What does the Bible say about church discipline?

by Catherine
(Georgia, USA)

Rick Brentlinger Answers

Thanks for asking such a good question. What your church did is called "church discipline." When properly administered in a spiritual manner, church discipline is not punishment. It is instead, a loving act calling a wayward Christian to repentance.

I don't know the circumstances so I am unable to comment on whether the church discipline in your case was necessary or right. I do think it is fair to say that local churches face an enormous problem in exercising church discipline.

Twenty first century Christians often view themselves as free agents with minimal moral accountability to God and even less moral accountability to each other. If the church is to function as the body of Christ, we need moral accountability to God and to each other.

"The prescription for church discipline in vv. 15–17 must be read in light of the parable of the lost sheep in Matthew 18:12–14. The goal of this process is restoration. If successful, “you have gained your brother.”

Step 1 is to “tell him his fault” privately. If he remains impenitent, follow step 2: “take with you one or two more,” to fulfill the principle of Deut. 19:15. If he still refuses to repent, step 3 requires that the matter be reported to the whole assembly (v. 17) — so that all may lovingly pursue the sinning brother’s reconciliation. But failing that, step 4 means that the offender must be excommunicated, regarded by the church as “a heathen and a tax collector” (see note on Matthew 5:46).

The idea is not merely to punish the offender, or to shun him completely, but to remove him as a detrimental influence from the fellowship of the church, and henceforth to regard him as an evangelistic prospect rather than as a brother. Ultimately, the sin for which he is excommunicated is a hard-hearted impenitence."

John F. MacArthur, Jr., The MacArthur Study Bible, (Dallas: Word Publishing), 1997

1. The purpose of church discipline is to bring conviction upon a Christian who walks in unrepentant sin so that Christian will repent (change his/her mind about the sin) and get right with God. It is not intended to be punitive but instead is restorative.

2. Church discipline should always be carefully exercised by those in spiritual authority. Hopefully it will only be exercised by those who care enough about you to pray for you on a regular basis, who know you personally, who set a Godly example for you of Christian love by the way they live their lives and who can show you clearly in the scriptures where you are wrong and why they are exercising church discipline.

3. Church discipline is not like a voodoo curse which brings some kind of inevitable destruction and death. Church discipline is not a self-fulfilling prophesy of destruction if you don't kowtow to someone's whim or personal opinion.

4. Church discipline should only deal with matters about which scripture is clear. In general, if the scripture isn't clear on a matter, then that matter is up to the discretion of the individual Christian and is not a matter for church discipline.

What about gay issues?

When dealing with the issue of lesbian and gay relationships and gay marriage, the Bible does not say that same sex dating and marriage are wrong. No verse used to condemn gay marriage is dealing with gay marriage when read in context.

I don't know your age, whether or not you still live at home, whether or not you are financially dependent on some of the people at church who exercised church discipline on you so I can only offer opinions as to what your responsibilities are.

Please do not regard this as condemnation or criticism of you personally since I don't know anything about you. Remember that these pages are read by thousands of people every month in 196 countries around the world. Therefore what I write is aimed at everyone in general. My prayer is that the Holy Spirit will apply these pages as He sees fit.

Things to consider when
dealing with church discipline

  1. Make sure you are living a clean honorable life for the Lord, with your sins all confessed, with any rebellious spirit surrendered to God and laid at the foot of the Cross.

    If you've been drinking and drugging, hanging out in bars and nightclubs as some gay and lesbian Christians do, then you need to repent of that sin and get right with God.

    If you've been having sex with your girlfriend (or boyfriend for gay guys) without being in a committed faithful partnered relationship,as some lesbian and gay Christians do then you need to repent of that sin and get right with God.

  2. Make sure you are living for the Lord instead of chasing worldly pleasure, accumulating more and more "things" and generally living like a lost person. Our lives do not consist in the abundance of the things we possess. In plainer words, our possessions should never possess us.

  3. Make sure Jesus is the center of your life and that you are submitted to His authority as revealed in the Bible. If you're the King's daughter, you cannot spend your life rebelling against the King and expect to suffer no consequences.

Our actions as Christians have consequences. The Bible tells us: "the Lord educates the ones he loves, and he uses the rod on everyone he welcomes as a child."

-Hebrews 12:6, Study Bible New Testament For Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender by Dr. Ann Nyland

Because God loves us, He will always correct us when we get out of His will. That's His job as our heavenly Father and He's very good at His job.

What if I don't deserve
their church discipline?

If you are a born again Christian, living for the Lord, not living in sin and rebellion against God and if the only thing your church has against you is that you were dating a girl, it is possible the church discipline they exercised against you is wrong.

If you cannot be who God created you to be in that church, it is time to locate a gay affirming church in your area.

I encourage you to pray about it, study your Bible, seek spiritual counsel and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit as He shows you what to do. As always, please feel free to stay in contact and let me know how things are going in your life and how you resolved this situation.

Here are Bible verses which deal with spiritual discipline and church discipline. It will help if you take time to study the verses, reading them aloud and then praying for guidance from the Holy Spirit as to how they apply to your life.

Does 1 Cor 7:2 exclude gays and lesbians from marriage?

Church Discipline Verses

Matthew 18:15-20

1 Corinthians 5:11-13

2 Thessalonians 3:6-9, 14-15

Hebrews 12:11-13

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