Teaching Tools: Church Discipline

We turn our attention to Church Discipline in this week’s edition of Teaching Tools. A subject far more enjoyable to read about and study than to experience, church discipline is an integral part of maintaining a healthy local church. Left ignored, problems and sin within a congregation can decimate a local body of believers.

From the HCSB Study Bible:

An excerpt of Mark Dever’s article on Church Discipine

Two categories of church discipline describe ways a church may teach its members right living and right beliefs.

Formative Discipline: Formative discipline is a preventative measure. It includes the positive, direct teaching of biblical truth through sermons and Sunday school lessons. It also includes modeling godliness and mentoring new believers.

Corrective Discipline: Corrective discipline is used when trouble arises. It can include contradicting, challenging, rebuking, and excommunicating a member for unrepentance or erroneous teachings. Corrective discipline may seem controversial, but Jesus clearly taught that if a believer continues to sin despite the call to repentance, the church should treat him as if he were “an unbeliever and a tax collector” (Mt 18:17). This exclusion from church membership is generically called “church discipline.” It is also called “excommunication” because those under discipline are not permitted to participate in Communion (the Lord’s Supper).


Scriptural Accounts and Instruction:

Matthew 18:15-20 (HCSB)

15 “If your brother sins against you,go and rebuke him in private.If he listens to you, you have won your brother.16 But if he won’t listen, take one or two more with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established.17 If he pays no attention to them, tell the church.But if he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like an unbeliever and a tax collector to you.18 I assure you: Whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven.19 Again, I assure you: If two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them.”

Related study notes:

18:19-20 A common but mistaken interpretation holds that these verses promise that God will do whatever two or more believers ask. This violates the context. There is a clear connection with the immediately preceding discussion about restoring a sinning disciple. Verses 18 and 19 relate the restoration/disciplinary actions of Jesus’ disciples on earth to the decisions of the Father in heaven. The word again at the beginning of verse 19 suggests that this verse restates the principle of verse 18. The two or three mentioned in verse 20 are thus the two or three witnesses that were first mentioned in verse 16. Christ is present with His disciples when they gather and seek His leadership about troubling behavior among disciples. He will answer their prayer for the sinning believer’s restoration.

 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 (HCSB)

9 I wrote to you in a letter not to associate with sexually immoral people.10 I did not mean the immoral people of this •world or the greedy and swindlers or idolaters; otherwise you would have to leave the world.11 But now I am writing you not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer who is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or verbally abusive, a drunkard or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. 12 For what business is it of mine to judge outsiders? Don’t you judge those who are inside? 13 But God judges outsiders. Put away the evil person from among yourselves. 

Related video from Gene Getz and the Life Essentials Study Bible:


The Seven Purposes of Church Discipline (J. Hampton Keathley, III):

  1. To bring glory to God and enhance the testimony of the flock.
  2. To restore, heal, and build up sinning believers (Matt. 18:15; 2 Thess. 3:14-15; Heb. 12:10-13; Gal. 6:1-2; Jam. 5:20).
  3. To produce a healthy faith, one sound in doctrine (Tit. 1:13; 1 Tim. 1:19-20).
  4. To win a soul to Christ, if the sinning person is only a professing Christian (2 Tim. 2:24-26).
  5. To silence false teachers and their influence in the church (Tit. 1:10-11).
  6. To set an example for the rest of the body and promote godly fear (1 Tim. 5:20).
  7. To protect the church against the destructive consequences that occur when churches fail to carry out church discipline.


Recommended Resource:


Those Who Must Give an Account
A Study of Church Membership and Church Discipline

Hammett, John S. &  Merkle, Benjamin L.

There is a surprising, even dangerous, gap in the literature on the church in the areas of church membership and church discipline. The former sets the boundaries of a leader’s responsibility, and discipline is the last option of a church when members will no longer live in fellowship with their brothers and sisters in the Lord and accept the guidance of their leaders.

And so this book is written first to church leaders, offering guidance on how they should receive and minister to those for whom they will have to give an account according to Scripture. But under the view of the church upheld in these chapters, the receiving of members and discipline of members are both acts of the greater church body, and thus all members of the church share in the accountability for each other. Consequently, Those Who Must Give an Account will be of interest to all believers.


  1. Milton Harrington says

    Unfortunately the attitude towards church discipline is one of passivism and negligence. As Pastors we are supposed to just preath and teach the Bible, make disciples and love old/new members through their “public” sin. When attempts are made to discipline “believers” in the church words such as legalistic and judgmental are loosed, fears of the offending party “leaving” the church are voiced and secular “social mores” influencing the body’s “opinion” on biblical sin come into play.
    To counter such spiritual lethargy I purposefully do several things as a Pastor: 1) Preach on Church Discipline – its absence is either biblical educ. or spiritual apostasy 2) Bring up examples and needs for lay leadership to address – deal with the consequences 3) Use a New Members Class to introduce the topic up front.

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