2003 Shepherd's Conference, A Ministry of Grace Community Church 818.909.5530.  © 2003 All Rights Reserved. Grace Community Church. A CD, MP3, or tape cassette copy of this session can be obtained by going to www.shepherdsconference.org


How to Practice Church Discipline

Handling the issue of unrepented sin in the local church


Bill Zimmer

Seminar Session #1040


My name is Bill Zimmer, I’m a lay elder here at Grace Community Church.  I’ve been here at Grace for about 29 years; I’ve been on the elder board for 22 or 23 years now.  Some have referred to me as being “older than dirt”.  I’m an Aerospace Engineer by profession and I teach this session to the new members:  The session on Church Discipline, or as I prefer to call it, Church Restoration, because the point of Church Discipline is not to discipline people out of the church, but to restore them to a right relationship with the Lord.


So, this morning we’ll be talking about handling issues of unrepented sin in the local church.  As I said, it’s called Church Discipline officially. 


This morning we’ll be talking about the purpose, the precepts or rules and the procedures involved in Church Discipline.


A.  The Church’s Purity

The Church’s purity is the first issue to be involved.  It might be good enough for a commercial venture or even a government regulation but 99.4% pure is not good enough for Christ’s body of the church.  The unblemished nature of God, that we have referred to in Matthew 5:48, “...therefore you’ll be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect…” sets an uncompromising standard for all who bear His Name. 


Some examples:

1.  Purity marks God’s Word 

Psalm 12:6, “The words of the Lord are pure words.”  Psalm 119:140 “the word is very pure; therefore my servant loves it.” 


2.  Purity is demanded of God’s people.


Not only is purity marking God’s Word, but purity is demanded of God’s people.  Philippians 4:8 says: “think on things that are pure.”  1 Timothy 5:22 says to “keep yourself from sin.”  Matthew 5:48 tells us that we are to, “…be perfect, as our Heavenly Father is perfect.” 

3. Purity qualifies God’s shepherds


Purity not only is demanded of God’s people and marking God’s word, but it qualifies God’s shepherds.  1 Timothy 3:2 says that “…an overseer then must be above reproach…” – that involves purity. 
1 Timothy 4:12: “Let no one look down on your youthfulness; but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself to be an example to those that believe.”


4. Purity distinguishes God’s church


“For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.” Ephesians 5:27: “…that He might present to himself a church in all her glory, having no spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless.”  That speaks of purity, and yet He is now reconciled to you in this fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless, beyond reproach. That’s purity. 


So, “…as obedient children, we’re not to be conformed to the former lusts, which were ours in ignorance, but like the Holy One who called us, we are to be holy ourselves also in all our behaviour; because it’s written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.”  That’s 1 Peter 1:14-16. 


There’s a maxim in the Farmer’s Almanac that states, “That one bad apple can spoil the whole barrel.”  The same is true within the spiritual realm when truth gets mixed with error.  So, how then should one who practices truth relate to one that does not?  Scripture tells us to, “…be a companion of those that fear Thee, of those who keep Thy precepts.”  It tells us that, if we walk with wise men we’ll be wise, but a companion of fools will suffer harm.”  We should leave the presence of a fool or we’ll not discern the words of knowledge.  “We are not to be deceived: bad company corrupts good morals.”  And then He said, “…knowing beforehand, be on your guard lest being carried away by the error of unprincipled men, you may fall from your own steadfastness.”


B.  The Whole Message


We’re dealing with the whole message and that whole message is: The Great Commission – to “Go into all the world, making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  So we deal with the whole council of God and that brings us to the point of what do we do about the issues of love and truth? 


C. Love and Truth


There’s often a question asked when discussing Church Discipline: “Doesn’t Church Discipline and Biblical Separation contradict God’s commandment to love?”  I think the issue involved is which came first?  2 John 6 tells us:  “this is love that we walk according to His commandments.  This is the commandment just as you’ve heard from the beginning that you should walk in it.” 


1. Chronological sequence


There’s a chronological sequence that unfolds like this: 


a. First there comes the revelation of His commandment, that’s truth. 


b. Then it’s followed by a response to His commandment, which is obedience.


c. Finally the result of acting upon His commandments is called love


So, a good working definition for Biblical love would be, “a wilful act of scriptural obedience toward the object of my affection, regardless of their response to me, regardless of what they return to me.”  I’ll repeat that.  A good working definition for Biblical love would be, “a wilful act of scriptural obedience toward the object of my affection, regardless of their response to me and regardless of what they return to me.”


