The Biblical Concept of the Church


by Leland M. Haines

[*] 1. Entrance Conditions
[*] 2. Evangelists and Revival Approaches
[*] 3. Entrance Conditions
[*] 4. Discipline
[*] 5. Shunning: A Last Resort
[*] 6. Excuses Not to Discipline

Entrance Conditions

Redemption requires decisions and actions only adult believers can make; thus the church is a believer's church. This means the church must have entrance conditions and be a disciplined body. Let us look at entrance conditions.

Jesus spoke in the strongest terms that the way to life is narrow and that discipleship is required. He said, "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Matthew 7:13, 14). He said, "Not every one who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 7:21). Salvation requires more than a words.

One time "a scribe came up and said to him, 'Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.' And Jesus said to him, 'Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.' Another of the disciples said to him, 'Lord, let me first go and bury my father.' But Jesus said to him, 'Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead'" (Matthew 8:19-22). Following Jesus requires complete dedication; nothing should interfere with it. At another place Jesus taught that discipleship must have first place. "If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple." He then spoke that a man building a tower would "count the cost" first; otherwise he might not be able to finish it. Then He stated, "So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26-33; cf. Matthew 10:34-39).

Jesus summed this up later by stating, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24; cf. Luke 14:27; John 12:26). If one is not willing to deny himself and follow Jesus, he will lose his life: "For whoever would save his life will lose it and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matthew 16:25; Luke 17:33; John 12:25). Discipleship is a very serious matter.

In light of the need for faithful discipleship, one would expect entrance into the church to be considered a serious matter and not undertaken lightly. The seeker needs to repent, take up his cross and follow Jesus, and only then is he qualified to enter the church through baptism.

The above emphasis was evident from the beginning in the early church. As the result of the first sermon by Peter, the hearers "were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Brethren, what shall we do?'" Peter told them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." We have only a brief summary of what was told these persons. Luke wrote that Peter "testified with many other words . . . . those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." Undoubtedly many of these had turned against Jesus at His trial and crucifixion. They had to undergo a radical change in attitude before they could be baptized. Their changed attitudes are reflected in Luke's comments that "they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship" (Acts 2:37-42).

A few days later Peter again addressed the people and ended by telling them, "God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you in turning every one of you from your wickedness." Peter and John were arrested for their preaching, "but many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of men came to about five thousand" (Acts 3:26-4:4). The people took the message to heart, turned, and then were baptized and added to the church. As a side note, the fact that Luke knew how many were added to the church indicates that membership records were kept.

The growth of the church continued. On one occasion the whole church met at Solomon's Portico. This meeting involved a separation for Scripture says, "None of the rest dare join them." This apparently refers to those who were not convinced of the Gospel and were unwilling to unite with those who were following Christ. Nevertheless, those who did not join held the believers "in high honor" and perhaps even stood nearby listening to their message. As a result of the church's zeal to proclaim the Gospel, "more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women" (Acts 5:11-14). Luke did not give details about the message, but no doubt it was the same as before, that men needed to repent, turn to Jesus, and follow Him.

Philip went to Samaria because of persecution against the church in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1-5). There "they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, [and] they were baptized, both men and women" (v. 12). When the news of the Samaritians' baptism reached the church at Jerusalem, Peter and John were sent to investigate. There they found that the believers had only been baptized but had not received the Holy Spirit; so they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. Those who came into the church were to be complete. This whole story indicates the apostles were concerned about those entering the church and its purity (vs. 14-17).

Philip was called to ministry to an Ethiopian government official, who was a proselyte to Judaism. He didn't know Jesus but was reading about Him in Isaiah 53. Philip approached the man and "beginning with this scripture he told him the good news of Jesus." After listening to Philip's message, the Ethiopian official desired to be baptized. "The eunuch said, 'See, here is water! What is to prevent my being baptized?' And Philip said, 'If you believe with all your heart, you may'" (Acts 8:35-38). And the eunuch was baptized, for apparently he believed "with all [his] heart."

