by Al Maxey
Issue #245 -------
April 18, 2006
Who hangs one corrects a thousand.
James Howell (1593-1666)
Divine Design for Discipline
Pondering the Purposes & Parameters
of Punishment for the People of God
The Marquis of Halifax (1633-1695) made the following perceptive observation: "Wherever a knave is not
punished, an honest man is
laughed at." Although the world has always had its share of "bleeding hearts" who daily decry all forms of
corporal and capital punishment, declaring such to be inhumane and incapable of any reformative effect, nevertheless
few would dare deny that God's inspired Scriptures favor the concept of punishment for His chosen people. Indeed,
the writings of both OT and NT demand it, and justice requires it. Gen. Charles de
Gaulle (1890-1970) stated, "Justice which does not bear a sword beside its scales soon falls into ridicule."
"All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; and yet to those who have been trained by it,
afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness" (Heb. 12:11). "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline
of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He
scourges every son whom He receives" (vs. 5-6). The writer of this epistle continues: "God deals with you as
with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which
all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons" (vs. 7-8). Yes, God's divine design
for His chosen people includes discipline, and discipline (which may be defined, in part, as "corrective
training") will at times involve punishment (our primary focus in this study). Although there are many examples of our God dealing directly with
transgressors, our focus in this current study will be more upon how He would have His people deal with
transgressors within their midst. What is our responsibility with regard to carrying out His
will? Under what circumstances are we to punish our brethren? Are there principles and parameters
presented in God's inspired writings that might help guide us in performing this difficult task? It is my conviction
that God has indeed provided that divine direction.
The Old Covenant
Punishment could be quite harsh under the Mosaic Law. The writer of Hebrews put it this way -- "Anyone who has
set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses" (Heb. 10:28). The Old
Testament writings are filled with such examples of transgressors paying the ultimate price for their transgressions
of God's Law. At times God Himself struck them down (Nadab & Abihu and Uzzah come to mind); at times He
required His people to do so (one can't help but think of Achan and his family). Not all sins were
deserving of death, however. The most common punishment under the Old Covenant, short of death, was being
cut off from God's people. Time and time again we find this punishment inflicted upon those
who were rebellious to their God and His Law. To keep the people of God pure, those who chose to
live in an impure manner were to be severed from the family of God. They became outcasts. Notice the
following examples (and these are just a small sampling):
- Gen. 17:14 -- "But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that
person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant."
- Ex. 12:15,19 -- "Whoever eats anything leavened from the first day
until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel" ... "Whoever eats what is
leavened, that person shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is an alien
or a native of the land."
- Ex. 30:33 -- With regard to the anointing oil, "Whoever shall mix any like
it, or whoever puts any of it on a layman, shall be cut off from his people."
- Ex. 30:38 -- With regard to the holy incense, "Whoever shall make any
like it, to use as perfume, shall be cut off from his people."
- Lev. 7:27 -- "Any person who eats any blood, even that person shall be
cut off from his people." See also: Lev. 17:10,14.
- Lev. 17:8-9 -- "Any man from the house of Israel, or from the aliens who
sojourn among them, who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice, and does not bring it to the doorway of the tent of
meeting to offer it to the Lord, that man also shall be cut off from his people." See also: Lev.
- Lev. 20:18 -- "If there is a man who lies with a menstruous woman
and uncovers her nakedness, he has laid bare her flow, and she has exposed the flow of her blood; thus both of them
shall be cut off from among their people."
- Num. 9:13 -- "But the man who is clean and is not on a journey, and yet
neglects to observe the Passover, that person shall then be cut off from his people, for he did
not present the offering of the Lord at its appointed time. That man shall bear his sin."
- Num. 15:30-31 -- "But the person who does anything defiantly, whether
he is a native or an alien, that one is blaspheming the Lord; and that person shall be cut off from among
his people. Because he has despised the word of the Lord and has broken His commandment, that person
shall be completely cut off; his guilt shall be on him."
- Num. 19:13 -- "Anyone who touches a corpse, the body of a man who has
died, and does not purify himself, defiles the tabernacle of the Lord; and that person shall be cut off from
- Num. 19:20 -- "But the man who is unclean and does not purify himself
from uncleanness, that person shall be cut off from the midst of the assembly, because he has
defiled the sanctuary of the Lord."
- Ezra 10:8 -- "Whoever would not come within three days, according to the
counsel of the leaders and the elders, all his possessions should be forfeited and he himself excluded
from the assembly of the exiles."
