Whatever Happened to Church Discipline?

September 1, 2016

Matthew 18:15-18

15 “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. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. 18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.


Ready for another oxymoron? How about church discipline. ;0)

That’s what this text is all about. We most typically hear this text today when it comes to the working out of disputes and grievances between two people. First confront the person who has wronged you in private. If they don’t receive the reproof then you get two other people to go with you. If they don’t heed the counsel of the group then it moves to a more public issue. Certainly there is wisdom here for such scenarios, but if I’m reading Matthew rightly (and I may not be), this text is not exactly about such situations.

We must read a passage of Scripture in the light and context of the scripture texts surrounding the passage. In this case, we need to remember a few verses back, we were talking about people who caused children to turn away from Jesus. Next it moved to the gravity of sin and the thing that cause people to stumble and fall away from following Jesus. Next we discussed the one lost sheep from the flock of 100 and the shepherd’s intent to go and find that one sheep and return it to the flock. Today we are dealing with what it looks like to make that confrontation of the one who is openly sinning and falling away from the community of faith. Interestingly enough, tomorrows text has more close application to resolving conflict between two fellow believers. This kind of dispute does not call for the kinds of legal proceedings today’s text proscribes. As we will see, when it comes to our grievances with one another the remedy is to forgive them up to 490 times, which is another way of saying forgive them to infinity and beyond.

Back to church discipline. As I read today’s text, it looks far more like an intervention strategy of last resort than garden variety conflict resolution between friends. Imagine if a member of your church has fallen into an extramarital affair with someone outside of the church. This person is a friend of yours and you know without doubt they are committing adultery. In fact, it is rather widely known and whispered about frequently both among the church and in the surrounding community. I should take the initiative to go and privately seek this “brother” out and confront him about this sin. If he (or she) refuses to acknowledge it or to turn away from it, I should gather two other close brothers (or brothers and sisters) and confront him again.

Now we get to the hard part we tend to consider an unthinkable solution. If he refuses to turn away from the affair after being privately confronted by the small group, it should  be taken up with the church. If the church’s counsel is thwarted, the church should disassociate from them. The entire process is meant to avoid public shaming. This is a process of very hard love. The goal here is the salvation of a brother or sister. Open, persistent sin is a sure path to destruction to the person and damage to the entire community.

To be honest, I find this process—particularly the final step of disassociation—to be almost unfathomable in this day and age. It has me thinking, though. I think what Jesus probably finds unfathomable is the scenario where my friends house (i.e. their life) is on fire, and I am ohm and his friends are OK, and even the church is OK with letting it burn down because it didn’t seem reasonable, acceptable or practical to intervene.


Jesus, I am confronted here with this hypothetical situation that in fact happens all around me all the time. You are bringing me to the conviction that to stay out of it is actually a failure of love. It is a sin of omission. I want to be more like you, to love people so deeply that I will stop at nothing to keep them in the fold. Come Holy Spirit, and fill me with that kind of love that I might be ridded of my casual indifference. For your name, Jesus. Amen.


1. Many in this day and age reason that if one church did this, the person at issue would just go down the street to another church, so what’s the point of following through with it? How do you evaluate this kind of thinking in light of today’s entry?

2. Can you remember a situation in the past (or even now) where you knew a brother or sister was wandering away into the snares of sin? What did you do? What would you do or will you do when this scenario presents itself again?

3. What’s wrong with the conventional thinking that this is a free country and that is their business and it’s not my place to “judge” them and all the other ways we excuse ourselves from redemptive intervention?


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J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ.

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Comments and Discussion

One Response

  1. This is something that definitely needs to be “re-evaluated” (or, re-looked at – whatever?) in the church today. We must overcome the fear and hesitancy to confront (In love, of course) when necessary. As was stated – that IS true love for our brother or sister. As concerning the fact that they may leave a particular church fellowship and just go down the street to another church, – that possibility must not stop us from doing the right thing. The Holy Spirit will use the proper scriptural action to speak to that person, regardless. And may the Lord Jesus deal with His church in such a way that pastors will begin to work together (thank God, some already have) to avoid situations where people can just “slide & hide” from one church to another.

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