Subjects of Discipline
Henry Palmieri, New York, USA
In the following nine paragraphs, we use the Scriptures to draw attention to the type of believer against whom action is required by the assembly of God's people, and how that discipline is to be carried out.
The Delinquent One, Mat. 18. 15-18. When differences arise between brethren, they should be settled in private, the outcome being pardon and peace. But if the wrongdoer is proud and haughty, showing no desire to put things right, then one or two additional witnesses are summoned to hear the facts and to give their judgment in the matter. Seeing that wrong has been done, they join with the first brother in seeking to show the wrongdoer his sin and to admonish him to repent. If this attempt fails, the assembly is informed, and the elders must exhort this delinquent one. If he heeds the exhortation, all is well; but if he does not, some may say, "Leave all discipline to the Lord", while others may say, "Let there be a manifestation of love in that the offended one forgives and forgets". But this is not God's way, since the Lord declares what the attitude of the offended one is to be. "Let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican", v. 17, that is, an outsider who is not as yet in the light, life and liberty of the Gospel of the glory of the Lord Jesus. We must always remember that the procedure here is in three successive stages.
1. "Go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone", personally. If he remains stubborn,
2. "Take with thee one or two more", privately. If this also fails,
3. "Tell it unto the church", publicly.
Concerning a case of personal trespass, John Bloore has written, "Every trespass does not call for the action here described, for in many things we all offend and often forbearing love should lead us to pass over many things. Evidently it is what may effect the fellowship of the assembly, to which the matter may finally be referred according to the Lord's words". Another has written, "This is clearly a personal offence - as the words "against thee" denote; otherwise individual action would be out of place. We are not called to mix ourselves up in the private affairs of our neighbours, unless appealed to by both parties" (Hoste).
The Dividing One, Rom. 16. 17-18. The warning against the danger which was threatening the church at Rome is a timely one for our day. It is sad to see those who profess to be ministers of Christ setting up their own little sects, parties, fellowships and circles, which are not sanctioned by the Lord at all. According to Titus 3. 10-n, such a man may be a heretic. Scripturally, this word means "one who in self-will presses his own opinions". Self-interest is their ruling interest, thus introducing the serious danger of schism in the assembly. Such a dividing one serves not our Lord Jesus Christ, but self-exaltation is his main objective. We may also name this man the dogmatic one, since he is characterized by a pushing spirit and opposes any or all who would stand in his way. The prescription is admonition, not excommunication. Rejecting the admonition, he is to be shunned or avoided. Certainly this type should not be permitted to minister among the saints. Obedience to God's Word in this matter would effectually check division among the Lord's people.
The Dissolute One, 1 Cor. 5. This portion deals with the extremity of discipline, relating to one of the gravest cases which may arise for assembly action. The dissolute one is a man who is an open offender against holiness and righteousness. In other words, he is a scandalous person, an evil doer, a wicked worker. In the Corinthian assembly it was an open course of wickedness, brought to the church's attention by an immoral act. One has written, "The church of God is responsible as to the character of its fellowship, and it is responsible as to those who sit down together at the table of the Lord and are linked up in Christian service". It may not be openly manifested as in Corinth. If this is the case, it has to be established by competent witnesses after careful investigation. Proved to be wicked, the offender is excommunicated, according to the Word of God.
Moreover, excommunication is not only for immorality, but 1 Corinthians 5. 11 calls a wicked person also one who is "covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner". Any engaging in these things may be disregarded as a brother.
