Brotherly Decorum and Discipline in the Body of Christ

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BROTHERLY DECORUM AND DISCIPLINE IN THE BODY OF CHRIST

[Study Aired February 16, 2020 – by Nicholas Ondari]
[Updated February 17, 2020]

I will tackle this subject in a double-pronged way. Firstly, we may examine discipline among believers (those called and chosen) and secondly, why the leadership or elders in the body are mandated to provide oversight over all forms of discipline.

First, how is the family of God meant to treat one another so that the world may know we are his disciples?

Joh 13:34  A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
Joh 13:35  By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another

Again He repeats the same command.

Joh 15:12  This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. 

Does our Lord expect us to offend one another? Yes, He does! If He does, has He provided modalities of dealing with offences with conciliation, love and respect? Yes, He does not expect any of His children to look down on the least of these His brethren.  These instructions are for us not considering gender, status or race. As we shall see, our Lord has left us with enough instructions on the type of attitude we must always display towards one another, in the body (and indeed the whole world). He forewarns us that offences will come to prepare us so that we are ready to do what He commands about offences.

Mat 18:7  Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!

Mat 18:10  Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.

Luk 10:16  He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me.

Mat 25:40  And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. 

Mat 18:21  Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
Mat 18:22  Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

Here is what Jesus commanded to be done whenever there are infractions among brethren:

Mat 18:15 If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.
Mat 18:16 But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.
Mat 18:17 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.
Mat 18:18 Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.
Mat 18:19 Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven.
Mat 18:20 For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.

Jesus is simply telling us to talk with one another when misunderstandings occur! Jesus lays out a simple pattern for His church to follow.  It consists of four steps:

  • 1. Any believer has the responsibility to confront any other believer when they see that that believer has sinned or is going astray from the doctrine of Christ.  This should be done privately, whether in writing, physical or phone call. If the sinning believer acknowledges his sin and repents of it, the confronting brother/sister has won him to a place of unity and restoration (which is the primary purpose of all discipline/correction).  The confronting believer must constrain himself/herself from unnecessary details and ensure they are attacking the offence without dragging in many other side issues and people, and especially the sinning brother/sister’s family. This first step of handling offence is where the largest part of discipline begins and ends. When this first step is done with respect and love, even complicated relational and doctrinal challenges will get sorted out.

    [Q. What if the offenses happen publicly? If false doctrine is introduced into the study/fellowship, should it be addressed publicly? A. If something were not said on the spot, it would appear they were all putting their stamp of approval on separating from the Gentiles (Gal 2:12-14). There were cases of public rebuke when necessary (1Ti 5:20). – Mike Vinson

    “Christ went down to the disciples’ feet to show us leadership – it’s a servant leadership…You cannot start without the foundation, and Christ is that foundation…It’s not a teaching of law but of the spirit life within you. God is building His church, and [the grave] cannot stop what He is doing.” – Larry Groenewald (Added February 17, 2020)]

  • 2. However, if the sinning believer does not repent, step two demands that the confronting believer has the responsibility to bring two or three additional believers back to the offending one for loving polite and respectful confrontation. This is to avoid lengthy back and forth arguments, which tend to complicate matters. Simply take another two or three adelphos (not outsiders please) and let the matter be established. This might happen via zoom, conference calls or skype if physical contact is not possible. Writing e-mails hardly encourages reconciliation as some well-meaning words may be misunderstood, by any of the parties. This step insures that, at the mouth of two or three witnesses, both the facts of the sin, as well as the confirmation of the process, can be established. If the offending party realizes their error and repents, the matter ends there, brethren pray together, hug and the matter is laid to rest and should never be raised or revived in any forum in future. Confidentiality is a spiritual value.

  • 3. Step three says that if the offending believer does not repent from the second confrontation, the sin is to be told to the fellowship, which would ordinarily be carried out by communicating to the leadership of the fellowship (and in our case, one of the elders), who then would decide the way forward. The discretion of the particular elder on the matter, must be respected by all the parties already in the know. Depending on the magnitude of the offence, the elder may wish to loop in other elders or tackle the matter and bring a report to the rest of the elders, if need be. The elders may make a final decision on the way forward, but up to here, very few people know about the matter and it is held in confidence. No need for innuendos and conjectures about the matter on the family platforms please!

