There is an old saying, “pride is like a bad haircut; everyone can see it except you.” Naturally, if someone looks into the mirror, one would see their hair, but the reality remains that many walk around blind to their pride. No better example of pride is the area of feeling outside the need for rebuke or correction. We live in a day and age where people define what is right or wrong by their standards. They define what is acceptable based on their ideology; unfortunately, this is found within the Christian church and in some congregations has gone unchecked.
In their attempt to gain large numbers, many congregations no longer have tight membership procedures nor follow the Biblical model of church discipline. Perhaps this is why many individuals walk in and out of churches weekly, feeling justified in their sin and condemned in their positions. One main area why church discipline no longer operates is the misplaced notion of “though shall not judge” (a misunderstanding of Matthew 7:1-5). A closer look at such a verse reveals that a person should not have a critical opinion of someone or examine them until they first examine themselves. So judgement taking place will not be by sinful emotional reactions, but will be biblical and with proper judgement (John 7:24). In all of this, however, church discipline is not simply some person judging another – it is the process to correct sinful behaviour that is taking place among members of a local congregation in order to protect an individual and the church. The overall goal of church discipline is not simply to cast out ideas or opinions but to restore the member who is in sin to walk right with the Lord Jesus and to restore the fellowship.
In many prayer meetings, there is a familiar misquoted Scripture, Matthew 18:20, where it declares that where two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, he is there with them to mean in prayer, but the context is judgement. If one reads the proceeding verses, it is evident.
If there is a person in sin, go and point it out between the two parties (Matthew 18:15). This is not judging a person; it is loving them and regardless of a persons opinion, it is Biblical.
If there is a misunderstanding, great! If there is sin and the person repents, great! If the person does not listen, take one or two others (Matthew 18:16). Again, if it goes well, great. If not, the church must be informed (starting with the elders). If it still goes unchecked, then excommunication (Matthew 18:17). The two or three is not about a prayer meeting but keeping in line with Deuteronomy 19:15.
Now today, we have churches full of sin. The very things Christians are to avoid often seem to be embraced. There is immorality, impurity, sensuality, drunkenness, jealousy, and many more things (Gal 5:19-21). However, what is more serious is church members who feel they can gossip and slander one another and the pastoral staff. There are those who will be harsh, give silent treatments and make “people pay” for feeling offended. People who profess Christ work hard behind the scenes to have a pastor fired or an elder step down. We see church splits, declining congregations and outbursts of anger at every annual meeting, which is part of that list in Galatians 5. These things are not to be excused or swept under the rug but called out.
Church discipline exists to keep the church pure. Yes, it is difficult and never easy, but necessary. I have never yet met a parent who said, “yes, I enjoy grounding my child!” Discipline hurts; it is tough and often fractures relationships, but these emotions or zones of uncomfortable realities should never replace the need for church discipline. When done in the right spirit (1 Cor 13:4-7), discipline works to bring about a sound and safe environment of the Christian church. It allows individuals to have sound fellowship with God and, of course others. Interesting side note. Those who attack others often or feel they do not need to belong to a church are typically riddled with pride. This is why it seems such people always put down the church and refuse to be disciplined by the Lord, which often occurs through the church. So we must remember, The LORD disciplines the one He loves and chastises every son he received (Pr 3:12; Heb 12:6), so church discipline, done correctly, is the visible representation of love and health.
Again, this is why church membership is so important. Pastors and elders walk alongside the flock to maintain spiritual health. Moreover, those pastors and elders are accountable to others similarly. Though it has already been over viewed, let us close with this question; “when is it time for church discipline?” When someone is willingly walking in sin. After many attempts (in love) to show such a person that their actions are against Christ, that they are hurting themselves and others in the church, and they still carry on in such sin – church discipline should be taking place. Hopefully, the person repents and has a course correction, but if not, their leaving will protect the existing fellowship.
Many churches need to tighten up their membership policies. Hopefully, in doing so, this one area is a top priority. Not because conflict is good – but the process is Biblical.
In His Grace,