The termination of someone’s membership is the final step of church discipline. It is undeniably one of the hardest things a church will ever go through. It can be messy, have mixed feelings, and even divide families. The pain inflicted is probably why so many churches will never do it. Furthermore, it can be looked at as unloving or even mean-spirited from those on the outside the church looking in. And if the truth be told, if church discipline is not handled correctly, it can indeed be both unloving and mean-spirited. Nonetheless, it is something that is commanded by our Lord (Matthew 18) as well as Paul (I Corinthians 15, 1 Thessalonians 5, 2 Thessalonians 3). Church discipline is a safeguard that the Lord has put in place to protect the church from those who are not willing to repent of sin. The Lord wants a pure bride; a pure church. Church discipline is always both sad and difficult. It is not something done quickly, but over time, has multiple steps, and always done after a period of attempts of reproof and correction. The hopeful result at all levels of church discipline is correction and restoration of the member. Yet, if the person is unwilling to submit and repent, the final step is, sadly, the excommunication of membership. As difficult as this is, I believe the Lord can use it for His glory and the building up of the church. It should be used as an opportunity for all within the church.
It’s an opportunity to express the gospel.
When something like church discipline is brought before the church it no doubt will invoke conversations. At the end of these discussions we should all at least agree that sin is a big deal. A person being excommunicated from the local body is the visible representation of what the Lord does to those who do not place their faith in Him. To not believe and repent of one’s sins will rightfully send that person to hell. When the final step is made for a person’s membership to be terminated it should allow for a great opportunity to share the gospel with your children. It is a perfect opportunity to express what the wages of sin leads to (Romans 6:23). A great opportunity to explain what real love is (I Corinthians 13). Use it as an example of the comparison of the righteous man and those who are unrighteous (Psalm 1). It is an opportunity to explain what the wrath of God looks like (Romans 1). Something as somber as church discipline can be used as an excellent tool for sharing the gospel.
It’s an opportunity for self-examination.
Upon looking at the seriousness of sin, it should cause us all to examine ourselves. Jesus has much to say about judging others unbiblically in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 7, Jesus declares these famous words, “Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Before we call someone else on the carpet for their sin, we must examine where we might be in error. It is only after this, that we tell the other person that they have a spec in their eye. However, we must note that Jesus doesn’t want us to leave the spec in our brother’s eye. We must simply first examine our own selves. When we as a church take the difficult step to terminating someones membership it should cause us all to shutter. It should cause us all to weep. It should cause us all to ask of the Lord what David did in Psalm 139: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Do not allow such a paramount occasion to come and go without it causing you to examine yourself.
It’s an opportunity to strengthen your church.
When church discipline occurs, it can become very divisive. As Christians pursuing unity, it is important to try to lay friendship and loyalties aside to side with truth and scripture. If the leadership of the church has articulately laid out the charges to the church and the unrepentant sin of the party, then it should be used as an opportunity for the church to be strengthened. What brings unity to the church? What is the bonding agent? Is it not the Holy Spirit that is dwelling inside of every believer? Paul, again, exhorts the Corinthians, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (I Corinthians 1:10). All true believers should desire a pure church; one that most accurately reflects the commands of God for the church. When a church is going through this uneasy process, all should be united in prayer. All should be united in seeking resolution. All should be seeking the face of God. If all the church is doing this together, it allows for an excellent opportunity to strengthen the church.
To put it bluntly, if you are doing church discipline with a smile on your face, then you are doing it all wrong. It should be with much pain that a church would discipline one of their own. We are putting someone out of the sweet fellowship of the family of God at our local church. While it is a difficult process to walk through, I would encourage you not to waste it. Use it. Don’t just cast your vote “Yes” or “No” and be done with it. Use it as an opportunity for gospel conversations, for self examination, and the building up the church. Don’t allow the church to be tore down because it. Don’t waste your church discipline, but bring glory to God through it.
Soli Deo Gloria,
Adam B. Burrell