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Church And Discipline

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Scripture passage from 1 Cor 5:

Expel the Immoral Brother! 

 1It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father's wife. 2And you are proud! Shouldn't you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? 3Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. 4When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature[a] may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.

 6Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? 7Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.

 9I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.  12What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you."




Scripture Text: 1 Cor 5:1-12




1.               Introduction WSJ article dated 18th January


2.               What is church discipline?

a.   Formative

b.   Corrective


3.               PCS Constitution Article 12


4.               Conduct deserving of church discipline


5.               Purpose of Church Discipline/Restoration


6.               Scripture passage from 1 Cor 5:

a.   The Situation in Corinth

b.   Ignorance and Pride reason for sin in church

c.    No repentance and grieving over sin

d.   Get rid of the old yeast

e.    Excommunication only as a last resort

f.      Discipline is restorative

7.     Conclusion





1.      Introduction =see WSJ article dated Jan 18 2008 below

Banned From Church

Reviving an ancient practice, churches are exposing sinners and shunning those who won't repent.

January 18, 2008; Page W1

“On a quiet Sunday morning in June, as worshippers settled into the pews at Allen Baptist Church in southwestern Michigan, Pastor Jason Burrick grabbed his cell phone and dialed 911. When a dispatcher answered, the preacher said a former congregant was in the sanctuary. "And we need to, um, have her out A.S.A.P."

Half an hour later, 71-year-old Karolyn Caskey, a church member for nearly 50 years who had taught Sunday school and regularly donated 10% of her pension, was led out by a state trooper and a county sheriff's officer. One held her purse and Bible. The other put her in handcuffs. “

The above story in the Wall Street Journal dated January 18th 2008. The episode caused Allen  Baptist church to be divided. 25 members moved to another church and 70 who sided with the pastor remained.

On a positive note,  Allen Baptist Church tried to exercise  church discipline, unlike most churches who do not. But was it done biblically?  I will be coming back to the Wall Street Journal report later at the end of the sermon.

2.  What is church discipline? 


Before we go  deeper, lets start with a PRAYER.

PRAYER – Father God, you are the loving father who disciplines us because you care for us as your children. You desire our good . We pray that  your church would be pure and unblemished because you are a Holy God. Help us to treasure accountability  to one another so that the Church of Jesus Christ would be holy and pure. In Jesus name. Amen.

What is church discipline?

In its broadest sense, it involves everything from the most basic instruction that the new Christian receives—from the time of his conversion onward, all the way to the radical “excommunication”  sometimes required in the withholding of fellowship from impenitent apostates. It takes 2 forms :-

Formative church discipline is that form of discipline which is preventative .  Cell Group, Sunday School, Continuing Christian Education, Communicant Classes , pulpit sermon etc shape the congregation's beliefs and values so that members are less likely to fall into serious sin that calls for corrective action.

Corrective church discipline, refers to the right and duty of church leadership, for the edification of the church and the honor of Christ's name, to admonish church members, and to control membership and access to the sacraments. Corrective church discipline  is normally imposed against more severe offenders.  

3.Presbyterian church of Singapore Constitution

Section 12 Regulations concerning transfer, cancellation and restoration of membership.

(viii) Any member who in his behavior rebels against the holy teachings and brings dishonor to the Lord’s name, the church, according to the seriousness of the offence, must decide whether to deal with him by warning or by suspending him from Communion. If exhortation proves fruitless, and he continues in his heresy and disobedience, and if there is no hope of bringing him back, then the session must request the permission of the Presbytery to excommunicate him for the sake of preserving the purity of the church.

The Synod Constitution acknowledges the principle of restoration and  that wisdom is needed towards the restoration of the member.           The Constitution mentions warning, withholding communion and finally removal from membership.  Some lesser sins may require simple rebuke and not excommunication.