2. Practical outworking of love in Scripture illustrate the point


There are practical outworkings that are shown in Scripture to illustrate the point: 


a. Christian brother


Christian brothers, you should “reprove a wise man and he’ll love you.” 


b. Father-Son


Fathers dealing with their sons: “if they spare the rod, they hate their son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently.” 


c. Heavenly Father-Child of God


The Heavenly Father to his child:  “For those whom the Lord loves, he disciplines and scourges every son whom he receives, for what son is there whom the father does not discipline.”


d. Shepherds-Flock


Last of all, the Shepherd and his flock:  Hebrews 13:7 tells us:  “Remember those who led you and spoke the word of God to you.  In considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith, obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.  Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable to you.” 


D. Love and Discipleship


So, we’re dealing with love and discipleship.  Jesus commanded the disciples to love one another as He loved them.  “A new commandment that I give you that you love one another even as I have loved you so you shall also love on another.” But how did Jesus love them?  He said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by Me.”  So we are to express love by obedience to divine revelation. 


How can I become a disciple of Christ?  Jesus said: “If you abide in my word.”  How can I express my discipled relationship with Jesus to others?  By having love for others, by expressing truth in action, life action.  And the question, how can I prove my discipled relationship with Jesus Christ to others?  Jesus said: “By bearing much fruit.”


So, the church is to be pureThe church’s purity is determined by the whole of God’s wordLove and truth are inseparable.  Therefore, the truth of discipline issues forth in acts of love.  An authentic Christian disciple should result in truth acted out in love

E. the Purposes of Church Discipline/Restoration


1. To glorify God by obedience to his instructions. 

2. To maintain the purity of the Church in her worship. 


3. To vindicate the integrity and honor of Christ in his religion by exhibiting fidelity to His principles. 


4. To reclaim offenders.  Matthew 18:15, 1 Corinthians 5:5, Galatians 6:1.  Galatians 6:1 tells us: “if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, each one looking to yourself lest you too be tempted.”


5. To deter others from sin.  1 Timothy 5:20 says “those who continue in sin rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest may also be fearful of sinning.”


6. To prevent giving cause for God to set himself against the local church.  Revelation 2:14-25 tells us how sin within the local fellowship in Pergamum and Thyatira resulted in God dealing with them directly.


So, we’ve dealt with the purpose and now we’ll deal with the precepts or rules. 


II. Precepts


A. Believers are to separate themselves from other believers who knowingly and rebelliously continue in doctrinal error. 


“Now even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which I preached to you, let him be accursed” [Galatians 1:8].  “Holding fast the faithful word, which is in accordance with the teaching that he may be able to both exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict” [Titus 1:9].  And, “Reject the factious man after the first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned” [Titus 3:10-11].


B. Believers are also to separate themselves from other believers, not whose doctrine is in error, but whose behavior is knowingly and rebelliously wrong. 


The lengthy passage from 1 Corinthians (5:1 ff) the key points here is the Apostle Paul states in response to this brother who is sinning within the church and the church seems to be proud of their acceptance of this brother.  He said I’ve decided “…to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Clean out the old leaven.” “I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people.  I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he should be an immoral person, or covetous, or idolaters, or revilers, or a drunkard, or swindler; don’t even eat with such a one.”  “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.”


C. Furthermore, believers are to separate themselves from unbelievers as far as joining in common enterprises. 


Do not be yoked together, a passage in the New American Standard [Bible] states, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers.”  Now, in biblical practice we have examples of the proper discipline of a believer towards a professed believer in doctrinal error, and we also have examples of improper relationships of believers towards professed believers in doctrinal error. 


D. Biblical Practices


  1. Proper discipline by a believer toward a professed believer in doctrinal error.  First of all, proper discipline: an example of that is given when Paul confronted Peter.  When Paul dealt with Hymenaeus and Alexander; when Paul dealt with Hymenaeus and Philetus.
  2. Improper relationships of believers towards professed believers in doctrinal error was when the Galatian Church received a false gospel. 
  3. Proper discipline by a believer toward a professed believer in behavior error. An example of that is Nathan confronting David.  Acts 5:1-11 where we have Ananias and Sapphira where God intervened directly.  In 2 Corinthians 2:5-7 when the Corinthian Church actually separated from that disobedient member, as commanded by Paul. 
  4. Improper relationship by a believer toward a professed believer in behavior error. There are examples of improper discipline by believers towards professed believers in behavioral error as well as they are improper relationships demonstrated in Scripture.  In [2 Corinthians 2:7-8] we have the fact that the church failed to receive him [ believer] back when he was repentant as an example of how they should not behave. When the Corinthian believers went to court with each other, which was an example of how not to behave. 
  5. Proper separation by a believer from non-believer; when Noah separated himself from the people of his day and began a task that God commanded him to do and we also know from the New Testament that he was a preacher of righteousness.  Elijah when he separated from Ahab and Jezebel; Jeremiah when he separated from the leaders of his nation.  John the Baptist when he separated from the Sadducees and the Pharisees and called them a brood of vipers.  And the Ephesian Church in Revelation 2:2-3.
  6. Improper separation by a believer from an unbeliever. We have examples of improper separation from nonbelievers: Lot, although the size of his herds and Abraham’s herds were a little too large for them to spend together, when he did separate he headed towards Sodom, then he went into the edges of the city, went into the city, in fact became a leader within the city.  We have the examples of Balaam and Samson, Solomon and Jehoshaphat. Israel before the Assyrian captivity.  Israel in the restoration and even Pergamum as shown to us in the book of Revelation.