One of the best examples of a change before baptism is found in Saul's conversion. He had persecuted the disciples and had to undergo a radical change in attitude before his baptism. The result was a change from a persecutor of the church to a disciple filled with the Holy Spirit. He remained with the disciples, and "in the synagogues immediately he proclaimed Jesus, saying, 'He is the Son of God.'" Saul's repentance was obvious, for "all who heard him were amazed, and said, 'Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called on this name?'" (Acts 9).

Through a vision God moved Peter to go to Cornelius, a Roman centurion. When Peter spoke to Cornelius and those with him, "the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles." Since it was evident that God accepted them, Peter asked, "Can any one forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" The answer was No. The evidence was clear these Gentiles has received the Holy Spirit, so Peter "commanded them to be baptized" as a testimony to their new faith (Acts 10:45-48).

When the news of Peter's baptizing the Gentiles at Cornelius' house reached Judea, Peter was quickly criticized. Peter then went to Jerusalem and explained to the apostles and brethren in Judea all the events leading up to the baptisms. He acted only after there had been clear evidence: "'If then God gave the same gifts to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?' When they heard this they were silenced. And they glorified God, saying, 'Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance unto life'" (Acts 11:17, 18). When informed of this, they quickly accepted the Gentile believers. From this experience we again see that the church was concerned about who was entering it and under what conditions. They wanted to know what evidence existed that God had called these into the church.

Persecution continued to scatter the disciples and resulted in their preaching to the Greeks at Antioch about the Lord Jesus.

    And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number that believed turned to the Lord." When the news of this reached the church in Jerusalem, they sent Barnabas to investigate, showing that the church was concerned about the spiritual condition of those who were joined to the fellowship. Barnabas "saw the grace of God, he was glad; and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose; . . . And a large company was added to the Lord. Acts 11:19- 24

We see this concern evident in Paul's missionary journeys. Lydia, a Greek woman, heard the good news. "The Lord opened her heart to give heed to what was said by Paul." It was following this that she was baptized, showing that the spiritual conditions had to be met before baptism (Acts 16:14, 15).

At Philippi, Paul and Silas healed a slave girl who could foretell the future. Because the slave girl's owner lost this source of income, he brought the disciples before the magistrates and had them put in prison. God worked a miracle (an earthquake) to open the prison doors, but Paul and Silas remained in the cell. When the jailer saw what happened, he asked, "Men, what must I do to be saved?" Paul told him to believe "in the Lord Jesus." There was more instruction, because "they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all that were in his house." After this they were baptized. Notice that the jailer asked what he must do to be saved (Acts 16:25-34).

In Corinth "Paul was occupied with preaching, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus." Because the Jews opposed and reviled him, Paul turned to the Gentiles. Luke wrote that "Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with all his household; and many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized" (Acts 18:5-9). Since Paul had spent some time preaching to the Jews about Jesus, Crispus could have been familiar with the Gospel message on repentance and discipleship when he was baptized.

In Jerusalem Paul was brought before King Agrippa because the Jews had rioted when they thought Paul brought Greeks into the temple (Acts 21:27). Paul told the king about his conversion and how he declared to all men that "they should repent and turn to God and perform deeds worthy of their repentance" (Acts 26:20). This brief glimpse enables us to learn something about the content of Paul's message, a message that called for repentance. With such a message, one would have expected repentance to be a reality before baptism and entrance into the church.

The above accounts show that some evidence of a changed life was required before water baptism. In some cases Luke indicated that "believers" were baptized. But this does not mean that repentance, rebirth, and discipleship were not required. Those who believed and received the grace of God undergo these changes. Grace causes them to undergo a radical change in attitude. Paul wrote that "the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world" (Titus 2:11, 12). Grace produces a change in people and results in godly lives.

In conclusion, we submit that the early church looked for some clear evidence that God had worked in individuals' lives before they were baptized and welcomed into the church. People were not baptized lightly. The local church should be concerned about those who desire to become a part of their fellowship. The need for this concern varies. In times of persecution the need for evidence is less than in times of peace. In times of persecution it is not popular for seekers to become a part of a persecuted body. Generally the seeker would have had to receive the grace of God before they would normally take up a heavy cross. In times of peace the danger is that the seeker may want to become a part of the church without having undergone the required change. It would be unfair to them and to the church, to allow them to become a "members" of the church without a conversion.

