wrong, but we are responsible for fellow-shipping with the wrong-doer when we have it in our power to withdraw from him.
God is no respecter of persons, and He teaches us in His Word not to be, James :1-4. When a member walks disorderly, lives an ungodly life, and brings reproach on the church he should be dealt with according to the teachings of God’s Word. This should be done regardless of his social or financial standing in the world. When a church thus deals with her members she will gain the confidence and respect of all saved people both in and out of her membership. Of course, discretion and prudence should always be exercised.
5. Weak members will be helped. Many churches have weak members who are afraid to exercise church discipline. They are afraid of criticism and persecution. Such members need to be taught the truth of God’s Word on the subject, and they would grow stronger thereby. Many times weak members, who themselves are not willing to help to exercise church discipline, can tell the church how it should be done. As a rule, when the time comes to do the work such members cannot be found.
6.The spiritually ignorant will be helped. Many times churches have as leaders carnally minded and unsaved persons. Strict church discipline will both be a rebuke and instructive to them. Such a leadership in many churches is, probably, the greatest of all reasons why we do not have more church discipline. God will not bless such unscriptural proceedings in anything, it matters not how sincere we may appear to be. God is bound only to keep and bless His Word.
The doctrine of church discipline is tremendously important as all Bible students will agree. Likewise, all who understand the prevailing condition of the churches will agree that very few are exercising any discipline at all. May God help His people to start now to raise the standard of living in our churches, that they may not be stumbling blocks to the world.
The Devil has imposed many things upon the Lord’s churches to rob them of their influence with the world of lost sinners. Many of our churches are now cursed with worldly wise, carnally-minded leaders. Under such leadership the most vile offenses are committed against the churches and against God and His Word. These vile offenses are committed in the name of Christianity. Such things have become a stench in the nostrils of God. Because of this many churches have become cold and spiritless, indifferent and unresponsive to the truth; they have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof, from such, Paul said, “Turn away.” Many churches have gone so far in this loose way until Satan’s seat is in many churches today.
On this particular doctrine we have sinned and some have almost come to the point of outright contempt for God’s Word. Such contempt for divine instruction is mounting evidence of the exodus of the Lord from His churches and the entrance of Satan to the seat of leadership in many congregations in the name of Christ. We need to lay aside all customs, forms, traditions and pre-conceived ideas and opinions of our own and get on the plan as outlined in God’s Word. Certainly, we should obey God rather than men.
THE OCCASIONS FOR CHURCH DISCIPLINE
1. The presence of unregenerated members, and their activities in church work, furnishes one of the occasions for church discipline. These, not being saved consequently are not spiritually interested in the precepts and examples given in the Word of God, hence, they find themselves willingly ignorant of and running rough-shod over God’s laws, rules and regulations as laid down in the New Testament. Churches cannot help it because unregenerated members are occasionally found in their membership; Judas was in the first church. Of course, Jesus knew what he was, but the other members of the church did not, as he was such a shrewd hypocrite. For the best interest of such unsaved members, and for their eternal destiny they need to be dealt with very kindly and gently. But they do not need to be in the churches. Church membership is for saved people and not for unsaved ones.
2. The presence of unrestrained flesh furnishes another occasion for church discipline. Unrestrained flesh, that is, worldly-minded and worldly-acting members occasion many difficult church problems. Since the ways of the flesh are the ways of Satan, a yielding to it can but beget offenses against the divine laws of the Lord’s house. Jesus taught His disciples to beware of the leaven of the pharisees. Paul said, “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump,” Gal. 5:9. If disorderly members and heretical teachers are let go unchecked the leaven created by them will, in course of time, corrupt the whole church body. there is even great danger of the candlestick being removed from the church, Rev. 2:5, if such things are allowed to continue.
3.The presence and activity of untutored enthusiasts in the membership, who clamor for conformity to the things practiced by the world and some so-called churches around them, often present churches with difficult problems. Such members, as a rule, desire to practice such things for social, political and religious prestige, thus bringing in doctrinal corruption and a compromising spirit which destroys the orthodoxy and spirituality of the churches. These practices in the life of any church, if uncurbed, will destroy the unity, the power and the fellowship of the churches, and will bring reproach on the name of its Head, the Lord Jesus Christ.