II. Procedures


We’ve dealt with the purpose and the precepts.  Finally we get to the procedures. 


  1. What it is not.  What Church Discipline is not. 
    1. It’s not a witch hunt. 
    2. It’s not a way to get even.
    3. It’s not even an investigation of rumors. 
  2. But, what is it? 
    1. Well, sometimes it involves a sin against you personally. 

      Use the New King James, or even the Old King James, in Matthew 18 it says: “a brother has sinned against you.”  The New American Standard, based on, I believe, more reliable texts, just says: “if a brother sins,” which would include a brother sinning against you.  But in a specific case, the Lord Jesus told the Disciples in Matthew 5 that when you’re presenting your offering at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, not that you have something against your brother, but that your brother has something against you; leave your offering there before the altar and go your way, first be reconciled to your brother. 

      So, if it is a sin against you personally, you should seek the reconciliation, you should seek restoring the relationship with that brother.  And Peter’s question of Christ was, how many times do I have to forgive this guy if he keeps doing the same thing over and over?  Do I have to forgive him seven times?  Christ said: seventy times seven times.  Now, that’s not 490 times and then the 491st time we can really nail the guy?  What that means is that you should be willing to go all the way with him an infinite number of times. 
    2. Now, sometimes it’s sin that’s known, known to you personally. 

      This would be the general case.  If you know a brother is in sin, you should take action.  It could be known to you and some others, which will involve the witnesses and we’ll deal specifically in the step-by-step procedure of how you involve witnesses in this, but when the witnesses are involved we’re simply using rules of evidence in a court of law as described by Moses in Deuteronomy.  Now, when there were disputes between members of the tribes of Israel, they either took their disputes before the elders of the tribes or to Moses himself for adjudication.  And when two people disagree on charges that are being made, how do you determine who’s telling the truth?  It was established that you needed two or three witnesses and then facts could be determined. 


  1. Now, what is the purpose? 
    1. The purpose is to win your brother, according to Matthew 18:15. 
    2. The purpose is to restore the sinner, Galatians 6:1. 
    3. The purpose is to lead to repentance, 2 Timothy 2:25, “Correct with gentleness that God may grant repentance.”
    4. The purpose is to avoid God’s interaction.  1 John 5 tells us of sin unto death – avoid God having to intervene and take care of the situation. 
  2. Practice
    1. The practice is to be done with gentleness.  Galatians 6:1 and 2 Timothy 2:25. 
    2. It’s to be done with love.  What kind of love? 

                                                              i.      The kind of love that God showed toward you in forgiving you. 

                                                            ii.      The love that a father shows to a son in Proverbs 13:24. 

    1. It’s to be done without hypocrisy, Matthew 7:1-5.
    2. It’s to be done with patience.  There are four specific steps that you must go through to practice proper biblical church discipline.
    3. It’s to be done with fairness. 
  1. Are there any unnecessary elements? 
    1. Yes, public confession is not always necessary. 
    2. Details being made public; details is not always necessary.
    3. Corporal punishment is certainly not necessary. 
  1. The steps are given to us in Matthew 18:15-20:

    “If your brother sins, go and reprove him in private.  If he listens to you, you’ve won your brother.  If he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, that by the mouth of two or more witnesses, every fact can be confirmed.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.  If he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax gatherer.  Truly I say to you, whatever you shall bind on earth, shall have been bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth, shall have been loosed in heaven.  Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by my Father, who is in Heaven.  For, where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst.”

    Now, some may be wondering why I included binding and loosing and prayer promises in this discussion of church discipline.  Well, I haven’t talked about spiritual warfare, because binding and loosing has nothing to do with spiritual warfare but has to do with Rabbinic tradition.  The Rabbis had the right and the authority to either bind a person to an oath that they made or loose them from the oath.  Say, you made an agreement to pay so and so a certain amount of money on a certain date and when that date came, you didn’t have the money.  You had the right to go an appeal before the Rabbis.  They could listen to your case and determine whether you would still to be bound to your oath, which meant probably debtors prison, or maybe selling part of your family into slavery, or you could be loosed from it, because there were mitigating circumstances that were reasonable and they could loose you from it.  By the same token, within church discipline, believe that you have the authority to bind a person, that is, to turn him over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh that their spirit may be saved, or you have the authority, when they’re repentant, to forgive them and grant them full membership back into your fellowship.

