Paul's Passing Thoughts

Dr. Jay E. Adams on Cross Congregational Discipline

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on August 27, 2012

Cross Congregational Discipline

Introduction by paul: How much suffering could be avoided in the church if we would get serious about following Scripture? Consider that even independently autonomous churches, for the most part, belong to a fellowship of churches. Therefore, the following as articulated by Dr. Adams could stop abuse dead in its tracks. A church being shunned by several other churches in a fellowship of churches is no small matter. Think of all the church fellowships who have refused to follow this procedure–even for the sake of the sexually abused. Without further ado, read what this gift to the church has to say on this issue:

So far I have been considering discipline within the local church that involves members of the same congregation. Now it is important to tackle the somewhat more complex questions of how to handle the problem of cross congregational discipline.

Within the same denomination the ways and means for pursuing cross congregational discipline are usually formalized in a denominational book of government and discipline. If they are not, you should work for a common Book of Discipline that provides for such measures.

What I wish to address in this chapter is the more difficult problem of how to carry on discipline among churches that are not related denominationally.

Bob and Phil, members of two Bible believing congregations of different persuasions, have broken fellowship over a business deal. Phil, an automobile mechanic, maintains that all the work he did on Bob’s car was necessary and, though he charged Bob five hundred dollars, that was a good price for the labor and parts provided; indeed, below the going rate. Bob disagrees. He thinks that Phil did unnecessary work on the car and has stuck him with a huge bill, which he refuses to pay. Bob claims that he told Phil to let him know if the cost would exceed two hundred dollars; Phil says Bob gave no such instructions. Rather, Phil maintains that Bob said, “Go ahead and do whatever has to be done,” and indicated no reservations about the cost.

The matter cannot be resolved by going to court (1 Corinthians 6 forbids that-God forbids believers to take other believers to court.), But since they cannot work it out between them, the matter must be settled by the church. Bob has told a number of people at his church what a rotten deal he got and how Phil cheated him. As a result, there is evidence that Phil’s business is suffering. Phil has not yet been paid.

Phil goes to his pastor for advice. The pastor says, “It seems to me that since Bob has made the matter public, it can be dealt with on that level. But why don’t you take a couple of mutual friends and try once more to work out matters? If you do not succeed, go to his pastor and seek help.”

One more visit is made. Phil and those with him get nowhere. Bob says he will not pay a cent more than two hundred dollars, and he refuses to discuss the issue further. Phil makes an appointment with Bob’s pastor, asking him to bring the matter officially before the church. The pastor in turn suggests that all four talk about it; he sets a date for the conference. But nothing comes of their meeting. Both men state and steadfastly maintain their positions. Bob tries to hand Phil a check for two hundred dollars and declares that the matter is over. He wants to hear no more about it. Phil shows the pastor receipts for parts that, apart from extensive labor costs, amount to nearly two hundred dollars in themselves. He refuses to take the check, declaring that to do so is to forfeit his right to a larger sum.

Where does the matter go from here? Regardless of how the issue turns out—which is not our concern at the moment—what steps should Phil take from here on?

Phil has two options. First, in accordance with 1 Corinthians 6:7 he can determine to accept the loss and drop the whole matter. If he does so, he must be sure he bears no resentment against Bob. In particular he must not speak disparagingly about Bob to others. If Phil drops it, it must be dropped entirely (Incidentally, Phil had this option at earlier stages as well.)

But it would seem from his refusal to accept the check that Phil will want to pursue the matter further. Given his rejection of the first option, what is Phil’s second? He may pursue the matter officially before Bob’s church. He should inform the pastor that he is not satisfied to let the matter drop and settle for two hundred dollars, especially since he has lost five customers from Bob’s church because of what he can only call slanderous gossip on Bob’s part. His concern is that the church deal with his charges of theft and slander against Bob.

Before making charges of slander or gossiping, Phil must have evidence to substantiate them. This will consist not only of presenting the bills and receipts that he brought to the first conference, but also being able to call on witnesses to the slanderous statements made to others. If he can produce such evidence, he will be in a position to establish his case. Apart from evidence and witnesses, he should not proceed further (cf. 2 Corinthians 13:1).


All of the foregoing is rather simple and straightforward. But what if Bob’s church refuses to hear Phil? What if the pastor says, “Well, Phil, I’ve done all I can to reconcile the two of you. In our church we don’t do anything more; no, we will not discipline Bob.” This possibility is not at all unlikely today.

There is no direct biblical instruction about this matter because there was no denominational problem in the first century (although there were interchurch dealings such as the council described in Acts 15). But using the approach stipulated by the words of Christ in Matthew 18, it would seem that the following procedure should be followed:

1. Phil (perhaps with the guidance of his own pastor) should gently read Matthew 18:15ff. to Bob’s pastor and urge him and his church to follow the Scriptures in this matter. He should not simply go along with weakness on the part of Bob’s church. Rather, in a kind but firm manner, he should insist that, since they call themselves a Bible?believing church, they are bound to do what the Bible requires. Often this sort of kind but strong pressure will prevail.

2. If that action proves to be fruitless, then (on the basis of Matthew 18) he should take someone with him (preferably his own pastor) to confront Bob’s pastor. Frequently the matter will be settled at this level.

3. But suppose Bob’s pastor refuses to hear them. Then, on the analogy of Matthew 18, he should “tell it to the church.” That would probably mean having Phil’s elders request a meeting with the elders of Bob’s church. If this meeting occurs, Phil’s elders may be able to persuade Bob’s that this is the biblical thing to do and may be able to help them in conducting a fair trial. The issue in points 2 and 3, please note, is not Phil’s losses, but the question of whether Bob’s church will follow Matthew 18. The two issues should not be confused.

4. Let us suppose, as too often is true, that Bob’s elders refuse to meet or, after meeting, refuse to carry the case further. Then, short of Phil’s willingness at this point to drop the whole matter, his church would seem to have but one recourse: again, on the analogy of Matthew 18, Phil’s church should declare Bob’s church to be “as heathen and publicans.” That is to say, they should declare them to be “no church” since they will not draw a line between the world and the church by exercising discipline. (Even if Phil should wish to drop his matter against Bob. the other issue—the dealings between the two churches—should be pursued to its end. A church. declared to be no church. may be restored upon repentance.)

This decision should never be taken unless the most careful and kind attempts have been made to try to effect proper discipline in the other church. But there must come a point at which the matter is set to rest. God will have no loose ends dangling in His church.

5. If Bob’s church is declared to be no church by Phil’s church, then and only then may Phil treat Bob “as a heathen and a tax collector.” If he wishes to do so, Phil may now take Bob to civil court. At times this may be an unwise move, a poor testimony in a community that doesn’t understand, and in some cases, even an unloving act if done in bitterness. But the practical possibility now exists. Sometimes it is wiser to drop the matter here (or earlier), and Phil always has that option.

6. If the act of declaring another church to be no church (because it will not define itself by church discipline) is to be carried out, it is important to keep accurate records, testimony, etc., of all that transpired. Moreover, before doing so, the other church should be warned of the possibility of this action.

Let me suggest two variations on this theme. Where a congregation is part of a denomination, the matter should be taken through the procedures prescribed by the denominational standards before taking the step of declaring it no church. In the case of a nondenominational congregation or one in which the denomination does not function in cases of church discipline, it might be advisable to call in one or two other congregations in the community to intercede; if nothing results from this, have those congregations agree also to declare the contumacious congregation to be no church .

Handbook of Church Discipline

Dr. Jay E. Adams: excerpt from chapter 10



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