Some Additional Thought on Church Discipline

This is a followup to my earlier thoughts on discipline in the church. While my earlier post were my thoughts prior to meeting with the rest of my church's leadership group (deaons and ministers), the following is my summary of our collective thoughts. The idea was that we would be able to present something to the church, perhaps this paper, but we haven't gotten back to it yet, so consider this still my own words and unfinished. However, Shrode at the Thinklings, had a good post on Church Discipline, so I thought I'd post this now.

Sin is all around us, we are confronted with it daily and in fact we commit it daily. We have a hard enough time dealing with our own sin, how are we to deal with the sin we see in the disciples around us? One answer would be not to, and that's a popular one. "Don't judge" is a common theme heard in Christian circles. But the Bible paints another picture. Ezekiel 33:1-9 speaks of the responsibility leaders (watchmen) have to warn people of the consequences of their sin. In many ways we are all watchmen over God's people. I Corinthians 5 speaks directly to our responsibility to protect God's church and to deal with sin in it, even telling us that it is our role to judge the church, contrary with popular wisdom.

There are two broad categories of sin we will encounter, sins committed against us and sins committed by others against others. Those others sinned against could be God, the church or other people. God, through the Bible, has given us guidelines for dealing with both situations. They are only guidelines, there's no step by step process to fit every situation. God knew that every situation is unique and the people involved are unique too. So no simple formula could be devised to handle every thing. That's not to say that there is no guidance in the scriptures on how we should handle sin, there is much. But we much approach each situation with love, humility, wisdom, forgiveness and discernment. All of these are so important; leaving one out can lead to a poor outcome. If we are not going in love, why are we going? If we go with out humility, we will not be open to being wrong about the situation, a very real possibility! We need wisdom and discernment to know what kind of sin we're dealing with, how serious it is for those potentially exposed to it and if this is something that we can handle or should we get some help. Lastly forgiveness is perhaps our most important tool. With it we can focus on helping the sinner to change and we can overlook leaving out any of the other things.

Sin against us

This is the area where God has been the most specific. The Bible doesn't say why, but I suspect that it is because this is the area that can get is in the most trouble. It's personal and we are tempted to seek revenge or retribution rather than reconciliation and healing. Or perhaps we will let it destroy ourselves in bitterness and anger. God has another way, spelled out in Matthew 18:15-17. God says deal with it privately, between the two of you, if you can. If it's still not resolved, bring in some others. Only if that isn't effective should the church be involved. God's way protects the sinner as he or she deals with their sin. Let them do so in private, telling only those they wish to. This shows love and respect for the sinner.

In the past we (corporately) may have been too quick to tell others about someone's sin. Frankly, it's gossip and the Bible has much to say against it (Proverbs 11:13, 20:19, 3 John 1:10). This sort of sharing paints a picture of that person that is etched in the mind of the hearer. Does Sam need to know that Fred struggles with pornography, even if your intention is to help Fred by getting advice or soliciting prayer from Sam? Is it beneficial for building up either Sam or Fred (Ephesians 4:29)? Now Sam's image of Fred is unnecessarily polluted by the words that were spoken. Perhaps you think that Sam can help Fred deal with this sin. That may be, but the respectful and loving thing to do would be to ask Fred if he minds having Sam involved. Perhaps he would rather not tell Sam, but thinks that George might be of help. Then Fred gets help and feels loved and respected. It simply shows that you care.

God is saying here that when the sin is personal, we must deal with it personally. We do not want an environment where my sin, yours or another's might be broadcast, even with good intentions, to others. There are times when these things cannot be resolved one on one. Then, the Bible says, it is appropriate to bring in another, but whom? It seems appropriate that the second or third brother or sister to be a neutral party, preferably someone each person agrees on. In the past we have treated this as a 'climb the ladder of authority' system that can create mistrust. If you won't listen to me, we'll get the bible talk leader or the zone leader to deal with you. Instead we should strive to create as neutral an environment as possible where everyone feels that they will be treated fairly. Only if that hasn't worked, then both persons involved in confronting that person should come together to the church leadership and get them involved.

