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The basics of church discipline – Part 2

The basics of church discipline – Part 2
Posted on September 13, 2019  - By Dr. Danny L. Akin

Last week, we looked at two of seven considerations when it comes to the ‘ministry of loving confrontation’. This week, let’s look at a third.

III. Church discipline is to be exercised under the Lordship of Jesus Christ for the good of the whole body (1 Corinthians 5:3-5)

R.C Sproul notes, “The church is called not only to a ministry of reconciliation, but a ministry of nurture to those within her gates. Part of that nurture includes church discipline.” The point is plain: Correction is essential to healthy spiritual growth and maturity in the body of Christ.

And, John MacArthur adds with a pleading pastoral voice: “The purpose of church discipline is the spiritual restoration of fallen members and the consequent strengthening of the church and glorifying of the Lord. When a sinning believer is rebuked and he turns from his sin and is forgiven, he is won back to fellowship with the body and with its head, Jesus Christ. The goal of church discipline, then, is not to throw people out of the church or to feed the self-righteous pride of those who administer the discipline. It is not to embarrass people or to exercise authority and power in some unbiblical manner. The purpose is to restore a sinning believer to holiness and bring him back into a pure relationship within the assembly.”

The goal of church discipline, then, is not to throw people out of the church or to feed the self-righteous pride of those who administer the discipline

Paul’s attitude on the matter of sexual immorality (5:1) stands in stark contrast to the proud and conceited Corinthians. Invoking his apostolic authority, he stated he is there with them even if he is “absent in body”. Further, he has “already pronounced judgment’, thereby nullifying the Corinthians lax moral position on the sexually immoral man who calls himself a brother in the Lord (1 Corinthians 5:11).

Verses 4-5 contain a clear, logical outline for how the church is to adjudicate this matter. I believe the prior steps given by Jesus in Matthew 18:15-20 are assumed to have already been followed, though a situation like this could necessitate moving quickly to the final step of excommunication.

  1. They are to assemble together under the authority of the Lord Jesus and with apostolic witness (v.4). This is clearly congregational. Church discipline is no place for a Lone Ranger.
  2. In the power (or authority/name) of the Lord Jesus, they are to remove this man from their fellowship (v.2) and deliver him to the realm of Satan (e.g. the world) (v.4).
  3. The goal of this act of excommunication is to destroy the sinful desires and impulses of his fleshly nature “so that he himself might be saved on the Day of the Lord”. Some view this as a pronouncement of a curse leading potentially to physical death, drawing from the story of Ananias and Sapphria in Acts 5:1-11 and the death of some Corinthians for abusing the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:30. Such a position has both merit and weight. Still, correction and restoration seems the better understanding of this text (cf. 1 Timothy 1:19-20 and the situation of Hymenaeus and Alexander).

In a 1993 sermon with the fascinating title, “How Satan Saves the Soul,” John Piper tracks with the correction/restoration interpretation, drawing an analogy from the man we know as Job. He writes:

“What seems to be in view is something like what happened in the book of Job. The only other place in the Bible outside Paul’s letters where ‘handing someone over to Satan’ with these very words occurs is Job 2:6, which says, literally, ‘And the Lord said to the Devil, “Behold I hand him [Job] over to you. Only spare his life.’ 

The next verse says, ‘Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.’ And the result of God’s gracious purpose? Job 42:6-7: ‘Now my eye sees you [O Lord] and I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.’

So, Satan became the means under God’s sovereign control of purifying Job’s heart and bringing him closer than ever to God. This is not the only place where God uses Satan to do that. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul describes his thorn in the flesh as a messenger of Satan, which God appoints for Paul’s humility and Christ’s glory. Verse 7: “To keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me — to keep me from exalting myself!’”

…Jesus is Satan’s ruler. And he uses Satan, our archenemy, to save and sanctify His people. He brought Job to penitence and prosperity. He brought Paul to the point where he could exult in tribulation and make the power of Christ manifest. 

And Paul hopes that the result of handing over this man to Satan will be the salvation of his spirit at the day of Christ. In other words, Paul’s aim — our aim — in handing someone over to Satan is that some striking misery will come in such a way that the person will say with Job, ‘My eyes have seen the Lord, and I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.’”

Dr. Danny L. Akin

About Dr. Danny L. Akin

Danny L Akin currently serves as the President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina and is a professor of preaching and theology. He is well known for his heart for missions, and is the author of several books, including Engaging Exposition and Ten Who Changed the World.



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