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Church Discipline is not Limited to Specific Major Sins


by Jason Smathers on October 10, 2009

I started blogging on SBCVoices in addition to my home blog here. If you do not follow SBCVoices, please allow me to invite you to do so.
My first post on SBCVoices was Church Discipline for Persistent and Willful Non-Attendance. The point of my post is that persistent and willful non-attendance is a sin. I assumed everyone would agree any persistent and willful sin requires church discipline. In the discussion going on in the SBCVoices comments and on twitter, I have learned that it is a popular belief that church discipline should be limited to specific major sins, particularly those identified in 1 Corinthians 5. However, this is not what the Bible tells us.
Before I get into why we should enact church discipline for more than the short list of major sins, let me say that we should not be on a hunt to uncover sins of others (Matthew 13:28-30) and we should typically forgive minor sins without even mentioning them (Proverbs 10:12; 19:11; 1 Peter 4:8; Matthew 7:1-5).
Public rebuke, a form of church discipline, is called for generically for any sin in 1 Timothy 5:20. In James 5:19-20, we are told that correcting the errors of someone who has forsaken the ways of Christ will save their soul from death. Then in Galatians 6:1-2 we are told to restore a person caught in any transgression. 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 gives us specific discipline instructions for a person that disobeys the instructions in 2 Thessalonians. Although 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 is given more narrowly for the issues address in that epistle, it also gives us further example we must not condone church members being rebellious against God.
As appropriate, we should humbly, patiently, gently and lovingly try to restore a church member through pleading, warning, private and public rebuke. If however they still fail to repent and the member has become known by their wickedness, we should remove them membership. When a person becomes known for their wickedness, they cannot be considered Christians (Titus 1:16; 1 John 1:5-6; 2:3-4; 3:9-10; 2 John 9-11) which is a requirement for church membership.
What seems typical today is to take the list of sins identified in 1 Corinthians 5 and apply the process given for personal offenses in Matthew 18:15-20. But we are instructed that these sins are to be dealt with in the most severe way. The first act we are to take with these sins is to “Purge the evil person from among you” (1 Corinthians 5:13). Church discipline should not be considered individually with diligent application of the scriptures for any sin outside of minor offenses, not only personal offenses and those of 1 Corinthians 5.
These issues are covered quite well in Restoring Those Who Fall. Restoring Those Who Fall is a position statement from Christ Fellowship of Kansas City on church discipline. It which is available online as a PDF and in print from Christian Communications Worldwide. Adopting a position statement such as this will give some clear direction for using church discipline and makes sure everyone knows the position before they become a member.

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