A gracEmail subscriber in Europe asks about the purpose and practice of church discipline. Is it ever proper to exclude someone from the faith community? If so, when?
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Because Christian fellowship and hospitality are so meaningful to believers, it is a very significant matter to exclude a professing disciple from the Christian “family circle.” But sometimes it must be done. The person who is equipped to carry out church discipline effectively — and hopefully to restore the wayward brother or sister — is the one who seeks to build up others and not tear them down (2 Cor. 12:19); who grieves at, rather than gloats over, others’ wrongs (2 Cor. 12:20-21); who proceeds very cautiously in matters of discipline and acts only on solid grounds (2 Cor. 13:1-2); who is willing to lose face personally if necessary to restore a fellow believer (2 Cor. 13:7-9). Anyone who enjoys meting out “discipline” is probably not qualified spiritually to do it.
The New Testament seems to recognize four situations which call for exclusion from the church family with the goal of repentance and restoration. First, recognition of Jesus as God-in-human-flesh is fundamental to joining the Christian family, and believers must deny Christian fellowship and hospitality to anyone who claims to be a Christian but who does not make that confession (2 John 7-11). Second, because Christian identity requires a commitment to basic morality, a church is to exclude anyone who persists, unrepentantly, flagrant, notorious immorality (1 Cor. 5:1-2, 7, 9-13).
Third, factiousness (divisiveness) contradicts and destroys Christian fellowship, so Paul warns believers to keep an eye out for (the KJV uses the British idiom “mark”) those who cause dissention, and to avoid them (Rom. 16:17-18). Fourth, Paul says to shun a professing Christian who abandons self-discipline and sponges off responsible brothers and sisters who work and earn a living (2 Thes. 3:6-14).