What if they refuse to listen to us? Matthew 18 says to treat them as a pagan or tax collector. The simple thing is to assume that meant they were shunned. Remembered, however, how Jesus treated the tax collectors. He ate with them (Matthew 9:9-13, Luke 5:27-32). He hung out with them (Matthew 11:19, Luke 15:1). He loved them. He didn't necessarily call them his disciples, but he did not shun them and in His love, he influenced them (Luke 7:29). The world will abandon the one who sins against them. If we do the same, how will they be saved? If they deliberately refuse to repent, it is entirely appropriate that the church leadership ask them to leave the church for a time. That does not mean that we should shun these people, however. On the contrary, we should encourage the other disciples to serve them and love them, continuing to show them God's love in spite of their sin. In 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 Paul says that we are not to associate with men who do not obey, but also says to warn them like a brother, not an enemy. We can exclude them from our fellowship but should encourage people, especially those close to them, to maintain a relationship and love them even more. 1 Peter 4:8 reminds us to love each other above all else, because love covers a multitude of sins.

It's also important to look at the context of this teaching on dealing with those who sin against us. Just before Jesus teaches the parable of the lost sheep and just after He talks of forgiveness. So this teaching on dealing with sin is within the context of a passionate search for one who is lost to bring him back to safety and the willingness to forgive over and over again. Keeping these things in mind will help us have a Godly mindset as we approach our brother or sister.

Sins against others

The Bible isn't as specific in telling us how to deal with sin we see in others that is not against us. In these areas we must seek wisdom and discernment to know how to handle it properly. Biblical principles of love, forgiveness, avoiding gossip and respect that we've already spoken of should be our guides as we proceed. The guidelines in Matthew 18, though not binding in these situations, can be a good pattern to follow. Confront one on one first, then bring others and as a last resort bring them to the church. But this sort of slow, deliberate process is not always appropriate to the situation. Some sins have an immediate and devastating effect (sexual abuse or violence for example) or may have an impact on the church as a whole. Wisdom and discernment would dictate swift and decisive action in these situations that the pattern of Matthew 18 may not allow. Consider the situation carefully, are you certain that this is a matter of sin and not a 'disputable matter' (Romans 14)? Is this something you feel equipped to handle alone or do you need help? Is the situation of a corporate or public nature? Is it serious enough to demand it be dealt with publicly?

We must also remember the warnings of Ezekiel and our responsibility to watch over each other. When we see sin in our brother or sister that doesn't involve us directly, it is very tempting to do nothing. But to fail to act, to not confront the sin we see in them, is selfish, not loving. It serves our desire for comfort, to avoid conflict and an uncomfortable situation rather than God's desire for them to repent.

There are examples in the New Testament showing people dealing with the sins of others that we can look at..

Jesus, along with the religious leaders, confronts a woman caught in adultery in John 8:3-11. How humiliating to be publicly confronted on this sin, let alone be caught in the act! The leaders were focused on condemnation and judgment and Jesus reminds them of what they have in common with her, they are sinners too. Ironically, He is the only one to meet His standard of being without sin, yet He does not condemn her either. In this, Jesus reminds us to be humble as we confront the sins of others. Paul speaks of catching some one in sin in Galatians 6:1, urging 'you who are spiritual' to 'restore them gently'. Isn't that what Jesus did? The leaders were not acting spiritual, but in haste, anger and self righteousness.

In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul reprimands the church for the immorality of some of it's members. Obviously, someone in the church had reported this in some detail to Paul so that it could be addressed by him, and he does so rather publicly. 2 Thessalonians 3 also refers to sins of the church reported to Paul, and dealt with in a public letter. We do not know the exact circumstances in which this information was presented to Paul, but Paul does not publicly condemn the sharing of it. There are times, when dealing with the sin of others against others, where it is entirely appropriate to bring it to attention of a leader, again in the spirit of love, respect and forgiveness.

What if we confront the sinner and they refuse to repent? Matthew 18, Titus 3:10 and 1 Corinthians 5 imply some sort of isolation from the sinner in extreme cases. Who makes such a call to withhold fellowship from the sinner? In some cases these can be self imposed, if you have a conviction about a person's sin and lifestyle that will not allow you in good conscience to fellowship with them. In other cases, at the discretion of the appointed leadership of the church, it may be corporately imposed, as in 1 Corinthians 5. The goal there would be twofold, the protection of the church (v. 6) and the ultimate repentance and restoration of the sinner (v. 5). In either case, personal or church imposed, we must enter it in the same atmosphere of love, forgiveness and respect we've been talking about all along.


Our Lord told us that loving each other is the most important thing we can do outside of loving Him. We must remember the definitions of love in 1 Corinthians 13 when dealing with sin. It is patient and kind. It keeps no record of wrongs. It rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts and always perseveres. And love never fails. I am convinced that an atmosphere of love, which must be free of hurtful and damaging gossip, will set us up to truly help people be victorious over their sin. That is the goal, isn't it?


