Dr. Adams has a helpful chart that I cannot reproduce here, but it is a chart explaining when and how people get involved in corrective church discipline, moving from “as a brother” to the point of “as a Gentile and tax collector.” The initial phases are informal (self-discipline, one-on-one, one or two others) and the latter phases are formal (the church and the world).
Our goal is always self-discipline so that there is no need for further discipline. Counseling helps people go from beyond stage one (self-discipline).
Let me ask you a question. What are some items that people are to be disciplined? I hope you don’t set up a list, because there isn’t any action that cannot eventually end up as a matter of church discipline. It can be a simple matter, or it could be more severe. But we do not make lists of things to be disciplined and those that are not. Anything can be a matter of discipline.
Let’s turn to Matthew 18:15 and following.
Look who goes on-one-one. It is the one who is offended that takes the initiative in an informal away, bringing up the matter to the person who offended him/her. You are take the initiative because God says so. For example, if the brother does not realize that he has offended you, this may open his eyes to see what he has done. If he listens to you, you have “won your brother.” This means that the brother has been estranged, and this reconciliation is the winning back of what estrangement had lost. It is should be important that we are in a proper relationship with those we are in a covenant community (local church). Clearly it is important for the one who is wronged to go to the one who offended them.
It is important that we do not widen this matter (of church discipline) when it is not necessary. If it can be resolved between two people, let it remain there. It ought to be done informally and privately and settled once and for all then and there.
The convicting of sin is something that the Spirit does, the Word does, and the Christian also does. The Christian goes, in the power and help of the Spirit, with the Word to convict the brother of the sin and bring about the proper relationship. If he listens to you, you have won the brother and repaired that broken relationship.
The operative phrase is, “If he will not listen to . . .“. More people get involved all the time when the person does not listen and repent. That witnessing of one or two others are brought only when the person refuses to listen. They first are going to become counselors under a biblical basis, trying to reconcile the two parties; if they cannot bring them together, then it becomes a formal matter. When it becomes a formal thing, then they becomes witnesses. Make sure that the one or two other persons is someone who the person really respects and holds in high regard. It is better not to have a leader or minister in the church, but rather a lay person because they will think that it has proceeded formally and are being prosecuted.
Let’s suppose that it still doesn’t work. Most cases will work by going one-on-one or taking one or two witnesses. But sometimes it doesn’t. The one or two witnesses confirms what was heard as they become what took place informally. We cannot allow the process to stop here just because it has become embarrassing or because people do not want to deal with it.
The fourth stage is to tell it to the church. The church gets involved under the direction of the leadership of the church. The church leaders ought to be the first one who ought to hear the matter of church discipline. Only if the person refuses to listen to the leaders that the matter is brought before the congregation. It is a two-stage process in the fourth stage: first to the leaders, and then to the congregation. See 2 Thess. 3:14. If they do not obey, then “mark that person.” This before the congregation, not the world. The church alone is brought into this session (not visitors, attenders, etc.). If you don’t mark the individual (identify the person), other factors come into play. Identify him and do not mix with him. This is not shunning, but not carrying on normal relations and fellowship. He is under church discipline. He is not an enemy, but a brother. You don’t want to ignore him; you want to talk to him, counseling him about his sin.
We do not make a heart judgment about the state of a person, but we treat them “as a brother” and eventually “as a Gentile and tax collector”. The word as is really important. We have no right to make the judgment that they are reprobates or unbelievers. 1 Cor. 5:11 and 2 Thess. 3:14 speak of not mingling in daily affairs with the person under church discipline, that he might be ashamed of his sin. The sense of personal shame ought to lead that person to repentance.
The diagram provided by Dr. Adams was really helpful in breaking down Matthew 18. An important point was that it is the person offended that should take the initiative to go personally to the one who has offended them. How often do we see that, instead of such a gospel-centered approach, that the response is to get bitter, turn inward, and resort to gossip? Yet such loving confrontation is the kind of gospel confrontation that the cross is to our sin, knowing that we have been redeemed with the precious blood of Christ. Paul speaks much of self-watch and personal examination, whether it is being someone who does not box as one beating the air or exhorting young Timothy to take great pains in watching his life and doctrine. Coupled with what was said earlier in Paul Washer’s messages about the place of preaching and true gospel faithfulness, I wonder how much of matters of formal discipline could be prevented if we daily confront ourselves with the wickedness and sin of our own hearts? Is this is a discipline in my life? This is a question and a challenge I plan to take up more, knowing that I am ever in need of such self-discipline.