“And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’”
A. The Church
The church is a holy community created by God and intended to reflect His character and glory in the midst of a fallen world. God loves the church and His ultimate purpose for His church is to make it a gift to His Son; thus He calls it the Bride of Christ. For this reason the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are constantly at work to purify the church and bring her to maturity (Eph 4:7-16; 5:25-27).
B. Life in the Church
The Bible provides standards from God for the faith and life of all who are a part of the church. Elders are commissioned by God to instruct, govern and preserve local churches within these bounds of doctrine and practice. In addition, He calls individual church members to both apply the Word to themselves and also to encourage and admonish one another in it.
C. Church Discipline
Church discipline is the corrective process which God has given to the church when a member persists in sin. Such persistent sins may be:
•Personal – sins which wrong or injure particular individuals; e.g. slander, anger, bitterness, theft (Matt 18:15-20)
•General – sins which are not directed at a particular individual; e.g. heresy, divisiveness, immorality, drunkenness (Gal 1:8-9; Rom 16:17-18; 1Cor 5)
•Private – sins known only to a few (Matt 18:15; Prov 25:9-10)
•Public – sins which are conspicuous and widely known (1Cor 5:13)
Church discipline is neither intended to humiliate someone nor to seek revenge. It is an expression of God’s fatherly love (Prov 3:11-12). Those involved in bringing this correction are to be motivated by sincere love and their words and actions are to combine both grace and truth.
The purpose of this gift from God is threefold:
•The glory of God (Eph 3:20-21)
•The unity and purity of the church (Eph 5:25-27)
•The restoration of the straying church member (Matt 18:15-17)
A. Self-discipline. God calls every believer to be conformed into the image of His Son. This involves hearing and obeying God’s Word and results in each believer disciplining himself so as to conform to his Savior. We recognize that most “church discipline” situations start and end here, with the believer diligently applying God’s Word to his life (1 Cor. 9:24-27).
B. Minor offenses. Though in Christ every believer has been declared righteous, the Christian life is a process of gradual change, of becoming in character what God has declared us in standing. This means that every Christian will exhibit flaws and imperfections and every relationship will include some measure of tension and disharmony. Minor offenses are those that do not endanger the safety or well-being of a believer, a relationship or a church. In light of the Gospel, these are best overlooked, in the manner in which God forbears and overlooks many such traits in us (Prov 19:11; Rom 15:1; 1Pet 4:8).
C. Process for addressing sin in a fellow believer. Where self-discipline fails and where a believer sins in a manner that should not be overlooked, God provides direction for what to do. Ordinarily the process moves through stages, as described by Jesus himself in Matthew 18:15-17. At each stage the goal is to secure the repentance and restoration of the sinning brother or sister. For this reason each stage may include more than one meeting. The process ceases whenever the straying member evidences believable repentance and is restored to the Lord and others.
1. Private inquiry. When a Christian sees another church member that appears to be engaged in sin that is repeated or serious , normally he should privately, gently and graciously approach that person to inquire and, if necessary, to confront. If repentance is required and takes place, the process ends. If there is disagreement over the need for repentance or if there is refusal to repent, he should involve one or two others (Matt 18:15; Gal 6:1; Luke 17:3).
2. Establishing the matter with witnesses. The concerned Christian should now involve one or two other church members, perhaps including a Home Church leader or elder, and return to the brother or sister caught in sin. If this group confirms that the brother or sister is in fact sinning, is unrepentant and is unwilling to change, then the pastors of the church should be informed so that they can confirm the facts and appeal for change (Matt 18:16; Deut 19:15).
3. Telling the church. If the straying brother or sister remains unwilling to change, failing to heed various appeals from members and/or elders, the elders normally will inform the church of the member and the sin. Church members will be urged to pursue the erring member and appeal for repentance (Matt 18:17; 1Tim 5:20).
4. Excluding from church membership. If, after a reasonable period of time, the member under discipline does not change, then the elders will inform the church again, this time acting to remove that person from church membership and instruct the church to treat the excluded member as an unbeliever. This means the church will no longer treat the person as a Christian, in that sense having no ‘fellowship’ with him or her, and instead will seek to preach the Gospel to him, calling him to repentance and faith in Christ (Matt 18:17; 1Cor 5:5; 2Thes 3:14-15; 1Tim 1:20).
5. Appeal. If at any point a church member believes he is being treated unjustly or inappropriately in the disciplinary process, he is welcome to appeal to the elder team of Oikos.
D. Public sins. The elders may decide to abbreviate or eliminate the above process if the sin is especially conspicuous or serious, or if the member proves to be divisive, disruptive or is seen as a threat to lead others into sin (Rom 16:17; 1Cor 5:13; Titus 3:10-11).
E. Disciplinary actions. As the disciplinary process progresses through the above stages, the actions that may be taken include, but are not limited to, private and public admonition, withholding of the Lord’s Supper, withdrawal of fellowship and removal from membership (1Cor 11:17-34).
F. Restoration. The restoration of the straying believer stands at the heart of the practice of church discipline. Throughout the disciplinary process the elders will seek to define a biblically informed pathway of repentance for the sinning member. If a member is removed from membership, the elders will urge the church members to continue to seek opportunities to call the person to repentance and faith in Christ. When the church has been made aware of an individual’s sin, they will also be made aware of an individual’s repentance in a way that is appropriate to the situation and the good of the church, ensuring that as many people as possible may rejoice (Gal 6:1; Luke 15:7; 2Cor 2:5-11).
G. If a member leaves the church to avoid or cut short the disciplinary process. At times a member may withdraw from the church to avoid or cut short church discipline and its consequences. The elders and members of our church recognize our obligation and opportunity to restore the wandering member to the Lord and to His church. While the church cannot force a withdrawing member to remain in this congregation, the church has the right and responsibility to restore, to bring the disciplinary process to an orderly conclusion, and to make final determination as to the person’s membership status at the time withdrawal is sought or acknowledged. If the elders learn that a member who left under church discipline is now attending another church, the elders may inform that church of the situation, seeking to encourage the brother or sister to repent and be restored to the Lord and to any people he or she have offended. The elders may also warn the other church to be on guard against harm that the accused might do to their members (Eph 4:1-6).
H. Receiving excluded members. People who attend our church, but have been excluded from another church, will not be allowed to partake of the sacraments, become members or participate in the fellowship of the church until they have repented of their sins, made a reasonable effort to be reconciled, and satisfied any biblically legitimate requirements of their former church (Matt 5:23-24; Eph 4:24-27).