Evangelists and Revival Approaches

Today many problems would be avoided if the church would follow biblical methods and rely on preaching and teaching of the Word and the working of the Holy Spirit to bring individuals to follow Christ and lead them into His body, the church. Many questionable approaches used by evangelists today originated in American Protestant revivals. Their type of emotion-based preaching and invitations are questionable approaches. Too often these "evangelists" relied on human ingenuity and high pressure appeals to produce an emotional experience in a person that is assumed to be a "conversion" experience. The problem with this is the "conversion" may be only a psychological product and not the work of the Holy Spirit.

This high pressure approach must be avoided because only God can open the heart to receive the Good News. Our goal today must be, as was the case with Lydia, to be faithful proclaimers of the truth and allow the Lord open "her heart to give heed to what was said" (Acts 16:14). We must remember that all must "enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Matthew 7:13, 14). Anything that causes one to miss the narrow gate or people to think they can widen it must be avoided at all cost.

There are dangers if man's ingenuity and human resources are followed and relied on. One of these is that a person think he is a Christian because he has responded to the evanglist's invitation but has clearly understood the issues Gospel and has not surrendered to Christ. Because of this he may lack repentance, the new birth, and would not be entering into discipleship. If grace has not operated in the individual's life, the gates to the church are widened and there will be severe discipline problems later for himself and the church leadership. Too often these emotional appeals produce a superficial "acceptance" that is not marked by repentance and discipleship.

A second danger is that some "evangelistic" emotional appeals are so intense they tear down self- confidence in the hearer and then forced to accept or repond to questionable appeals. These misguided approaches can often result in doubt, and even disaster for the person struggling with a sin problem, instead of causing true repentance. If the person is a seeker he may never see the Gospel's good news. If he is a weak Christian that needs building up, tearing him down to get a response is not always the best for him.

Another danger of strong emotional appeals is that the pressure can drive seekers away before they learn what the Word teaches and a sound basis for faith can be developed. Churches should want non- believers to attend their services and should not pressure them for decisions that result in their not wanting to attend again. Non-believers attended meetings in the early church. For instance, when the Corinthian Christians misunderstood and misused speaking in tongues, Paul wrote to them that if "outsiders or unbelievers enter [their meetings], will they not say that you are mad?" (I Corinthians 14:23). This is an example of what can happen if too much emphasis is placed on emotions. What Paul desired for the church was proper teaching so when an "unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you" (I Corinthians 14:24, 25).

James gave further evidence that outsiders were welcome to attend services. He wrote, "If a man with gold rings and in fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in," and you treat them differently, have you "become judges with evil thoughts?" By using the term "man," James indicates that likely these were not disciples, because normally he would addressed as brethren. Since the New Testament teaches against the adorning of oneself by wearing gold rings and fine clothing (I Timothy 2:9; I Peter 3:3), and these practices were not found in the early church, their use by the man suggests that he was not a disciple (James 2:1-7).

If these strong emotional appeals were avoided, some of the problems associated with the practice of evangelizing children and the danger of baptizing children at too young of an age would be reduced. Unfortunately, a significant number of childhood "conversions" appear to be "false conversions." We see evidence of this in that when many of these youth grow older, they develop a rebellious attitude which and an unwillingness to follow biblical teachings.

The preceding comments on early "conversions" raise the question about the age of baptism. But this need not become an important issue if emotion-based invitations are not made. Without these approaches God will work at His own pace to produce belief and discipleship.

To avoid these dangers as much as possible, preaching and teaching should be done in a natural voice, not in a flamboyant or showy way that climaxes in a fast-fire, emotion-packed buildup and conclusion. Read the sermons recorded in the Book of Acts, and you will discover straight-forward teaching that seeks to help individuals to understand the Gospel. If the approach followed is 90 percent emotion and 10 percent content there will be a big letdown and reverting to the old ways after the "revival" meetings.

