We traced the idea of church discipline in our previous contribution to the fact that the Church is God’s temple, and that this holy place must be well-ordered and clean. “Know ye not that ye are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man destroyeth the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, and such are ye” (I Cor. 3:16, 17 ASV).
This leads us to consider a very important N.T. passage with regard to the discipline of the church: I Corinthians 5 (please read it!). There we read of a scandal which had gained wide publicity. In Corinth a member of the church is living with his stepmother. In this connection the apostle writes things of greatest significance for the fact that discipline is applicable to conduct as well as doctrine. Paul is shocked, not only by the sin in question but also by the pride of the Corinthian church which covered up rather than rooted out this evil from their company (vs. 2).
From this chapter certain helpful characteristics of the church disciplinary process may be listed.
1. A Christian congregation must understand that to tolerate patent evil in its membership is very dangerous for the entire church. It must be strong enough to hear such language as, “Put away the wicked man from among yourselves” (vs. 13b).
2. Although Paul’s reaction was swift, vs. 3, even the apostle does not allow himself to exercise church discipline apart from a formal gathering of the church. Church discipline is authoritative (“in the name of our Lord Jesus”), but it is not hierarchical in character.
3. In this connection Paul speaks of the manner of association proper to God’s children. Distinction is to be made between those without and those within, and again between those within whose conduct is according to God’s law and those who are stubbornly immoral and scandalous. Paul instructs the Corinthians to break off such contact as would indicate identification with those whose practices reflect upon the holiness of the Christian congregation as a temple of God.
4. Finally, the Word here speaks of that strange thing, “consigned to Satan for the destruction of the body” (vs. 5, The New English Bible). We would suggest that this means that such a person is banished from the fellowship of those under the benediction of Christ, and can no longer count on the help of our Lord in the struggle against sin. Satan will destroy in him that which is carnal, says Paul, in order that the person of the sinner may be saved. This indicates that Paul envisions church discipline as intending the salvation of the offender, and that he believed that God could use even the Evil One himself to that end!