Churches are full of sinners. In fact, that’s the only people who are welcome. But the church is to be different from the world in this one way—Christians are repentant sinners. Yet, sadly, many churches are full of people who claim to be Christians but practice little repentance and it hurts the church. Some churches, in fact, are overrun with bullies who tear down the congregation with their sin.
Why is this? Well, it’s simple. Churches don’t practice biblical church discipline. We haven’t for decades. We’re too individualistic and refuse to take responsibility for one another as Scripture teaches. Furthermore, many church leaders are afraid of losing their jobs, shrinking their numbers and reducing their budgets. And your average member either thinks it’s unloving or not their problem.
But Jesus commands His church to practice discipline both for the good of the church and the individual who is committing the sin. In Matthew 18, our Lord gives very clear commands how sinful members should be addressed in four simple steps.
Step #1-Personal Confrontation. Jesus said, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (V.15). If someone in the church is committing noticeable, unrepentant sin, it is the responsibility of the congregation to address their sin. Jesus says someone who is close to that person should lovingly talk to them and point out the problem. Hopefully, after a reasonable conversation, the person sees the error of their ways and repents. If not, you move on to step two.
Step #2-Group Confrontation. Our Lord continues, “But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses” (V.16). If the person refuses to listen to their friend, that individual needs to grab one or two other people in the church who understand what is going on. Though not explicitly stated, wisdom would suggest you involve a church leader at this point. The group of loving believers go back to their sinning brother or sister and plead with them once again to put an end to their destructive behavior. Maybe it’s gossip. Perhaps it’s drunkenness or sexual immorality. Whatever the case may be, these Christians are to speak the truth in love with the goal of restoration. But if the sinning member won’t listen to the group, you move on to step three.
Step #3-Corporate Confrontation. Jesus says, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church” (V.17). Because the erring member won’t listen to reason, it is time to bring their sin before the whole church. This would be messy and painful but necessary. If the person won’t listen to the church, there is only last thing to do.
Step #4-Excommunication. Our Lord’s final instructions are these, “And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (V.17). In other words, if the process of church discipline has reached this point, and the sinful member won’t listen to the church and repent, then it is time to treat them as a non-Christian and remove them from membership. You can’t affirm someone’s salvation by allowing them to remain a member of the church if they are living in unrepentant sin. It’s unloving and untruthful.
Most church members would be appalled if their church carried this out, which is odd to me. Christians are followers of Jesus. Why wouldn’t we obey His Word?
Next week, I will address the goals of church discipline, but until then, think about this: How does your church address sin in the congregation? Does it do so at all? If not, are you really following Jesus?
Thanks for reading!
Brandon Sutton (Pastor2334@gmail.com) is the Lead Pastor of Blue Ridge CU Church and New Life Church. Check out both at Blueridgecuchurch.com and Newlifeshelbyville.org.