Sometimes we hear the statement, “I do not think that preachers ought to spend their time preaching on discipline. I do not believe in discipline!” The one who makes such a sweeping statement probably possesses a very limited conception of discipline. To such a one, discipline in the church has to do exclusively with the withdrawal of fellowship from the ungodly.
Discipline means, “Mental or moral training; education; subjection to control; regulation; chastisement.” Do you believe in mental or moral training? Do you believe in education? Do you believe in control or regulation? Then, you believe in discipline.
The guardhouse does not constitute the only discipline to which the soldier must submit. It is only for those who will not submit to discipline in general! Just so, public discipline is applied only to those who will not personally discipline themselves.
Discipline, then, must begin in the heart and life of the individual soldier in the Lord’s army. The apostle powerfully stresses the need for personal discipline as he likens the Christian’s life to the training of a soldier or an athlete. “Endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:3). “Exercis~ thyself rather unto Godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7). “And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air; but I keep under my body and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway”. (I Cor. 9:25-27). Just as the athlete trains, and the soldier endures hardship and rigid discipline, just so the Christian must exercise himself unto godliness.
This personal discipline must, of course, begin with the thinking of the individual. You are the sum total of what your thoughts have made you. “As a., man thinketh in his heart, so is he”. (Prov. 23:7) “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23). This discipline of thought makes itself felt in every aspect of the Christian’s life. It causes him to bridle the unruly tongue. It prompts him to speak “with grace, seasoned with salt”. Discipline can be clearly seen in his action as he keeps himself “unspotted from the world”. It permeates and pervades his every word and deed.
“Restore Such A One . . .”
What happens when a child of God fails to apply personal discipline in his own life? Hear Paul: “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” (Gal. 6:1) Meekly, with sincere introspection brethren of genuine spirituality are to put forth an earnest effort to restore that one who, because of a failure to exercise personal discipline, is overtaken in a fault. Notice the requirement of those who are to do the restoring: “ye which are spiritual”. This is not exclusively the work of the bishops and overseers. All who are spiritual have this sobering responsibility. How we neglect this divine charge! Often a brother can become unfaithful to the church and remain away from its services for weeks and even months and no one-not even those whose special duty it is to “watch for souls” will make any effort to restore the offender.
If an erring brother fails to respond properly to such action as it is outlined in Gal. 6:1, the church is authorized by God to take more extreme measures in the effort to restore the brother. Withdrawing from a brother is the ultimate in corrective discipline in so far as the church is able to administer it. When we fail to use this measure as the occasion demands and in accord with the teaching of God’s word, we display a lack of respect f or God and a lack of love for the offender. Remember that it is love for the erring brother and a sincere desire to see him restored that should motivate our action. “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth”. (Heb. 12:6.)
“Purge Out the Old Leaven . . .”
There are a number of Bible passages that clearly and pointedly show the urgency of withdrawing from the incorrigible offender. “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us” (II Thess. 3:6). “. . deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh…. Purge out the old leaven…. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person” (I Cor. 5:1, 7, 13). “Mark them that cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which we have learned; and avoid them.” (Rom. 16:17)
In the light of the New Testament, exclusion of the disorderly is a public, congregational action. It is the “punishment which is inflicted of the many” (2 Cor. 2:6). It is to be carried out when 44we are gathered together” (I Cor. 1:4). The command to “withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly” (2 Thess. 3:6) is the equivalent of the command, “Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person” (I Cor. 6:13). The second shows how the first is accomplished; in other words we are to withdraw from the disorderly by putting them away from us, or out of our company or fellowship.
“Observe All Things”
Brethren, these are forgotten principles and passages. The church in many communities is looked upon as just another sect because of the worldliness, immorality and indifference that mar the lives of her professed members. For too long we have been treated to the sad and ridiculous spectacle of an unconverted church trying to convert an unconverted world. This tragic condition is the inevitable result of our failure to practice the New Testament plan of personal and congregational discipline. Christianity is not a system made up of non-essential commands. “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). We cannot just accept the commands that we like and reject those that are distasteful to us. Such aii attitude is the breeding place of denominationalism. To avoid losing our identity as the Lord’s church, we must observe “all things” that he has commanded. May we then, by God’s grace, put int’) practice the teaching of the New Testament concerning discipline that the army of the Lord might stand before Satan’s hosts in all its purity and power.