Church Discipline In The Case Of Interpersonal Disagreements

Discipline In The Case Of Interpersonal Disagreements

Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:15–18)

Seeking Reconciliation

            The text before us presents to us the issue of church discipline as it relates to interpersonal disagreements. The aim of the disciplinary process here is to affect reconciliation between brothers who are divided by sin. It is only if every godly effort fails that excommunication becomes necessary. The goal is for the offended brother to regain the offending brother.

            Jesus commands the brother who has been sinned against to privately approach the offending brother in an attempt to restore the relationship. Solomon warns us against talking to others in the event of such an incident. He explains that we may be found at fault and shamed if we do so. “Debate thy cause with thy neighbour himself; And discover not a secret to another: Lest he that heareth it put thee to shame, And thine infamy turn not away.” (Proverbs 25:9–10) Let us beware of the tendency to tell another when a brother has sinned against us. That will not help us, but will only serve to aggravate the situation, thus making it worse.

            Having been sinned against, Jesus commands us to show our brother his sin. “Then said he unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come. It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him. And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith.” (Luke 17:1–5) We often think of rebuke as harsh words, yet rebuke can also be words that show a brother his wrong and call him to repentance. This can be done in a kind way. “A soft answer turneth away wrath: But grievous words stir up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1) This could indeed bring our brother to repentance, and that is the goal of approaching him in this manner. It is not an easy thing to do. The apostles understood the difficulty of this and said, “Increase our faith.” (Luke 17:5) If we will trust the Lord to take care of us and guide us, we will obey the commands of Christ and go to our brother seeking reconciliation.

            Jesus tells us, “if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.” (Matthew 18:15) As the apostles, our faith is often weak, and we tend to think that it will be of no use to go to our brother. We must seek to have greater faith, as this is God’s plan for us to make peace with our brother.

            Even though we often think that our offending brother should come to us and apologize, it shows the spirit of Christ and the gospel for us to go to our sinning brother and seek to bring about reconciliation. That is what God has done for us. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are past away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17–19) Though we had sinned against God, He did not wait for us to come to Him in repentance; but He came to us in Christ, thus making reconciliation possible. We should show the same forgiving grace to our brother who sins against us.

            It is indeed possible that our brother refuses to hear us and make peace with us. It is then that we should take the next step in seeking reconciliation and take with us one or two more brothers. These brothers are there to witness our desire for things to be right between our selves and the brother who sinned against us. These brothers are to be people who love peace and truth, because it is the aim of the meeting to seek peace. They should help by hearing both sides of the issue and calling the sinning brother to repentance. If he does not hear his brothers’ call to repentance, they will have to bear witness to the church. Jesus’ words regarding the matter being established in the mouth of two or three witnesses reminds us of Deuteronomy 19:15-21, where we are warned against perjury and called upon to witness truthfully. If the sinning brother refuses to repent and make peace, it will rest upon these witnesses to faithfully testify to the church when the offended brother submits the matter to the church’s judging authority.

The Judgment Of The Church

Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life? If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church. I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man amongst you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers. Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded? Nay, you do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren.” (1 Corinthians 6:1–8)

            When all godly efforts at reconciling fail, the church is the final authority. Note that Paul, in the passage above, rebukes the Corinthians for taking their personal matters to the courts.[1]Not only were they fighting in the presence of unbelievers who did not observe and respect the law of God (1-3), but they were actually using the courts to cheat their brothers (:8)! Paul commanded them that they should be willing to take loss, if need be, and that the church was the proper place to deal with disagreements and divisions between brothers.

            What is the procedure that is to be followed when a matter between brothers has to be presented to the church? First of all, the church should appoint some brother(s) to hear the matter and to render a godly decision. The Corinthians, being lovers of worldly wisdom and despisers of godly wisdom, were instructed to choose those whom they despised (:4-5). It is my belief that this means that they were to choose men who were godly and wise instead of those worldly wise brothers whom they preferred the most. Then these godly brothers should hear the matter and render a decision on behalf of the church. The decision rendered should be one that calls for the sinning brother to repent and make peace with the one against whom he had sinned.[2]Again, should the sinning brother hear the decision of the church, peace is made between the two brothers[3].

