Biblical confrontation & church discipline

Brent Cunninghamblog1 Comment


If there’s one thing all of us are forced to deal with on a regular basis it would be confrontation.  Often we either we feel the need to confront another person who has done something wrong, or we ourselves are being confronted by someone else for a similar offense.  But not only are we frequently uncomfortable with confrontation, we also are unaware of how the Bible speaks to this issue.  We might even wonder if confrontation is even needed between Christians.  After all, doesn’t Jesus’ mandate to “love one another” render elements like confrontation unnecessary?  Actually, it’s just the opposite.  From a biblical point of view, it is precisely because we love someone that we seek that person’s good.  In fact, our love for him or her makes us unwilling to tolerate evil or wrongdoing in the person because we know that it can only bring harm.

So, how do we confront another Christian biblically? 
When is it appropriate to involve the church? 
What are the issues that deserve the church’s involvement? 
And is the church’s responsibility to punish or discipline?

A key passage in the Bible for dealing with a fellow Christian who has sinned against you is found in Jesus’ teachings as recorded in Mt 18:15-18.  The steps Jesus lays out are each self-contained yet build upon one another.  The ideal situation is that the offense is resolved after step one.  However, if that doesn’t happen, there is a step two, and so on.  The steps are:
(1) a private, one-on-one reproof;
(2) a small, private conference which involves a companion or mediator;
(3) a public announcement to the church or its leadership;
(4) a public removal from church fellowship;

As stated above, the hope is that sincere repentance would occur after any of the 4 steps, and if it does, it is the responsibility of the confronting party to restore the person.  2 Cor 2:5-11 tells us that our restorative response should involve:
(1) forgiving;
(2) comforting;
(3) loving.
Gal 6:1 gives guidelines to us when restoring a person who has repented from sin:
(1) We must be sure that we are healthy and strong in character ourselves, and not hypocritical;
(2) We must be gentle and meek in the way in which we handle their correction and restoration;
(3) We must be reflective and careful that in the process of sifting through another’s sinful choices and bad decision we are tempted and enticed ourselves. 

In his Charts of Christian Theology and Doctrine, H. Wayne House offers four primary situations in Scripture which warrant the church to respond in confrontation.  They are:
(1) Open sexual immorality (1 Cor 5:1-13);
(2) Unresolved person conflicts (Mt 18:15-20);
(3) Divisiveness (Rom 16:17-18; Titus 3:10);
(4) False teachings (Gal 1:8-9; 1 Tim 1:20; 6:3-52 Jn 1:9-11; Rev 2:14-16).

Much could be said here, but suffice it to say that it is critical to grasp the church’s role as one of discipline over and against punishment.  Punishment is designed to affect retribution and payback, or to avenge with justice.  Punishment is appropriate and even good, but it belongs in the arsenal of the State rather than the church (Rom 13:3-4).  Discipline, on the other hand, has as its goal to restore the person who is involved in wrongdoing.  Therefore, the church’s role seems to be twofold.  First, its role is to protect the church against the cancerous nature of sin, in order to maintain health and unity.  Second, the church is to correct the individual Christian who is willfully abandoning the standards of the church and/or society.  This is done by using God’s Word to encourage the Believer to live within God’s ideal and standard for the Believer’s life (2 Tim 3:16-17).

One Comment on ““Biblical confrontation & church discipline”

  1. Amanda J.

    I LOVE this. To hold people accountable is something God very clearly tells us to do…out of love, and with love. We cannot control how people react when we do so, but as long as we are acting out of love and concern, we are doing what we can.

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