Ask a Pastor is a podcast designed to help you believe God’s Word by discovering what Scripture really says and how it applies to real life.
So this week’s question is, “Why do you do church discipline?” And even that question has kind of a negative ring to it. I would love to be able to re-frame that, like “why do you do church restoration?” Because obviously as we’ll talk about in a moment, that’s ultimately the goal. The goal is not to do the Salem Witch Trials, but obviously from a biblical perspective church discipline is always restorative.
But let me try to summarize a couple answers that may get to the root of that question. The first reason we do church discipline is because it shatters the illusion of Christian fellowship. An illusion is a false impression or perception. We all have these, like the idea that if if I’m involved in a really good Life Group, it’s gonna look like this. If I go to a really good biblical church, it’s gonna feel like this. It’s gonna, you know… I’m gonna do this, she is gonna do this. He’s gonna do this. We’re all gonna get along and that’s a sign that this is really of God.
And we all have those expectations. Some of those are biblical expectations, but some of those are illusions. And one of the things church discipline does is, when that illusion is shattered… someone sins, someone hurts us, someone disappoints us, someone fails. We have that sick feeling like, “oh no this isn’t what we thought it would be. Here we go again.” The illusions are are shattered. We can either pretend it didn’t happen, you know, “Hey, look over here. This really didn’t happen. Sing louder. Sweep it under the rug.” Or we can do what Jesus said to do in Matthew 18. He said, “Hey if your brother sins against you…” implying in any good Christian fellowship this will happen. Unfortunately, it will happen. But, “if your brother sins against you, go. Go. Don’t blab about it. Don’t blog about it. Go. Go to him. Go individually. Go personally.
Notice how organically, how naturally church discipline begins. When our illusions of church of Christian fellowship are shattered, and we wanna run, we wanna hide, we wanna pretend it didn’t happen, or we wanna lash out… Jesus says, “No, no. Go. You’re brothers. You’re family.” This is what family does. Family goes. Family speaks. Family loves by confronting. If your brother doesn’t hear, then get someone else and go. He’s that valuable. She’s that valuable. And then if all else fails, then you gotta go before the church. She’s that valuable.
So if our goal is to make disciples and not simply play church, then we’re gonna be willing to do what Jesus said to do. Someone ask me years ago, “how often does your church do church discipline?” And I said, “Our church does church discipline everyday.” And it’s not that we love to judge people. The body loves itself in that way. Very organically, very supernaturally, but naturally everyday. So that’s number 1. It shatters the illusions of Christian fellowship.
Number 2, it reminds us all of our need of repentance and of daily grace. Lately, I’ve been reading in Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes 7:5 says, “It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise, than to hear the song of fools.” Better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than to hear the song of fools. In other words, church discipline is better than karaoke. Like white blood cells are better than Skittles. If you don’t have white blood cells, you don’t have an immune system. So Skittles don’t matter. Your not gonna be able to enjoy them for long. And so it is with church discipline. Church discipline is just another way of saying “the rebuke of the wise.”
When I have to go to a brother and say, “Hey, I may be wrong, but I saw this” or “I felt this and I really need to talk to you about this.” Those words may be hard to speak. but can we talk about that? That can be life to that brother or to that sister. Hebrews 3:13 says, “Exhort one another daily while it is called today, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” Biblically speaking, that’s real church discipline, restoration. And it’s happening all the time, and it reminds us all of our need for repentance, humility, teachableness, daily grace which is is available to us.
So, number 3: It saves souls. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul was dealing with a couple who tried to redefine marriage. The guy was married to his father’s wife… not sure exactly what was happening there.. but it was an immoral relationship. Ir was redefining what biblical marriage is. And the church wasn’t dealing with it. They thought they were spiritual by not dealing with it. And Paul says, “you gotta deal with it.” And he tells them exactly how: gather together after you’ve confronted and pleaded and prayed and loved and counseled and they’ve refused… Gather together and deliver this one over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.
So the goal, as we mentioned earlier, the goal is always restorative. It’s always to rescue that person. And we have seen that happen. We have watched that miracle. As hard as church discipline is and as much as we cry and plead and counsel and pray, the goal is always toward seeing that loved one restored in fellowship to God’s people, to God Himself. And in the end, we’ve seen hearts broken and souls saved
Finally, number 4 would be, it sends a clear message to the world. In Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira lie to the Spirit and you see the first example of church discipline… kind of a radical form. The Spirit killed them on the spot. Obviously, that wasn’t intended to be normative… fortunately for us all, but it was intended to be a clear message that the church of Jesus Christ is not something to be trifled with. The world often says that the reason they don’t like the church is because it’s full of hypocrites. Well, church discipline is one of the ways God addresses that problem. And that is, as we confront one another humbly, patiently, with our hypocrisies, then the credibility of God’s Church rises.
That’s what is so shocking, cause in Act 5 when Ananias and Sapphira were killed by the Spirit is says,”great fear fell upon the church and everyone who heard about it.” And you would think that would have killed the church right from the beginning. But in actuality, if you read a couple verses later, verse 14 says that “and more than ever believers were added to the Lord” More than ever… like revival or actually “vival” happened. Scores of people came to Christ because of what was really a difficult situation, because it sent a message that the gospel of Jesus changes people. And even though we are all broken and all in need of grace. We’re not here to play games. This is for real. So, church discipline is a way in which we face that reality, cry out for grace for one another, with one another. And God does miracles through that.