It seems that we discuss church discipline more commonly today than we did a few decades ago in the American church. This, of course, is a good thing. After all, it has been said that a true church is a body where the word is preached, the sacraments are administered, and where discipline is applied. And it has also been affirmed that, when discipline departs, so does the church.
If you talk about church discipline, the most common place you will find a person turn in the Bible is Matthew 18, and for good reason. There the Lord Jesus gave us a pattern for discussion inside the church when one member is wronged by another. It is the pattern that most know. WE go talk to the person privately. If they will not repent, we go with witnesses—perhaps church leaders. If they still will not repent, we make their sin known to the body. And if they still will not repent, we treat them as a tax collector or unbeliever. It is a simple and fairly clear process.
But Matthew 18 is not the only passage on church discipline in the Scriptures. A faithful minister will also point the people of God to Galatians 6 which speaks of restoring a wayward brother gently and guarding our own hearts in the process. We will look to 1 Corinthians 5 for an example of strong discipline being affirmed for a man who is unrepentantly sexually immoral. We will turn to 2 Corinthians 2 for a picture of a church being called to forgive and restore a repentant sinner. And, as Paul closes 2 Corinthians, we see a couple of lines that must remind us of the goal of church discipline. Yes, we do all we do for the glory of God. Yes, we battle for the purity of the church and the honor of Christ. But we also do church discipline for the sake of restoring fallen brothers and sisters in Christ.
2 Corinthians 13 :9, 11 – 9 For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for…. 11 Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.
In a letter that includes a strong focus on the issues relating to church discipline among other things, as Paul wraps up, twice he points out that his heart, his aim, his goal is restoration. Paul says that he prays to see the fallen restored, and he wants the church to make restoration her aim as well.
When you consider church discipline, then, remember that restoration is central. We do not take delight in dropping the hammer on somebody who is failing in their Christian walk. Instead, we call on those who are wayward to return. We must call firmly, as continuing in sin may well be a sign that a person is not at all saved. But we call lovingly, because we know that God can bring a sinner back from the brink of destruction. Our goal is not to win a battle. Our goal is to win a brother.