Today, church discipline is as rare as membership. That’s not surprising, because you can’t have discipline without membership. Last week we saw that membership clarified leadership and submission. Discipline is the ultimate, and sadly needed, expression of that leadership. And as uncomfortable as it makes us, it’s thoroughly biblical.
Jesus institutes church discipline in Matt 18 (v17 “and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector”). He’s not talking about the Global Church, but the local church. This must be a defined group – one that has formally joined together in love, taking unrepentant sin seriously.
Paul calls for discipline in 1 Cor 5 where a man in the church was having sex with his father’s wife (v2, “let him who has done this be removed from among you”). How could he be removed unless it was a defined group? Even if becoming part of this group was less formal than our way, the concept is there.
Notice the purpose: v5, “deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” He’s cast out so he’d see the severity of his sin and the hopelessness of being outside the church. They want him back. And this seems to happen in 2 Cor 2:6-7 (“this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him”). Again, for a majority you need a defined group.
Yes, sadly leaders sometimes abuse church discipline. They could be harsh, unfair. But abuse of a biblical concept is no reason to reject it. If you don’t trust the leaders, then certainly don’t become a member – but if you can trust the leaders, what’s stopping you?