4.                Conduct Deserving of Church Discipline


Church leaders need wisdom to discern the truth and circumstances before discipline is exercised. Discipline is only for professing Christians. It is not applicable to a non-christian who is living in adultery with his girlfriend who visits the church or a cell group. When a member disrupts the worship service and the reason is not rebellion but mental disorder, then the solution is not discipline but medical treatment. In the meanwhile, privileges can be withheld until the patient agree to medical treatment.  When a drunkard becomes a Christian, and he is making improvement in his spiritual growth, encouragement and teaching is needed rather than discipline as God may not be focusing on this sin at this stage of his Christian growth.

What sort of attitude or conduct in a Christian  warrants discipline?.

a.       A brother who has sinned against another, but who refuses to repent of his transgression,  (Mt. 18:15-17).

b.      Those who cause divisions and put obstacles that are contrary to biblical teachings (Rom. 16:17; ).

c.       A divisive person ( Titus 3: 10 )

d.      Those who are sexually immoral , greedy , an idolator or a swindler  , a drunkard or a  swindlers (1 Cor. 5:11).

          Gordon MacDonald is an example for us. This well known pastor committed the tragic sin of adultery. Immediately, he confessed this to his wife, then to his entire congregation. He resigned his pulpit, and entered into years of counseling and accountability. Over time, another church called him as their pastor; then several years later, his original church invited him back as their pastor again. He serves there today, and has a national ministry to hurting souls and broken lives.

e.      False Teachers ( 1 Tim 1:3-7)

f.       Shipwreckers of faith and conscience like Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Tim. 1:19-20; 2 Tim. 2:16-18).

g.      Idle and do not live according to the teachings (2 Thes. 3:6).

5.      The Purposes of Church Discipline

1. To glorify God

Jeremiah severely reprimanded the Israelites who had the boldness to come into the temple whilst they were still defiled with their sins. (Jer. 6:7,10,20.) Ezekiel declares that God will not be enquired of by those who go after strange gods, and then present themselves in his temple. (Ez. 20:31.) Prov.15:8, says the Lord detests the sacrifices of the wicked, but the prayer of the upright pleases him.

2. To maintain the purity of the Church . The Apostle Paul confronted Peter and "opposed him to his face" (Gal. 2:11), when Peter withdrew and separated himself from the Gentiles at the coming of the Judaizers who would have objected to his eating with those Gentiles. Both Peter and Barnabas "were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel" (verse 14), and Paul let them know it

3. To reclaim offenders.  Galatians 6:1.  tells us: Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual  should restore him gently. Discipline should be done carefully with discreetness and prayers in order to ascertain the truth of the matters first and proper procedure applied. Discipline is never done harshly and self-righteously otherwise the offender will not be restored,

 4. To deter others from sin.  1 Timothy 5:20 says “those who continue in sin rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest may also be fearful of sinning.”

 5. To avoid punishment from God.  Revelation 2:14-25 tells us how sin within the local fellowship in Pergamum and Thyatira resulted in God dealing with them directly.

The Situation in Corinth

The situation in Corinth is that a man is committing incest with his mother or his step mother. The man is a member of the church. In NIV, he is someone who calls himself a brother. In NASB, he is referred to as a “so called brother”. Verse 1: "It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and  of  a kind as does not exist even among the pagans: A man has his father’s wife." The phrase "his father's wife" may imply that the woman is not his biological mother. It may imply that his father is a widower or is divorced, and has remarried. The father may be alive. Or he may be dead. Paul calls incest "immorality"—a kind of immorality that even the pagan gentiles condemn.

The offender is not remorseful. The tense used is ongoing present tense. The verse says, "Someone HAS (not, "had") his father's wife." There is no repentance, no fleeing from this immorality.

There is brazen pride in the church. The church is proud that it is modern, progressive, inclusive, accommodating, tolerant and broadminded.  What verse 2 shows is how the church responded to the immorality  Verse 2: "And you are proud! Shouldn’t you  rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?” The Church thought that by overlooking sin they  were being broad minded, inclusive and tolerant. They thought it was a wonderful thing  to be so inclusive.  



Ignorance and Pride reason for sin in church

Paul said that ignorance ( “don’t you know” v 6) and  pride was the reason for tolerating sexual immorality.  The Corinthian church were so proud of their inclusive, friendly and accommodating church that the church was actually boasting about it.