The Defeated One, Gal. 6. 1. This is the case (and there may be many today) of an overtaken one. An overtaken one is not one who practices sin, but being pursued by a temptation is suddenly stumbled and falls in defeat, for sudden temptation may prove to be too much for him. How many of us have, at some time or other, fallen into this category? Taken off our guard we may be overwhelmed by a sudden temptation to fleshly desires, furious tempers, or failure to judge our pride. What is the procedure here? Admonition? Exhortation? Excommunication? No, definitely not. It is the restoration of the defeated one, and this is not to be done by the inexperienced or unspiritual, but by those who are spiritual. A spiritual person is one who is Spirit-filled, and being filled with the Spirit he seeks lovingly, tenderly and graciously to recover him from defeat. Note also that the spiritual worker must do this work in a "spirit of meekness" (humbly, gently) "considering thyself", for it is possible that the spiritual one today may be the defeated one tomorrow.
The Disorderly One, 2 Thess. 3. 6. This type of offender is also to be shunned or avoided. A disorderly brother is one who conducts himself in a disorderly manner. One form of disorderliness in the Thessalonian church was a certain negative attitude towards daily work, and the result of this was that they became busybodies. Evidently, then as now, there were those who did not like a hard day's work and so chose to take life easy. Instead, they worked round the assembly; their work was not unto edification, but rather defamation which is only tittle-tattle or evil speaking. Idleness may open the door to serious evils and thus bring discredit upon the precious Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. The disorderly one, after exhortation and admonition, is to be withdrawn from.
The Disobedient One, 1 Thess. 5. 14. The "unruly" one who is characterized by disobedience to the Word of God, which is the only "rule" that should govern and guide our lives. An unruly person is one who is not subject to the rule of God as a result of rebellion in attitude towards those who are over them in the Lord, w. 12-13. The disobedient one is to be warned and that warning should be heeded, since it comes from the watchers of men's souls.
The Dishonouring One, 1 Tim. 5. 20. This is a man who commits a sin which manifestly dishonours God and mars the testimony of the assembly. Galatians 2.11-14 is an illustration of what calls for a public conviction and reprobation, so that others may realize what is suitable for the assembly, which is God's habitation. The dissimulation of Peter's conduct called for an open reprobation, because it denied the truth that he preached. May the Lord help us to see that when a believer's sin becomes manifestly known to the assembly, it should publicly be rebuked. When this is not done, others may feel free to repeat the same sin.
The Deceiving One, Titus 1. 9-14. The offence here is vain talking, which is not as serious as the evil of the dividing one, Rom. 16. 17-18. He may not only be the deceiving one, but may himself be deceived, in that he is convinced that his ministry is edifying to his hearers. So it is not a question of his "erratic behaviour in the assembly, but of obtrusive and unprofitable ministry". We hear much of the wrong application of 2 Corinthians 3.17, "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty". The liberty spoken of here is not the liberty to speak, but "liberty to see Christ without a veil". One-man ministry is definitely unscriptural, but we must remember that every-man ministry is not scriptural either. There are those who are gifted to minister, whether in weekly assembly gatherings or conference sessions, but how many there are who like to be heard and in getting up waste precious time by unprofitable (vain) talking. No doubt, if more of the fear of God were in men today, those not gifted to minister the Word or those without a message would tremble to take the platform, thus obviating the process of discipline against them for unprofitable ministry. The procedure for discipline in this case is in Titus 1. 13, "Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith".
The Dangerous One, 1 Tim. 1. 18-20; Rev. 2. 14-15. Of all the subjects of discipline, this one of evil teaching is probably the most dangerous to the assembly in that it spreads so rapidly. Many kept from falling into a moral lapse have succumbed to this evil. It takes a good knowledge of God's Word and a reliance upon God to combat false doctrine. Without question, the disciplinary measure in this case is excommunication. There are those who deny that the extremity of discipline is to be carried out in the case of the dangerous one (evil teacher) but the Scripture is clear that those who err from the truth, undermining the foundation of the faith, must be excommunicated.
Let us remember that discipline should always be exercised for the glory of God, for the clearing of the assembly before the world, to teach the offender a lesson and last but not least, always with the view to restoration to God first and secondly to assembly fellowship. The Lord help us to behave ourselves in the house of God and to adorn the doctrine of God in all things.
(Conclusion of the series).