THE URGENCY OF CHURCH DISCIPLINE
The presence of rebellion against the Word of God, the spiritual virus, the modernistic, formal and dissipating influences in the life of a church demands immediate and stern action. For a church to dodge this matter means spiritual ruin to her. Sometimes we hear some say, “If we were to discipline our church, we would not have many members left.” This may be true in some cases, but this does not alter nor discount the doctrine of church discipline nor the urgency of it being exercised. The dominion of such carnality in our churches strongly challenges them to clean house for the Lord. Most churches must make a comeback in this regard and clean up, or else, we shall soon find ourselves in a universal apostate condition.
CLASSES OF CHURCH DISCIPLINE
There are three kinds or classes of church discipline mentioned in the Scriptures: (1) Cases which deal with personal offenses. (2) Cases which deal with public offenses. (3) Cases which deal with doctrinal offenses. Each of these should be dealt with differently. God gives us a plan, in His Word, for each separate kind. Let us consider them in the order named above.
1. Personal differences, Matt. 18:15-17. Details for such offenses are very clearly given here by the Lord Himself. We read “Moreover if thy brother trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, 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.”
Observe here that no mention is made of a church-sent committee. There is neither precept nor example for the appointment of a committee by the church to settle the matter. The above mentioned Scripture, as spoken by the Lord Himself, plainly states the manner in which we are to deal with personal offenses. When this plan is followed in spirit and in practice, the Lord will recognize it in heaven, Matt. 18:18. Heaven is the headquarters for all the Lord’s churches, and all things that are done according to His divine plan are recognized and endorsed in heaven. Jesus is the Head over all things to His churches, and He is in heaven at the right hand of the Father.
This is, indeed, a serious matter and should be dealt with as such. In Matt. 18:18, we read: “Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” These are the same words as used by Jesus when He instituted His church, Matt. 16:13-19. When Christ instituted His church He gave it authority to discipline its members and promised to recognize in heaven what the church did on earth, provided, of course, that it was done according to His instructions.
The true church of Christ is His body as well as His espoused bride. Just as sure as one is loosed from the fellowship of one of the true churches of Christ, he is loosed from the fellowship of Christ. He is not loosed from his salvation, but from fellowship. One out of fellowship with the bride is also out of fellowship with the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.
In the case of personal offenses it is always best for the individual, wherever possible, to be reconciled to his brother without any church action. This is according to the first step in the Lord’s plan. Each child of God should always be ready to make reconciliation with an offended brother, it matters not how often he may be offended. Jesus said, “If he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him,” Luke 17:4.
2. Public offenses, I Cor. 5:1-13. In this passage we have an example of how to deal with one who has committed a public offense against the church, the house of God. The ground required for dealing with such an offender is, according to Paul’s instruction to the church at Corinth, a local congregation, on the basis of a common report based on facts.
First, before a church can act upon any case, her members must be gathered together, assembled, I Cor. 5:4. This cannot be done by circulating a petition around to the members. Bear in mind the Scripture reads “Let all things be done decently and in order,” I Cor. 14:40. Paul warns of the danger of allowing such matters to go uncurbed and unnoticed too long. Observe I Cor. 5:6, 7 “Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?” A little sin and a little worldliness in the lives of a few of the members, if not removed, will soon corrupt the whole congregation. The remedy is found in verse 6: “Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump.” In verses 4 and 5 of this chapter the Corinthians are told what to do with the offender, “Deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh (not the soul) that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” From this we understand that it is an injustice to the offender to allow him to go undisciplined. To do so will cause him to lose respect for the house of God.
In this passage we are instructed that we cannot, as a church, bother those wicked persons not in our membership, for God will deal with them. As far as those who are in the membership are concerned, the church has a Scriptural right as well as a responsibility to deal with them. Let us read I Cor. 5:12, 13: “For what have I to do to judge there also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.” This is to be done on the basis of a common report. No church committee is mentioned. Before leaving this topic let us take a glance at I Cor. 5:9-11: “I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolators; for then must ye needs go out of the world. (That is, not have fellowship with them, even though they are in the world.) But now I have written to you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.”
Not only are churches to have no fellowship, but they are not to be found at the Lord’s table with such, knowingly. In fact, Paul forbade the Corinthian church to partake of the Lord’s Supper when there were divisions, strife, heresies and such-like things among them. Evidently, sin and carnality keep churches from exercising discipline among its membership, I Cor. 11:16-20.
Another example of public offenses is found in II Thess. 3:6: “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received from us.” This is a direct command to the church at Thessalonica. As in the case of the Corinthian church, there is no mention of a church committee. Just simply a common report based on facts that satisfies the church is all that is needed.