    4. The elder’s decision will always be regarded as having been made as the Lord has led the elder(s) and on behalf of the whole body. The entire fellowship therefore is expected to ratify and accept the elders’ decision in such a matter. The eldership would normally through one of their own, plead with the offending brother or sister to repent of their sin and come back to a right relationship with God and the offended brother/sister.  After a sufficient time (determined by the Elder/s), the sinning brother has either repented, or refuses to do so. If the offending believer repents, the team prays together, may even sing a song, hug and dismiss, holding the matter in confidence having forgiven the offender.

    If s/he refuses, then by virtue of Jesus’ own pronouncement (via His words in Matthew 18:18-20), step four is to be enacted: The eldership may decide to give some form of discipline for example (depending on the magnitude of the infraction or offence), request the offender to be silent and not to participate, comment or write to any of the brothers and sisters and not to fellowship in any form, for a given period (weeks/months), including his attendance at all public studies.  If s/he accepts this ruling by the elders on behalf of the church, on completion of the discipline, s/he may be accepted back to fellowship with some minor procedures, as the elders may prefer.

    If he refuses the elders’ ruling, he is therefore to be treated as one who rejects the gospel of Christ and therefore like a publican or tax collector.  If he is seen by or writes to any member of the fellowship, s/he is to be warned of the consequences of his/her sin but is also exhorted to come to a saving relationship with Christ as he once confessed.  Should the erring individual later repent and request reinstatement to the body of believers s/he once adhered to, s/he shall meet with the elders, seek to be evaluated in the manifest presence of that professed repentance and then be restored to the body, again the whole body will be informed accordingly from the eldership. Before that announcement by elders, other members of the body must be warned to avoid any type of communication, unless the offender is one’s spouse or family member.

This is the four-fold process of Biblical church discipline and restoration, and this fellowship subscribes to all the details above.

Our Lord’s instructions on offences as explained above from the scriptures, must be adhered to due to these six reasons, just to name some:

(1) It glorifies God because it proves our obedience to His instructions, while at the same time, maintains the proper role of church leadership/eldership who must keep the church of Christ in biblical order and discipline;

(2) The major goal of any form of church discipline is to reclaim or restore the offender(s), i.e., to restore those who have veered from the path of obedience to Christ’s commandments;

(3) It maintains the purity of the church and her worship, with a specific view toward the avoidance of profaning the body of Christ by not discerning it;

(4) It vindicates the integrity and honour of Christ and His word by exhibiting fidelity to His word;

(5) It deters others from further sinning and offending the body (the least of these my brethren);

(6) It prevents giving God a chance to set Himself against the fellowship of believers like He did during Archan’s secret sin.

Biblical Church Discipline/Restoration glorifies God and therefore proves our obedience to Him.  If we cooperate with God in the matter of church discipline, we thus prove to Him and a watching world that we desire to glorify Him.  Those believers who are willing to submit to this process either as offended or offender, truly manifest their obedience to Scripture and its Author.

Rom 16:17  Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.
Rom 16:18  For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.

1Th 5:14  Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.
1Th 5:15  See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.

Now I will move to part two of Biblical discipline in our fellowship and how we may understand the scriptures on this important subject. I will focus on why the custodians of church discipline are the body of elders in any fellowship or church.

The goal in every type of discipline, whether it be gentle correction, admonition, rebuke, or excommunication, is always the restoration of the offender. So, all true sons of God, who wish to grow spiritually and be counted worthy to be in the first resurrection, must take biblical church discipline seriously.   It is not the intent of the church leadership, nor the brethren themselves, to see any other thing to occur in the offending person, except their full and complete restoration to the Lord and His body.  Often, those who are under discipline tend to claim that they are being singled out, sinned against in the process of discipline, treated unfairly, etc and even go as far as trying to recruit sympathy supporters.  When Biblical Church discipline/restoration is followed to its Scriptural specificity, no valid claim of wrongdoing can be justified, and those who would support the offender will be participating in other men’s sins.

1Ti 5:21  I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality.
1Ti 5:22  Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men’s sins: keep thyself pure.

When the Corinthian church persisted in their accommodation of a man in sexual sin, Paul admonished them this way:

1Co 5:9  I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:
1Co 5:10  Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.
1Co 5:11  But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat

The reason Paul is so strong on this point is that to associate with such offending brethren makes the church and the world indistinguishable.  The purity of those who profess to be followers of Christ must be maintained within the fellowship.  The elders are the custodians in ensuring this purity, therefore their decisions and guidance must be submitted to.