    And then the issue, of “when two or three agree on earth, is about anything that they may ask.”  Some have interpreted this to mean that if you can just get two or three people together agreeing on something, then God is bound to do it.  Now, that’s ridiculous.  First of all, “where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in their midst.”  How many does it take for Christ to be in the midst?  Just one, just one believer.  What it’s talking about is when you follow this procedure and involve the witnesses, involve the church, be assured that what you’re doing here on earth has already been done in heaven. 

    Now, I’ve got a little schematic diagram that shows the dealing with sinning Christians. 

    Start when you have first-hand knowledge of sin in the body of Christ.  It’s something that you have seen or heard that gives you the strong feeling that a brother or sister is walking in unrighteousness.  What you have observed brings that conclusion to your heart. 
    1. Private confrontation v.15

      What should you do?  You need to be prayed up, you need to make sure that you’ve got the two-by-four out of your own eye, before you deal with your brother, but you should reprove him privately.  Luke 17:3 says that you should rebuke sin, bring about repentance and forgiveness. 

      Now, how do you do this privately?  You arrange to meet with the individual where no one else could hear it and you bring this issue before them, that you are aware of such and such an activity within their life, you’re concerned for their spiritual welfare, you call them to repentance.  Now, one of the other reasons it’s good to do this privately, is that you may not have all the facts. 

      Years ago one of our staff members had an office overlooking the East side of our property, where there was a dumpster (I think there’s still a dumpster in that area, now that we have some construction going on) but, he looked out the window and saw a guy rummaging around in the dumpster.  The guy was wearing kind of grubby clothes and he came up with this cassette, one of those white cassettes, most of them by John MacArthur.  But there was tape hanging out of it – he wrapped it up and stuck it in his pocket and disappeared.  A little while later this guy appears in his office, plunks the tape down on his desk and said: “This church sold me a defective tape, I want my money back.”  Well, this fellow had petty cash in his drawer, if fact he was responsible for the tape ministry of that time, so he paid the guy, I think it was a dollar and a quarter for tapes back in those days, and the guy left.  But he felt a little awkward about this, he really thought he’d been taken.  A couple of weeks later he found himself working side by side in ministry with the same guy.  So, he pulled him aside privately and said: “Remember that tape that you brought in?  I saw where you got it.”  The guy said: “You saw where I got it?  I bought it at the tape shack!”  By the way, back in those days, the tape shack was a shack.  It was a converted chicken coup.  And he said: “I bought it at the tape shack.  It was defective.  No tapes before or since I’ve played on my tape recorder have ripped out the tape like that one did.  There was something wrong with the tape.”  So, the guy said: “But, I saw you getting it out of the dumpster!”  He said: “Yes, my wife works in the nursery and I had a day off from work, so I put on my grubby clothes and came down here and was helping her clean out the trash, when I dumped some of it in the dumpster, it fell out of my pocket.  All I did was to retrieve it.” 

      He had only seen part of the incident.  That was the truth.  He had won his brother, not in a sense as we’re speaking of here, but if he listens to you, you have served and won your brother.  But he did establish a relationship with him.  He was able to work on the guy’s sort of “rough” behavior. From that point onward and they became close friends over this. 

      By the same token, when you deal with a person in private, rather than going to a Bible study and saying: “Anybody here know of so and so involved in such and such, please pray for him.”  You know, that’s not even well concealed gossip.  You go to him in private.  You may not have all the details, you may learn the real matter and find that it was not sin or you may find that it was sin.  And because of your loving concern for this brother, the sin may be impressed upon his heart, so that he repents and if he repents, you’ve won your brother, you’ve established an accountability group of two.  He’s going to be looking out for you, you’re going to be looking out for him from then on.
    2. Witnesses v. 16

      Some times they don’t listen.  In fact, they respond with Scripture.  Matthew 7:1, “Judge not, that you be not judged.  How can you tell me how to live my life?  Get out of my face.”  That’s sometimes their reaction.  What do you do then?  Well, you reprove him before one or two witnesses.  Again, that Deuteronomy passage. 

