I’m a big fan of 9 Marks of a Healthy Church and 9 Marks Ministries. In that book that has become a movement, we see a set of biblical principles for how churches are supposed to function so as to honor Christ by following Scripture.
One of the things that this movement brings back to the life of the church is a faithful commitment to biblical church discipline. I’d guess that, if you have paid much attention, you have seen that certain churches have, over the past few years, become strongly committed to church discipline, and in general this has been good. A local church body must not be willing to turn a blind eye to members in active and unrepentant sin.
But, I fear that, in some cases, all we ever hear about is the accusation or the excommunication part of discipline. Thankfully, these are not all that the Lord gave us. The whole point of church discipline is to honor God as we call our fellow believers to turn from sin and be restored.
Consider as an example one of the people caught in unrepentant sin in Corinth. In 1 Corinthians, Paul clearly calls on the church to remove a man from the fellowship because he is boldly and blatantly violating the word of God. Paul was right. But we cannot limit ourselves to 1 Corinthians discipline without also looking at 2 Corinthians.
2 Corinthians 2:6-8 – 6 For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, 7 so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him.
We do not know if this is the same person who was put out of the church in 1 Corinthians, or if this is another situation from the letter between 1 and 2 Corinthians which we do not have. But that fact really is not relevant. What is relevant is the fact that Paul is clearly speaking of a person who has been disciplined by the local body and who has repented. Somebody has been put out of the fellowship, is genuinely remorseful, and is still on the outside. And Paul makes it super clear that, the moment this person repented, he should have been welcomed back into the fellowship.
A part of discipline that is often overlooked is restoration. When a person turns from their sin, they should be welcomed back into fellowship. That welcome should be as formal as was the discipline. Were they only conversing with a few people before they turned from their sin? Then those few people should restore the repentant brother. Did they go through the formal and public process? Then they should be formally and publicly restored.
I fear that sometimes Only Matthew 18 is in our minds when we talk about church discipline. But we must have a grasp of this kind of restoration present here in 2 Corinthians. We must be quick to desire restoration as Paul writes in Galatians 6. Church discipline, honestly, is simple discipleship. We work together to call each other back from dangerous life choices and actions. The only time discipline really needs to go formal or go public is when a person flat refuses to hear the word of God and acknowledge God’s authority over their lives. Then the discipline, in so many ways, is simply the church sorrowfully and prayerfully declaring that they can no longer vouch for the idea that this person is genuinely a believer. But, once the person genuinely repents, the local church can also say that they can, once more, acknowledge that this person is one of us, a sinner saved by the grace of Christ.