A fellowship that readily embraces biblical discipline brings about rapid spiritual maturity and healing to the whole body. The truth is no one can come to spiritual maturity who has not been disciplined, that’s why we have an undisciplined world and a generation of spiritual orphans and undisciplined churches with the culture of the spiritually fatherless all over running the show.

“When we come to maturity, we’ll put away childish things” as Paul said in chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians. One of the childish things we will have put away is given to us in chapter 11 of 1 Corinthians i.e “…. the notion that you are individuals or you are separate from the rest of the Body of Christ.” And in chapter 12 he corrects that assumption by saying to them, “We are just one Body.” Indiscipline messes the whole body, and that is why God takes it seriously. He often tends to have a soft spot for all types of sin, but when it comes to insubordination and rebellion against any form of discipline and order, there are examples across the bible, where He acted harshly.

Ecc 5:1  Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil.
Ecc 5:2  Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.

Without exception, God has given us leaders not just to lead, but to rule (not in a worldly dictatorial format, but as servant-leaders who wash the brethren’s feet) and that would mainly involve disciplining and discipling His people and keeping order in the body.

In the early church, every time an issue arose that threatened to divide the Body, it called forth the apostolic counsel/elders of the body. For example, when the Body in Jerusalem began to be divided over Grecian and Jewish widows and their care, the apostles who were in Jerusalem at the time gave orders to solve the problem and so deacons were appointed. A decision was made by the leaders/apostles/elders. No one had to vote or dispute the corporate elders’ decision because they are the custodians to maintain order in the church.

When a tremendous problem arose in the New Testament church that threatened its very existence: the matter of the admission of Gentiles into the church, the issue was settled by an apostolic council in Acts 15.

Early apostolic councils continued the tradition of recognizing that there were apostles (sent ones) who could solve problems. They were and are still mandated to unify the Body. So, the body of Christ is typically headed by apostolic fathers called elders, who in turn bring order to the household of which they are members and of which they themselves are fathers. Our fellowship must uphold this historical church practice and value.

Being a member of the fellowship results in fatherly discipline, correction, but more importantly training and instruction in righteousness, the resolving of issues, of problems, the judging of matters, and all these things that have largely been neglected in traditional Christianity because there’s no framework in which these challenges could be processed and brought to resolution. So, as a consequence people simply skip around from church to church, taking the problems with them, endangering the fellowships wherever they go and most importantly, never getting healed themselves. Can our fellowship and family afford that? We are not here for convenience until a problem arises. This is the body of Christ, and each one of us has been placed here as part of that body.

We must understand the body of Christ and the need for discipline in the family. There is no family (physical or spiritual) that can survive without a discipline code and practice.

In this highly undisciplined world, people are placed in the fellowship but wish to continue with their ways of not being accountable to anyone, not being corrected if they are in error or cause offence. God’s family is His house, which is the house of Christ, and requires very high discipline. There is a divine order of things, including relationships, in God’s house. Those the Lord brings to the house need to be raised up in the ways of God, and somebody needs to give an accounting in the matter of fathering and of fatherhood to show them God the Father. That is the work of elders.

Understanding this helps us see clearly the family and Household of God. If not, a culture of resenting leadership and their oversight tends to develop. We have borrowed from the world which do not respect or honour their leaders/elders. A fatherless culture of spiritual orphans has been developing in the last two millennia, and the idea of spiritual fathering and discipleship is forgotten and frowned at! We expect all in our fellowship to seek to be persuaded by our leaders and to be deferring to them. We pray everyone to love as Christ has loved us!

Heb 13:17 Be persuaded by your leaders, and be deferring to them, for they are vigilant for the sake of your souls, as having to render an account, that they may be doing this with joy, and not with groaning, for this is disadvantageous for you. (CLV)

The common understanding out there is “…..do not judge so that you may not be judged”. This general teaching has confused many, and the Corinthian church found themselves unable to make critical decisions among themselves. So, Paul wrote telling them that matters within the church need to be judged by the church,

1Co 5:12  For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within?

1Co 6:1  Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?
1Co 6:2  Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?
1Co 6:3  Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?

