Church and Discipline

When elders are called on to discipline a person, it is a critical moment in the life of the church. Let’s look at some passages in the Bible and what it has to say about this topic.

“Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.” -1 Timothy 5:1-2 ESV

 “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.” -1 Timothy 5:20 ESV

“… preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” -2 Timothy 4:2 ESV

“He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” -Titus 1:9 ESV

Here are some thoughts on discipline in the church:

  • Discipline in the church is a delicate subject, and when elders get it wrong they can really hurt people.
  • Many issues do not require intervention; in fact, many issues should simply be killed with neglect.
  • Another mistake elders make is when they dishonour the roles of husbands and parents in peoples lives. No wife or child should be disciplined without the spouse/ parent involved.
  • If someone addresses a crowd with heresy or divisiveness, which should be lovingly dealt with at the time, rather than coming back to it at a later date. We ought to note that when Moses disciplined the crowd in anger he lost his inheritance (see Numbers 20: 10-13).

Preamble to a model for discipline

Circumcision was an operation which left a mark on the body of Jewish men. It was required as part of Gods dealing with his men, it was part the process of following God, obeying Him. Remember this startling account of Moses son’s circumcision?

“At a lodging place on the way the Lord met him and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” So he let him alone. It was then that she said, “A bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision.” –Exodus 4: 24-26

The old testament and its rituals points us to the New Testament and the Gospel. In Romans 2:28, we see that what circumcision really means:

“For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.” -Romans 2:28-30 

We can see that this is a serious matter to God:

  • God is dealing with the heart of a believer, marking the heart of a believer
  • God is calling for obedience in following Him not just outwardly but inwardly

When we, as “spirit-led” leaders, presume to discipline someone, we are not adjusting outer beacons, we are dealing with the heart. We are involved in heart surgery. This is a life threatening procedure. Elders should take discipline as seriously as a doctor operating on a heart.

We are involved in heart surgery

Let’s look at the following examples to explain what we mean further:

  1. Sharp instruments are necessary for a heart surgery. The sharpest we have is the WORD. Using such things as policies, opinions or common sense as instruments to perform a heart surgery, don’t do any good. In fact, they are as blunt as a butter knife.
  2. Our hands need to be clean. Even if a surgeon does a perfect job, but his hands are dirty, the patient may still die from an infection. Jesus spoke about this to the Pharisees, who were trying to correct others while hypocritically being guilty of the same offenses.
  3. Most discipline should be in a private place. No heart operation is done in a public space, it complicates everything.
  4. Prayer is needed before discipline as much as an anaesthetic is needed before an operation.
  5. Timing is important.
  6. Not overdoing or under-doing the discipline is important.
  7. Recovery is important. We need to be able to separate the person from deed.
  8. Surgeons are clinical, not emotional.
  9. All heart operations will be done in team.
Something to think about:

Read 1 Cor. 5: 6-13 and jot down your answer to the following questions. In this text Paul advocated the expelling of people from church. This seems pretty drastic.

  1. What was Paul meaning?
  2. Do you think it is still relevant text for today?
  3. What does this text not mean?


-staff meeting notes by Grant Crawford compiled by S. Mahabeer