            In the event that the sinning brother still does not repent and reconcile with the brother against whom he sinned, the church must then pronounce the sentence of excommunication. He is to be treated as if he were an unbeliever, as he is acting like an unbeliever. Excommunication is the final resort. We have no desire to ever come to this point. The discipline of the church is for the purpose of teaching and guiding one another in the way of discipleship. Each step in the process of seeking reconciliation is a teaching step that should instruct us in the ways of Christ and godly behavior. It is only when every sincere and godly effort as outlined above fails that the church should withdraw her fellowship from the sinning brother. In all of these things the goal is peace. Jesus is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6-7), has come to bring us peace (Romans 5:1-2;Ephesians 2:10-18), and calls us to walk in peace (Romans 12:19-21;14:19;Colossians 3:15;2 Thessalonians 3:14-16). Excommunication is only for those who sinfully reject the way of peace, and then it serves the purpose of ministering peace within the body of Christ by placing the divisive person on the outside and calling him to repentance.


[1]This obviously refers to civil matters and not criminal. Not only does criminal law make us mandatory reporters in certain issues, we must recall that criminal law is the domain of government (Romans 13:1-7).

[2]Realistically, we should recognize that both parties may have sinned against each other, and the decision of the judges and the church may be to call both parties to repent.

[3]Note that, while we speak of the church making a decision, they are doing so by means of those whom they have established as judges. It is quite possible that the whole of the issue does not need to be aired before the entire church membership in a meeting. The matter could discreetly be presented to the church, the church appoint judges, and the judges make a godly decision without every detail of the dispute being made public.

Church Discipline And Excommunication

Church Discipline And Excommunication

It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named amongst the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife. And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such a one no not to eat. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.” (1 Corinthians 5) 

            The church at Corinth had many problems within the body, but among the worst was the worldly wisdom that embraced immorality as good. It was heard everywhere (As Paul said, it was commonly reported.) that there was a man who was sleeping with his stepmother, and the church was swollen with pride that he had done such a thing. It is into this situation that Paul wrote to call the church to mourn, repent, and to deal with the matter in a godly way.

            Paul’s command to the church was that they should excommunicate[1]the sinning brother. His instruction was that they were to deal with this when they met together as a body (:3-5). Excommunication, or the withdrawing of fellowship, is to be an act of the body of Christ and not simply done by the pastor. This act is described as the person being put away from among the body (:2,9,13). The one under church censure was to be excluded from the Lord’s Supper (:11), and from the company, or fellowship, of the saints (2 Thessalonians 3:6,14-16). 

            What sins are worthy of excommunication? The apostle lists several: “I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such a one no not to eat.” (1 Corinthians 5:9–11) Again, he told the Romans, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.” (Romans 16:17–18) Likewise, he told Titus, “A man that is a heretick, after the first and second admonition, reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.” (Titus 3:10–11) The sin may be that of immorality, as in 1 Corinthians chapter five, or it may be doctrinal divisions as in Romans chapter sixteen, or possibly a generally divisive person as the heretic (schismatic) person who is mentioned in Titus chapter three. All of these things introduce sin and disruption into the body of Christ, whereas excommunication is the church pursuing holiness together, and thus peace (See 2 Thessalonians 3:16in context.).

