Church Discipline


It is the task of Christ’s office-bearers to keep the Church pure. This is a principal objective in the exercise of church discipline, and to it we would pay attention in this and a following article.

Frankly speaking, we are now considering the fact that the Bible enjoins the Church to do more than merely admonish or urge its members to return to the way of the Word. The Bible also calls for action, even the extreme action of putting the disobedient and unheeding out of the fellowship of the congregation.

This is not viewed with approval by many without and too many within the circle of the Church! Excommunication is regarded as cruel, heartless, tactless and useless by those who oppose it as an integral part of the disciplinary procedure. Any church which insists upon its right to banish the impenitent from the fellowship of the congregation will endure hatred and persecution, I fear.

Why go on with this unattractive and unpopular thing?

The answer is to be found in the Bible‘s teaching concerning the holiness of the congregation of God.



I Corinthians 5 tells us of that scandalous situation in the Corinthian congregation which Paul describes with horror as a fornication which is even beneath the level of conduct disapproved by those outside of the Church. We hope to pay some attention to this chapter in a following piece. Right now we wish only to point to the fact that Paul closes this chapter by ordering the Church at Corinth to put the offender out of their fellowship (I Cor. 5: 13b).

They are right, I believe, who say that this injunction is based upon what had been said in I Corinthians 3: 16, where the writer says that the Church is “the temple of God,” and that it is indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

This is of crucial importance in our consideration of the necessity and desirability of church discipline. It is our opinion that the Church does not enjoy great respect in our time, and that the esteem which it once held is disappearing so rapidly as to cause our young people to view with amazement the suggestion that the Church is to be regarded as “the temple of God.” Churches today scarcely dare to enforce any standards for fear that members will go away, and even the degree to which standards are enforced causes some to seek the fellowship of a “church” which doesn’t make membership so difficult to attain and sustain.

The temple was an Old Testament feature, and no one knew better than Paul, the writer of the Epistle to the Galatians, that the Old Testament ceremonial worship had been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Fulfillment is not elimination, however, but rather the further intensification and the greater realization of that which the Old Testament ceremony spoke.

If God dwelt after the fashion of the Old Testament among his people in the temple, then it follows for Paul that he dwells after the clearer and more direct fashion of the New Testament in the congregation of Christ today. No one less than the Holy Spirit of Christ resides wherever the Church comes to local expression, and therefore that congregation must deal with all matters (and all people) in terms of the uncompromising holiness of God!


By looking at just a few representative passages from the Old Testament we can gain an insight into the background to which Paul appeals in I Corinthians 3:16. From this we shall see that it was just exactly because of the presence of God in the temple that Israel was to act as a holy people.

God’s presence always implied the need for cleanliness and devotion in Israel. Ex. 19:10 and following verses call for Moses to be sanctified and to wash their garments and to take care not to touch the holy mountain, for God would make his presence known among his people. In Leviticus 11:45 we read that wellknown expression, “and ye shall be holy; for I am holy.” The basis for this lies in the closeness of God to his people, in the fact that he is the Lord our God who brought his people up out of Egypt. Leviticus 19:2; 20:7 are virtual repetitions of this saying, and Peter quotes it in his first epistle (1:16). It is a statement of truth which holds for all and forever, therefore.

To speak of the temple, we find that Solomon‘s carefulness and concern in connection with the dedication of the temple indicate that he understood that its significance for Israel was great, 1 Kings 8:62 ff. I Kings 9 reveals that the presence of God in the temple calls for dedication and decision on the part of a holy people. Failure to walk in uprightness before the God of the temple would mean that he would not shrink back from cutting the unfaithful and unholy off from his sight, vs. 7. Perhaps this is even more obvious in those passages which deal with the dedication of the second temple, Nehemiah 3:1; 12:30.

There was also an exercise of discipline in the Old Testament. He who did not revere the holiness of God was to be rooted out, which usually meant death, Exodus 12:15, 19; Numbers 19:13, 20. Leviticus 22:3 significantly speaks of the banishment of the unclean as a cutting off of that person from God’s presence, or from before God’s face. Such people

cannot live in Israel because God wills to dwell there. And where the holy God dwells, there holiness is required, for so it was from the very beginning when God himself placed the first offenders outside of his dwelling-place, the Garden of Eden.

Only a real awareness of the awful holiness of God could give adequate motivation to the church’s office-bearers in their very difficult task of church discipline. And if this awareness is lost in the way of apostasy and immorality. then the church refuses to exercise that power which makes for holiness. Hosea 6:11.