“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.
- - Matthew 18:15-20
Matthew 18:15–20 openly links the process of church discipline with the keys of the kingdom. Telling church leaders that what they bind on earth is bound in heaven and what they loose on earth is loosed on heaven. Of course, this assumes that this binding and loosing is done in unity with Scripture. But it is the same right first expressed to Peter when Christ promised to give him the keys of the kingdom, so we know that church discipline opens and closes the door to this blessed realm.
Before looking at this opening and closing in more detail, I want to discuss the process of church discipline. As we see in the passage above, discipline deals with professing believers who have sinned against others. Generally speaking, discipline will progress from private opposition to the public. The Christian who is sinned against by another Christian must first confront their offender one on one and seek that person’s repentance. This is for the good of the church, as it prevents news of the sin from spreading beyond the people involved and becoming kindling for the fire of gossip. If the person repents, no further action is necessary. But if private rebuke does not work, the offender is to be taken before other witnesses and finally the whole church, which must excommunicate sinners who are stubbornly unrepentant.
Let’s make sure to notice two things here. First, these instructions for discipline are not to be applied gracelessly. Scripture also speaks of the love that “covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). The sins that merit church discipline are obviously scandalous sins that may destroy the peace and purity of the body of Christ. Discipline is not to be enacted for every grievance that arises in the church. Second, there are cases in which discipline should not begin with private admonition. Public sins should be dealt with publicly, as Paul shows us in (1 Corinthians 5).
Today, many professing Christians see church discipline as unloving, and many church leaders are afraid to practice it for fear of appearing merciless. But, refusing to apply grace-filled church discipline in careful obedience to Scripture is the most unloving and merciless thing the church can do. When the church does not call out impenitent people, it gives them false assurance that they are in a state of salvation.
The Church is, for better or worse, a family organism. Some are more like the mom or dad figures, some are the annoying sibling, while a few are the crazy uncle you never want to invite to the Christmas party. All of these people are important to the Church completing its mission. Make Disciples for the Master. We need to see people with the value God has placed onto them. If we see people as important and valuable, we will take time to help them through encouragement as well as constructive criticism. If we value other people we will listen to their thoughts and insights without becoming offended. A Christian will not be “thin-skinned”, nor will a Christian walk around on egg shells trying not to offend. People need to hear the truth, just make sure it’s seasoned with grace. Jesus was not easily offended. Jesus was okay offering instruction to those who were around him. In 2019, let’s discipline ourselves and our church to become more like Jesus
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage, with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
- - 2 Timothy 4:1-5