Well, as one can quickly see, exclusion from the household of God was considered a severe
punishment. Fellowship and union with God's chosen people was a great blessing; losing it was a curse!
Even during the time of Christ, the Jewish leaders used this "casting out" as punishment for those who, in their
opinion, transgressed the will of God. Specifically, if a person dared to embrace Jesus as the Messiah, they were to
be cast aside from the family of God. "The Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Him to be
Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue" (John 9:22; see also: vs. 34-35). Jesus
warned His disciples of this, saying, "They will make you outcasts from the synagogue"
(John 16:2). Short of physical death itself, severing of fellowship with the household of God was considered an
extremely severe punishment.
The New Covenant
Although there are occasions under the New Covenant where God dealt directly and dramatically with those
who sinned against Him (Ananias and Sapphira, for example), the majority of discipline in the church of our
Lord Jesus Christ is carried out by the leaders and members of the church. Indeed, there is considerable
teaching on this matter in the inspired writings of the NT. As was true under the Old Covenant, the primary
punishment of transgressors unwilling to repent of their transgressions was removal from the
fellowship of the people of God (often termed today -- disfellowship). Notice some of the phrases
where this reality is depicted:
- Matt. 18:17 -- "...let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer."
- Rom. 16:17 -- "...turn away from them."
- 1 Cor. 5:2 -- "...the one who had done this deed might be removed from your
- 1 Cor. 5:5 -- "...deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his
- 1 Cor. 5:7 -- "Clean out the old leaven."
- 1 Cor. 5:11 -- "I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called
brother ... not even to eat with such a one."
- 1 Cor. 5:13 -- "Remove the wicked man from among yourselves."
- Gal. 5:12 -- "I would they were even cut off which trouble you"
(KJV). Actually, this passage speaks of castration. A somewhat different twist on the
"cutting off" prescribed by God for those who trouble His people.
- 2 Thess. 3:6 -- "Now we command you, brethren, in the name
of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep aloof from every brother who..."
- 2 Thess. 3:14 -- "...take special note of that man and do not
associate with him, so that he may be put to shame."
- 1 Tim. 1:20 -- "Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have
delivered over to Satan..."
- 1 Tim. 6:5 -- "...from such withdraw thyself" (KJV).
- Titus 1:11 -- "...who must be silenced."
- Titus 3:10 -- "Reject a factious man after a first and second warning."
There will always be some within the One Body who, for whatever reason, choose to abandon their
walk in the light, living lives of rebellion against God. Such willful, open and persistent transgression brings
shame upon the Lord's church, taints the purity of the body, and makes a mockery of the sacrifice of Jesus
Christ (see: Heb. 6:4-6; 10:29). Such persons are rejected by God. Thus, they must be cast off by His people
also. Such severing of association, when properly practiced, has the potential of restoring the wayward brother
or sister to the fellowship of the saints, and it certainly maintains the purity of the body by removing that which
pollutes it (see: 1 Cor. 5; 2 Cor. 2:1-11; 7:8-12). There are several questions associated with this practice that
we need to examine. What exactly is this discipline the church is to employ? Who,
specifically, are to be disciplined? And just who are called to implement this discipline? And how?
What specific offenses call for church discipline? What offenses do not? What are the conditions
and parameters of this discipline? What should the attitude be of those who discipline as they inflict punishment
upon various members of the One Body? Is there a right and wrong way to do this? Some of the
answers may surprise you!
Distinguishing Descriptives of Discipline
With regard to discipline practiced in the church of our Lord Jesus --- What is it?! How should it
be characterized and/or described? What do the NT documents have to say about it? There are actually
seven descriptives used to distinguish this godly discipline of the ungodly in our midst. They are:
- It is an act of removal --- Those who refuse to repent are to
be "removed from your midst" (1 Cor. 5:2). "Remove the wicked man from among
yourselves" (1 Cor. 5:13). This is the Greek word exairo, meaning "to lift up out of;
eject; drive away." When a member of the body of Christ refuses to repent, after being called
to do so, and continues engaging in actions and exhibiting attitudes harmful and shameful to the One
Body, then that person must be driven from our midst. To fail to do so is actually a direct
violation of a New Covenant command. By tolerating those persons in our midst who willfully and obstinately
refuse to repent, we invite the wrath of the Lord against us (see: Rev. 2:20-21).
- It is an act of judging --- "For I, on my part, though absent in body but present
in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present" (1 Cor. 5:3).
