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Doctrine of Church Censures - Importance of Church Discipline

August 6, 2023 Series: Great Doctrines of the Christian Faith

Topic: Doctrine of Church Censures Scripture: Matthew 18:15, 1 Timothy 1:1–20


WCFaith: Chapter 30 / 1 Timothy 1


The French theologian john Calvin, wrote concerning church discipline:

If no society, nay, no house with even a moderate family, can be kept in a right state without discipline, much more necessary is it in the Church ... As the saving doctrine of Christ is the life of the Church, so discipline is, as it were, its sinews; for to it, it is owing that the members of the body adhere together, each in its own place.

Wherefore, all who either wish that discipline were abolished, or who impede the restoration of it ... certainly aim at the complete devastation of the Church.

For what will be the result if everyone is allowed to do as he pleases?


Last week we concluded our investigation into the proper form of church government as revealed in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

We saw the consistent and progressive use of elders

  • Starting from undifferentiated elders
  • To elders in the civil and ecclesiastical spheres
  • To the well-defined role of elders in the New Testament

We saw the consistent and progressive use of graded courts

We saw the unity and catholicity of the church through the ages

We briefly discussed some common forms of church government found today and their limitations and improper use regarding the Keys to the Kingdom and overall government and accountability.

We then concluded that a Presbyterian form of government is:

  • the most biblically sound form of government
    • modeling the structure found in both testaments
    • providing expanded accountability through a plurality of elders
    • providing safeguards against abuses of power
    • providing safeguards against heretical teaching
  • provides the most trustworthy, just, and peaceful way for the church
    • to determine its direction and its practices
    • to resolve its differences
    • to ensure man’s asccuser is not also his judge

We will see through this next study, Lord willing, that this form of government is also necessary for the right practice of church censures.

Church Discipline Is Important

Church discipline is important but must be done carefully and properly

  • Be careful in the use of discipline
  • Sometimes there are abuses
    • It has been used to attain a level of privilege
    • It has been used to spiritually beat down others into submission
  • Sometimes there are failures
    • It has been ignored
    • Is has been used but lacked fulfilling its real purpose

Church discipline is not something that is to be ignored or neglected

  • We do not say just let the Lord work out the problem of discipline
  • We do not say that we will have no part in the matter
  • We do not say that we will not get involved

Church Discipline is Necessary

Church censures are necessary

  • for the reclaiming of the offending brother
  • for the gaining of the offending brother
  • for deterring of others from similar offenses
  • for purging out of that leaven which might infect the whole lump
  • for vindicating the honor of Christ
  • for maintaining the honor of Christ
  • for maintaining the Holy profession of the gospel
  • for preventing the wrath of God against the church

When church censures are ignored

  • unrepentant and scandalous people are allowed to remain in the church
  • vicious and obstinate offenses
    • would profane the covenant that we have with our Lord
    • would bring the just wrath of God upon us

Church discipline must be taken seriously

  • to maintain the honor and purity of Christ and His Church

Church discipline helps maintain distinct character traits of the Church

  • to walk in the purity and teaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ
  • to walk in a way that is pleasing to Him
  • to walk in accountability

To say there is no union, no accountability, no censures in the covenant

  • Would literally mean that one can do as he pleases
  • But what would become of the church?
    • It would become lawless.
    • It would become against the law
    • It would practice sin
      • Sin is lawlessness

When Church discipline is ignored

  • we tend to focus on building big churches rather than godly churches
  • we allow people to float between one church and the next without care
  • we pay no attention to excommunication or censures
  • we do not focus on building a holy church
  • we do not focus on building a well-disciplined church
    • a church that is properly executing its duties and responsibilities
    • a church that is properly governing and ruling
    • a church that has proper administration of church discipline

When Church discipline is ignored

  • the church becomes humanistic
    • it is no wonder that the world is in such a disarray
  • the church fails to be the salt and light of the earth
    • the world is only a mirrored reflection of the church

Biblical Authority of Church Discipline

The authority for ecclesiastical censure is found in Jesus Christ

Discipline is to ensure that Christ has preeminence in the church

  • Colossians 1.18
    • Preeminence of Christ in the church means the Church must be walking in obedience.
  • Ephesians 1.22-23
  • 1 Corinthians 11.3

The mission, ministry, and responsibility of the church is to disciple

  • Matthew 28.18-20

Discipling is not just establishing churches

  • Discipleship involves putting others under the sign of the covenant
    • Disciples become followers of Christ

Discipling involves conversion, the application of sacraments, and the teaching of the Word of God

  • Discipleship involves teaching others
  • Discipleship involves church discipline

The government of the church is responsible for discipline

  • for the ministry to those who profess the salvation of Jesus Christ
  • for the ruling of those who profess the salvation of Jesus Christ
  • for the lives of those who profess the salvation of Jesus Christ
  • Pastors and elders teach and rule
    • in the name of God
      • not in the name of man
    • it is the commission of Christ
      • it is not the commission of the church

All power of church officers is ministerial and declarative

  • they may only teach what Christ has taught
  • they may only have authority to execute the laws He has given
  • they may only administer the penalties He has designated
  • they may only have that as their commission

The officers of the church have a responsibility

  • to govern
  • to teach
  • to execute the office

The officers of the church fulfill this responsibility through teaching/ discipline

1 Timothy 5.17

  • ruling well means governing and disciplining the church.

