Discipline: Introduction

by Jay Guin

This is a continuation of the progressive posts on what causes a saved person to fall away. And that’s important, because these teachings on church discipline won’t make any sense to someone with a very different understanding of grace. You see, it all fits together. It has to fit together, because it all comes from the same Mind.

Now, the New Testament says quite a lot about disfellowshipping or excluding various people from the church. These verses are often interpreted this way –

* I am right

* You are wrong

* You must leave

Simple enough, I suppose, but completely removed from the heart of God shown through Jesus and the scriptures.

Let’s begin by just thinking – doing what Einstein called a “thought experiment.” Imagine that all these previous lessons we’ve covered on apostasy are actually true. Reasoning solely from what we’ve learned regarding grace, what sorts of people should the church exclude from its fellowship?

Well, expelling someone from God’s church is a serious matter. Obviously, non-Christians who are part of our community as seekers, wishing to learn more about Jesus, are welcome. We are delighted to have visitors! As we traditionally say, they are our “honored guests”! And, indeed, they are. Therefore, we won’t expel someone just because he isn’t saved. (The unsaved are not yet part of the church, of course. The point is, we don’t withdraw our association from them for this reason.)

And whatever the practice is, it must be built on a strong foundation of love — both for the person being disciplined and, where need be, love for the church being protected from an evil person.

One of the most critical pastoral problems any church faces is when a saved person is in danger of losing his salvation. How do we keep this beloved brother or sister from being deceived and hardened by sin and so falling away?

Another test of any church is how to deal with a factious person. There are two ways a church can be divided. Sometimes, an influential person is caught up in the Galatian heresy and seeks division to enforce a standard of salvation other than Jesus, Son of God, Lord, and Savior. Other times, the split is over personalities or preferences. Either way, division injures the body of Christ.

Finally, there are the true wolves in sheep’s clothing, evil persons pretending to be Christians in order to take advantage of good people. How should the church respond?

Thus, as we’ll soon demonstrate from scripture, we have three categories of reasons that we might expel someone from our fellowship —

  • A Christian struggling with temptation who might be brought to repentance by being disfellowshipped.
  • A factious person who seeks to divide God’s church.
  • A malicious person seeking to take advantage of God’s people by pretending to be a Christian.

With these thoughts in mind, let’s consider some key passages.

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