Another problem to avoid is a series of meetings that have a week-long, strong emotional buildup These frequently use crowd psychology and mind control to achieve humanistic results.

In summary, many problems exist today because past generations have failed to follow God's way and have followed man-made ways. The Bible teaches believer's baptism and discipleship. The church should expect a spirit of discipleship and a desire for doctrinal faithfulness from new Christians, as they follow Christ and "the all things" of Scripture.


Church discipline is not a popular subject, but it is necessary to have a biblical church. Since the church is the Body of Christ, to be a pure and holy body it must consist only of disciples. To accomplish this, local churches are concerned not only about the spiritual qualifications of those who desire to be members, but also that members grow in Christ and live a life of true discipleship. If members fall into sin, the church must seek to help them. If they remain unrepentant, ultimately this help will include discipline properly administered in love.

Discipline for erring members was established by Jesus Christ and is an important part of the church. He told His disciples, "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 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." Jesus then makes it clear that the disciplinary power to bind and loosen is given to the whole church: "Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 18:15-18). Jesus again emphasized this to the disciples after His resurrection: "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (John 20:22, 23). Thus the church has received authority from her Head to exercise discipline based on clear biblical injunctions. It is the duty of every individual member and the church collectively to see that disciples who fall into sin are helped to overcome their problems, but if they continue in sin, there is a responsibility to see that discipline occurs.

Jesus spoke about the individual's responsibility when He said, "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault" (Matthew 18:15-18). He also said "Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come! . . . Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, 'I repent,' you must forgive him" (Luke 17:1, 3).

Other Scriptures emphasize the individual's duties, too. Paul wrote, "Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:1, 2). The spiritual should try to restore those who are overtaken in a trespass. If this is to be effective, it should not be done with a harsh, judgmental attitude but in a spirit of gentleness.

The writer of the Book of Hebrews admonished his readers to "exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin" (Hebrews 3:13). James wrote, "My brethren, if any one among you wanders from the truth and some one brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:19, 20). John teaches that we should be concerned for our brothers, and "if any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal" (I John 5:16). Jude wrote, "Convince some, who doubt; save some, by snatching them out of the fire; on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh" (Jude 22, 23). Thus we see there are several admonitions for disciples individually to be on the watch for those turning away and to be ready to help to restore them.

Finally the brother still continues in sin and refuses to be corrected, and it becomes necessary to carry out discipline, the church is to be involved in carrying it out. Jesus spoke about the one who sins, "If he refuses to listen to them [the brothers], 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 18:17). Paul wrote, "Let him who has done this be removed from among you. . . . When you are assembled, and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (I Corinthians 5:2, 4, 5). Both passages show this responsibility also falls on the whole church. The church is to be aware of any disciplinary action that needs to be taken.

Paul wrote a second epistle to the Corinthian church asking them to take action: "I write this while I am away from you, in order that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority which the Lord has given for building up and not for tearing down. . . . Mend your ways, heed my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you" (II Corinthians 13:10, 11). Paul was given authority to discipline the church, but he wanted the local church to solve her own problems and to live in peace. It would be much more pleasant for him if this were done and he could spend his time in teaching.

Paul gave an example of discipline at work in the Corinthian church. He had received a report that there was immorality in that church. They apparently had failed to discipline those involved, and he had to discipline them himself: "For though absent in body I am present in the spirit, and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord on the man who has done such a thing" (I Corinthians 5:3, 4).

The person was to be disciplined in a church assembly. This would make it clear to the individual that the whole church was behind the action, and it would also make the whole church aware of the importance of discipline. By disciplining, the hope is that the person would realize the enormity of his sins and would repent.

Paul gave another reason why the person who lives in sin should be removed from the church. "Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?" (I Corinthians 5:6). Earlier Paul wrote the same thing to the Galatian church: "You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump" (Galatians 5:7-9). Sin has a way of influencing others and spreading throughout the church and must be stopped at its start. If sin is accepted in one case, others begin to think that the wrong done is acceptable after all, and soon the whole church falls into error, as did the Galation church in requiring uncircumersion for salvation.

