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Special Study on Church Discipline

A.             Greeting and Thanksgiving - 1:1-11

B.             Paul's Defense against Unwarranted Accusations - 1:12-2:4

C.             Paul on Church Discipline - 2:5-11

1.              Principles of Discipline - 2:5-8

a.              the offending party - v. 5

There is considerable debate among commentators as to the identity of this individual. The older commentaries (especially P. Hughes) insist that this is the incestuous man of 1 Cor. 5. More recent commentators argue that this is the person who opposed Paul and worked to undermine his apostolic authority. This man "may have been connected with the sexual aberrations in Corinth that involved a number of people and that appear to have necessitated Paul's recent unscheduled visit (12:21-13:2). It is quite possible that the man also supported the practice of ongoing attendance at temples in the city (6:14-7:1), despite Paul's warnings in the First Letter (1 Cor. 10:14-22). . . . Perhaps this man resisted Paul's admonitions to the Corinthians during his second visit and was himself the major reason that visit was so painful for Paul" (Barnett, 124).

b.              the disciplinary measures of the church - v. 6

c.              the repentance and restoration of the offender - vv. 7-8

1)             forgive him

2)             comfort him

3)             love him

The tendency of human nature is to hold the offender at arm's length, to forgive but not forget, to say "I receive you back" but to treat the person like a leper. Philip Hughes reminds us that "discipline which is so inflexible as to leave no place for repentance and reconciliation has ceased to be truly Christian; for it is no less a scandal to cut off the penitent sinner from all hope of re-entry into the comfort and security of the fellowship of the redeemed community than it is to permit flagrant wickedness to continue unpunished in the Body of Christ" (66-67).

2.              Purpose of his letter - 2:9-11

a.              to test them - v. 9

b.              to thwart Satan - vv. 10-11

In what ways might Satan take advantage of or exploit either the abuse of church discipline or its neglect?

Excursus on Church Discipline

(1)           Reasons why church discipline is ignored or neglected

·          Ignorance of biblical teaching on the subject (many believe that it is infrequently mentioned in Scripture and therefore unimportant; others are ignorant of the purpose of discipline and see it only as destroying the person)

·          Calloused, insensitivity toward sin (unsanctified mercy)

·          The spirit of individualism ("Am I my brother's keeper?" Discipline is costly because my brother's/sister's business now becomes mine)

·          "Judge not, that ye be not judged" (misunderstanding and misapplication of Mt. 7:1-5)

·          Fear of rejection (i.e., fear of being told by the offending party: "Mind your own business. You have no authority to tell me what I can and can't do")

·          Fear of reprisal (lawsuits)

·          Dislike of confrontation (talking directly about personal sin with an offender is difficult; it makes us feel uneasy and uncomfortable; why rock the boat?)

·          Fear of driving the person away (especially if the offending person is a major financial contributor to the church)

·          Fear of church splits

·          Preference for avoiding problems (just ignore it long enough and it will go away; time heals all)

·          False concept of discipline because of observed abuses (discipline is associated in the minds of many with heresy hunts, intolerance, oppression, harshness, mean-spiritedness, self-righteousness, legalism, etc.)

·          Belief that preaching alone will be a sufficient remedy

·          Fear of being labeled a cult

·          Fear of change (the power of tradition: "We've never done it before and we've done o.k. Why risk messing things up now?")

(2)           Why is discipline necessary?

a.              to maintain (as far as possible) the purity of the church (1 Cor. 3:17; Eph. 5:25-27)

b.              because Scripture requires it (Mt. 18; 1 Cor. 5; etc.)

c.              in order to maintain a proper witness to the world; the church corporately, as with the elder individually, is "to have a good reputation with those outside the church" (1 Tim. 3:7)

d.              to facilitate growth and to preserve unity in the body (Eph. 4:1-16)

e.              to expose unbelievers (1 John 2:19)

f.               to restore the erring brother/sister to obedience and fellowship (1 Cor. 5:5; 2 Cor. 2:6,7,10; Gal. 6:1; 2 Thess. 3:14-15)

g.              to deter others (1 Tim. 5:20)

h.              to avert corporate discipline (Rev. 2:14-25)

i.               because sin is rarely if ever an individual issue: it almost always has corporate ramifications (2 Cor. 2:5); the whole of the body (or at least a large segment of it) is adversely affected by the misdeeds of one member

j.               evidently Paul believed that the willingness to embrace the task of discipline was a mark of maturity in a church's corporate life (2 Cor. 2:9).