There is a goal to church discipline, and that is that the work of Christian discipleship would be accomplished. Discipline is not about punishing and harming those with whom we are angry, but about leading them back to Christ. The Thessalonians were told that they should withdraw fellowship from the sinning brother that he would be ashamed (2 Thessalonians 3:14-16). Shame has a goal, and that goal is repentance (Psalm 83:16-18;2 Corinthians 7:7-12). The one under church censure is to be treated as one who needs the gospel (Matthew 18:15-20), though he is to be warned as we would warn our brothers whom we love. Paul also states that this is so that the spirit of the man would be saved at the judgment (1 Corinthians 5:5). This simply means that it is for the purpose of bringing the sinning one to repentance. If he is truly saved, he will repent and demonstrate it. If he is not saved, we long for him to repent that he will be saved. As the sinning brother is living as though he were not converted, we must treat him as such, have no Christian fellowship with him, and call him to get right with God through repentance and faith.

Excommunication also has to do with the holiness of the church. Sin is likened to leaven, or yeast, which works by means of corruption and spreads throughout the body (1 Corinthians 5:6). Excommunication is the purging out of sin that the body might be holy.

            It must be emphasized that the action of excommunication can never be one that is done in wrath or bitterness, “for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20) This is an act of love. We are never to treat the erring one as an enemy, but as a beloved brother who is to be warned and called to repentance (2 Thessalonians 3:14-16). If he repents, he is to be warmly received and given grace and forgiveness, thus confirming our love for him (2 Corinthians 2:5-8).

            What is the process that should be followed in excommunication? While Paul simply mentions that the Corinthian church should carry out the sentence as a body (1 Corinthians 5:1-5), should we simply excommunicate a person without warning? Is that the way to treat one whom we should embrace lovingly as a natural brother (2 Thessalonians 3:14-16)? Is that how we would desire to be treated (Matthew 7:12)? Should we not strive in every way possible to call the sinning person to repentance, longing to avoid the extreme measure of excommunication? Note that Paul said that the divisive person should be warned twice before being rejected (Titus 3:10). Surely we should in most cases actively seek the repentance of this person multiple times before we withdraw fellowship from them.

            Another thing that is important is the principle of truth. We must not simply proceed to excommunication because of something that is not verified. It is by no means loving to receive a false report: that is the mark of sinful and foolish people (Proverbs 10:18;17:4). Note also that God hates perjury (Deuteronomy 19:15-21), and calls us to pursue the truth by means of faithful witnesses (Matthew 18:15-20). It is far better to have the charges of immorality, false doctrine, or divisiveness established in the mouth of two or three witnesses than to deal with any sort of “He said-she said” report. We always need to pursue the truth, and pursue it in love.

            When multiple loving efforts to reclaim our sinning member have failed, the church must with grief withdraw fellowship from him (1 Corinthians 5:2). This should typically be done in regular business meeting of the church. This will possibly help prevent accusations of the action being pursued in secret or in a sneaky manner; as all members of the church should know when the regular business meeting occurs. This should also be an action that is taken by the whole body. Though a simple majority vote will certainly pass, it is preferable that the vote be a unanimous vote. The church certainly needs unity in such a troublesome time that requires them to excommunicate someone they love greatly.

            Finally, let us always remember that we should pursue holiness and love in all things. Never should we act hastily, but proceed with charity and seek to lovingly be a blessing to the one who is in sin. That is our calling as the body of Christ.


[1]excommunicationExclusion from the community of the faithful or particularly from the Lord’s table because of an error in doctrine or lapse in morals or both.Kurian, George Thomas.Nelson’s New Christian Dictionary: The Authoritative Resource on the Christian World. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001.

The Discipline of Verbal Correction

The Discipline Of Verbal Correction

For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.” (Titus 2:11–15)  See also 1 Corinthians 4:1-21.

             Our text teaches us that there are things that are to be taught (As we have seen, this is formative or instructive discipline.), and to be rebuked. To rebuke is to show one his fault, or to condemn one for a fault. Paul told Titus that there are things that are, after having been taught, to be rebuked with authority.

