Who Are the Proper Recipients of Church Discipline?

Daniel Wray has four helpful criteria on who the proper recipients are of church discipline. This is found in his little primer on the subject called Biblical Church Discipline: The Neglected Mark of the Christian Church (14-15).

Church discipline is necessary when: (1) Christian love is violated by serious private offenses. Jesus prescribes the method of discipline in such cases in Matthew 18:15-18. Though such offenses may begin in secret, they must ultimately result in public censure if the offender stubbornly refuses to repent. Such refusal to repent and be reconciled is a severe aggravation of the sin involved and a continual breach of Christian love.

(2) Christian unity is violated by those who form divisive factions which destroy the peace of the church. Such persons must be watched, rebuked, and, if necessary, removed (Rom 16:17-18; Tit 3:10).

(3) Christian law is violated by those living scandalous lives. Such are those who “profess that they know God; but in works they deny him” (Tit 1:16). Biblical Christianity undeniably teaches a high standard of conduct and morality. The New Testament’s ethical instructions are many—Matthew 15:19, 20; Romans 13:8-14; Ephesians 4:25-6:8; Colossians 3:5-4:6; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-10; 2 Timothy 3:12-4:5; Titus 2:1-3:3—to mention only a few. Those who live in habitual violation of biblical morality, and refuse to repent when admonished and rebuked, must be removed from church membership (1 Cor 5).

(4) Christian truth is violated by those who reject essential doctrines of the faith (1 Tim 1:19-20; 6:3-5; 2 Jn 7-11). This does not mean that Christians should be censured for failing to understand and receive every doctrine revealed in the Bible, for all Christians are learning and growing. Rather, this refers to those who knowingly reject any of those doctrines which the church considers essential and fundamental. In the case of the pastors and elders of the church, the standard is more rigid, since they are especially responsible to teach and defend “all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Thus they are responsible to maintain all the doctrines of the Scripture (especially as embodied in their church’s creed), and are liable to discipline if they fail to do so (1 Tim 3:2, 9; Tit 1:9; Ja 3:1).

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