A member of Martin Luther’s church had the opportunity to sell a home for 10 times the amount he paid for it. Some of us today are seeing housing prices skyrocket and are thinking about doing the same thing!
But rather than congratulate his brother on the profit he was set to make, Luther threatened to excommunicate this member from his church unless he cut his asking price in half, citing that believer’s “unbridled greed” as the reason for his discipline.
I’m not writing this article to tell you not to sell your house at a profit or make smart financial decisions; but this one example helps communicate a broader principle: there is no uniform list of what sins require church discipline.
The Puritan’s list of sins requiring church discipline included swearing, cheating, and idleness among the more extreme sins; other lists including bull fighting, tax evasion and smuggling as sins requiring the discipline of the church.
While God did not provide the church with an exhaustive list of sins requiring discipline, He did give us four general categories of sins requiring confrontation from another believer or the church.
1. SINS THAT DESTROY CHRISTIAN UNITY
If someone attempts to create division through false teaching, they are attempting to undermine the unity of the body (Romans 16:17, Titus 3:9).
Church unity is more important to God than external expressions of worship. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus describes a person at the temple making his sacrifice who remembers a conflict with another believer. “Leave your gift there before the altar,” Jesus commands, “and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:24).
2. SINS THAT ENTANGLE A PERSON IN IMMORAL BEHAVIOR
We briefly examined Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, and the extreme discipline taken against a man caught in sexual immorality. He was to be denied fellowship from the rest of the body and turned over to the consequences of his sin, in the hope that he could one day be restored.
Paul wrote to a different church, “If anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1).
This word caught refers to someone who is “trapped in sin.” They are continually returning to the same sin, without showing repentance and with no ability to stop.
When self-discipline cannot correct a sinful tendency, gentle church discipline can.
3. SINS THAT REJECT GOD’S WORD
Paul told Timothy about two men who he “handed over to Satan” because of their blaspheme.
These two men may have been directly cursing God or, more likely, they simply misrepresented the truth of God as revealed through the Old Testament, Gospels, and Epistles.
Every church must be grounded in God’s Word, unified in their reliance on the Bible as the foundation for all things. Church discipline is required when someone tries to improperly change the meaning of God’s Word or rejects it entirely.
Because a body needs every member to take their direction from the same foundation, the body must correct a member that seeks their own authority.
4. SINS THAT HARM THE TESTIMONY OF THE CHURCH
There are some instances when behavior in the church is unacceptable even by the outside world’s standard. The testimony of the church is what Jesus described as a lampstand, shining the light into the dark world.
When sin in the body causes that light to be turned off, or even contributes to the darkness, that church’s testimony is ruined.
In these instances, the sins of an individual can tarnish the testimony of the entire body, so the entire body must respond to correct these sins.
Friends, it is better to lovingly reprove a fellow believer than compromise our ability to reach our community because of sinful hypocrisy within our midst.