The Good Side of Church Discipline

cri-blog-hanegraaff-hank-1-cor-5-punishmentI am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat (1 Cor. 5:11, NIV).*

Should the same kind of punishment be applied to unmarried cohabitating couples in the church as described in 1 Corinthians 5?

I think we make a mockery of the church, if the church does not include discipline, if the church simply winks at sin. I don’t think we would think much of a physician, if you had cancer and he winked at you and said, “You’ll be just fine.” Obviously, if he is a legitimate doctor, he is going to do something. Either send you to a specialist, or if he’s a specialist himself, he’s going to tend to the problem because he cares about you. That’s the same thing that a shepherd or a pastor does. He cares about his flock, and if members of the flock are living in willful sin, diametrically opposed to the precepts and the principles of Scripture, to do nothing is simply to abdicate your responsibility as a shepherd.

The least thing that a pastor can do or a church can do is to speak to the couple with gentleness and with respect, to reprove them so that they might turn from sin.

If they say in the end, “You know what, we want to do it our own way, we really don’t care what the Bible says, we don’t care what you do;” well yes, they should be excommunicated. Because they should ultimately learn that Satan’s principles do not help them but hurt them, and by being pushed out into a world run by Satan’s principles, they learn a lesson, and they can by God’s grace repent of their sin, and as a result of this, this promotes spiritual purity not only in their life but in the lives of the congregation.

Is 1 Corinthians 5 then saying that we shouldn’t even eat with people who are living in sin though profess to be Christians?

Particularly in 1 Corinthians 5 what you have here is a way someone can be brought back to their senses. That’s what Paul is talking about. He says, “hand this man over to Satan” (1 Cor. 5:5). The implication is to expel from the church and Christian fellowship. When that happens they are pushed out into the world run by Satan’s principles, and that becomes a means of teaching the person a lesson and bringing about repentance. It is also a means of promoting spiritual purity within the body of Christ.

This is not to say that we can’t hang out with people who are prostitutes and sinners, to use the biblical idea. Jesus did that very thing (Matt. 9:10-13; Luke 5:29-32; 7:36-50). We recognize that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). We have the opportunity with gentleness and respect to proclaim the Gospel, but by the same token, just as someone who has not searched their heart and repented of their sin, just as that person shouldn’t take Communion (1 Cor. 11:27-33), in the same way there should be church authority and discipline. If there’s not that discipline in the context of the church, then people can do whatever they want, and Paul gives an example of horrendous sexual immorality, and says that without accountability it is going to leaven the whole lump (1 Cor. 5:6-8).

1 Corinthians 5 is not specifically dealing with one-on-one relationships and friendships but specifically talking about the church and a church figure in authority?

Well it can involve one-on-one individual relations. In other words, what you are saying to that person is that there are consequences to your behavior and if you bring that behavior within a particular context, even within the home, it can be a leavening force. There is church discipline within the body of Christ, but there is also church discipline within the home. For example, you do not want to have wanton sexual immorality being displayed in front of children and so forth because it has a very negative effect,

By the same token, our whole goal is to reach as opposed to repel and also to recognize that we ourselves are sinners. It is not about having a self-righteous attitude; rather, to bring about repentance and restoration for the person. That is the real goal, to bring about restoration. Church discipline is about that.

Imagine that you are excommunicated from a body of Christ and because of that you can’t partake of the Eucharist. If you can’t partake of the Eucharist, you can’t partake of the grace that is dispensed to the soul of the believer. For those who really care about Christ that’s a big deal. If you don’t care about Christ, then the things of Christ are not a big deal at all.

Church discipline ought to be something very significant, but in many cases it isn’t in the modern day church because if someone doesn’t like a particular church discipline at one place, they’ll just go to another place, so discipline is thrown to the wind.

—Hank Hanegraaff

Blog adapted from “Should the same punishment for immorality be applied today as in 1 Corinthians 5?” and the March 18, 2015 Bible Answer Man broadcast.

* All Scripture cited from The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984) unless noted.