A Healthy Church Is a Pure Church
David W. Smith, D.Min., Certified Church Consultant
Not long ago, the world was in the throes of a global pandemic. People were concerned about one thing more than most…infection. An infection occurs when a foreign body, virus, bacteria, or other contaminate enters the body and makes it sick. Nobody likes being sick which is why we do our best to stay healthy. But when the body is sick, measures must be taken to help restore it to health.
God uses the vehicle of “discipline” to keep the body of Christ healthy by keeping it pure. In fact, the writer of Hebrews says God’s discipline is an act of His love for us that produces a healthier believer (Heb 12:6, 11). If discipline is a loving display of our Father to His children, then church discipline is no less a loving act of the body to itself.
WHAT IS CHURCH DISCIPLINE?
Simply put, church discipline is the act of the local body of Christ on itself to correct and prevent unrepentant sin within its ranks. It’s the removal of the sinning brother from the fellowship of the body (observing the Lord’s Supper, regular fellowship with other members, in some instances even attendance at services, etc.).
Some might object that church discipline is revenge and punishment meant to hurt church members. Undoubtedly, some within the church have been hurt by an unbiblical or poorly executed act of church leaders under the name of church discipline. If we understand and employ church discipline biblically, such instances should be the exception, not the rule.
The church is admonished repeatedly to employ church discipline regularly to maintain her purity both inside and outside (Matt 18:15-20; 1 Co 5; 2 Co 2:6; Gal 6:1; 1 Thes 5:14; 2 Thes 3:6-15; 1 Ti 4:19-20; 2 Ti 3:5; Tit 3:9-11; 2 Jo 10; Jude 22-23). It’s one of the most biblical and most loving things any local congregation can do for its own. By correcting the errant, unrepentant brother, the church creates a culture of purity and fidelity to Christ – creating a healthy and growing church.
WHAT’S WORTHY OF CHURCH DISCIPLINE?
Church discipline isn’t one size fits all for every offense. Sin by one brother against another could be addressed according to what Jesus laid out in Matthew 18 and stop there, should the offending brother repent, accept the rebuke, and correct his behavior. Or the offense could be of such a nature to elicit a more severe, public response that separates the offender from the fellowship of the body until repentance is seen and restoration can occur.
The Bible lists a several kinds of sinful behaviors that require a response of discipline from a local church (lists below are representative not exhaustive).
- Sin of one person against another within the church that remains unrepentant and becomes public in scope and nature (Matt 18:7).
- Gross immorality and scandal that impacts the gospel witness of the church (1 Co 5:11-13).
- Dividing the body of Christ from within or stirring up dissention within the church’s ranks (1 Thes 5:14; 2 Thes 3:6-15; Tit 3:10).
- Teaching or advocating heresy or false doctrine (Gal 1:8; 1 Ti 5:8; 6:35; 2 Ti 2:17-21; 2 Jo 10ff).
Notice what all these sinful behaviors have in common. They’re serious in nature, public in scope, and detrimental to the gospel testimony of the church within the community. There is one other thread of commonality all these examples have in common that we cannot neglect; the perpetrators are unrepentant. When a church member engages in unrepentant, open, serious, testimony impacting sin, the church is bound by Scripture to intervene through acts of discipline.
WHY ENGAGE IN CHURCH DISCIPLINE?
People and our problems are complex. The worldview at large is becoming increasingly ungodly. When sinners come to Christ, they bring with them their old sinful flesh with its values and worldviews. Sanctification is a process by the Holy Spirit through the truth of God’s Word whereby He is transforming us into an ever-clearer reflection of Jesus Christ in our lives. Church discipline is part of the Spirit’s sanctifying process. Failing to engage in church discipline is the church’s failure to cooperate with the Holy Spirit for the sanctifying benefit of its members.
Furthermore, the church has been given an immense duty and privilege to proclaim the gospel of grace to a lost, dying world. In so doing, we must uphold the reputation of Jesus Christ to the lost world. When a church member lives in open, serious, unrepentant sin, Christ’s reputation is mischaracterized and maligned. It’s the local church’s responsibility to address the errant member’s sin in a way that guards the name of Christ and upholds the gospel.
Church discipline, engaged in properly and regularly, creates a culture of holiness and purity within the body of Christ that’s witnessed by the lost world. Not a testimony of fear and intimidation, but purity, grace, mercy, and restoration that demonstrates to the world the transformative nature of gospel.
Church discipline is never easy, nor enjoyable, but it is the best vehicle given to us by our Lord to preserve a pure and healthy church.