What kind of theology would give rise to boasting in immorality? We have seen it in Paul's letters to the Roman Church.  "Let us do evil that good may result" (Rom. 3:8; 6:1). A Jehovah Witness will not send a haemophilac child for a blood transfusion. They boast that they are being obedient to God. They are prepared to do evil and let the child die.

The Corinthians have a similar warped theology. They say that after all, they will spend eternity in heaven with the so called brother, why not accommodate him now?  Big problem – is the so called brother really saved? Once saved always saved? But who decides? It is God who decides. When God saves a man, he is always saved. But if the offender boast that he is a  born again Christian but behaves despicably, can you believe his profession of faith? The Corinthians church were ignorant of God’s  righteousness and holiness. It is God who chooses whom to be gracious to. It is God who elects the objects of mercy. It is for God to say who is always saved  , It was Pride based on ignorance that causes the Corinthians church to be inclusive, friendly and accommodating to flagrant sin.

No repentance and grieving over sin

Paul said that the church should “ have been filled with grief  and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this”. A regenerated Christian who has repented from sin would mourn over sin. "Blessed are those who mourn," Jesus said. Blessed are the meek and broken hearted . The meek  know the horror of sin   Humility does not tell God how to be gracious. It listens and obey with fear and trembling.

Get rid of the old yeast

Verse 6: "Your boasting (there's the pride) is not good." Why not? Because the boasting was rooted in ignorance. The verse goes on: "Don’t you know (there's the ignorance) that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?" In other words, "In your supposed knowledge of grace and freedom you are destroying the church."  Wickedness spreads through a church like yeast through bread, changing the shape and consistency of the whole .

Verse 7, "Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast – as you really are. For Christ our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed." For a week after the Passover lamb was sacrificed in Israel the house was supposed to be free from all leaven, all yeast. Paul takes this as a picture of sin in the church. Christ is now our Passover Lamb. And our Passover celebration does not last one week but for a lifetime. The leaven of sin is to be put out permanently. But Paul said, "Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed, therefore get rid of the  old yeast."

Titus 2:14, "[Christ] gave Himself for us,  to  1) redeem us from all wickedness and 2) to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good." Jesus did not just die to pardon your sin, he died to empower you against sin. The Corinthian church had the wrong theology.. They thought they could have him as one who pardons and reject him as one who purifies.

Church discipline is exercised by leaders with support of the congregation

Verse 4: " 4(F)In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, (G)with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 I have decided to (H)deliver such a one to (I)Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in (J)the day of the Lord [a]Jesus “

Discipline is best exercised with support of the congregation. Verse 4 says “ when you are assembled” in the name of our Lord Jesus .   Verse 3 "  3For I, on my part, though (E)absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present.." In other words Paul cannot be there in person, but in exercise of apostolic authority,  he wants the congregation assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus to support the disciplinary meted out to the offender.

Excommunication only as a last resort

Current church practice merely removes an impenitent member from membership. Few churches goes to the extend of what Paul did to the impenitent committing incest in the Corinthian church – which is to hand him over to Satan with the power of Jesus for his ultimate restoration .

When the church, which is the covenant community , puts a impenitent person outside the covenant community, it is like putting him into the world which is under Satan.  Paul invoked the power of our Lord Jesus  ( please look at verse 4 ) before handing the impenitent to Satan.  Over and above putting  the impenitent person out of the covenant community , the power of our Lord Jesus is required to hand over a person for spiritual restoration and cleansing.  Paul did it at least one other time that we know about (1 Tim. 1:20): " Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander , whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme."

In the book of Job, we have Job being delivered to Satan.  Job 2:6, says,  "The Lord said to the Devil, ' Very well, then, he is in your hands; but  you must spare his life .” The next verse says, "So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head” And the result of being handed over to Satan ? Job 42:5-6: "My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you,  Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes."

In 2 Corinthians 12 v7 Paul describes his thorn in the flesh as a messenger of Satan .  God uses Satan for Paul's humility and Christ's glory.

When Paul prayed that Jesus would take it away, the answer he got was, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."  It is significant when the church hand over the impenitent to Satan with the hope of restoration that it is done with the power of Jesus Christ .  Only the power of Jesus can restore an impenitent thru Satan.