Secondly, sin should be dealt with when it becomes known. If discipline is required, it should be exercised without extended delay. Some church leaders postpone disciplinary action until communion time. This is wrong because it detracts from the Lord's Supper. Jesus said, "Do this in remembrance of me" (I Corinthians 11:24-26; cf. Luke 22:19). Nothing should detract from the purpose of the Lord's Supper to bring us to remember significance of the Lord's death.

Every believer should keep in mind the promise John wrote, that "if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9). This applies to all, even the sinning one who comes under the discipline of the church. When he confesses and turns from his error, he will find forgiveness. This is the goal of discipline, and when it is reached it should bring joy to the whole body of believers.

An example of discipline resulting in repentance and forgiveness is the case of the man involved in incest who was disciplined by the Corinthian church (I Corinthians 5:1-5). This church at first showed leniency toward the man and would not discipline him, but at Paul's urging they did. After being disciplined, he found grace and forgiveness in Christ, and repented and changed his life. The church then became severe in their attitude toward him and was unwilling to forgive him, even after he repented. Paul had to admonish them that their "punishment by the majority [was] enough." They should "forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow." Paul wanted this brother reinstated to full fellowship and the church to reaffirm their love toward him because he had repented and Christ had forgiven him (II Corinthians 2:5-11).

Shunning: A Last Resort

The desired goal of discipline is not always reached. The Bible teaches that if discipline occurs, the faithful are to avoid or shun those church members who continue to live in open sin when disciplined. Jesus said, "Let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector" (Matthew 18:17). This was addressed to disciples who knew this meant they were to be separated from the disciplined ones. Because this church had some connections with the Jews (Acts 18), they knew the people of God were to be culturally, religiously, and socially separated from the Gentiles, the people of the world.

Jesus worked through His disciples to explain and clarify this. Paul wrote to the church at Rome, after giving a list of greetings, to "greet one another with a holy kiss." He then appealed to them "to take note of those who create dissensions and difficulties, in opposition to the doctrine which you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by fair and flattering words they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded" (Romans 16:16-18). The sharp change in attitude is due to a change in attitude of the two groups. The first group were brothers in Christ who accepted the truth, and the second group rejected sound doctrine. By avoiding these heretics, their false influences could be reduced or eliminated. This is a natural thing to do since they "do not serve our Lord Christ" and are constantly trying to deceive the believers.

One of the clearest teachings about avoidance is given in Paul's letter to the Corinthian church. Paul wrote that the Christians were "not to associate with immoral men; not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But rather I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber: not even to eat with such a one" (I Corinthians 5:9-11). There is to be a complete break with the brother who continues in sin and is unrepentant. From the context Paul's statement "not even to eat with such a one" refers to normal eating. This is not written about withholding communion (the Lord's Supper), although this would be included. It speaks about eating a meal with them. Little else needs to be said here. The statement is clear and one does not need to go into a big list of if's and and's, trying to spell out what and when it is to be done. All that the disciples and the church need to do is to follow this teaching.

I recognize that problems may develop in carrying out this teaching. This is mainly because there is not a recognized true church. Thus when a person is avoided by his local church, he can go down the street and find a "church" that will sympathize him and take him in. This undercuts the effectiveness of disciplinary actions.

This, however, should not be used as an excuse for not carrying out the biblical teaching on avoidance. The church and her leaders should humbly and sincerely explain to the person involved that he may easily find another church to side with him, but that the discipline action is very serious and that finding one to side with him does not necessarily result in having a right standing before God.

Paul wrote about this to other churches and brethren also. To the Thessalonians he wrote, "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us" (II Thessalonians 3:6), and "If any one refuses to obey what we say in this letter, note that man, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not look on him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother" (II Thessalonians 3:14, 15). To Titus he wrote, "As for a man who is factious, after admonishing him once or twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is perverted and sinful; he is self- condemned" (Titus 3:10, 11), and to Timothy he wrote about those "holding the form of religion but denying the power of it. Avoid such people. For among them are those who make their way into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and swayed by various impulses" (II Timothy 3:5, 6).