(3)           In what instances or for what sins should it be exercised?

a.              unrepentant moral evil (1 Cor. 5)

b.              divisiveness and serious doctrinal error (Rom. 16:17-18; Titus 3:9-10)

c.              general offenses (such that are not included under the above two categories; see Gal. 6:1; 2 Thess. 3:6-15)

(4)           What procedural steps are to be taken?

Matthew 18:15-17 recommends the following steps:

First, private rebuke (Mt. 18:15) - do it gently, in love, out of compassion, seeking to encourage; the purpose for private rebuke is to resolve the problem without fueling unnecessary gossip.

Second, if private rebuke is unsuccessful, plural rebuke (Mt. 18:16; see also Deut. 17:6; 19:15; Num. 35:30) - who are these others? church leaders? people who know the person? people who know of the sin?

Third, if plural rebuke is unsuccessful, public rebuke (Mt. 18:17)

Fourth, if public rebuke is unsuccessful, "excommunication" (Mt. 18:17; 1 Cor. 5:11; Titus 3:10; possibly 2 Thess. 3:14)

Fifth, if repentance occurs, restoration to fellowship and reaffirmation of love (2 Cor. 2:6-8; 2 Thess. 3:14-15; Gal. 6:1)

Sixth, vv. 18-20 affirm that whatever decision is made in the matter, whether the offending person is "bound" or "loosed", reflects the will of God in heaven. The promise "is that God will provide wisdom, guidance, and power for decision-making to the church that is united in its powers regarding the matters of church discipline" (Laney, A Guide to Church Discipline, 76). Thus, the verdict of heaven, so to speak, is consonant with that of the church, before whom the matter was adjudicated.

(5)           By whom is discipline to be administered?

a.              the elders of the church (Acts 20:28ff.; 1 Thess. 5:14; Heb. 3:17)

b.              the role of the congregation (Gal. 6:1 [who are the "spiritual"?]; 2 Cor. 2:6 [did a minority dissent?])

(6)           Who is subject to church discipline?

a.              any member of the body of Christ

b.              even elders, but with special requirements (1 Tim. 5:19-20)

The public visibility of elders and their resultant vulnerability to criticism and attack make necessary these special conditions.

(7)           Relevant texts relating to church discipline

Matthew 18:15-20

Acts 5:1-11

Romans 16:17-18

1 Corinthians 5:1-13

There are countless interpretations of this text. I incline toward the view that Paul is describing a case of excommunication or expulsion of a man from the fellowship of the church. To "deliver to Satan" = to turn him out into the world, back into the domain of Satan. "Destruction of the flesh" does not refer to physical death but to the anticipated effect of his expulsion, namely, the mortification or crucifixion of his carnal appetites so that he may be saved on the day of Christ.

2 Corinthians 2:5-11

Galatians 6:1-2

a.              the sin - v. 1a

b.              the restoration - v. 1b

Our immediate reaction is usually shock, dismay, or gossip. Paul advocates restoration!

1)             who does it?

2)             what do they do?

3)             how is it done?

a)             gentleness toward the person

b)             fear for oneself

c.              the responsibility of all - v. 2

2 Thessalonians 3:6-15

Several things are worthy of note here. First of all, we see that discipline is not restricted to cases of moral perversion or openly scandalous sin. Here Paul encourages that action be taken in the case of a person who leads "an undisciplined life" by refusing to work (vv. 10-11). Second, whereas discipline is not designed to humiliate or disgrace a person, there is a proper place for Spirit-induced shame (v. 14). Third, both the spirit and aim of our discipline is to lead the brother or sister to serious reflection, repentance, and ultimately to restoration (v. 15).

1 Timothy 5:19-22

v. 19 - the need for sufficient evidence

v. 20 - a) "continue in sin" (a translation of the present tense participle; one sin or one inadvertent indiscretion is not in view); b) public rebuke (does the "all" refer to "all the other elders" or "all the congregation"? in view of Mt. 18:17, probably the latter); c) the purpose is deterrence

vv. 22 - Is this a reference to the restoration of an errant elder or to the installation of a new one?

Titus 3:10-11

James 5:19-20

Here we see the responsibility of every believer, not just elders, to seek the restoration of a wayward brother or sister. In v. 15 to "save" referred to physical restoration; so, too, here. The "death", therefore, from which he is "saved" by your loving intervention in his life, is physical, not spiritual.