You have much wisdom in what you say. Sin is THE most devistating force in the world. Unequevably, sin is killing as much or more people than natural disasters.

Of course, spiritually, most people are dead. We all at one time were spiritually dead due to sin.

1 Corinthians 5 is strong language, and a powerful scripture. I think that many people feel that it is of great difficulty to follow through with this. Often, I personally want to get sentimental, and keep giving the person another second chance. But we must be firm in obeying the scripture. We must be zealous for the purity of the Word as it stands alone.

My thinking as to why there is specific direction in dealing with sins committed against each other, and not specific direction concerning sins of ommission and others, is because it is relational. With the scriptures, everything is about relationships. Every scripture, every word, all about relationships. Whether it is with God, the fellowship, or the world. All other sin is between the individual and either God, or themselves.

I wanted to address some of the language you are using in this post. To suggest that any particular scripture is a "Guidline" I believe is an error. I understand the thinking. In search of a lack of direction, one seeks to fill in the gap, and hope that it is God who is assuming that is what we should do. Matthew 18 isn't a guildline, it is a direct order. To assume that any part of the scripture is a guidline, and not intential and divinely inspired as having purpose is an error. There must be intent on why other sins are not dealt with. Look at Matthew 7:1-6. This is as critical Matthew 18, is it not?

I think that when we are "dealing" with sin, we must first and foremost deal with our own. Then, deal with the sins against us. THen dealing with sins against the church. I believe that it is wrong to bring up anothers person's sin in a leadership group of people, outside of the elders. Unless unrepented of of course. But the poison of gossip is what so often can cause the divisions talked about in Titus.

What I'm trying to say is that the scripture doesn't specifically say what to do when you see someone raising their children in a fashion that seems inapropriate biblically to you. It's none of your or anybody elses business. If they choose to live messy or neatly, it's nobody's business but their own. I think that when we create an environment of "dealing" with each others sin, then we start to make inappropriate jugements (Romans 14). We must adhear zealously to what the Word says, and to what the Words says only. We must have faith that each and every word in the scriptures is inspired, and to be adheared to. The word isn't vague, or leaving "clues" as to God's will. Deal with what we are told to, and don't deal with what we are not told to. Other than the Matthew 7 scripture, as far as I know, you have used all the appropriate scriptures. Sin must be dealt with. But keep the Matthew 7:1-6 in line as well. Not only does it say to take the plank from your own eye, but also not to throw pearls to swine. If we go about, confronting every sin we see in people, we again, create this environment or social culture of being all up in each others business. Sin confrontation is not a liscense to be nosy, opinionated, gossipers, and self righteous. Idealy this won't happen, but practially it does. We start to measure one anothers spirituallity, and condem each other. That is why we can't say that this scripture or that is a guidline, and it is to be assummed to be regarded to other areas. 1 Corinthians 5, immoratlity, greedy, slandering (which is exactly what happens in this everybody confronting everybody else environment), idolater, swindler, or drunkard. Matthew 18, when someone commits sin against you, Titus 3 when divisive, and so on.

I think that I may be a bit reactive to past experiences, but if we stray from the Will, then it is we who sin.

I know, strong words. It really is just only my opinion, as I see things. I too am sure I have much room to grow in this area.

I also wanted to mention that the way I see it, we mus'nt confuse Apostolic authority and their spirit inspired words, with contemporary application. Paul had authority to, through inspiration, give direction to the church. We don't share that same responsibility, and that is why we have the bible. Again, everything we need to know, in the bible...


Thanks for your comments; I appreciate your wisdom here. You are right; the work 'guidelines' is weak when applied to the specific commands of God on dealing with sin. The point I was getting to in using that terminology was that the Bible doesn't give us the kind of specific, all encompassing step by step process for dealing with sin. It takes maturity, love, thought and discernment. I also believe that the more grievous and public, the more advisors and consensus there ought to be in dealing with it.

But the Bible has given us some specifics, and those are not to be treated as mere guidelines but as commands.

I will take your thoughts to the group before we present this to the church.

BTW - I added your site's address to your comments here. I think they're quite insightful (as usual) and others may want to read more from you. Now they can click on your name and find your blog. If you want me to, I'll take it back off.

I absolutly agree with you. Wisdom, grace, maturity, compassion, sensibility, and of course, love. I think that is why Jesus wants us to establish an Eldership. I understand the situation there, but I'm just saying. People who are spirituall, physically, emotionally, and mentally mature will almost always have the right answers (providing the appropriate humilty is preseant) I continue to pray for your situation and am confident that men like you will are exactly what any church would need.

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