The Lord did not leave His churches helpless in the handling of disobedient and disorderly members. He knew there would be members in all the churches who would be worldly minded and slack toward God. He knew there would be those who would commit deeds that would bring a snare and a reproach on the churches, causing the world to have no respect for the church of God. He knew, too, that direct evidence of the offenses would be kept hid from the churches wherever possible, therefore, He gave His churches, through the Apostle Paul and others, instructions by which they could discipline their members against public offenses on the ground of common report. It would help all thoughtless and disobedient church members to read Acts 5:1-11.
3. Heretical offenses. In Titus 3:10, Paul gives instructions regarding disciplinary measures as applied to doctrinal offenders. We read: “A man that is an heritic after the first and second admonition reject.” This is not hard to understand, is it? Such an offender is to be admonished twice; after that, if he is not in harmony with sound doctrine he is to be rejected. As in the other cases, we find here no church-appointed committee is authorized to deal with the offender. The practice of churches naming committees to effectuate discipline is completely without Scriptural sanction. Accordingly, such a practice is a human invention, the which, instead of helping a church out of trouble, betrays churches into more and deeper trouble.
Someone may ask, “Does not a church have authority to name a committee to serve it at its own will and pleasure?” Yes, to be sure, this authority is inherent in the divine “keys” which the Master delivered to His church by which it “binds” and “looses,” Matt. 16:19; 18:18. Nothing here is intended to discount the divine authority granted the local church by our Lord. We are insisting, however, that the Scriptures nowhere suggest nor make provision for a committee to function in church discipline. In fact, the practice of appointing of committees to chase down rumors against members, or to try members, is borrowed from some so-called churches, rather than found in the Word of God. God has given us no such example. By common report, as referred to above, we mean a report on which the church can rely as evidence on which it may deal with a disorderly member of any of the above-named offenses.
RESTORING DISCIPLINED MEMBERS
In Gal. 6:1, we read: “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.” A church which is not in a condition to forgive an offending brother is not in a condition to discipline him. The spiritually strong members of the church should strive with all longsuffering and gentleness to reconcile the poor offender and bring him back into fellowship, if he will permit it.
In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he pled with them to forgive such a man. He said, “Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted by the many (the majority). So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him,” 11 Cor. 2:6-8.
RESULTS OF CHURCH DISCIPLINE
There are several noticeable results about churches which exercise church discipline.
1. They are, as a rule, Spirit led, consecrated and devoted to the Lord and His Word.
2.They live morally clean lives and keep united in fellowship and brotherly love.
3.They have the confidence of the world. The outsider who looks on soon decides that such a church is no place for criminals and crooks to harbor.
4. They have the blessings, smiles and approval of heaven upon them. Living a separated life is a doctrine that is taught from one side of the Bible to the other. God has always taught His people to live separate and apart from the world.
5. Churches which practice church discipline will find that worldly minded and hypocritical members and certain kinds of people of the world will frown upon them. They will also find that the Lord and His consecrated saints will smile upon them.
6. Churches which practice strict discipline are, as a rule, humble, Biblical, spiritual, steadfast, unmoveable and always abounding in the work of the Lord, I Cor. 15:58.
7. Churches which practice strict discipline are, usually, soul-winning churches and are not mere member-getters. They believe in regeneration before church membership.
May God help all His churches to see and know the value of the precious doctrine of strict church discipline. We are taught in the Word to adorn the doctrines of our Saviour in all things, Titus 2:10. The doctrine of church discipline should be honored, taught and obeyed along with all other fundamental doctrines of the New Testament.
8. Conviction for an offense, as a rule, means an exclusion from the church, although the congregation, the church, in minor cases, may inflict such penalties as demanding an apology, or a public expression of wrong-doing, repentance and a desire for forgiveness.
FORM OF DISCIPLINE
The method and form of discipline in Baptist churches are democratic and should be rigidly enforced. The Bible is the only faith and code of laws, and Baptist churches are its only exponents. A Baptist church has absolute power within itself to discipline its members, to punish heresy, wrong-living and evil-doing. From the local Baptist church (there are no other kinds) there is no appeal to a higher church-court or tribunal, for the very good reason that such higher courts do not exist. No association, convention, board of ruling elders, nor school of bishops has the power to set aside or reverse the decision of a Baptist church. In this manner, Baptists declare, trouble in one church, or with one member, or with one pastor, can neither injure the denomination as a whole, nor should it bring about strife within the councils of the faith.
The disciplining of a member is the church’s business and takes place in and through the local church itself. Any member of a congregation has a right, if he has knowledge of his guilt, to bring charges against any other member. Of course, such charges must be based upon some violation of Scriptural law, or denominational doctrine as based upon a “thus saith the Lord” in His Word.