This is the Greek word krino, which means "to make a distinction between; to separate; bring
under examination for the purpose of distinguishing between things." Our judgment must be very discerning,
however, and NOT based on shallow perceptions or sectarian preferences. "Do not judge according to appearance,
but judge with righteous judgment" (John 7:24). We must use Christ and His Word as our Standard
for making such disciplinary judgments against our brethren.
- It is an act of delivering --- The apostle Paul, on a couple of
occasions, spoke of delivering certain persons over to Satan so that they might experience the
full consequences of their rebellion against God (1 Cor. 5:5; 1 Tim. 1:20). The children of God and the children
of the devil must have no intimate, spiritual fellowship or binding association with one another (1 John 3:10;
John 8:44; 2 Cor. 6:14-18). Those who choose to "walk according to the course of this world, according to the
prince of the power of the air" (Eph. 2:2), should be turned over to their true master by those who serve Jesus.
Experiencing the consequences of serving the wrong master may actually cause some to come to their
senses and return to the fellowship of the Father's household (as with the prodigal son in Luke 15:17-20).
- It is an act of cleaning --- "Do you not know that a little
leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven, that you may be a new
lump" (1 Cor. 5:6-7). This is the Greek word ekkathairo, which means "to cleanse
thoroughly; to purify; to purge out; to eliminate." This statement was made in the context of Paul's
charge to the Corinthian brethren
to remove from their midst (vs. 2) one who was engaged in sin "of such a kind as does not exist even among
the Gentiles" (vs. 1). Indeed, Paul rebukes the brethren in Corinth for delaying their discipline of this
individual; the leaven should have been cleaned out, instead of allowing it to remain and
taint the entire church there. A rotten apple, left in among a barrel of good apples, will in time ruin the
entire contents of the apple barrel. For the well-being of the many, the rottenness must be cleaned out.
- It is an act of dissociation --- Association with those who
refuse to repent must be severed. In 1 Cor. 5:9-11 Paul commands the brethren in Corinth "not to
associate with any so-called brother" who was engaged in open rebellion against God and
His Word. This is the Greek word sunanamignumi, which means "to mix or mingle
with; to have any company with; to have any association with." This dissociation was to be so complete
that the brethren were "not even to eat with such a one" (vs. 11). We are to "keep aloof from," or entirely
avoid, such persons (2 Thess. 3:6); "do not associate with him, so that he may
be put to shame" (2 Thess. 3:14). I can remember as a child that there were times I was made to leave
the dinner table because of some misbehavior. Being severed from that association at the family table
was a shameful experience, and such a child, if he had any conscience left at all, would quickly do whatever
was necessary to be readmitted to the fellowship of the family. Such dissociation, then, is ideally
restorative in nature.
- It is an act of punishment --- "Sufficient for such a one is
this punishment which was inflicted by the majority" (2 Cor. 2:6). This is the Greek word
epitimia, which may also be translated "penalty" or "censure." In NT times it was a
legal term used to describe the taking away of one's rights and privileges of citizenship. In Christ Jesus,
we are citizens of the Kingdom of God. When we betray that privilege, however, and when we revolt
against the King and His dictates, we forfeit (as a penalty) the rights and privileges of
citizenship. Thus, being "cut off" from the One Body is great punishment indeed; a penalty
that has eternal ramifications!
- It is an act of marking --- We are to be alert and watchful;
keeping our eyes upon (Rom. 16:17) those who are walking disorderly. Those who refuse all efforts to
restore them to walking worthily are to be marked so that all may know of their rebellion and
thus stay clear of them. "Take special note of that man and do not associate with him" (2 Thess.
3:14). This is the Greek word semeioo, meaning "a distinguishing mark placed on
something or someone." In Gen. 4:15 we are told that God "set a mark upon Cain" so that people would
easily recognize him. We are to "mark" those in the church who are living in rebellion against their God.
This means that in some visible, discernable way we are to make the brethren aware that such a one
is no longer in fellowship with the saints. This may take the form of a verbal statement to the congregation
by the elders; perhaps in the form of a letter sent to the members; etc.
Who is to be Disciplined?
Obviously, it is not the Lord's design that "church discipline" be employed against those outside
the church. That is clearly outside the parameters of God's design for discipline. God Himself will deal
with these people. Our responsibility is to those within the fellowship of the family
of God. The apostle Paul made this point abundantly clear in his statement to the church in Corinth. "What
business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge
those outside" (1 Cor. 5:12-13). With regard to dissociation with the immoral, he further clarified: "I did not
at all mean the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case
you would have to leave this world" (vs. 10).
