Church discipline is not for sissies

Why is church discipline necessary? Imagine this scenario. A team of doctors is operating on a critically ill patient whose life hangs in the balance. Cancer is threatening to kill the person, and the only help and the only hope for survival is in the hands of the skilled surgeons. The cancer must be removed. As they work to save the patient, they are interrupted by a sudden commotion. A man bursts into the operating room and shoves the doctors away, thrashes at the IV lines and ventilator, pushing aside the nurses who try to intervene. What must happen in that moment for the patient to survive? Those with authority to protect and defend would have to step in and deal with the intruder. The threat would have to be removed for the sake of the patient, the medical team and the hospital’s reputation as a place where sick people can find help and healing.
This is the threat that prompted Paul to write his first letter to Timothy. In this case, however, the threat to the church was not from the outside, but from within. Some of the elders had begun to teach fables and myths as though they were truth. Some were teaching that Jesus was not coming back. Others were forbidding church members from getting married or “commanding them to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving.” Paul had already removed two elders from the fellowship, saying, “their message will spread like cancer.” Why was church discipline urged by Paul? Because the hope and healing that is available through the gospel was compromised by “profane and idle babblings.” It was damaged by disorderly brothers or sisters who refused to walk in accordance with the truth. These men and women were a threat to the health of the church. They were also in need of correction themselves, and the only word of admonishment they would hear was that they had to leave the premises until they could repent. Ultimately, Paul urged Timothy to exercise church discipline because of “the glorious gospel of the blessed God.”
Milton Vincent writes, “Outside of heaven, the power of God in its highest density is found inside the gospel. This must be so, for the Bible twice describes the gospel as ‘the power of God.’ Nothing else in all of Scripture is ever described in this way, except for the Person of Jesus Christ. Such a description indicates that the gospel is not only powerful, but that it is the ultimate entity in which God’s power resides and does its greatest work. Indeed, God’s power is seen in erupting volcanoes, in the unimaginably hot boil of our massive sun, and in the lightning speed of a recently discovered star seen streaking through the heavens at 1.5 million miles per hour. Yet in Scripture such wonders are never labeled ‘the power of God.’ How powerful, then, must the gospel be that it would merit such a title! And how great a salvation it could accomplish in my life, if I would only embrace it by faith and give it a central place in my thoughts each day.” The gospel is at stake!
Church discipline is almost unheard of today because tolerance is elevated over truth, because numbers are the goal, or because the leadership simply lacks the courage to do what the Scriptures clearly teach. What is gained when discipline is avoided pales in comparison to what is lost. Church discipline is not for sissies. It is necessary for churches committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ.