Paul's Passing Thoughts

Does Your Church Practice Satanic Church Discipline?

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on April 28, 2010

ppt-jpeg42Ordinarily, I would think that the following fact is bizarre:  the vast majority of church discipline practiced today is unbiblical. But the fact of the matter is, as a former elder, I was on an elder body that practiced errant discipline. What we were doing had a semblance of  biblical correctness and the church had always done it that way – it’s an easy trap to fall into. In the Christian life, most assumptions (concerning truth not verified) are dangerous; you eventually learn that. However, my past error will serve to make my initial points.

Like everyone else, we used Matthew 18:15-20 as a schematic for church discipline. That was our first mistake. The passage has nothing to do with church discipline, it is clearly a procedure initiated by Christ to resolve conflict among Christians. But worse yet, we didn’t even use the wrong text the right way once we decided to use it that way. Like many elder bodies, instead of calling on the whole congregation to confront the individual  before the fourth and final step of excommunication, we instead announced that it was a done deal, and the person was to be treated “like” an “unbeliever.” Supposedly, calling on the whole church to confront the individual was “impractical” because of the size of some churches. Therefore, that certainly isn’t what Christ meant, right? Wrong. That’s exactly what Paul called on the church at Philippi to do in the case of Euodia and Syntyche. We have no idea how large that church was and apparently it’s not relevant. Besides, if the church is really a body, and there is a problem with a member or organ, it is certainly the business of the body to aid in the cure.

As if that would not be enough, using a text for the wrong premise, and then not even following the premise correctly, we then instructed the congregation to treat the individual “like” an “unbeliever” and to present the gospel to them if they (any member of the congregation) crossed paths with the individual. In the first place, were we leading the congregation into sin by telling them to present the gospel to the person instead of discussing the unresolved matter? Yes, because their correct role was initially short-circuited by skipping the supposed third step. But in the second place, how do we get from “treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector” to “treat him as an unbeliever”? If Christ wanted them treated like an unbeliever, why wouldn’t He simply say so? The word “pagan” is the Greek word “ethneekos.” It means “ethnic,” and referred to Gentiles. Not all Gentiles were unbelievers and the Temple had a separate court for them known as the court of the Gentiles. Also, Matthew, one of the twelve, was a tax collector. To say that Christ was making Gentiles and tax collectors synonymous with the unregenerate is an assumption at best. Most likely, Christ was saying not to treat them with the same intimacy that you would a fellow believer that had no unresolved conflict with the body; in other words, as if nothing were going on, or business as usual. In the final analysis on this point, it is far less assumptive. And by the way, this is consistent with how Paul said to treat an idle brother. Rather than the usual fellowship you would enjoy, you entreat him as a brother, but you don’t feed him and give money while acting like there are no issues going on (2Thess. 3:6-15).

When it gets right down to it, the New Testament addresses several different circumstance that are to be handled in their own unique ways ( Sins against brothers: Matt.18:15-20. False teaching that causes division:1Tim. 6:3-5, 2John:10,11 Titus 3:10, Rom.16:16,17. Sinning Elders:1 Timothy 5:19. Broken fellowship between parishioners: Phil. 4:2,3. Idleness: 2Thess. 3:6-15.  Gross Immorality: 1Cor. 5:1- 13). Though concepts from Matthew 18 could certainly be borrowed, to apply a Matthew 18 grid to all other circumstances requiring confrontation is sloppy hermeneutics, and that’s being kind.