            What does the Scripture tell us about rebuke? “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him.” (Leviticus 19:17) In this passage we find that rebuke is a demonstration of love in which the one rebuked is shown his error, convicted of it by the truth, and called to correct the error. If we love our neighbor, we are to rebuke him so that he will repent of his sins. Jesus spoke of this saying, “Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him. And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith.” (Luke 17:3–5) Rebuke is to occur when someone sins against us as individuals. We also know that we are to speak to our erring brothers when we see them walking away from the truth. “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19–20) We are to seek to reclaim him from the grips of sin. This would most certainly involve loving reproof and rebuke.  (Cf Nehemiah 5:1-13 and Psalm 6:1;38:1;39:11   Proverbs 27:5;Luke 17:1-5;Ephesians 5:11-17)

            Rebuke is not always to be a matter of scathing, harsh words. In fact, while sin is to be rebuked, even publicly (1 Timothy 5:20), Timothy is given instructions regarding how rebuke is to be administered. “Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; the elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity.” (1 Timothy 5:1–2) In 1 Timothy 5:20, rebuke is about convicting a person of sin, or exposing sin. In 1 Timothy 5:1, rebuke is something quite different; it is striking one with words. We are not to speak scathing, harsh, and wrath filled words when we rebuke. Rebuke is to be based upon the Word of God so that we can show sin as what it is, and demonstrate its presence with the truth. Harsh words need not be spoken, because the Word of God itself pierces deep within a man (Hebrews 4:12-13). (cf Proverbs 6:23 instruction 2 Timothy3:16-17, 4:1-4)

            Reproof and rebuke are things that we need to value. Reproof and rebuke are not simply someone telling us that we are wrong, but they are designed for the purpose of setting us aright. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Timothy 3:16–17) God’s Word is given to instruct us, reprove us, correct us, and perfect us. Reproof is part of the instructing and perfecting process. Reproof and rebukes are gifts from God to either keep us from falling into grievous sin, or to help us overcome grievous sins that we have committed. Solomon told his son, “reproofs of instruction are the way of life:” (Proverbs 6:23) Reproof ministers life to us. It directs us in the way of life. It instructs us how to live to the glory of God. We also find that godly reproof is better than the pleasure of listening to an enjoyable secular song (Ecclesiastes 7:5). In our day we value our entertainment, but we are far better off when we listen to the words of reproof and rebuke that often hurt us than if we simply tune out the Word of God and tune in the amusement of the world.

            The Bible even speaks to us about how we should respond to reproof and rebuke. David sets a godly example saying, “Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: And let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, Which shall not break my head: For yet my prayer also shall be in their calamities.” (Psalm 141:5) Solomon wisely said, “He is in the way of life that keepeth instruction: But he that refuseth reproof erreth.” (Proverbs 10:17) The godly response to verbal correction is to keep it, or hold on to it. This simply means that we are to accept godly correction and act on it. There is honor to the one who pays attention to godly reproof (Proverbs 13:18), and we are instructed by God to repent when we are rebuked (Revelation 3:19). (See also Hebrews 12:4-11;13:7-8,17,22.)

            We also need to see that there is a response to reproof that is ungodly, and shows our hearts and characters to be ungodly. “Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: Rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee.” (Proverbs 9:8) There are those who reject rebuke and hate those who minister reproof and rebuke. The Scripture calls that person a scorner and contrasts him with the wise person, obviously declaring him to be foolish. Reading Proverbs 15:10 shows us that the rejection of correction indicates one who is forsaking the truth and embraces death. In fact, we find that, “He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, Shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.” (Proverbs 29:1) Finally, Jesus’ words in John 3:19-21 demonstrate that those who hate reproof are sinners who love darkness. It is quite obvious that one cannot consistently resist and reject verbal correction if he is the child of God. It is the wicked person who rejects correction.

            These things being so, we can understand that verbal correction is an essential part of the disciplinary process. It is a part of godly discipleship. It is the duty of pastors to exercise this (2 Timothy 4:1-5), and it is the duty of churches to do so also (Titus 3:10).