Elders do not have the duty of running the day-to-day affairs of families or individuals. They are like patriarchs, and a patriarch is one who resolves disputes, but more importantly and in the Old Testament model, the patriarch was one who connected the generations to the promise. Abraham, the patriarch of his line, connected the generations that came after him to the promise that God had given to him.

Abraham’s model is a type and shadow of the New Testament eldership. Therefore, Abraham and the covenant of circumcision was all about the flesh, and God’s intention ultimately was to remove the flesh so that the reality could be seen.

So today, as it was in the first century when the church first came into being, the apostolic fathers were meant to be the fathers of the spiritual households that would be responsible for people’s spiritual care and well being to bring them to spiritual maturity i.e matured sons of God (male and female=sons), fit to be rulers with Christ. Babies cannot be rulers!

1Ti 3:4  One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;
1Ti 3:5  (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)

1Ti 3:15  But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

Elders are not like the denominational mandarins who control God’s people for filthy lucre and spiritual manipulation. Elders are not manipulators and controllers of the flock. It isn’t about control; it is about the fathers showing the Father to the flock.  It is about feeding and giving account for the little flock.

1Pe 5:1  The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed:
1Pe 5:2  Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;
1Pe 5:3  Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.

Whereas we have examined the scriptural teachings about forgiveness and handling offences in the assembly, God has, throughout the Bible, vehemently protected those on whose shoulders He has placed the burden of leadership. He has never taken it lightly, both in the Old and New Testaments. Poor treatment of leaders is not at the same level with ordinary infractions within the body. Biblical instructions and God’s reaction on insubordination and rebellion against leadership have always been very different from handling offences between brethren in the body. His instructions are simply to respect and honour elders as those who have oversight over the flock. The mistake the modern church does is to confuse the two approaches on solving these two different problems and our fellowship should not make the same error.

1Ti 5:1  Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren;

The Greek verb for rebuke in this verse is not the normal English word for “rebuke” in other places in the New Testament. I discovered this verse mentioned above is the only place this word is used, and it literally means “to strike at or rail”, “to attack”, ”to chastise”.

Timothy was told not to lash out, strike upon, rail, beat upon, at an elder but to entreat him as a father with respect. Nowhere else in the entire bible are we instructed to esteem/honour any class of people HIGHLY, not even kings and governors!  So, when the word of God tells us to entreat our elders and esteem them highly, please take note!

1Ti 5:19  Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.

Without hard-cold evidence, we are discouraged from accepting any accusation against an elder. As usual, if an elder turns messy, God will fix them long before your involvement. Both the accuser and the one receiving the accusation against an elder or accepting it are in the same violation of these scripture. Listening to all kinds of stuff about an elder(s), and then holding back from any action, whistle blow, report, counsel or discipline is the same as accepting an accusation against an elder without evidence, which we are stopped from doing. That is the same as joining Korah, Miriam and Aaron when they railed accusations and sneered at Moses. Those OT reports are not mere threats but case studies to warn us.

1Ti 5:17  Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.

1Th 5:12  We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you,
1Th 5:13  and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.

I do agree, this is an uncomfortable subject in our hyper-tolerant age where morals and respect for people has waned. However, Jesus has given the ekklesia the right to determine who is to be in or out of the assembly and the kind of decorum with which those in His body must conduct themselves. That is the reason for the positive and negative one-anothers in the NT. It’s also what Paul meant when he asked, “Are you not to judge those inside [the church]?”

1Co 5:11  But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.  
1Co 5:12 For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within?
1co 5:13 But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.

A railer, whether against another brother or elder, just like a drunkard, fornicator, extortioner, idolator is one of those meant to be disassociated with by the body.

To be complacent and do nothing against those bringing railing accusations against an elder or even another brother or sister, is to be part of that behavior and therefore not protecting the body and not being your brother’s keeper!

The command is not that Timothy must never rebuke (the normal english usage) an elder if there is proof the elder has sinned, but that he was not to strike at them with an overly harsh attack, especially if there are no hard-cold-facts to prove sin or false doctrine.

Gal 5:19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality,
Gal 5:20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions
Gal 5:21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Php 2:2. Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

I pray that God will help the elders in leading the flock by providing oversight and example to bring discipline in a loving, provocative, attractive, distinct, respectful, gracious way as the shepherds knowing that their and our saviour is watching.

Amen

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