1 Thessalonians 5.12

Hebrews 13.7

The officers of the church have a duty and responsibility

  • of government
  • of teaching
  • of discipline in the Lord

Purposes of Church Discipline

First - the glory and obedience to God

  • through maintaining a proper system of church government

Second - the restoration of an offender

To restore the offender

  • to a humbleness of heart
  • to submission to Christ and His Word
  • to the oversight of the church and its authority
  • to the fellowship of the church

Galatians 6.1

Matthew 18.15

2 Timothy 2.24-25

  • Notice the servant of the Lord must not be quarrelsome but gentle
  • Arguing will not bring someone back into the kingdom of God
  • It takes the same grace of God that save that individual
    • to bring him back into a restorative relationship
    • to work in him a restorartion of humility
    • to correct those who are in opposition
      • if God perhaps will grant them repentance

Third - maintain the purity of the Church of Jesus Christ

Daniel Ray has written

“We shall never be able to keep the visible church in perfect purity since we are but fallible men are in ability to achieve perfection in this matter, however, is no way an excuse for giving up the attempt. We must maintain the purity of Christ, the visible church to the full extent of our knowledge and power.”

1 Timothy 5.20

  • those who are sending rebuke do so in the presence of all
    • that the rest may fear
  • Church discipline is such that others will see the condemnation/ rebuke
    • so they will be fearful of falling into sin and rebuke and discipline

Titus 1.10-13

  • Rebuke sharply so that they may be sound in the faith

2Thessalonians 3.6, 11-15

  • purity in the church cannot allow people who violate the Word of God to continue in that lawless state

Fourth - showing the Lordship of Christ over the church

To honor our Lord Jesus Christ and His name

  • by setting forth obedience to Christ
  • by showing forth the Lordship of Christ over the body

2 Corinthians 2.5-9

  • Church discipline is a test of obedience to Christ

Fifth - avoid God from sending forth His judgement against the church

The Church failing to exercise the responsibility of discipline

  • may find herself in opposition to God.
  • may find herself under God's discipline

Church officers are responsible to censure as part of church discipline

Church members are responsible to give witness to the church as part of discipline

  • Revelation 3.1

The Scope of Church Discipline

Discipline defined

Discipline is more than punishment of those offenders of the law of God

  • Discipline is derived from the word disciple (meaning, to learn)
  • A disciple is one who is learning
    • one who is being taught how to learn.

There is a difference between a disciple and a student

  • a student is one who simply studies something.
  • a true disciple was a follower.

We are to disciple people to follow Christ

  • not to just give them instruction about Christ.

The person who is receiving the instruction

  • is to be a learner of doctrine
  • is to be one learns how to live in Christ

Discipline includes instruction and teaching.

Dr. R.J. Rushdoony defines discipline:

  • to be a disciple is to be under discipline
  • to be a disciple is to be a learner
  • If there is no learning and no growth
  • there is no discipline.

Church discipline begins long before a one goes off into a transgression of sin

Church discipline begins long before we seek the proper means to restoration

Discipline is a kind of restraint

  • through both learning and chastisement

Discipline is done through teaching and preaching.

  • includes ensuring pure doctrine and understanding through preaching
  • the church has a duty to the Word of God in both teaching/ preaching

The most common corporate form of church discipline is the teaching and preaching of the Holy Scripture.

  • The purpose of teaching and preaching is to ensure pure doctrine and understanding
    • that one may apply the Word of God to their life

This includes ensuring pure doctrine and understanding through counseling

  • Counseling is where one individual instructs another
    • advising how to develop maturity in Christ

True biblical counseling begins with preaching and teaching.

  • if churches were preaching and teaching the pure gospel of Christ
  • there would be less problems within the churches

This cannot be first done through so-called secular psychologists

  • some are treated as a type of Christian psychologist
    • as a replacement for the true counselor, our Lord Jesus Christ

Counseling should first be done

  • using the means Christ has given to his church
  • using the preaching and teaching the Word of Truth

A church this is theologically unstable

  • lacks a strong doctrinal foundation
  • lacks productive discipline

Impure doctrine breeds impure application of that learning

  • Scripture depicts man's actions are based upon his thoughts
    • “as a man thinketh so he is”
  • it may be set in principle
    • “as a church believes, so goeth the application of that faith”

Scripture teaches that unsound doctrine breeds

  • unsound ecclesiastical practices and unsound Christian living

Scripture teaches that sound doctrine and preaching must be properly done

Timothy 1.13

1 Timothy 4.13-16

2 Timothy 3.16

1 Timothy 6.3-5

  • preaching and teaching is the first proper scope of discipline

Discipline is done by the right administration of the sacraments.

The church has a duty to properly administer the sacraments as a means of grace and discipline.

  • Westminster Confession Chapter 27, Article 3

The sacraments also become teaching instruments as a means of discipline

  • And as we said during our sereis on the Lord's Supper
    • A man must examine himself
    • A man must judge himself before he eats of the table of the Lord

Discipline is done by judicial decree for personal violations of God's law.

  • This involves the church exercising authority through censorship
  • This involves the removal of members who violate biblical law and do not respond to censures

The church's duty in regard to discipline consists in the exercise of ecclesiastical authority

  • by which the church seeks to enforce the observance of biblical law
    • by rebukes, censures
    • by removal of individuals in cases of its members

Dr. Rushdoony against states

  • there can be no true Christian discipline in a church or in a school or home, unless there also be a full and faithful preaching of the law Word of God.


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