Church discipline is entirely for church members! You cannot withdraw fellowship from one with whom
you have never been in fellowship, or with whom you are not now in fellowship. In
other words, if someone declares they are withdrawing from the fellowship of the One Body, and
that they want no further association with the family of God, it is pointless for a congregation of believers to then
seek to "disfellowship" such a person. That person has already severed fellowship. All the congregation
can do is acknowledge the reality, inform the body of believers, and pray for the restoration of that person to
the church. The whole point of church discipline is lost if it is enacted against those who do not even regard
themselves as being a part of the church. It is only for those who still seek to associate and fellowship with the
saints, but who are living in rebellion against God, that severing of fellowship has any hope of being spiritually
effective and ultimately restorative.
It should also be noted that church discipline is not for those in our midst who are "sinners" -- who
among us is not a sinner?! "If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the
truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8). If disfellowship was the penalty for sinfulness, we would each
have been cast off from the family of God long ago! Discipline is for those who REFUSE to turn
from their sin! They have willfully given themselves over to that which they know is displeasing to their God,
and yet they continue to seek association and fellowship with the church. It is these who must be
warned (Titus 3:10 -- "reject a factious man after a first and second warning"), and,
if they refuse to heed the warnings, disfellowshipped. Even with such a one as Jezebel, our Lord
says, "I gave her time to repent; and she does not want to repent of her immorality" (Rev. 2:21). Attempts
must be made to warn the rebellious of the consequences of their actions; seek to bring them to repentance.
If these efforts fail, then ... and only then ... does the church remove them from
their midst. Such a process is also described by Jesus Christ in Matt. 18:15-17.
Transgressions Deserving Discipline
Let's be honest with ourselves for a moment, brethren. There are some among us who, if they had their
way, would cast from the family of God any and all who differ with them over even the smallest tenet of
their tradition. Yes, these are legalistic extremists, and they have done untold damage to the One
Body. To listen to them, severing fellowship is the justified result of daring to take any view
different from their own narrow perspective. Thus, people are cast off right and left for such weighty
"transgressions" as eating in a church building, reading the "wrong" version of the Bible, supporting
a college, school of preaching, or children's home out of the "treasury," using multiple cups during
the Lord's Supper, having a Sunday School, and on and on and on we could go ... ad infinitum
... ad nauseam. I have been told countless times by such rigid extremists that they could no
longer "fellowship" me because I didn't see eye-to-eye with them on virtually every passage of
Scripture. I was told by one individual, for example, "Get out of my church and go start your own!" This casting off
of those who differ with us on any of a thousand and one matters of personal perception, preference and practice
-- matters about which God has never even spoken within the pages of Scripture; matters based only
upon assumptions, deductions, inferences, and traditions elevated to law -- is shameful and perverted.
Indeed, to be perfectly blunt, it is such factious people as these who Scripture identifies as being
in need of discipline. We shall notice this momentarily.
Based on the actions of the legalistic, patternistic extremists in the church, one would almost think the
NT documents contained a list of thousands of transgressions so severe that they each
warranted the severing of fellowship! The reality is: the NT documents contain only NINE,
and what they are will likely come as a surprise to some! Any brother or sister in Christ
who refuses to repent of any of the following specific sins, following
loving counsel and warning, is to be withdrawn from our fellowship:
- Sexual Immorality --- The situation in Corinth that Paul
addresses in 1 Cor. 5 is a perfect illustration. "It is actually reported that there is immorality among you,
and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father's
wife" (vs. 1). In 1 Cor. 6:18 Paul commands, "Flee immorality." We have been "bought with
a price, therefore glorify God in your body" (vs. 20). In the inspired writings of both covenants,
those who deliberately choose to engage in immoral activities (and there are a host of things that fall
under this category), and who refuse to repent of such, are to be cut off from the people of
God ... Thus saith the Lord.
- Covetousness --- In 1 Cor. 5:11, Paul informs us that
we are "not to associate with any so-called brother" -- that we are "not even to eat with such a one" --
if they are guilty of any of six specified sins. Those who are "covetous" made the list.
Paul says that this particular sin, along with several others named, will result in destruction at the
hands of God Almighty. "It is on account of these things that the wrath of God will come" (Col. 3:6).
If God won't fellowship such persons, then neither should we. The Greek
word employed in both of the above texts is pleonektes, which means "one who
is greedy; one who defrauds another for the sake of gain; to try and get the better of someone, or
take advantage of them." Such persons must be cast from the family of God; we are to have
absolutely no association with them!