      Witnesses, where do you get these witnesses?  Do you run an ad in your church paper, asking for anybody that’s aware of this sin in the guy’s life?  Well, that’s gossip.  But even fishing around with little hints to find out if anybody else knows about this, is also a form of gossip.  If you don’t happen to know of individuals that are aware of this sin, maybe that were with you when you heard it or saw it, what you need are “witnesses” marturion (Greek).  The Old Testament word in Deuteronomy, and every time it is used in the Old Testament, the word `ed  (Hebrew) is usually, almost every time it’s used, it speaks of bearing testimony to something.  Not so much that he saw it or heard it but that he bears testimony to what he knows about it.  So, what you need are witnesses, that if you go onto another step of telling it to the church, are people who are reliable, people who would give good testimony, accurate testimony.  So, you’re looking for people they will make good witnesses to what takes place next. 

      And what takes place next, is you reprove him before these witnesses and now there are at least three people: if you one witness you got two people, and if you got two witnesses then there are three people now that are concerned about this individual’s welfare.  Not only that, but it’s obvious that it’s in a process and we’re in step two of the process. 

      Now, you get your witnesses by going to one of these reliable people, and saying, “I’m in a Matthew 18 situation, step two, I need witnesses to go along.”  The situation that unfolds before them…they may not even know the individual that you’re dealing with, is something they can bear testimony to.  They can witness to your demeanor, the demeanor of the individual you’re confronting, the various responses that are made, what is said, what is not said and what the general respond to the issue is.  And the fact that there are now a group of you, it may be enough to win this person’s attention to the fact that there is truly sin in his life that he needs to deal with it, or else it’s going to be brought before the church, and he may repent.  If he repents, you’ve served your brother and won him.  You are now the larger accountability group. You, you’re witnesses and this individual will be looking out for each other from that point on.  But again, he may not listen.  So, the next step is to reprove him before the church.
    3. Tell the church v. 17

      Scripture says to tell it to the church.  Does that mean that you stand up in front of the congregation and announce what this guy has done and what you and your witnesses have confirmed?  I don’t believe so.  The church is more than just the assembled body.  The church involves church leadership.  If this is going to be an act of the church acting, it has to be your leadership’s decision. 

      So, at Grace Community Church, if an individual is aware of sin in a brother’s life and has gone to them with witnesses and they have not had a successful response of repentance, they then tell it to an elder.  Every ministry at Grace Community Church has elders involved within it.  If you look at our Sunday morning bulletin, next Sunday, you’ll see the list of all the fellowship groups of ministries, and that each one has an elder’s name adjacent to it.  So, anyone in the church that’s involved in ministry, which should be everyone in the church, has an elder.  Tell it to the elder.  Now, the elder may interrupt before you get very far in your description of the problem, because the eldership does not want to know of situations and rumor chasing, that have not been dealt with by steps one and two.  They might be happy to give council in general as to how to deal with those steps, but we don’t want to hear the details until we verify that steps one and two have taken place and the individual is not repentant.  At that point the elders will take responsibility for it, they’ll investigate the situation, they may involve the original individual that brought the rebuke, they may involve him and his witnesses or may just take testimony from them and deal with the situation.  We always use at least two elders investigating these situations.  They deal with the individual, call him to repentance.  If he repents, he’s forgiven and that’s the end of the matter. 

      If he does not listen, we tell it to the congregation.  We tell the congregation who it is, what the general nature of the sin is and that he is a brother, who is purporting to be at least a brother, go to him and call him to repentance.  This is not removal from the church, this is the third step, telling it to the church, for the church to be involved as a body, seeking the repentance of this individual.  If he repents, we have a situation that was resolved successfully, but if he does not repent, the next step is to put him out of the fellowship.
    4. Remove from church v. 17

      Now, at Grace, what we do is, we give the person a reasonable time, usually a couple of months, to respond favorably.  And if they have not responded, we will then make an announcement before the entire congregation that they’ve been removed from the fellowship, that they’ve been put out of the church.  Do not associate with them; do not even eat with such a one.  He’s been turned over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh.  Now, that sometimes results in repentance.  When it does, we’ve served our brother and won him, but sometimes it does not.  In fact, most of the times when it gets to step four, it does not result in repentance.  By that time usually, they’ve cut and run anyhow but we fulfilled our obligation.  But he may continue in his sin, because there’s a possibility he may not be saved.  He may be a tare within the fellowship.  He might just be continuing to live in sin because he’s lying to himself about what a Christian really is.  Or he may be a Christian that is being chastened by the Lord and part of your chastening is being removed from the fellowship.  Or it may involve even sin unto death, like those people in Corinth that had sinned in the taking of the communion fellowship together, that some of them were sick and some of them had even died because of that sin. 


So, we’ve dealt with the steps.  Note that Scripture always treats those who profess faith in Christ the same.  Hence these actions are to be taken with anyone who identifies himself with the church.  Before either the third or fourth step, letters should be sent to the individual, it should be spelled out in writing, either by registered mail with returned receipt or by hand carried couriered mail, so that you ensure the person has in their possession the information that will be disclosed, in either the third or fourth step, to the church and when it will be disclosed and give him a date and time when we must see repentance to stop the process from going any further. 

