My wife and I took our daughter to the doctor today (well, now it’s yesterday). It was time for her four-month checkup. We did not know (although we should have) that our little munchkin would be getting four shots–again. Oh how she cried! I don’t like to hear her cry, no father would. But then I stated thinking (and that means trouble).
The shots hurt our little girl, but that pain was only for a short time. In fact, this short-term pain is designed to eliminate the possibility of the long-term pain of diseases like polio. What’s my point? Sometimes God does this to us. The author to the Hebrews addresses this when he writes:
Hebrews 12:1-11 (ESV)
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.  In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.  And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?  If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.  Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?  For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.  For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Sometimes God hurts us and we need Him to do so. Sometimes He wants to further sanctify us and sometimes we have fallen into sin and must be disciplined. The biblical examples are many; here are a few:
Israel. God promised Abraham that Israel would be his chosen nation, that was the good news. The bad news was they would be strangers (and slaves) in a land that was not their own. The Israelites languished in Egypt for 4oo-odd years waiting for the fulfillment of this promise–and they waited amid the pain of a torturous slavery.
Why did God do it this way? Why didn’t He give them the land of Canaan right then? It was His plan to have His chosen nation endure the bitter pain of slavery so that the Israelites would be able to appreciate what God had given them. Without the centuries of bitter slavery, the miracles God performed to show His supreme power in the Exodus would not have had the impact that they ultimately did.
Job. Job is, perhaps, my favorite book of the Bible–it depends on the day. In the book of Job we see a man of impeccable faith who even goes so far as saying: Though He [God] slay me; I will hope in Him (Job 13:15). That’s faith! Job was willing to accept God’s sovereign inflicting of pain because he had an absolute trust in God, even to the point of death.
Poor Job, we say. No. Job suffered greatly at the hand of God. Job wanted answers and God never gave them. Job lost everything. But read Job 38 through the end of the book. For all his pain, Job got an unparalleled vision of God Himself. For his faithfulness, Job (who never did anything wrong, by the way), received double of what he lost. But the most valuable thing he got was that vision of God.
Well then, what about the other case–when we do something wrong? That is where church discipline comes into play.
Church discipline is virtually absent in the Baptist church today. There is a politeness which says, “That’s between that person and God; who am I to judge.” Let me state this bluntly: If you, as a church, are not engaging in biblical church discipline, you are not a church–you are merely a congregation–and you are proving that you do not love your brothers and sisters in Christ (see the Hebrews passage above).
What is the difference? A church is a covenant community of true believers who covenant together to live Christ-like lives and to help the other members of the community do the same. A congregation is a group of people who like to sit in church and have their ears tickled by the pastor while he holds their hands on the way to hell (wow, that’s blunt! and an over-statement, but I think it makes my point).
Christians today have a fruit problem (no, I’m not talking about homosexuality). Christians are called to bear the fruit of repentance–the fruit of being true Christians. Jesus said:
Matthew 7:15-20 (ESV)
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?  So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.  A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
We are to guard the purity of the church by examining the fruit of the people in the church. This should begin before baptism and/or membership is granted. I believe there should be an interview process where the pastor, the elders, etc. interview the candidates to make sure, as far as can be known, these candidates are true Christians and should be recommended for baptism and/or membership. Also, there should be a time where the general membership of the church, along with the leadership, observes the candidate to see if he or she is bearing the fruit that a Christian should bear. That is a form of church discipline. But what happens when a Church member sins?
Ultimately, when a believer sins, he or she is bearing the fruit of the world. And the church cannot have the fruit of the world in its midst. Church discipline must be performed–with the purpose of restoration.
As a covenant community, it should be our goal to restore the fallen brother or sister. We should not want to crucify them and kick them out–if that is your desire you have a problem! Restoration is the goal. The community should want the church member to repent, return, and continue to bear the fruit of a Christian life–a life lived in repentance and faith.
We know that not everyone in our church is a Christian. Jesus said:
Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV)
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
That there are and will continue to be self-deluded non-believers in our churches is a problem, but it is a problem we will never completely solve. It is our job to inspect the fruit of our fellow brothers and sisters and help them as they help us to live like Christians.
When church discipline needs to be done, it will be painful–but the long-term gain is far more important than this short-term pain. If I were performing church discipline on someone I would do the following:
- Work through the steps of Matthew 18:15-20–deal with the brother or sister in private and, if necessary, bring to them a group of people to corroborate their error.
- Work in private or semi-private (with the group–deacons, elders, etc.) for an extended period of time (perhaps six months to a year) with the goal of having the offending member repent.
- As a last resort (when the offending person is absolutely unrepentant), bring the matter before the church, the covenant community.
- Affirm that we are all sinners and we all are liable to the discipline of the church.
- Affirm that we are not imposing our opinions about right living. Rather, we are pointing out where the offending person has broken clear, scriptural commands.
- Pray for the offending person to repent and pray that the discipliners do not fall into a “holier-than-thou” attitude (repeat this step often and then repeat it again).
- As the final resort, remove (by vote of the congregation) the person from membership in the covenant community–disallowing them to vote, hold office, or partake in the Lord’s Supper.
For the person removed, this will be a painful experience. Honestly, if it is not a painful experience for the church too, something is not being done correctly. Also, the covenant community, as a whole, must continue to pray for the member to repent and be restored to membership and they must go out of their way to work and minister to that end.
Just like my little girl getting shots at the doctor’s office, church discipline is painful, but the long-term benefits for the church (purity) and the one disciplined (no false sense of assurance and hopefully true repentance and faith) is well worth the pain.