Discipline

Arthur G. Clarke

Part 10 of 14 of the series The Church and the Churches

MEANING OF DISCIPLINE.

This word does not occur in our English Bible but the idea is there under the term " chas­tening " (Gk. paideia and cognates).    In a wider sense it signifies training by instruction or correction ; in a narrower sense cor­rection only is in view. We should distinguish between discipline o/an individual believer or assembly and discipline by an assembly The former is by direct action of the Lord and is His prerogative alone. The latter is His mediate action through the assembly and is its solemn duty. The one has to do with order in the " family " of God, the sphere of relationship ; the other with order in the " house " of God. the sphere of responsibility.    The former is illustrated by

1   Cor. 11. 29-32, the latter by I Cor. 5. 1-13. Distinguish also between God's judgments inflicted in just anger upon the ungodly world and the chastening of His own children, which is a seal of sonship and proof of the Father's love, Heb. 12. 5-13 ; cf. Rev. 3. 19. Discipline by direct action of the Lord is commended as a most profitable study, but our lesson is concerned rather with discipline by the assembly. This is a matter which is almost com­pletely ignored in the sects of Christendom, though definitely enjoined in God's Word. Discipline is the more necessary because of the lawless spirit of the age, which has forced itself into the churches owing to the worldliness and carnality of Christians, a spirit that characterized the days of Israel's judges, Judg. 21. 25.

Three assembly acts are to be noted ; (a) the reception of all true believers, see Lesson 7 ; (ft) the rejection (i.e. excommunication) of all gross offenders ; (c) the restoration of duly repentant offenders. The assembly may not shelve any of these responsibilities and leave matters with the Lord, 1 Cor. 5. 12, 13. The church at Corinth was sharply reproved for lack of prompt action in a flagrant case of immorality in the midst. They had adopted an easy toler­ance of the evil and were even " puffed up " by the possession of many spiritual " gifts." Neglect of discipline dishonours the Lord, hinders the Holy Spirit and mars assembly testimony. Mutual concern is to be exercised on the principle of 1 Cor. 12. 25, 26.

Discipline, then, in the sense of our lesson refers to methods adopted to deal with persons who upset godly order in the assembly.

OBJECTS OF DISCIPLINE.

(1)   Negative aspect—not a trial of faith but of conduct ; i.e. it is not to decide whether a person is a believer or not, 2 Tim. 2. 19. nor to get rid of a troublesome brother, toward whom patience is to be shown in grace, and prayer to God made concerning him.

(2)   Positive aspect—is

(a) to secure restoration of the offender, 2 Cor. 2. 5-11; Gal 6. 1 ;

(b) to maintain the integrity of the assembly before God as a " temple " fit for His presence in the midst, and before men so as to remove all appearance of connivance with the evil ;

(c) to furnish a warning to all the saints lest a careless walk lead to similar lapse ;

(d) to vindicate the name of the Lord by the removal, as far as humanly possible, of the reproach brought upon It before the world. If not immediately dealt with, evil spreads like leaven, 1 Cor. 5. 6 ; Gal. 5. 9 ; cf. the law as to " leprous stones " in a house. Lev. 14. 40. 41 ; also Josh. 7 where Achan's sin is seen to involve in its consequences the whole congregation of Israel.

SPECIFIC CASES OF DISCIPLINE.

Contrary to an idea commonly prevailing, excommunication is not the only form of discipline. God's Word shows this is to be resorted to only as a last expedient. Seven categories of offence, some more serious than others, seem to be indicated :—

(1)  The Personal Offender, Matt. 18. 15-20 ;   Lk. 17. 3, 4.

(a) Nature  of Offence—purely  an   individual  matter,  such as evil-speaking or breach of trust.

(b) Method of Procedure—note 3 stages ; no question of excision ; " shew fault " ; Luke has " rebuke " (call to account: require explanation) ; " hear," Luke has " repent," which implies apology and amends; note measure of forgiveness, Matt. 18. 21, 22, 35; Lk. 17. 4 ; Eph. 4. 32 ; Col. 3. 13. Second stage is still of a private character ; third stage if unsuccessful, results in the offender being treated by the offended one (" unto thee "—not the whole assembly) as an outsider. Until the matter is straightened out there can be no fellowship between the two. Matt. 5. 22-24 is from the offender's view-point, one who knows there is real cause for complaint against himself.

(2)  The Overtaken Brother.   Gal. 6. 1-3.

(a) Nature of Offence—a temporary lapse ; not pursuing an evil course but one " pursued " and overtaken by temptation ; tripped up at an unguarded moment.

(b) Method of Procedure—Gk. signifies to re-adjust, to reduce (as a dislocated joint), to mend (as broken nets, Mk, 1. 19) ; cf. 1 Tim. 5. 20, which though primarily of an elder conveys a general prin­ciple. The rule therefore is: private offence, private rebuke ; public offence, public rebuke,

(3)   The Meddlesome Idler. 2 Thess. 3. 6-15 ; 1 Thess. 4. 11, 12.

