Over the past few decades, the concept of the local church being committed to church discipline has grown in favor. Leaders often refer to church discipline with Matthew 18:15-17 as the key reference in important documents for the church. We want to clearly define the “process” so that nobody is confused:
- private confrontation
- confrontation with a witness or two
- inclusion of the whole church
But, as I continue to learn and grow, I wonder how much we are missing as we discuss the issue of church discipline. Did Jesus really intend this to be a four-step process for every situation? Are these the only four possible steps? And what about the intent?
I believe firmly in Matthew 18 church discipline. I believe that a church that refuses to practice discipline will become something less than a church. But, I also believe that if Matthew 18 is our only prooftext, we have a problem.
Galatians 6:1-2 – 1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Look at Paul’s language for the church in Galatia. Do you feel the focus? Can you sense the emotion? Paul is not directing the Galatian church leadership to enact a four -step process from Matthew 18. Of course, Paul is not at all violating that process. But he is handling the situation with a great deal of love, mercy, grace, and tact. Yes, he is in the parameters of Matthew 18, but his heart is coming out very clearly.
What is the goal of discipline? On the one hand, the goal is the purity of the church. But notice that in Galatians 6, the goal is the restoration of a sinning believer before they are in great danger. We cannot sacrifice one purpose for another and be doing biblical church discipline. Discipline is supposed to be restorative.
This is why church membership is so valuable. Yes, we want a pure and obedient church for the glory of Christ. And part of that includes us teaming up together to live life in such a way that, when we are messing it up, we help each other to get back on track. A church that only lists 4 steps of confrontation followed by excommunication will fail to communicate that discipline is primarily us living together to help sanctify one another to the glory of God.
So, dear friends, do not think I’m opposed to the process, I’m not. But if you want to handle discipline rightly, please include Galatians 6:1-2 with your process from Matthew 18:15-17 so that you include the togetherness and the heart for restoration that the Lord intends mark his church.