An example of discipline in the early church is the case of Ananias and Sapphira found in Acts 5. This couple sold a piece of property and implied they were giving the full amount to the church. But they "kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostle's feet." This was very serious because they had "'not lied to men but to God.' . . . [Ananias] fell down and died." God dealt severely with the couple, but it had a positive effect: "great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all who heard of these things" (Acts 5:1-12). This action bears witness that sin is a serious matter.

Excuses Not to Discipline

Discipline is not practiced in many professing churches today for various reasons. Perhaps the most frequently used excuse derives from the parable of the weeds in the field which teaches that the wheat and tares are be to left to grow side by side. This is true. In this parable the servant asked the owner what to do about the weeds that were among the wheat, asking, "Do you want us to go and gather them? But he [the owner] said, 'No; lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them." In Jesus' explanation of the parable, He said, "The field is the world." Thus this does not apply to the church. The good seeds, the "sons of the kingdom," and the weeds, the "sons of the evil one," are to live together in the world. The separation of the good and evil will occur "at the close of the age." Thus this parable speaks to the issue of disciples and wicked living together in the world, and does not teach they should exist together side by side in the the church (Matthew 13:28, 29, 36-43).

Another method some use to ignore this clear teaching is to embrace the visible-invisible church concept. The problem with this concept is that there is no biblical basis for it. As shown above, the wheat and the tares do not support such a concept. This is a Protestant invention to express that the actual and the ideal church are far apart and have different members.

Discipline is important in the church, but even with it some sinners may remain in the church. As Paul pointed out to Timothy, "the sins of some men are conspicuous, pointing to judgment, but the sins of others appear later" (I Timothy 5:24). But this is no excuse not to excise sin when it is known. Paul did teach that there is a time not to discipline. The early church had a problem with some believing that one person "may eat anything, while the weak man eats only vegetables." In these cases the strong were not to resort to "disputes over opinions," nor despise him who abstains or eats or pass judgment against him. Paul wrote, "Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls" (Romans 14:1-4).

Paul then gave another example concerning days. "One man esteems one day as better than another, while another man esteems all days alike." The brethren are to be fully convinced in their own minds why they were keeping the days. "He who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord." In these cases Paul asked, "Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God . . . . So each of us shall give account of himself to God." Our goal is not to judge the Lord's servant. Our goal is "never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother" (Romans 14:5-13).

From Paul's discussion in Romans 14 we should learn to be careful about disputes over opinions not firmly based on New Testament teachings. We can have opinions that something may not be advisable for the Christian to do, but these should be categorized with Paul's opinion concerning marriage. Paul wrote to the Corinthian church about marriage and stated, "concerning the unmarried, I have no command of the Lord, but I gave my opinion as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy." His opinion was that "in view of the impending distress it is well for a person to remain as he is," that is, the unmarried should not marry. He also stated, "If you marry, you do not sin." He then gives a second reason he thought one should remain single, stating that "the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided." He wants them "to be free from anxieties." And the same thing holds for the sisters (I Corinthians 7:25-36). Since remaining single was only Paul's opinion and not a commandment of the Lord, the brethren and sisters should not be judged if they married.

Romans 14 and I Corinthians 7 should not be used against the practice of discipline. Discipleship is not just a matter of the disciples following their own opinions. Today the church can give her opinion on some new situations that occur within our society, and these may be treated as the opinions Paul expressed. But in most issues the Word does teach clearly how the disciples are to follow their Lord.

In summary, discipline is to occur within the church when persons clearly violate the Word of God and insist on following their own way and sin. There are no scriptural reasons not to practice it within the church.

Chapter 2 of The Biblical Concept of the Church by Leland M. Haines
© Copyright 1998 by Leland M. Haines, Northville, Michigan, USA. All rights reserved.

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June 22, 2000