(a)   Nature of Offence—Walking disorderly, especially disobe­dience to the Word (14) ; Gk. lit. " out of step," indicating inco-ordination or insubordination. The form specified here is " busy-bodies " (lit. " working around "), that is, visiting the saints not for edification but for gossip, evil-speaking and " hanging-on."

(b)   Method of Procedure—Warning by elders, 1 Thess. 5. 14 ; if this proves unavailing, " withdrawal " by saints. 2 Thess. 3. 6, 14 , not putting away but curtailing of fellowship, 15.

(4)  The Unprofitable Talker.    Tit. 1. 9-14 ;   1 Cor. 14. 26, 29.

(a)   Nature of Offence—Wasting lime of the saints in profitless ministry," 14.

(b)   Method of Procedure—Warning and sharp reproof (13) in order to silence (It), II), Elders are responsible to prevent such abuse of liberty (9). Neglect is seen to lead to factions, Tit. 3. 9-11 ; " heretical " here does not refer to denying the faith but to one who in self-will seeks to gather adherents to his opinions, especially in matters of interpretation or others not of fundamental importance. Such conduct is factious and may even end in open division, see next paragraph.

(5)   The Division Maker. Rom, 16. 17-20, R.V.; Tit. 3. 9-11 -Acts 20. 30.

(a)   Nature of Offence—Causing divisions and affording occasions of stumbling to others. This includes legalists and others who distort some element of truth, unduly swaying the saints to the fostering of a party spirit even to divisions. Differences in opinion or in judgment should not be allowed to lead to this.

(b)   Method of Procedure— In the first place reproof may be effective, Gal. 2. 11-14; 1 Tim. 5. 20. If unavailing, "mark," " turn away from," " avoid " are terms used of proper action. If this rule be followed by all I he saints, division cannot result. At Corinth, though saints were professedly one, there was imminent danger of division into rival sects. 1 Cor. I. 10-15. not an evidence of spirituality but of carnality. The devil is the instigator of this evil and the flesh is ever ready to respond, Rom. 1(5. 20, 18. Note the double warning to, and double responsibility of, elders. Acts 20. 28-31.

(6)  The Gross Evil-doer.    1 Cor. 5. 1-13 ;  6. 9, 10.

(a) Nature of Offence—A. grave moral lapse such as listed, II ; " Fornicator " covers all cases of illicit sexual intercourse. " Cov­etous " covers all cases of evil desire for gain as shown in deeds ; e.g. all forms of gambling, sharp practice in business, etc., cf. Eph. 5. 5 ; 2 Pet. 2. 14 ; I Tim. 6. 9-11. The term " idolater " includes any active association with false systems of worship (even though bearing a Christian label), sorcery and spiritualism. " Reviler " covers vilification, defamation of character and false accusations— one who is given to this. " Drunkard " suggests one guilty of the habitual sin of intemperance, not one coming under category (2). " Extortioner " would include various forms of dishonesty, e.g. misappropriation of property or funds, fraud, profiteering especially in the food of the poor, Jas. 5. 1-6.

{b) Method of Procedure—" Put away (not simply denying fel­lowship at the Lord's Supper) from among yourselves," signifies formal rejection from the assembly fellowship to be followed by severance of all social relations, 11-13. Careful investigation of the circumstances may be called for, but in Corinth there was open sin with facts well known, hence no inquiry was needed. The offender is thus thrown back into the sphere of the world where Satan rules and becomes fully exposed to the enemy's attacks, 5 ; 1 Tim. 1. 20 ; 2 Tim. 2. 25, 26. That the discipline in this particular case was effectual, resulting in the offender's repentance and restoration, is seen by referring to 2 Cor. 2. 1-11 ;  7. 9-12.

(7)  The Unsound Teacher. 2 Pet. 2. 1-3, R.V. ; 2 Jn. 9-11 ; 1 Tim. 4. 1 ;  2 Cor. 11. 13-15.

(a) Nature of Offence— Propagation of evil doctrine. This points lo fundamental error, not to mere differences of interpretation in non-essentials, e.g. dispensational teaching, though the latter and indeed any over-stressed doctrine unwatched may grow into " heresy." Evil doctrine can be more destructive than loose morality, for common opinion is swift to denounce the latter among Christians yet gives little heed to the former.

b) Method of Procedure is the same as with moral evil. It is " leaven " which must be purged out. Gal. 5. 9 with 1 Cor. 5. 6. 7. Note that the Apostle's action is similar in both case,s—1 Cor, 5. 5 with 2 Tim. 2. 18 and I Tim. 1. 20.. No social intercourse is per­mitted, 2 Jn. 9-11.

GENERAL PRINCIPLES OF DISCIPLINE.

(1)   Judicial   fairness   is   always   to   be   employed.   The Christian standard is higher, not lower, than that of world courts, 1 Cor. 6. 2, 3. Godly order suggests investigation by elders, who should reject unsupported testimony (Matt. 18. Hi ; 1 Tim. 5. 9). They should then furnish the assembly with a brief report of essen­tials only. The assembly (not simply elders) acts in " putting awav " when necessary.    See Lessons 7 and 8.