- Idolatry --- This also is on Paul's list of the "sinful
six" in 1 Cor. 5:11, as well as the enumeration of transgressions in Col. 3:5 that will incur the fierce
wrath of God. Anything one places on the throne of their heart in the place of the Lord, and to which
they give devoted service, is an idol. The very first of the Ten Commandments is:
"Thou shalt have no other gods before Me!" (Ex. 20:3). The second command speaks of fashioning
any kind of image, form or object to represent these false deities, and then worshipping and serving such (vs. 4-5).
"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold
to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon" (Matt. 6:24). There are many
"masters" that compete for lordship over our hearts, minds and bodies. If you place any
of them above the Lord, you are to be cut off from His presence, and from the presence of His
devoted children. For two excellent commentaries on the folly of idolatry, please read: Isaiah
44:9f and Romans 1:18f.
- Reviling --- This too is listed by Paul in 1 Cor. 5:11. It is the Greek
word loidoros, which is "a verbally abusive person; one who tears down or slanders or
gossips about another." Such persons are listed among those who will never inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Cor.
6:10). Jesus, our great Pattern, "while being reviled, did not revile in return" (1 Peter 2:23). Those unwilling to
follow the example of Christ in this respect are to be removed from the fellowship of His genuine followers.
- Drunkenness --- Again, this is listed in 1 Cor. 5:11. "And do not
get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit" (Eph. 5:18).
- Extortion --- This is another of the sins enumerated in 1 Cor. 5:11.
It is also listed in 1 Cor. 6:10 as one of the sins that will keep people from inheriting the Kingdom of God. It is
serious! So serious, that those who engage in it here on earth, if they profess to be Christians, are to be removed
from the fellowship of the church. It is the Greek word harpax, which means "a swindler; one
who pillages and plunders; to seize away from another like a wild animal (to be ravenous like a wolf)." "Beware of
the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (Matt. 7:15).
The word translated "ravenous" is the same Greek word. It depicts one who seizes and plunders another like a
wild animal. Such creatures should not be among the sheep of our Lord. They must be driven out.
- Wickedness --- "Remove the wicked man from among
yourselves" (1 Cor. 5:13). This is the Greek word poneros, which means "evil; wicked." It is
sometimes used in conjunction with laziness or inactivity (as in Matt. 25:26 and Luke 19:22). Obviously, there is
no place in the One Body for those who are given over to a life of evil and wickedness. They must be
- Disorderliness --- "Now we command you, brethren, in the name
of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep aloof from every brother who leads an unruly life ("that walketh disorderly"
-- KJV) and not according to the teaching ("tradition" -- truths handed down) that you received from us"
(2 Thess. 3:6). In the early years of the church they were not blessed with the completed Bible, as we have today.
Thus, much of the teaching was handed down or passed along (which is the significance of the term "tradition").
The Greek word translated "disorderly" or "unruly" is ataktos, which is a military term
signifying disorder in the ranks; those who are out of step. We must walk in the footsteps of our Savior and Guide;
those out of step with Him are to be pulled out of the ranks so that they do not cause the rest to get
out of step with the Lord.
- Divisiveness --- "Reject a factious man after a first
and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned" (Titus 3:10-11).
The word translated "factious" is the Greek word hairetikos, from which we get our English
word "heretic." It simply means: "one who creates or promotes factions, a party spirit, or divisiveness." Literally,
it signifies one who is willing to divide over personal opinions. The unity and harmony of the One Body
are quickly destroyed by such a one, thus they must be stopped at all cost. Those willing to divide the church over
their personal or party perceptions, preferences and practices are to be cast from the fellowship of the saints.
"They must be silenced" (Titus 1:11); they must be "reproved severely" (Titus 1:13). Paul instructs
the saints in the city of Rome, "Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances
contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them" (Rom. 16:17).
Interesting, is it not, that none of the many things the church has typically divided over for generations
is to be found in the above list!! Where are musical instruments, Bible classes, multiple cups, drinking fountains,
kitchens, fellowship halls, meals in the building, four part harmony, praise teams, and a zillion and one other
"weighty matters" that have divided the people of God? Where are they? I'll tell you where they are -- they are
in the minds of factionists, sectarians, and legalistic patternists (who seek to lump all of their countless assumptions
under the umbrella of the "teaching/tradition" of 2 Thess. 3:6 -- a feeble, fallacious argument). Frankly, brethren,
these factionists have ignored God's list of sins that He declares merit a severing from the
One Body, and have chosen instead to substitute a list of their own devising! In so doing,
they have only succeeded in becoming the very ones HE declares to be worthy of disfellowship! How
ironic! How pathetic!
