"Then He said to them all, 'If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?'" (Luke 9:23-25)
The topic of church discipline is one that is greatly neglected in many congregations. Yet, the perceptive person realizes that proper discipline is essential in every realm whether it is the home (Prov. 13:24), society (Rom. 13:1-5), or the church (1 Cor. 5:1-13).
Church discipline, as presented in the New Testament Scriptures, is not difficult to understand but churches have found it "difficult" to apply, i.e., many congregations have been either inconsistent or totally negligent in their application of it.
In this series of articles we will see the relationship of discipline to being a disciple of Christ, consider radical corrective discipline in the withdrawal of fellowship from a member who is sinning and determine our relationship to those from whom we have had to withdraw our fellowship.
To properly apply these terms in our study, we must first define them.
Discipline is defined as "training that corrects, molds or perfects the mental faculties or moral character" (Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary). "The root meaning of 'discipline' is 'instruction,' but in course of time it came to be used for 'moral training,' 'chastening,' 'punishment.' The subject naturally divides itself into two parts: (1) the spiritual discipline of the soul; (2) the ecclesiastical discipline of offenders" (The Dictionary of the Apostolic Church). Baker's Dictionary of Theology adds that, "Discipline implies instruction and correction, the training which improves, molds, strengthens, and perfects character. It is the moral education obtained by the enforcement of obedience through supervision and control."
Two Greek terms found in the New Testament, "paideia" and "paideuo," also define "discipline" as it is seen in God's word. Variously translated, the usage of these terms falls into three categories:
A disciple is defined as "the pupil of someone, in contrast to the master or teacher ...In all cases it implies that the person not only accepts the views of the teacher, but that he is also in practice an adherent...The disciple of Christ today may be described in the terms of Farrar, as 'one who believes His doctrines, rests upon His sacrifice, imbibes His spirit, and imitates His example" (I.S.B.E.). The Dictionary of the Apostolic Church says, "'Disciple' means more than one who listens to a teacher; it implies his acceptance of the teaching, and his effort to act in accordance with it; it implies being a 'believer' in the teacher and being ready to be an 'imitator' of him."
The Christian's life is to be a life of discipline. Discipline originated with God, it is sanctioned by Him (Deut. 8:5; Job 5:17; Psa. 94:12; Heb. 12:5-11) and it is commanded by Him.
God requires His children to execute discipline upon themselves individually (1 Cor. 11:28-32; 1 Tim. 3:15; 4:7; 4:16)and administer discipline to their brethren in the local congregation.
No one can be a true disciple of Christ who is not willing from the first to exercise discipline upon himself. Consider the teachings of such passages as Luke 9:23-26 and Matthew 16:24-26 where one is told he must "deny self" and submit to the will of God by following the teachings of Christ. The follower of Jesus must discipline himself to walk the "strait" way that leads to life (Matt. 7:13-14). Self-control is to be added to one's faith (1 Pet. 1:5-9) and is part of the "fruit of the Spirit" (Gal. 5:22-24).
The discipline among brethren within the congregation is to include action that is first positive, directive and preventive (Heb. 10:24-25; 3:12-13) and then corrective when a brother or sister has fallen into sin (Gal. 6:1; 2 Tim. 2:14-26; 4:2). Finally, radical corrective discipline must be exercised upon the impenitent brother or sister who continues in sin -- fellowship must be withdrawn (1 Tim. 1:20; 1 Cor. 5:1-13).
The results of discipline, if it is properly received and applied by the Christian, are great.
No condemnation to the world. "But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world" (1 Cor. 11:32).
The yielding of the peaceable fruit of righteousness. "Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Heb. 12:11).
The knowledge that one loves and is loved by God (Heb. 12:6; John 14:23), brethren (1 Pet. 1:22; Gal. 6:1), and self (Eph. 5:28).
The disciple of Jesus is to be molded by His teachings and then use them to discipline himself and his brethren. He is also to accept the discipline, or chastening, of the Lord -- those things that the Lord allows to come upon him in order to strengthen and purify him.