Partiality is to be rigidly excluded, 1 Tim. 5. 21 ; Jas. 3. 17 ; 2. 1-4. Natural relationship or friendship must not influence judg­ment, Acts 15. 36-39. Extremes are to be avoided, for undue severity divides the assembly and undue lenience increases the evil. Unbalanced action destroys the confidence of the saints and dishonours God, i.e. harshness in minor matters while neglecting divine principles, Matt. 15. 1-20; 23. 23, 24 ; Lk. U. 42; Rom. 14. 1-3 ; 15. 7. Such lack of balance is to be noted in Israel. Judges chs. 17-20. There was unanimous and violent reaction against a case of immorality, yet laxity and indifference towards a case of gross idolatry which brought dishonour upon the name of the Lord.

(2)   Scripture order is to be strictly observed. The " cutting off " of an assembly or assemblies is quite unknown in Scripture. Carnal Corinth was not so " cut off." In Rev. chs. 2, 3, though the Lord has much to reprove in several of the churches He does not even hint at the " culling off " of any by the other churches ; it is solely the Lord's prerogative to remove the " lampstand " if He sees fit, 2. 5 ; 3. 16. Where grave moral or doctrinal evil is toler­ated in an assembly, godly ones may have to consider withdrawal from it as from a " disorderly " person, but only after all protests have proved unavailing and other measures fail. Action must not be hasty and there should be much prayer exercise.

(3)   Assembly decisions are to be loyally supported. Mis­placed sympathy only encourages the offender in evil-doing and so hinders restoration. It puts the sympathizer into the class of the " unruly " as partaker of the evil (1 Tim. 5. 22 ; 2 Jn. 11) making him liable to discipline also. No believer under discipline in one assembly should readily be received by another. If, after due inquiry by elders, the first assembly is adjudged to have been over hasty or too severe, it would be well to approach that assembly with a view to reconciliation. To do otherwise would be subversive of godly order and might involve a breach of fellowship between the assemblies concerned.

(4)  Offender's withdrawal is to be juridically ignored.

Ceasing to attend (lie meetings on the part of an offender does not. absolve the assembly from the duly of dealing with the case. It is essential, however, to differentiate between absence through cold­ness of heart, which is a matter for shepherd care, and absence to avoid discipline.

(5)  Offender's restoration  is to be sufficiently attested.

Restoration to the Lord precedes restoration to assembly fellow­ship. True repentance should be manifested by departure from the evil and making restitution where necessary. Scripture does not advocate undue delay, 2 Cor. 2. 5-11. Wise discernment is here needed, coupled with true brotherly love, 1 Cor. 13. 4-8 ; Gal. 6. 2. The recovered one should refrain, for a time at least, from public service for God to prove his sincerity by a humble spirit and a con­sistent walk. There is no definite rule as to this (e.g. Peter's restoration, Jn. 21), though it must be remembered that our Lord knew Peter's heart, whereas our knowledge is limited. Lack of commendation for some special service or disapproval for it (Acts 15. 369), or disqualification for overseership (I Tim. 3. 1-6) docs not affect church fellowship.

There are 7 articles in
ISSUE (1955, Volume 7 Issue 3)

Discipline

The Great Tribulation

Individual Responsibility - Ephesians 4. 7-16

Local Churches and the Gospel

Nursing a Grievance

Overseership

Pentecostalism

There are 13 articles in this series

The Church - What it means

The Local Church’s relationships

The Ordinances - (A) Baptism

The Ordinances - (B) The Lord’s Supper

The Ordinances - (B) The Lord’s Supper (2)

Worship and the Christian Priesthood

Fellowship

Government - Overseership

Ministry - Deaconship

Discipline

Church Finance

The Church’s Development and Destiny

Women’s Sphere and Service

There are 42 articles by this author

New Testament Church Principles

Analytical Studies in the Psalms

New Testament Church Principles

The Church - What it means

The Local Church’s relationships

The Ordinances - (A) Baptism

The Ordinances - (B) The Lord’s Supper

The Ordinances - (B) The Lord’s Supper (2)

Worship and the Christian Priesthood

Fellowship

Government - Overseership

Ministry - Deaconship

Discipline

Church Finance

The Church’s Development and Destiny

Women’s Sphere and Service

Introduction to the Offerings

The Burnt Offering

The Continual Burnt Offering

The Meal Offering

The Peace Offering

The Sin Offering

The Trespass Offering

Brief Comparisons of the Offerings

Methods of Bible Study

Methods of Bible Study

Methods of Bible Study

Examples of Bible Study Methods

Romans

Second Corinthians

First Corinthians

Galatians

Ephesians

Philippians

Colossians

First Thessalonians

Second Thessalonians

Second Timothy

Titus

Philemon

Hebrews

James