Not all church discipline results in restoration, even though we call it church restoration, in some cases it does not, and then after some time, sometimes it’s years, that the person realizes the sinfulness of their behavior and they repent.  We’ve had people come back years later saying, “When you put me out of the church, I was wrong.  I was in sin, I was deceived.  I was wrong.  Please take me back.  It’s a cruel life out there. I can’t live the life of a believer without the fellowship of others around me, supporting me.”  If we believe that it’s true repentance after studying their life for a period of time, we will assign a couple of elders to watch over the individual and ensure that there’s truly fruit of repentance.  We’ll make an announcement just like the announcement that put him out, but it will be an announcement before the whole congregation that so and so has repented, welcome him back into the fellowship. 


IV. A Final Note


One final note: Biblical history is filled with troublesome reminders that in this world system evil normally overcomes good, unless prevented measures are taken.  God’s remedy is discipline and separation; never isolation.  “With God’s Word as our Teacher and the Spirit of God as our Counselor and Guide, may we walk alertly in ways that will bring glory to Him.  Above all, let us consistently work towards the purity of Christ’s Church, which he purchased with his own blood.” 

These words of the prophet Jehu to Jehoshaphat, King of Judah, serve as an appropriate trail marker for our pilgrim journey through this sin-filled world.  “Jehu the son of Hanani the seer went out to meet him, and said to king Jehoshaphat, ‘Should you help the wicked and love only those who hate the Lord and bring wrath on yourself from the Lord.”  There may be in our churches many caught in sin.  May God give us the grace to confront their sins in love, so that they may be restored to fellowship with the Lord and continue to grow in grace in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.


In your handout of everything stapled together, the first section of it is, I think, eight pages.  This is a good reminder, in practicing church discipline in this very litigious society in which we live, may result in repercussions.  I have an analysis of a court case, The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling in Gwen (sp?) versus the Church of Christ, back in 1989, as an example of what you should and should not do. 


In this particular case, in Collinsville, Oklahoma, a woman by the name of Gwen was in the Church of Christ but she was sinning openly.  The whole community knew of it.  The church went through various steps of trying to restore her and went all the way to the step of putting her out of the church.  She turned around and sued the church for defamation of character and for bringing her name into disrepute.  And a [local] jury, as juries are want to do, ruled in favor of the parishioner and awarded her $205,000 in actual damages, a $185,000 in punitive damages and $45,000 in interest.  That’s quite a blow for a small church.  This hand out that you have, if you move on to about the sixth page (they’re front and back, by the way), about halfway down the page, there’s some lessons to be learned and some things that came out of this case. 


1. Number One:  The discipline of church members is a constitutionally protected right of churches.  If discipline of church members is a possibility in your church, then you should adopt a disciplinary procedure that ideally is based upon and specifically refers to scriptural references.  The procedure should specify the grounds for discipline and describe the process that will be conducted.


2. Number Two:  The first amendment guarantee of religious freedom insulates pre-withdrawal discipline of church members from legal liability in most, if not all, cases.


3. Number Three: Deals more with that.


4. Number Four: The court concluded that the constitutional right of a church member to withdraw from the church membership is protected by the first amendment guarantee of religious freedom, unless a member has waved that right.  One approach would be for a church to adopt a provision in its bylaws, preventing members from withdrawing if they are currently being disciplined and to be as safe as possible, a church should explain to present and prospective members, the provision in the bylaws, limiting their right to withdraw and explaining to them that by becoming members, they will be waving their right to withdraw from membership if they’re under discipline by the church. 

There’s a summary on the eighth page, upper right hand corner: Churches have a constitutional right to discipline members, statements made to the church members about disciplined members are conditionally privileged.  Churches have broad authority to discipline clergy. Churches have constitutionally protected rights to discipline a former member, who has withdrawn from the membership, if the former member has effectively waved his or her right to withdraw from membership.  That’s why we teach church discipline in all our new member classes.  We have new member classes every month here at Grace, there’s usually 30 to 50 people in each class and it’s explained to them, not only as part of the membership process, have they had to read our bylaws and agree with them, they are reminded that when they agreed to them, they waved their right to sue us if we practice church discipline with them as the recipient. 


And I’ve also included, on the last two pages of your hand out, a section lifted from our bylaws.  Our bylaws are a booklet, about an eight of an inch thick and within article 5, church membership, there’s a section 8, church discipline.  Remember what I said, was anyone who professes to be a believer in your fellowship should be treated as if they’re a believer in the process of church discipline.  What do you do with people that aren’t members?  They haven’t been through the membership class, they haven’t waved this right.  Do we practice church discipline on non-members?  Yes, we do.  We believe we have a spiritual and scriptural mandate even though there may not be a clearly defined legal mandate.  In fact, what we go by, from a legal standpoint and in certain cases we may consult with legal counsel on how to proceed, but specifically, if we can demonstrate that an individual has been in the church for enough time and been present and can verify and document that they were present during services in which church discipline was practiced and they are thus fully aware of how we deal with sinning believers, we can use the term called “implied consent” and we have used this in the past.  So, we practice church discipline on both members and non-members and if you read our bylaws section, we also have provision for removing people from membership even not by church discipline, just by inactivity.  I would urge you in your churches; keep your roles clean, that they consist of people who are actively members of your church not just people who had a name on a roll. 


With that, I’ll open it to questions.   


Question:  We are talking about two believers.  The husband is behaving in a manner that is causing his wife distress, but their not under any authority because they are not members of any church, or they are members of a church that does not practice church discipline.  What do we, as individuals do? 


Answer:  I would believe that you should take the first step as outlined in Matthew 18.  You should go and reprove your brother.  If he does repent; go with witnesses.  If he does not repent, and if there is a church that does not practice church discipline but yet is a church that has accountability for him—I’d tell it to that church leadership.  If he is not in any church, then you would have to bypass that step, but I think you have done all that you can do, but I believe that you have the right, with you and your witnesses to go forward with the ramifications of what would take place in church discipline if it was followed through, that is, you stop your fellowship with that individual and make it clear to him that the reason for your stopping fellowship with him is his failure to repent.


I think that you as a concerned other believer can call him to repentance and if he does not repent then treat him as a gentile and a tax gatherer.  That’s the scriptural mandate.  I mean, you can’t go and beat the guy up, even though you may feel like it—that would be sin in itself.


Question:  With non-members do we practice church registration?  Do we have members register their attendance?


Answer:  Yes, and that’s one of the documents that we would use to verify that they were indeed present in a meeting in which church discipline took place.  Yes, we rely on the registration cards.  There is a section for “members” and “non-members” to fill out.   



Question:  Since most church discipline cases involve family—there is family involvement, how do other members of the family deal with the individual under church discipline?


Answer:  If it is first, second, or third step, then you carry on as normal because you really don’t know about it, unless you were the individual that confronted him.  But if you have gone through step four, it says, “do not eat with such a one,” I would think that would mean that you limit your social involvement with him.  If you are going to have a family reunion and you are responsible for the guest list you may accidentally leave him off.  If you are not responsible for that but you meet him at a family gathering, the extent of your conversation might be, “Have you repented yet?  No?  Then that’s all we have to say to each other.”

Now, this is fine for brothers, sisters, and cousins, but not husband and wife.  You can’t shun your wife.  There are other scriptural teaching on how a wife is to respond to a sinning husband and vice versa.  We should imply that since other scripture deals specifically with children in obedience to their parents, that the parent-child relationship should not follow this norm, that it must still remain as a parent and a child.



Question:  Occasionally you will have situations where there appears to be, after a brothers reproof, contrition and repentance, but then it occurs again and again, for instance alcohol abuse.  How long-suffering should we be? 


Answer:  Well if I believe what Christ said, seventy times seven times, but I also would believe that you might be dealing with other sins if there is a recurring pattern of sin and repentance, and sin and repentance, and sin and repentance in a specific sin area then there is probably a bigger issue involved and that may be the one you have to deal with where you don’t find contrition.



Question:  We have a situation where we don’t have the implied consent, for we haven’t got that there in our constitution.  We are about step three with a situation where we have two spouses and one is not faithful and the other is very faithful.  We were almost to the point of going to the congregation and they submit a resignation?


Answer:  Ok, what about the situation where you are following the process and when you are nearing the end of the process the person submits a resignation from your membership?  Our bylaws specifically state that if you are under church discipline you have no right or authority to withdraw from membership.  If you are in the process of discipline, which means anything past step one.  If the church knows about then you have no right to withdraw and that’s conditioned within the bylaws so withdrawal is not valid. 


Now, if you don’t have those provisions in you bylaws does that mean you should stop the procedure?  I would submit this question and the specifics of it to legal counsel.  There may be cases where you should move forward, and there may be cases where you would be doing more damage to the situation than is necessary by proceeding. 



Question:  What do you do when the person in the discipline process leaves and goes to another church?


Answer:  Well, this happens quite often.  If we are aware of the church that they have gone to, then we feel an obligation to notify the leadership of that church, not of what the sin is, but that that individual is fleeing church discipline from us.  What they do with that information is their business, but we don’t get into specifics.



Question:  Is the church member allowed to attend services when they are in this discipline practice? 