Who is to Discipline?
Some disciples of Christ have assumed that all church discipline is to be initiated and implemented only by the elders
or the ministers. This, however, is not the picture presented to us in the Word. Church discipline is
just that -- discipline administered by the church. The leaders should certainly provide teaching,
guidance and leadership in this area, but for any discipline to be effective, it must be implemented
by the entire body of believers, not just by a handful of the leaders. This should be obvious from many of the
Scriptures quoted above, but notice especially the following:
- In his appeal to the brethren in Corinth to discipline the immoral man among them, the apostle Paul specifies: "when you are
assembled" (1 Cor. 5:4), indicating thereby that this is a matter that needs to come before the consideration of all the
brethren, not just a select few. Additionally, when the punishment was administered, Paul indicates it was "inflicted by
the majority" (2 Cor. 2:6). This tells us a couple of things: it was a congregational decision, and not everyone
agreed with it. Unanimity is rare, especially when dealing with a larger group and a sensitive issue. Thus, the
discipline of this member was "inflicted by the majority." Some refused to go along -- perhaps friends
or family of the brother being disciplined. Nevertheless, we learn from this that a congregation must do what is
right, even if a few refuse to go along.
Focusing on Attitude
In the practice of church discipline, attitude --- specifically: the attitude of those who must administer
the punishment --- plays a vital role in whether or not the desired effect is accomplished. For discipline to be
ultimately beneficial, several key points should be kept in mind:
- Investigate the matter fully before administering punishment against a brother or sister in Christ. One might not
have all the facts, or the accusations against another may be false. Paul instructed Timothy: "Do not lay hands upon
anyone too hastily and thus share responsibility for the sins of others" (1 Tim. 5:22). Some feel this may have
reference to ordaining elders, but it is equally possible it may have reference to receiving accusations against an
elder and then rebuking them (cf. vs. 19-20). In other words, "Timothy, don't rush to judgment! Investigate the
matter thoroughly!" In the Law of the Old Covenant, when accusations were made against another, the rule was: "You shall
investigate and search out and inquire thoroughly" as to the truth of the matter (Deut. 13:14; see also: 17:4; 19:18).
- It is also imperative that there be witnesses to the matter in question; that punishment not be inflicted based on hearsay, or one person's
testimony against another. "On the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses, he who is to die shall be put to
death; he shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness" (Deut. 17:6). "A single witness shall
not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed;
rather, it is on the evidence of two or three witnesses that a matter shall be confirmed" (Deut. 19:15). The apostle Paul wrote,
"Every fact is to be confirmed by the testimony of two or three witnesses" (2 Cor. 13:1). "Do not receive an
accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses" (1 Tim. 5:19).
- Our attitude toward those being disciplined is also critical. After telling the brethren in Thessalonica that they
must "take special note of that man and do not associate with him, so that he may be put to shame" (2 Thess. 3:14),
the apostle Paul then states what their attitude must be during this process --- "And yet do not regard him as an enemy, but
admonish him as a brother" (vs. 15). Discipline, to be ultimately effective, must always be practiced in love,
and the goal must be the restoration of the brother who has chosen to live in rebellion to God's will. This falls
under the category of "tough love."
- If the person being disciplined does indeed repent as a result of the punishment inflicted, we are to "forgive
and comfort him, lest somehow such a one be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. ... and reaffirm your love for
him" (2 Cor. 2:7-8). Jesus said, "If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him" (Luke 17:3).
Why Practice Church Discipline?
I think we are all aware that in many congregations of the Lord's church there is a great reluctance to practice church discipline. In fact,
I have spoken to Christians (many who have been in the church for decades) who have never witnessed
another disciple disfellowshipped. Some don't even know what this is! Don't misunderstand, I'm not
suggesting congregations should be casting people out on a regular basis. Far from it. There are some
congregations where this happens much too frequently. However, there must be a balance between the two
extremes. One extreme disfellowships people over just about anything; the other extreme won't disfellowship
anyone, regardless of the transgression. In congregations seeking to follow the declared will of God, this will be practiced
only when a brother or sister is guilty of the transgressions GOD has declared to be worthy of disfellowship, and
such action will be taken, but taken with love and prayerful concern for the one being disciplined, and
with the goal of ultimate restoration to the body. Toleration of willful, unrepentant transgressors in the church is
unacceptable, but so also is casting out those who simply differ with us on matters of personal or party preferences.
