Church Discipline

What is church discipline?

This is part of the communion which saints have with each other as we help each other along through this world on the way to our heavenly kingdom.  It’s our obedience to what the apostle taught us:  do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:4)


What is fraternal correction?

These are the steps Jesus laid out for us to follow when we have been offended by a Christian brother or sister.

If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.  “But if he does not listen, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED.  “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17)

The important thing to note is that fraternal correction is something that does not involve the church.  When the steps of fraternal correction fail to bring resolution, then the church becomes involved.


What are the steps of fraternal correction?

This is when the offended Christian meets with the person who gave the offense to see if he can find resolution and reconciliation.  The second step is that the offended brother takes with him witnesses to see if a resolution can be found and reconciliation secured.


What is ecclesiastical censure?

This is when reconciliation cannot be secured by the steps of fraternal correction.  In this case, Jesus instructs His people to lay the matter before the church. (Matthew 18:17)  The church then proceeds to weigh the matter and to proceed with discipline as they see fit.


What other considerations should move us when we think about beginning a process of fraternal correction?

Before we begin such a process, we should consider the following:

First whether the offense we notice in our brother/sister is sufficient to warrant a confrontation. A good question here is whether the offense was against ourselves or against God?  If it was a personal insult to ourselves, we should consider overlooking it and moving on.  Recall Paul’s exhortation “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”

Second, is there any reason to believe that our brother/sister will come to a recognition of his/her fault without our intervention?  Perhaps others are already handling the situation and our involvement is unnecessary or perhaps even counter-productive.  Perhaps there might be another person who is in a better position to carry forward this process than ourselves.(?)  Assuming that others know about the sin, perhaps there is someone closer to this individual who might have a higher chance of success than we.

Third, was the sin committed a public one?  In this case, one is not bound to the steps of fraternal correction since the sin cannot be hidden. This isn’t to say, of course, that a Christian brother or sister shouldn’t attempt to reach out to someone and to humbly seek to win them over in a way of loving conversation even if the church has become involved.

Fourth, even if the sin is a private one, we should consider whether a person(s) safety is in question.  In this case, a delay could bring great harm to a person who is in danger.  If this case is sufficiently severe, the entire process should be laid aside and the police called to protect those involved.  Again, these cases call for a great deal of discernment and wisdom.


What principles should guide a Christian as he seeks to carry out this process?

He should always aim for peace, and not a personal victory.  He should bathe the entire process in fervent prayer.  He should always be ready to bear wrong and even an injustice than to bring further shame on the Name of Christ.  Paul even urges the Corinthians to accept injustices and to let the matter drop.  Why not let yourselves be cheated? he asks them. (1 Corinthians 6:7)


Did Paul sin against Jesus’ instruction in Matt 18 when he publicly rebuked Peter for his sudden change of behavior towards the Gentile-Christians?

This is a difficult question.  Perhaps, the answer lies in the fact that Peter’s sin was a public one that called for a public rebuke.