Fellowship and Discipline

When the topic of discipline in relation to fellowship is mentioned many people may tend to think of a harsh, intolerant and unloving group of brothers that are about to cut someone off for a sin. Withdrawal from a brother or sister should not be practiced with this attitude, nor should this be a believer's concept of discipline in the ecclesia. Because discipline in the ecclesia can be a divisive issue, we want to briefly examine the natural example of discipline within a parent/child relationship and how that applies to discipline within an ecclesia.

Using the principle of Paul in 1 Cor.15:46 of first the natural and then the spiritual, we can easily see how the natural example of the relationship between a parent and child should translate into spiritual understanding and action in our ecclesias. The truthabout discipline is that we all needed discipline in our natural maturing process. Did you ever like the correction that your parents gave you? If you had the power to resist the correction you probably would and probably did at times. Categorically speaking, our parents were right (were they not?) and the correction was necessary for our own benefit. "For they (fathers of our flesh) verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness."(Hebrews 12:10)

It is for the ultimate good of the child that correction is applied. The writer of Hebrews goes on to say in verse 11: "Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby." Here the word "exercised" carries the sense of being trained. We are all being trained in the righteousness of God as His sons and daughters.

Children need discipline. No thinking person would deny that this is true. It is good for them, good for their parents and good for society in general. There is not a person reading these words who would have trouble identifying a child that has had a lack of discipline. Many in our society do not recognize the need for discipline because the spirit of our age is that everything is a personal choice. Parents are not supposed to insist that their children follow their moral code. They are certainly not supposed to tell them that they have sinned. It may "hurt their self esteem." But we know that without discipline, a child will grow up to become a menace to society. Unless they have someone to show them the way, they will not have a solid foundation from which to base their decisions.

How do we apply this to fellowship? In the natural family, there is a need for discipline when a child "goes off course." The spiritual family is no different. Correction of a child is not something that a parent looks forward to or wants to do but will perform for the child's sake. It should be no different in the ecclesial family. We are commanded to be concerned with our brother's ultimate good, realizing that this may take discipline. "Nevertheless if thou warn the righteous man, that the righteous sin not, and he doth not sin, he shall surely live, because he is warned; also thou hast delivered thy soul."(Ezekiel 3:21 - The full account is definitely worth consideration, see verses 18-21.)

The subtle influence of our society has worked some changes in ecclesial discipline over the years. Today, more than ever, we are told that it is not okay to tell anyone that what they have done is wrong. Moral issues especially are off limits. Unfortunately, we have been changed by our environment and manyno longer feel comfortable confronting even the most blatant sin in the brotherhood. We fear being labeled harsh, intolerant and unloving. In fact, it is because of the love we have for our brothers and sisters that we should be willing to warn them when they have clearly transgressed God's law. Approaching someone who is in need of correction is not an easy task and is often easier in the short term to leave it undone. We know, however, that this is not God's will for his ecclesia neither will it be best in the long run.

Attitudes - In a natural family, correction is accepted and heeded much more quickly when the child knows that it is done in love. While the attitude of both parent and child are important, it is possible that the parent's attitude may be most important. A parent and a servant of the Lord must be, "gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil." (2 Timothy 2:24-26)

Discipline is difficult for the parent, just as it is for the child. A parent must be consistent in their discipline. A parent must examine themselves and their actions to see if their parenting is meeting the goal. The spiritual parallel is unmistakable. "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted." (Galatians 6:1)

"The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away." (1 Peter 5:1-4)

It is of utmost importance to practice what you preach as a parent. Children are the first to pick up on inconsistencies that occur. If they are busy watching their parents say one thing and do another, they will pay no attention when they are disciplined. The hypocrisy of the parents clouds the issue, even when the child is truly in need of discipline.

So it can be in an ecclesial setting as well. That is why one of the qualifications of an elder is that they are blameless (I Tim. 3:2). Otherwise, the have no credibility. Of course, it can be that a brother who is being approached for correction brings up the sins or problems of the brother who is confronting him to deflect attention from him. This is a natural reaction.

No person desires to be on the receiving end of discipline. It is natural to be angry and defensive, but it is not helpful or scriptural. We are told in James 3:17 that we should be "easy to be entreated."

There is a natural progression when dealing with the discipline of a child. Parents do not normally start off with a spanking unless the behavior is egregious. Under normal circumstances, there may be a warning, followed by a scolding, a "time out", revocation of privileges, and THEN a spanking or grounding, depending on the age of the child, if the behavior is not suitably modified. Likewise, there is a progression in ecclesial discipline. These steps are outlined in Matthew 18:15-18.

"Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

We must keep in mind that the ecclesia is the place to deal with sin. It is natural to our flesh to want to cover and justify our failings, but if this happens in the ecclesia it will only lead to larger problems. If sins are dealt with in the ecclesia, it gives a wonderful opportunity for an ecclesia to speak with a united voice and clearly uphold God's righteousness. The ecclesia of God should not have difficulty declaring what is right and wrong on things that God has already judged for us to be works of the flesh, Gal 5:19-21. At the same time, it also gives an even better opportunity to show loving restoration to a brother or sister. This doubtless would bring great joy to all involved. Following the scriptural instruction will also provide an examplefor all, particularly the young in the ecclesia.

We all regret the fact that there is a need for discipline in the ecclesia to maintain fellowship. We also know that this will have to be the case until Christ takes away the fallen aspects of our world, and sin is finally put down for good. Until that time, these problems are certainly a trial of our faith, and we each may be judged on how we address them or whether we address them at all. We must consistently look to God in prayer for guidance and deliverance in all trials in our personal and ecclesial lives to keep fellowship intact. A few Proverbs are good to meditate on in relation to discipline and how it affects fellowship. "...rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning." (Proverbs 9:8-9)

Let us strive to practice the wisdom of this Proverb. We have examined the need for correction and we pray that it never get to the point that is spoken of in Proverbs 18:19: "A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle."

When we think of discipline in the ecclesia, we each need to recognize the need for it, examine our attitude about it, apply the proper scriptural principles regardingit and keep our minds focused on the ultimate goal- restoration to fellowship with God. "Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins." (James 5:20)

"And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins."(1 Pet. 4:8)

David Love
South Hill, VA