There are valid reasons for severing fellowship with those whom GOD declares unfit for association
with His true believers. I believe these reasons are threefold:
- We practice church discipline because it is commanded of us, and we seek to be obedient to the will of God. After talking about discipline,
Paul told the Corinthian brethren, "The reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient
in everything" (2 Cor. 2:9). "We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things
we command" (2 Thess. 3:4). May this be said of each of us, individually and congregationally.
- We practice church discipline for the sake of the sinner who will not repent. Sin can very quickly harden a
sinner's heart; it sears their conscience. In time, it will lead them to a point when repentance is no longer possible
for them (Heb. 6:6). Discipline of such unrepentant sinners is an effort made by their brethren in Christ to bring
them to their senses before it is too late; to awaken them spiritually. Yes, even to punish them
(2 Cor. 2:6), shame them (2 Thess. 3:14), and make them sorrowful (2 Cor. 7:8-10), so that
they might repent and be restored to their Lord (1 Cor. 5:5; 2 Cor. 7:10).
- We practice church discipline for the sake of the church. A congregation that refuses to mourn over and be
troubled by willful sin in its midst, and that will not take action against such, is displaying an arrogant attitude
in direct opposition to God's directives (1 Cor. 5:2,6). It thereby assumes to know better than God how to deal
with sin in its midst. By failing to discipline such a one, the congregation, in effect, becomes just as callous and
indifferent to sin as the one engaging in it. This attitude is rebuked by Jesus (Rev. 2:20f). If a congregation does
not "clean out the leaven" (1 Cor. 5:7), it will inevitably be tainted by it. The Body of Christ cannot
maintain its purity if it condones impurity within its midst. By not withdrawing from sin, and those
who persist in it, the church, by default, is in fellowship with it (2 John 10-11).
Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642) wisely observed, "Leniency gives rise to the ultimately necessary exercise of a
degree of cruelty which could have been avoided by the employment of an efficacious punishment at an earlier
time." His point is: no one is truly served by failing to employ responsible and timely discipline; not
society, nor even those who transgress its laws. In the church, our God has commanded the discipline of those
who commit specific transgressions; He has prescribed it, and He has established its parameters. In this issue
of my weekly Reflections we have sought to perceive a little more clearly those divine principles and
parameters. I pray we will never have to enforce them against a brother or sister in Christ ... and I pray that if
such should become necessary that we will never shirk our responsibility to God, the church, and the person in
need of being brought to repentance.
Reflections on CD
Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce and Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace
by Al Maxey
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From a New Reader in California:
Al, I have been teaching a class on hermeneutics at our congregation. The class has been very enjoyable and
people seem to be getting a lot out of it. The discussions we have after class even seem to be
more fun than the ones we have in class. I have about six more weeks of the class, and we are
now heading into the area of this study where we evaluate our past hermeneutic (CENI) and its effectiveness
(or lack thereof). I've already given the class a preview of where I'm headed by making comments here and there
on how we have traditionally viewed the silence of the Scriptures, and what that may mean (i.e., does
silence really mean prohibition?). Someone in the class recently gave me your name and encouraged me to
read the material on your web site. Al, I can't tell you how refreshing it was! It was like finding water
in a desert! You are writing what I've believed for years! I wanted to thank you for your Reflections,
and for doing what you do, and encourage you to continue in this ministry of unity. I stand with you
as someone who is also unwilling to "jump ship" and give up on the Churches of Christ. May God give
each of us strength to be patient and wisdom to teach so as to bring about change without division. Al, I'm so grateful
that God has given you a mind that thinks and a heart that loves. Thank you for shepherding
my soul through your writings.
From a New Reader in Michigan:
Al, I serve as an elder for the -------- Church of Christ here in Michigan. Before that time I served
in Christian Churches for thirty years. I hope that your wisdom and scholarship will help these
two groups to again enjoy fellowship based on our common faith, heritage and salvation. Also, I found your
arguments regarding silence very compelling. The vile words and attitudes directed at you by some
are unwarranted and unchristian. Thank you for your work!
From a Reader in Alabama:
Al, "People of Purpose" was a great article. I have never worshipped with a group of saints where we had a
"program" in place to teach and attend to the needs of people after they were saved. This is
something that I have been trying to make happen for years, and am getting nowhere. Thanks!