Answer:  If it is before step four, then yes, they are allowed to attend, even if it has been step three where the whole congregation has been urged to go after them.  But if it has gone to step four then they are not welcome.  Our first line of defense is our ushers who know of each individual that has been removed from the fellowship, and they, if the person tries to come in, they urge them to leave.  Now, we have had cases where the people get belligerent.  We have a second line of defense, we call it the “temple guard” it’s generally speaking, people who were in the law enforcement profession and have volunteered to act as special security around here, and they can remove the individual and that has been necessary on occasion.  In fact, it has been necessary, on occasion, to get a court order restraining them from being present on our campus. 



Question:  Based on an earlier question of a person fleeing and going to another church, what if we are that other church that they are fleeing to?


Answer:  If we are made aware of the situation, our leadership, who would be the only ones made aware of it, would go as that first step of church discipline to that individual saying, “What’s going on here?  This is sinful that you have left that fellowship without legitimate grounds for leaving them.  In fact, you are fleeing church discipline.  Repent!  Go back where you came from.  Go back!


Question:  If a person flees from the church, in the process of church discipline, do we continue to process to the end?


Answer:  Yes.  In fact, these registered letters and hand-couriered letters sometimes cross many states. 



Question:  What do you do with someone that is not in your church any longer but is causing division within your church?


Answer:  If they profess to be a believer, whether they are members of our church or members of some other church, if we are aware of that sin: steps one, two, three, and four can be practiced, and steps three and four can be based on the non-member provision we have within our bylaws.



Question:  What do you do in the case where a person brings an issue before the leadership in the church having information about sin in the life of someone else and they don’t want to deal with the situation, but they have given you all the details so that you now are part of a gossip train because they gossiped to you.  How do you deal with the situation?


Answer:  Well, the first thing is to be on your toes when people start bringing issues before you.  If it smacks in any way of sin, then cut them off before they give you any details.  You don’t need to be party to any of that information, and that’s why our elders are sort of on the defenses about that; that we don’t want to be the only ones dealing with church discipline.  We want the whole membership to be dealing with those first two steps. 


By the way, those first two steps are effective.  How do you know they are effective except by gossip?  Not by gossip, but in fellowship groups, in prayer meetings, in Bible studies.  Quite often there is testimony by a certain individual who will say, “I really love brother so-and-so because he came to me when I was drifting from the Lord, and he called me back into repentance.  We hear those on a regular basis of how people are interacting with each other and bringing purity to the church.  So we know that the first two steps are working. 


Now, as the leadership in the church, so we’re not the only ones doing it and deprive members of the sweet fellowship of restoring the sinning brother and developing a strong relationship together we want to cut that off before they tell us any information and to make us party to gossip.  If they get to far with it we have to reprimand them and usually they do not throw it back in your face saying, “I refuse to repent of gossiping to you”—I just gossiped.  Quite often you are going to see repentance there rather quickly.



Question:  What do you do when the individual will not follow the first and second step as the rebuker and they won’t deal with this, but they’re telling you and maybe telling others?


Answer:  If this is a pattern in their life of gossip then you have got to deal with them, and you are the first individual that knows of it, so even though you’re a leader in the church you don’t take it back to your fellow elders, but you deal with it on a one-on-one [basis].  Then probably your witnesses will be other elders, and then go all the way with it.



Question:  What kind of sins do you deal with?


Answer:  All kinds of sins.  It’s only a certain kind of sin that seems to go to step four.  Those seem to be, generally speaking, be sins dealing with immorality, because that seems to be the one area in which people are willing to throw over their family, all the friends they have had over the years—being willing to chuck everything to remain in that sin.  They seem to be very hard to repent from, so that tends to be the majority.  But we’ve disciplined people for unfair business practices, for continual lying, for spreading dissent within the body.  So it’s all kinds of sins, especially when you take it serious that church discipline is not just steps three and four.  Church discipline involves those first two steps that can deal with any kind of sin in a person’s life.



Question:  What do you do with a sinning pastor?  The specific case was one who leaves the fellowship where they were aware of the sin but has done nothing about it, and he goes to another fellowship.  How do you deal with that situation?


Answer:  If you are aware of it as a leader in the church, in general you should go to that individual and call him to repentance, and if he refuses to repent then take witnesses from either the church that he is now a part of or from the larger community of people that are aware of his life and just follow through with the procedures. 


Now you mentioned the Hispanic church, quite often the pastoral role in the Hispanic church is sort of a patriarchal situation and it is very hard to break that mold of confronting the pastor.  Scripture is very clear, it doesn’t tell us how we should modify this procedure for certain difficult cases, it just lays out the procedure, so I would urge to follow that procedure.


Added to Bible Bulletin Board's "Shepherd's Conference Collection" by:

Tony Capoccia
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