The actions and heart attitude of the church, particularly the elders, are to be characterized by humility, compassion, mercy, gentleness, and fairness (Gal. 6.1-2; James 5.19-20; 2 Thess. 3.15; 1 Cor. 5.2; 2 Cor. 2.4-8; Micah 6.8). Elders and deacons are held to an even higher standard of accountability (I Tim. 3.1-7, 5.17-22; James 3.1).
We believe that church discipline is applicable to all members and believers who fellowship with us. Withdrawal of membership or fellowship does not necessarily negate the process of church discipline, particularly where it appears that a person has done so to avoid church discipline. Such requests may not be honored until the disciplinary process has been concluded.
If a believer fails to discipline himself and demonstrates no evidence of repentance, the Scriptures clearly indicate that loving confrontation is the responsibility of the church. Church discipline is a biblical process that is to be handled prayerfully, carefully, and justly and only after several individual attempts at correction have been attempted and have failed.
The basic stages of church discipline, according to Matthew 18.15-20, are as follows.
FIRST: If a Christian fails to discipline himself and is trapped in unrepentant sin, Christ commands (“Go and show him his fault, just between the two of you”) the individual who is aware of the matter to go to him in private to lovingly confront, counsel, and encourage him to repent.
SECOND: If he will not listen to the one person, especially after several attempts, and there is no evidence of repentance, “take one or two others along with you” to further address the matter and to continue to encourage him to repent. The intent of others being involved is to guarantee clear communication and to enlist others for prayer and discernment.
THIRD: If these personal and informal steps do not elicit repentance, Jesus says we should “tell it to the church”. Tell it to the church necessarily involves bringing the elders into the process and requesting their direct assistance in resolving the problem, if they were not involved in the previous steps. In some cases, one or more elders may repeat the previous steps and try to persuade the offender to repent. The elders, after confirming the information, a proper process, and continued refusal to repent may then inform the church when it is assembled. The elders will send a letter by registered mail warning the individual that the third or fourth step of church discipline will be taken if they have not received significant evidence of repentance by a specific date.
“Telling it to the church” means that the congregation will be informed about the general nature of the sin, given a general description of the process that has taken place, and about the refusal to repent. They will be asked to pray for and plead with the offender to repent and to pursue the person for the purpose of restoration. Personal visits, telephone calls, and letters are examples of what it means to “pursue” them. The church is to keep on loving them and seeking their restoration.
FOURTH: If the offender refuses to submit to the caring admonition of the church and continues to harden his heart, then Jesus says we are to “treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector”. This means that the person is publicly dismissed from the church with the hope of future repentance and reconciliation. In addition, this means that the person will be denied Christian fellowship, treated as an unbeliever, and delivered over to Satan in the hope that his soul will be saved. (Romans 16.17; 2 Thess. 1.20, 3.6,14; 1Cor. 5.1-5; 1Tim 6.3-5; Titus 3.10)