- Such a "nourishing & nurturing" ministry is woefully lacking in many congregations, but
it is absolutely essential, in my view. I don't believe it requires a formal "program," but merely loving disciples
actively and daily involved in mutual discipling and spiritual accountability. The apostle Paul spoke of such, at
least in part, when he said that he planted, Apollos watered, and God
brought about the growth. There is an important principle here that we dare not overlook. We
must do more than just plant the seed in a receptive heart, ceasing our efforts after we see that young shoot spring
up to new life. That new life must then be nurtured if it is to grow as it should. Planting
is only for a season in a new disciple's life; watering is lifelong!! --- Al Maxey
From a Reader in California:
Bro. Al, I am very thankful for your writings. I am very thankful that there is a man with your abilities who is able
to address these issues in a current, up-to-date manner, with the skill that you do, on the intellectual level that
you do, with the clarity that you do. I haven't yet read all of your Reflections, but those I have (my
main interest has been Bible interpretation, patternism, and MDR) have been, for the most part, "Best of Show,"
in my mind. Thank you for all your efforts!
From a Minister in Alabama:
Al, Your article "People of Purpose" was very timely. I, along with several others, have been trying to emphasize
a much more evangelistic orientation to our lives in this congregation, and yet we're seeking to do so without getting that
out of balance. Rick Warren really has some good things to say. I think following the Great Commandment
is the driving force behind following the Great Commission. At the same time, I would add that there
are many who are evangelistically focused, but their message is one of, "You need to be converted to MY
system of law," rather than the essence of the gospel: that Jesus died for our sins and we can have eternal
salvation through our genuine faith in His sacrifice.
From a Reader in Colorado:
Dear Brother Al, I am not a Church of Christ brand of Christian, but I am a kindred spirit
and a follower of Christ. I have been getting together for study with a man who was raised in the Church of
Christ fellowship, and he has been sharing with me his "patterns." I worship at a reformed Presbyterian
Church and rather enjoy the saints there and the service and do not want to change. He came to my store
after our last Bible study and asked me to come to their worship service. I do not feel compelled to go, but do want
to continue to fellowship with him to learn more of this "pattern theology" (he actually believes, for example, that
having a paid minister is "idol worship"). What is your advice, since it seems you have preached against, and
know more about, this type of teaching than I do? I would appreciate your insight and advice.
- Personally, I
think legalistic patternism is a blight upon Christendom, and, frankly, I would not wish it upon my worst enemy.
I encouraged this reader to continue showing kindness to this individual, and to continue studying the Bible
with him, but to be very cautious of his theology, as I do not believe it is of God. It is my prayer that this reader
might be able, through continued study of the Word with this legalist, to share some of God's grace with this poor
man enslaved to a system of patternistic law. I also pray that this reader will carefully examine some of the
teachings of his own church (as, indeed, we should all be doing) to see if they are in accord with God's
Word. If both of these men will simply be open to setting aside their various traditions, and allow God's
Word to enlighten them, I imagine both will be making some changes. May God bless them both in
their study! --- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Alabama:
Al, As I was reading the statement of purpose from the Cuba Avenue Church of Christ in your last
article, I couldn't help but remember the great people of that wonderful congregation, and the years that you and
I served in ministry together there. Your comment to the reader in Alabama regarding Tommy Ledbetter also
brought back great memories of our times with Tommy and his lovely wife Maryellen. After tasting the freedom
in Christ we enjoyed at the Oak Hills church in San Antonio, Texas, we moved to North Alabama, and
now we find ourselves in a tradition bound, legalistic, CENI congregation that feels the need at every opportunity
to criticize the "denominations" and exalt our own "one true church" status. As I was reading Reflections
#244 (especially the section on "What Drives Us?") I began to wonder what would happen if we would start
focusing on God's purposes rather than tearing other believers down! Thanks, Al, for yet another thoughtful and
From a Reader in Colorado:
Al, I really liked your reference to "sound and fury" (in the readers' section of your last Reflections, when
speaking of John Waddey), but you should have put the whole quote in --- all of it fits!
"A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing!" (William Shakespeare's "Macbeth" -- Act 5,
From a Reader in New Mexico:
Bro. Al, Whenever I think of our purpose, I think of the below quote. Like much of Thomas Merton's writings, I had
read this quote for years, time and time again, and one day I finally got it -- deep within my heart.
It answered, in an instant, most of my questions regarding my own Christianity. Perhaps it will strike a chord
with you and the readers. "The eyes of the saint make all beauty holy and the hands of the saint consecrate
everything they touch to the glory of God, and the saint is never offended by anything and judges no man's sin
because he does not know sin. He knows the mercy of God. He knows that his own mission on earth is to
bring that mercy to all men."
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