If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. Matthew 18.15
Church discipline can often sound harsh. Discipline sounds mean and violent. Contrary to this belief, discipline is a loving thing. The author of Hebrews reminds us in chapter 12 verse 6, ‘For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’ If a father doesn’t discipline his child, he is either vindictive or negligent. When a child does evil, whether in small or big ways, her parents want to train her that there are consequences for evil. It is loving to guide her to what is true and beautiful and good before the consequences come from the world. Ultimately our desire as Christian parents is to train our children in virtue. When they come to know Jesus as Savior, they will see how we seek to live virtuously because of what Jesus has done. Because we are saved, we seek to kill our sin and live to righteousness.
Church discipline is similar. It is a loving thing to address our brother or sister in Christ when they sin (and if we have been careful to consider our own faults). We ought to do so out of a desire to gain a brother or sister. We don’t just do this out of pride saying, ‘I see your sin, you need to fix it,’ as though we don’t ever have need of correction. We all must come to this with humble hearts knowing we all are capable of sin and we all are in need of God’s grace and his forgiveness.
Now in addressing our brother or sister’s sins through this process of church discipline, it is possible that he or she won’t listen to us, so then we bring in others to validate whether the concerns are true and address his or her sin. Bringing in others helps us as we seek to win them to restoration. We long for them to see that what they are in fact doing is sin and it is destroying both their own relationships and wounding themselves. It is a very sad thing to see your child reject your correction and press into their sin. It is sad because it hurts your relationship with them until there is restoration, but even more than that, it is sad because they do not see the consequences of their actions. In the same way, those brothers or sisters who embrace their sin are blind to the consequences of their actions: they are in peril! If they continue to live in their sin, they make God a liar and reject his salvation. Ultimately, if they do not turn from their sin, it is brought to the local congregation who are all called to pursue and pray for this brother or sister. Finally, if they do not listen, they are removed from membership.
One of the assumptions of discipline is that there is a culture of loving one another within the church. One of the stings of church discipline is that those whom you had called brothers and sisters are no longer your brothers and sisters. They are cut off from you, and it painful both to the church and to the person who once had experienced God’s love and the brotherly love of the church. But if we love one another, even our low level correction of one another has the potential to be effective. We grant that repentance is a gift and work of the Spirit, but the Spirit of God often uses us broken humans to effect such a change. May we as a church love each other deeply, and may we seek to influence one another to righteousness as we seek to kill our sin and grow in righteousness.