 Chastisements: The Pain Of Love

A lady visiting a sheepfold  was drawn to one poor sheep lying by the side of the road bleating in pain from an injured leg. She asked the shepherd how it happened. "I had to break it myself," he answered sadly. "It was the only way I could keep that wayward creature from straying into unsafe places. From past experience I have found that a sheep will follow me once I have nursed it back to health. Because of the loving relationship that will be established as I care for her, in the future she will come instantly at my beck and call." The woman reflected thoughtfully, "Sometimes we poor human sheep also want our stubborn ways and as a result stray into dangerous paths until the Good Shepherd sends sorrow and pain to discipline us. On restoring communion with our Savior, we at last are conditioned to hear His voice and follow His leading."

Discipline is restorative.

Discipline is restorative. Paul hopes that the result of handing over this man to Satan will be the salvation of his spirit at the day of Christ. The impenitent will hopefully say with Job, " My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you,  Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes." 

Do not treat the brother as an enemy

Paul clearly expelled the offender from fellowship. Paul did not exclude the offender from public worship which is accessible to members of the public. – why ?  “ so that his spirit would be saved at the day of Christ”.

In a paper on Excommunication presented by the American Lutheran Synod , they found no biblical support in excluding the offender from worship services. Arguing from church history, they found that  majority of early church fathers urged exclusion from communion only as opposed to exclusion from all participation in the  worship service.

At the time of the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church added civil penalties. A heretic is not only excommunicated but suffer imprisonment and execution. Sadly, the reformation State Protestant churches also imposed retaliatory civil penalties on apostates.

If church discipline is restorative in nature, the door  must be left open for the offender . There should not be civil penalties or exclusion from church services.  Of course the offender cannot hold office, eg choir member, Sunday school teacher or take part in the communion. He should be treated as a visitor.

Another passage which states that church discipline is to be exercised in an restorative manner is Luke 17:3 -4: " 3 "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. 4If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent,' forgive him.".

The apostle Paul severely rebukes those in the church at Thessalonica who were idle busybodies, not doing any work. "12Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat." (2 Thess. 3:12). The apostle then continues, 14If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed." (v. 14). However, Paul adds this  word: "15Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother." (v. 15) Since the goal of church discipline is to win the person, it should end when there is repentance and the church should re-establish the repentant one (2 Corinthians 2:6-8).




Going back to the case reported in the Wall Street Journal article. The 71 year old worshipper was arrested for trespassing twice when she attended church services. The WSJ report said that she was expelled by the pastor for being divisive when she alleges that the pastor failed to form a board of deacons as provided in the Baptist Constitution. 


1.                  Being divisive is a valid ground for expulsion. The report did not say if the Baptist Constitution was followed when the pastor failed to form the Board of Deacons. There could be other constitutional provisions. What is clear is that the role of Church Leadership is very important . Church leaders must determine the truth and the circumstances. Constitutional safeguards if any, should be followed Discipline cannot be applied oppressively in disregard of Constitution or for personal reasons. As the pastor was the person complained about, he should not be the person imposing discipline.  Because the church was not behind the discipline , the church split - 25 left and 70 remained in Allan Baptist Church.

2.                  The 71 year old pensioner was treated as an enemy. This is not biblical. When she attended service the following Sunday, the sheriff was called and  she was put in the lock up a 2nd time. Additional civil penalties were imposed. Pharisaical ( legalistic ) attitude is evident instead of godly sorrow over her alleged sin

3.                  The Jehovah Witness  treat former members as enemies. Parents were ordered to shun their children who renounce JW. The religious authority in neighboring countries put their apostates into  jail. This is wrong. The purpose of church discipline is restorative. It is not punitive. Repentance and Restoration is to be the desired outcome.  

4.                  For Presbyterians,  the correct administration of church discipline is the 3rd mark of the true church. The first mark being sound doctrine and the 2nd mark being the correct administration of the sacraments.  May Glory Presbyterian church also display the 3rd mark of the true church. May the correct application of church discipline bring glory to God.

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