But What About Church Discipline?
Last week I released an article regarding how Jesus handled sin titled “But What About Sin?“
In the comments section, I was asked by a fella named Matt, “What are your thoughts on church discipline?”
He then went on to note this scripture…
“For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 5:3
I thought I would post my response…
This is a sticky question simply because “church discipline” has almost as many definitions as “Christian.” It can mean almost anything…
Recently, on Facebook, for fun, I wrote, “Let’s play a game.”
‘The Bible loves You’
Your turn, go.”
As of today, there are over 250 responses from Christians around the world spanning subjects like the nature of God, women in ministry, evangelism, church attendance, and on and on…
These 250 plus responses essentially note the abuses of scripture and, more to the point, the abuses of those who taught it to them.
My point? I believe in “church discipline.” But in my 46 years, I have rarely seen it done well. Discussing “church discipline” online is like discussing Big Foot—there have been many sightings, but he’s an elusive fella.
I love Danny Silk’s book, Culture of Honor. He writes about church leadership and specifically, healthy church discipline. He shares a few beautiful stories of what can happen when the goal is true repentance and the fruits thereof.
He notes that when honor is at the heart of a leader when disciplining, there is always a doorway to repentance, transformation, and reconciliation. I think everyone should read it, especially leaders.
The scripture you posted has context. Paul is actually correcting the elitist and arrogant attitudes in the church leaders because their hearts aren’t broken but instead, they are acting proud.
“And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this?” – 1 Corinthians 5:2 NIV
“And you’re so above it all that it doesn’t even faze you! Shouldn’t this break your hearts? Shouldn’t it bring you to your knees in tears? Shouldn’t this person and his conduct be confronted and dealt with?” – 1 Corinthians 5:2 THE MESSAGE
Paul is addressing a leadership that is so outside union with their Father that they are blinded to the son who is now living like a desperate, insecure, and destructive orphan in their house.
I think it’s important in reading this verse to understand that Paul is first addressing leadership for their lack of mourning—for the hardness of their hearts. They are not operating like Fathers, but like CEO’s.
He was addressing how far their hearts were from our Father’s heart.
Jesus revealed our Father’s heart perfectly. He leaves the 99 for the one, He celebrates the discovery of the lost coin, He sells all He has for the treasure in the field…
Jesus, on a cross, revealed our Father’s heart toward all of His kids, all of us.
If discipline isn’t about a father walking in humility, desiring the best for his child while mourning the fallen mindset, it will become punishment and there will be no life in it.
All discipline should be restorative in nature, or it isn’t Godly; it isn’t like Jesus.
If we leave the revelation of Father behind while reading this scripture, we will (and, historically, have) come up with some pretty punitive, retributive, and ultimately abusive “disciplines.”
Now, let me note the verse you posted by sharing one of my new favorite paraphrase versions.
“As you meet together and I meet with you in the spirit by the power of our Lord Jesus Christ present with us, such a person is to be released from your midst and handed over to the Accuser, let the accusation consume his flesh until the light of day, the revelation of Jesus Christ, rise for him again to rescue his spirit from the deceit of his sin.” – 1 Corinthians 5:4-5 (The Mirror)
Here are my brief thoughts to this scripture, read through the lens of a father.
First: Satan is the accuser (1Timothy 4:13), not God, not me, or you, or anyone else. Yes, accusation exists in this world. We have all felt it, but it’s nothing to do with us.
Accusation and all that comes with it (condemnation) are not, nor should it ever be something we partner with. Especially as fathers and mothers, as leaders.
Second: Because God is love, He has given us free will. Without the freedom to reject His love, we don’t have the freedom to receive it. We aren’t robots. God is a Father and desires friendship with His kids—a loving relationship.
There were two trees in the Garden of Eden; we still have two trees today. There is no condemnation for those in Christ, but if we chose to reject our union with Him, we literally choose condemnation… not from Him, that’s impossible—there is no condemnation in Christ. Condemnation is simply the fruit of our rejection.
Matthew 6:22-23 reveals how this works: “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”
Third: “Hand him over to the Accuser” is essentially the same thing the Father did when His prodigal-hearted son demanded his inheritance before leaving His father’s house, his fathers grace, wholeness, and life…. The father, loving his son and valuing his free will, released him to his fallen mindset pursuits.
Then, and this is important, the father stood on the porch waiting for evidence that his son had repented, changed the way he thought. And the first sign the father has of his sons changed mind, so runs to him and restore him!
That is How our Father releases a free-willed son who systematically rejects His disciplines. He releases him to the fruits of his fallen mindset, knowing that love and kindness are powerful and that when His son has chased his rebellion’s ambitious ego to its conclusion, he will remember and return to the always-present, waiting arms of his Father.
No condemnations, no accusation, simply a value for free will with a faith that Love will win in the end.
That’s how I read this scripture and how I believe we are called to discipline.
Jason Clark is a writer, speaker and lead communicator at A Family Story ministries. His mission is to encourage sons and daughters to grow sure in the love of an always-good heavenly Father. He and his wife, Karen, live in North Carolina with their three children.
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