Church Discipline Step 4 = Unbeliever and Condemned? Or No Comment?

Step 4 of church discipline is the removal of the person from the church. When the church does this to a man, what is the church saying about his destiny?

Matthew 18:17 says, "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." (ESV)

On the positive side, if he repents, you have gained a brother. You may judge him a believer.
On the negative side, if he refuses, then you should consider him as a gentile. This isn't a strong declaration of unbelief. Jesus did not say, "You have lost your brother."

1 Corinthians 5:5,12-13 says, "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.
... For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside."
(ESV)

Again, on the positive side, we judge those who are within the church. We declare them to be believers.
But on the negative side, we do not judge those who are outside. We leave that to God. And we hope that even Satan's attacks will cause him to repent.

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Jay's picture

Quote:
On the positive side, if he repents, you have gained a brother. You may judge him a believer.
On the negative side, if he refuses, then you should consider him as a gentile. This isn't a strong declaration of unbelief. Jesus did not say, "You have lost your brother."

You can't call him a brother if he was never a Christian in the first place, which is what I think that last point indicates - that the now excommunicated believer was never a Christian.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Dan Miller's picture

But my point is that Jesus didn't say, "You can't call him a brother."

He commented on the brotherhood of the repent-er. But he was more vague on the refuse-er.

If we must interpret "gentile and tax collector" as "non-believer" then yes, you're right, but if not, then the most we can logically say is that the now excommunicated man may never have been a believer.

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On the other hand...

Jesus immediately says "whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." That seems to imply a symmetrical aspect to the move by the church to exclude.

Jay's picture

I see what you're saying, but it is an argument from silence. How would you interpret that last 'gentile and tax collector' phrase if you think that he was still a brother?

Considering the high esteem that people had to tax collectors in Jesus' day, I think it's safe to assume that the church was to have nothing to do with the expelled.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Alex Guggenheim's picture

The judgment is not one on his relationship with God (his salvation) but one with other believers (fellowship in the body). It is inappropriate to presume this from the text that we may even imply an adjudication regarding his salvation, only how we are to interact with the person until he acknowledges his sin.

Dan Miller's picture

But, Alex, I don't think that we can claim adjudication for the one who repents, either. He might not be a believer.

It seems more like the church body has a God-given role to state its belief that people are believers and to admit them to membership.

The question is what we make of the one who is expelled. There are three options:
1. We declare him to be an unbeliever and this action binds in heaven.
2. We declare that we believe that he is not a believer and trust God to judgment.
3. We decline to make any statement of belief regarding him, trusting God to judgment.

Alex, it sounds like you're arguing against #1. I agree and I don't think that's on the table.
I think that most of us will think either #2 or #3. I'm suggesting it is #3.

Jay's picture

Alex Guggenheim wrote:
The judgment is not one on his relationship with God (his salvation) but one with other believers (fellowship in the body). It is inappropriate to presume this from the text that we may even imply an adjudication regarding his salvation, only how we are to interact with the person until he acknowledges his sin.

Alex, the judgement is absolutely on the person - we're throwing them out of their local church because of an issue between two Christians that person X would not resolve. How can we presume that person X is a Christian when they will not obey the Scriptures?

There are two offenses in view here - the one between the brothers that starts the individual confrontation process, and then the more serious offense of refusing to make a situation right confronted. If it gets to the stage where one person's sin is supposed to be told to the church so that the person can be treated as a heathen and tax collector, how is this not about that person's individual relationship with God?

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Alex Guggenheim's picture

Dan Miller wrote:
But, Alex, I don't think that we can claim adjudication for the one who repents, either. He might not be a believer.
I agree wholeheartedly. The best we can do is adjudicate their fitness for membership and participation in the body. As to declarations for those expelled I would limit it to what I believe the text(s) are limited to which is:

The person is declared unfit for membership within the local body and is expelled, hence he is moved to a status like an unbeliever which is non-membership/non-fellowship in the body. None of which is a comment one way or the other regarding his salvation since that is an adjudication we are never permitted to make.

Jay C. wrote:
Alex Guggenheim wrote:
The judgment is not one on his relationship with God (his salvation) but one with other believers (fellowship in the body). It is inappropriate to presume this from the text that we may even imply an adjudication regarding his salvation, only how we are to interact with the person until he acknowledges his sin.

Alex, the judgement is absolutely on the person - we're throwing them out of their local church because of an issue between two Christians that person X would not resolve. How can we presume that person X is a Christian when they will not obey the Scriptures?

So I assume you always obey the Scriptures and when you do not you classify yourself as an unbeliever? Of course not to both questions. As to the judgment upon the person, indeed there is a judgment but the judgment has to do with his fitness for membership and participation within the local body, not his salvation.

Alex Guggenheim's picture

Another passage that certain merits input into the theological formula:

2 Thessalonians 3:6-15

Quote:
6Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us....

14And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.
15Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

christian cerna's picture

For the sake of the Church, and the unity of the body of Christ, we must obey the commands of the Apostles, and expel the person who refuses to repent, and who is stirring up division in the congregation.

If the Church leaders do not address the issue of discipline, then the other members of the congregations will lose respect for the leaders, and will be influenced/corrupted by the actions of a few ungodly people.