Why are churches biblically required to exercise restorative discipline in some situations?
1. For the Purity of the Church. 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 says “Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” Paul here is making an illustration using the Passover feast. At this feast, leaven was not to be present but was to be “cast out”. The church, just like the Passover feast, must be free from that which defiles it, in this case it is the unrepentant sinner. When a Church allows those in it’s fold to continue in sin without addressing it, there is shame and defilement.
2. For the Salvation and Restoration of the Unrepentant Sinner. 1 Corinthians 5:5 says, “you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” It is clear in the text that the reason the sexually immoral person in the church of Corinth is to be “handed over to Satan (referring to the realm outside the church) for the destruction of his flesh (referring to the consequences of no longer being part of the church)”, is so that “his spirit may be saved”. The goal of excluding an individual is for the sake of their eternal salvation so that they can be included in the worship of Jesus when he returns. This reality is clear in every step laid out in Matthew 18:15-18. The goal of each step is that we would “gain our brother” through their repentance.
These two reasons I gave are not the only two but they are the main concerns given by Paul in 1 Corinthians 5. Mark Dever, in his book What is a Healthy Church, gives five biblical reasons for practicing discipline. “1. the good of the disciplined individual, 2. other Christians as they see the danger of sin; 3. the health of the church as a whole; 4. the corporate witness of the church and, therefore, non-Christians in the community; 5. and the glory of God.”¹
But let’s now ask why do churches fail to watch over the congregation through Restorative Discipline? Here is Dr. Gregory Wills answer,
“There are powerful trends running counter to all that discipline entails. Our [Southern Baptist] local church ecclesiology [the structure and organization of the Church primarily in the Leadership with biblical Elders and Deacons (Church Servants)] is weak in theory and practice—that is, we can not find a scriptural ecclesiology, so we substitute whatever seems to promote conversion and denominational loyalty. We lack spirituality—we fear humans more than God. We are worldly. We surely have a large percentage of unregenerate church members. We do not trust God to accomplish his will in his way. We refuse to insist upon a scripture teaching that affects anyone other than ourselves. We do not have that confidence in interpretation that is willing to take responsibility for it.”²
I think that Dr. Wills is right on in his assessment. The topic of church discipline is one that historically has been avoided in many churches (including Southern Baptists) yet is essential to the health and perseverance of the church. I am thankfull for the renewed concern by many Southern Baptists pastors and professors made evident by the wealth of books, articles, and blogs that have been published over the last ten years. We must understand clearly what the Bible says on this issue and ensure that we are actively and lovingly holding each other accountable. Speaking of Biblical authority, listen to what Victor Masters, a southern Baptist Editor in the early 1900’s says about Sentimentality getting in the way of obedience. His words are as true today as they were when he wrote them in 1902:
“Sentimentality is an enemy of church discipline. Sentimentality is the love of man divorced from the love of truth. Under the specious guise of broadened sympathies it cloaks a big lot of hypocrisy and moral decay. The church sentimentalist is so kind to his fellow church member that he is willing to ignore the plain instructions of the Book of his faith rather than bring him to account for unchristian conduct. ‘Judge not that ye be not judged,’ he quotes, but he forgets to quote (1 Cor. 5:12, 13) ‘Do not ye judge them that are within, whereas them that are without God judgeth.’”³
May God give us his grace to pursue love and faithfulness in watching over each-other.
Listen to my sermon on Restorative Church Discipline & Accountability preached in February of 2015.
¹Dever, Mark. What Is a Healthy Church? Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007. 106. Print.
²Wills, Gregory A. “Southern Baptists and Church Discipline.” (2000). Southern Seminary Publications. Read it here.
³Victor Masters, “Church Discipline,” Baptist Courier, 21 Aug. 1902, 1-2.