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Discipline in the Church

(1 Corinthians 5)

Lesson 4 -- second quarter 2000
March 26, 2000

by Mark Roth
© Copyright 2000, Christian Light Publications

Discipline. I suspect most of us naturally recoil at the thought. In my current and past roles as teacher, pastor, administrator, foreman and parent, I have had plenty of occasions to discipline others. I don't recall having enjoyed such actions. In my opinion, anyone who enjoys disciplining others is either sick or immature.

Shall we then skip discipline in our congregations? Only if we wish to stop discipling. Only if we wish to allow unfaithfulness and impurity. Only if we wish to avoid being "partakers of his holiness" (Hebrews 12:10). Only if we wish to put the whole body at risk. Only if we wish to forego "the peaceable fruit of righteousness" (Hebrews 12:11). Only if we wish to be weighed and found wanting on Judgment Day. So, God forbid we should skip church discipline!

Today's lesson deals specifically with a particular form of church discipline: excommunication. This remedy of last resort should come at the end of the discipline process. True? Perhaps, but we must raise our sights higher. While I do believe that excommunication should be preceded by other discipline steps, I also believe that it should not end the process. To understand this concept we need to first grasp and accept the purposes of excommunication.

Restoration. Verse five of our lesson (along with other related Scriptures) shows us that one aim of excommunication needs to be the restoration of the discordant member. To put it another way, we want to protect this person from eternal damnation.

I believe excommunication should be entered into with the hope and the commitment to restoration. Thus the question naturally follows: What is my congregation doing to regain those it has disciplined with excommunication? What am I doing?

Purification. Yes, the purification of the fallen, failing member, of course. But also the purification of the whole body (verses six and seven). The idea is to protect the other members from spiritual poison. No matter how essential and important a member may seem to the church, if he or she has resisted all other efforts at correction, excommunication must follow.

I believe we cannot afford to take this purification step with a exalted sense of our own goodness and purity. Otherwise we set up the conditions for our own fall and failure. Furthermore, in removing the leaven from among us, we ought to guard against unrighteous feelings and attitudes which become too personal.

Well, so much for the purposes of excommunication. Ready for another immensely practical (and ticklish) question? Ready or not...who does the excommunicating?

Not the ministry.

Excommunication is a decision, an action and a process undertaken by the entire local congregation, not just its leadership. (You surely didn't think this epistle was written just to the preachers at Corinth, did you?)

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