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The Bible teaching on church discipline is so seldom practiced by some brethren that many members have never seen anyone disciplined. Some say, “I have never heard of such a practice.” That simply means that they have never studied first Corinthians, chapter five and second Thessalonians, chapter three. These passages command us to avoid certain ones, to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, not to keep company with him, not even to eat with such a person, and to withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly. Congregational withdrawal is for those who continue to walk disorderly, and it is not optional—it is a command.
From whom should we withdraw? Paul listed five specific sins: “fornication, covetousness, extortion, idolatry, railing and drunkenness” (1 Cor. 5:10). He wrote, “Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition” (Titus 3:10). To the Thessalonians, he wrote, “But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received of us” (2 Thess. 3:6).
Notice that these passages do not teach that we must withdraw from every brother who sins, but from every brother who walks in sin. We all sin, but we all do not habitually walk in sin refusing to repent and show fruit of repentance.
Why should we withdraw? There are several reasons in Scripture for churches practicing discipline. First, we respect the authority of Christ. After Paul told the Corinthians to withdraw from the brother who was living in adultery, he wrote in the second letter, “For to this end I also wrote, that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things” (2 Cor. 2:9). This indicates that the command is difficult, but doing it shows respect for Christ’s authority. Jesus said, “But why do you call Me, Lord, Lord, and do not do the things which I say?” (Lk. 6:46). So, those who walk by faith, do what Christ said, simply because He said it.
Second, it is God’s way of reaching the wayward brother. Men often say “it will not work,” or “it will drive them further away,” but this assumes that we know more about saving souls than God does. Paul told the Corinthians to publicly “deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:6). It is true that some may have the attitude that “I will serve the devil, because they withdrew from me,” but that will not be a change in their actions. They were not serving God before the withdrawal—that’s why the discipline took place. The withdrawal simply let them know that we know, and do not condone, their continuing to walk disorderly.
Third, it is God’s way of keeping the church from being corrupted. When a member is fellowshipped who continues to walk disorderly, there is a leavening influence in the congregation. After telling the Corinthians to withdraw from the unfaithful member, Paul said, “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump…” (1 Cor. 5:6,7). Like leaven in dough, habitual sin condoned results in the corruption of those who continue to fellowship it.
Fourth, it benefits the world. When unbelievers see that a church is sincerely trying to keep itself pure, they will respect such action. God killed Ananias and Sapphira because of their sin, but the result was “believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and woman” (Acts 5:14). Maude E. Uschold wrote the following poem that illustrates what happens when the church does not practice discipline.
Ninety-nine white sheep
Feeding in the meadow;
Only one black sheep -
Dusky as a shadow.
One hundred sheep, all
Grazing in the sun.
Every passer-by says,
“See the black one”!
The truth on church discipline is as important as the truth on any other subject and those who practice it are showing love for God and the souls of men.
Copyright Midway Church of Christ 2014 This page last modified July 03, 2014