Church Discipline: The Correction Of A Believer Or The Excommunication Of An Unbeliever? Harmonizing Matthew 18:15-17, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, And 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 -- By: R. Bruce Compton

Journal: Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal
Volume: DBSJ 20:0 (NA 2015)
Article: Church Discipline: The Correction Of A Believer Or The Excommunication Of An Unbeliever? Harmonizing Matthew 18:15-17, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, And 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15
Author: R. Bruce Compton


Church Discipline: The Correction Of A Believer Or The Excommunication Of An Unbeliever?
Harmonizing Matthew 18:15-17, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, And 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15

R. Bruce Compton1

Introduction

Within the larger discussion on church discipline, two questions that go to the heart of the issue continue to resist consensus. The first question concerns the spiritual status of those being disciplined. Are they to be viewed by the church as true believers caught up in some transgression and, thus, to be corrected and restored? Or, are they to be viewed as those who have made a profession of faith but who are, in fact, not saved and who need to be confronted and removed? Or, does the New Testament allow for either of these two options, depending on the nature of the disobedience?

The second question, related to the first, addresses the type of discipline meted out to the disobedient. Does church discipline invariably involve excommunication, that is, the removal of the disobedient from the membership of the local church with a loss of all rights and privileges? In other words, does the New Testament teach that excommunication is the only option when exercising church discipline of the unrepentant? Or, does the New Testament allow for a level of church discipline that stops short of that? And, if that be the case, what does this level look like?

The initial step in answering these questions is to provide a fresh reading of the New Testament texts that directly deal with church discipline. Specifically in view are Matthew 18:15-17, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, and 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15. These texts are selected because they provide a description of those who are to be disciplined and they reveal something of the nature and rationale for the discipline the church is to follow.2

After this, the information provided by a fresh reading of the key texts is applied to the above questions to arrive at a biblical paradigm for church discipline. In particular, the information from the key texts is used to determine: (1) the spiritual status of the disobedient, (2) the nature and purpose of church discipline, and (3) the number of steps involved.3

Key Texts

Matthew 18:15-17

15“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.

16But if he does not listen to...

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