Another important point to look at here is in regard to actual excommunication, or expulsion from the body. The only account that we have, or cause for an expulsion from the assembly, is in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13. This is the only passage were expulsion is not in doubt, and the reason is gross immorality of the sexual kind. Paul says in no uncertain terms: “Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?” And, “Expel the wicked man from among you.” Again, this is the only place where expulsion is explicitly instructed. Also note: in all of the other sins confronted in the letter to the Corinthians, this is the only place that any kind of disciplinary action is commanded! I think this is a point well worth mentioning. Paul motivates them throughout the letter to obey because of God’s promise of reward, loss of reward, judgment, the coming resurrection, etc.; but chapter 5 is the only place where God’s people are commanded to take specific action to remove a parishioner from the fellowship. I believe this speaks volumes toward an argument that church discipline is reserved for sins of the baser sort, those “of a kind that does not occur even among pagans.” Likewise, Jonathan Edwards agreed, stating in his Yale commentary that expulsion is only for  the “visibly wicked” sin of the “gross” sort,  and “gross public sin” accompanied by a stiff-necked, unrepentant arrogance (volume 22, pages 69 and 78).

But now we come to the other side of the coin that contains my above arguments, but states the value. Even in this one explicit case where we have a man expelled from the congregation, Paul does not declare him to be an unbeliever, but rather assumes the opposite: “When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.” Bottom line: nowhere does the Bible say that a professing believer should ever be “declared” an unbeliever for any reason; to the contrary, Paul states the opposite by assuming that the expelled Corinthian was saved. It is also worth mentioning  that Jesus assumes that the lost sheep that stray from the flock are in fact part of the flock and should be diligently sought after (Matt. 18:10-14). Perhaps the idea that we can do this (declare individuals to be unbelievers) is spawned by the belief that it is the church that actually does the disciplining when the term its self (“church discipline”) is a misnomer. In rare circumstance we expel, but it is the Lord that does the disciplining outside of the church: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.” There is discipline by the Lord inside and outside of the church ( Hebrews 12:5-11, 1Cor. 11:30), and self discipline (1Cor. 11:31-32), but there is no “church discipline” practiced by elders or the church. It begs the question thus far: how many different ways can the church get this wrong?

But now we come to a biblical reality that swallows hard when mixed with the information above. There is a fellow that is in the business of  accusing the brethren of being unbelieving. It is the mode of operation practiced by Satan. Though we cannot find any reference to a duty of the church to “declare” someone an unbeliever, the Scriptures are replete with examples of Satan doing so. In fact, God calls him the “accuser of the brethren” (Rev. 12:10). And trust me, he (Satan) has plenty of reasons to bring the accusations as Paul did in regard to the Corinthian man, but in contrast, Paul assumed the opposite was true. We get a good picture of what I am saying in Zechariah 3:1-4;

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.” Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you.”

I might also add that in Matthew 13:24-30, Jesus said the following:

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ ” ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’ “

It is clear that the “servants” in this parable are unable to ascertain the true spiritual standing of anyone in the church. Christ makes it clear that they could be mistaken. It would follow then that we are in no better position to “declare” anyone an unbeliever. The whole notion is patently absurd, unless you’re Satan.

Here is also something I know at ground level from being a reformed  leader / elder for several years: the types of “church” discipline being practiced today rarely produce a happy ending. Some Reformed churches that I know of have excommunicated hundreds of people, and have no outcomes worth celebrating. Out of all my years in the Reformed realm (about 15), I know of one story that turned out well. Funny, in the New Testament, we have but one example, and it  turned out well. We know this from Paul’s  second letter to the Corinthians. This is something that really haunted me for years; if  our discipline was being done according to Scripture, where were the results?

The practice of something that’s not in the Bible with the wrong text, and the wrong premise, and then the wrong application of the wrong premise;  maybe that’s why.


2 Responses

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  1. paulspassingthoughts said, on November 11, 2013 at 11:19 AM

    Reblogged this on Paul's Passing Thoughts.


  2. danimarie99 said, on July 19, 2020 at 10:59 AM

    As someone who was almost excommunicated (and at the time, I believed it would have been rightly so, this article bright some clarity, stirred up some pain (in a way that I think will help bring further healing), and hope. Oh, how I wish I could send this to my old SGM pastors, but I don’t have the courage. Thank you for writing this.


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