sundays at 9:00 AM, 10:30 AM, & 4:30 PM

Doctrine of Church Censures: Areas and Application of Church Discipline

August 13, 2023 Series: Great Doctrines of the Christian Faith

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

Readings - Matthew 18.15-20

Where there is righteousness (good order, in conformity with God’s requirements and truth), there is peace; where there is peace, learning can take place. And when discipline is intact, God’s name is honored, His church grows, and offenders against God and His righteousness are reclaimed in repentance. That is what discipline is all about.

Handbook of Church Discipline: A Right and Privilege of Every Church –Jay Adams


Last week we started looking at church discipline, discussing the importance in the church and how carefullness required.

Church discipline is necessary, primarily, to:

  • Maintain and vindicate the honor of Christ

It is dishonoring is it to claim the title Christian

  • but push off all the authority of the Church vested by Christ
  • but then to live according to your own rules and not Christ’s

We saw the dangers to the church when discipline is ignored.

We saw clear Scriptural commands and authority for church discipline

Areas of Church Discipline

Dr. R.J. Rushdoony defines discipline:

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

Discipline is more than just punishing 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
    • one who is under authority, discipline

There is a difference between a disciple and a student

  • a student is one who simply studies to learn something
  • a true disciple was a follower, under authority

The church is to disciple people to follow Christ

  • not just give them information about Christ

The person who is receiving the instruction

  • is to be a learner of doctrine
  • is to be a practicer of doctrine

We should understand discipline includes instruction and teaching

Church discipline begins long before the transgression of sin

Church discipline begins long before the proper means to restoration

Discipline is a kind of restraint, through learning and chastisement

1. Discipline is implemented through teaching and preaching

  • includes pure doctrine and understanding through preaching
  • the church has a duty to Christ in teaching/ preaching the Word

The most common corporate form of church discipline is the teaching and preaching of the Holy Scripture (though least recognized)

The purpose of teaching and preaching

  • is to ensure pure doctrine and understanding
  • so that one may apply the Word of God to their life

Teaching also includes counseling

  • Counseling is where one individual instructs another
    • how to apply Christian principles in life
    • advising how to develop maturity in Christ

True biblical counseling begins with preaching and teaching.

This cannot be done first through so-called secular psychologists

  • trying to replace the true counselor -> our Lord Jesus Christ

Counseling should be using the means Christ has given to his church

  • using the preaching and teaching the Word of Truth

Impure doctrine breeds impure application

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

A church that is theologically unstable

  • will lack a strong doctrinal foundation
  • will also lack productive discipline

Scripture teaches sound doctrine and preaching must be proper

  • 1 Timothy 1.13, 4.13-16, 6.3-5; 2 Timothy 3.16

2. 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.

The sacraments become teaching instruments as a means of discipline

  • As we said during our series on the Lord's Supper
    • A man must examine and judge himself before eating

3. Discipline is done by judicial decree for 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
  • seeks to enforce the observance of biblical law
    • by admonitions, rebukes, and censures
    • by removal of its members in some cases

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.

Process of Church Discipline

The “One Another Passages” -> Hebrews 10:24-25, Colossians 3:16


  • this stresses the informal aspects of positive, preventive discipline

Step 1 - Private Admonition (Informal Stage)

“If your brother sins against you”

  • the one who has sinned is not responsible to come to you
  • you are to go to your brother and tell him his fault
    • it is to be between you and him alone

“If he hears you, you have gained your brother”

  • notice the issue is being dealt within the church
  • with only the those few people involved
    • no gossip or triangulation

This is to be between ONLY you and the offender

  • You don’t get to tell your friends first and build support
  • You go, by yourself, to your brother/ sister

When you go to the other person, don’t go seeking an apology

  • You are commanded to forgive – regardless of their response
    • Forgiveness is not related to apologies
    • Forgiveness is entirely your action
    • The apology is the other person’s action
  • Once you have spoken with your brother
    • They are now responsible for taking action
      • To make it “right” with the Lord
      • To make it “right” with you
        • But you are to forgive, regardless

Apologies & Forgiveness -> Ephesians 4:32

Forgiving is not the same as forgetting.

Nor does the Bible command us to “forgive and forget”

Our model of forgiveness should be based God’s forgiveness of us

To forgive:

How does God forgive?

  • He promises -> “Your sins and iniquities will I remember against you no more” (Jeremiah 31:34c)

“To remember no more” is not the same as forgetting

  • It is to work actively at not raising a matter

To forget:

It is to have a matter passively fade from memory

  • One can promise not to raise a matter again
  • One can keep that promise, whether he feels like it or not
  • One cannot promise to forget
How do I know when to go to my brother/ sister?

Should I do and confront someone over every little thing?

  • No, love covers a multitude of sins. (Proverbs 10.12)

If we think the best of others

  • We assume they didn’t mean or understand what they did

But if something interrupts your fellowship with others…

But if something causes you to avoid your brothers/ sisters…

But if something causes you to think less than the best of others…

  • Then you should go to them and talk with them
  • Then you might even have something to confess, as well…

Perhaps 98% of offenses will be taken care if this step is followed

  • If we go with humility to our brother
  • If we give others the benefit of the doubt
  • If we tried to think the best of others
    • Instead of assuming the worse and their motives
    • Instead of assuming their motives

Step 2 – Bring One or Two More

“But if he will not hear you, take with you one or two more, that by the mouth of two or three witnesses, every word may be established”

  • This is a principle in the Old Testament law
  • there cannot be testimony of truth but with two or more witnesses

We have this as part of our covenant documents

This is how we promise to handle things

  • That we won't triangulate in a third party
  • That we won't say to the pastor,” You need to go take care of this”
    • It’s not his job, it is your job

How do I know when to bring witnesses with me?

We should make multiple attempts to speak with the offender

  • don’t just try once and call it “done”
  • 70x70 -> Matthew 18.21

The point of one or two more is not so they “take your side”

  • You should not prejudice those that come with you beforehand
  • You should not bring only those that agree with you

The point is to bring unbiased people to help with reconciliation

  • They only become witnesses when there is a need for repenting and repentance is refused (either by on or both parties)

Step 3 – Bring it to the Church (Formal Stage)

“If he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church”

  • you do not bring it to the congregation
  • you bring it before the church court
  • you bring it to the officers of the church
  • you bring it to those who've been given authority to govern/ rule

Step 4 – Censures & Excommunication

  • Titus 3:10 , 2 Thessalonians 3:14

“If he refuses to hear the church, let him be … like a heathen and a tax collector”

  • let him be put out of the church as one who was an unbeliever
  • let him be excommunicated by the church

This is that corporate discipline by the officers of the church

  • this does not mean that person cannot come back and continue to hear the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ
  • this does mean he is no longer a member of the visible church
  • this does mean he is not longer in visible convenant with Christ

This means he no longer has rights/privileges to anything in the church

  • it means he has proven himself to be an unbeliever
  • it means he should be approached like an unbeliever by the body

But that person should always be treated in a kind/ courteous manner

  • but he should be called to repentance toward restoration

“Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven. And whatever you lose on earth will be loosed in heaven here he's telling you, And what you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and what is bounded Heaven is bound upon earth. If two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by my father, which is in heaven”

Contextually, Christ is saying:

  • if you do this, God will honor it
  • If you put them out, God will honor their excommunication

Christ is talking about church discipline

  • He will be with them as the church is doing its function
    • for the purpose of discipline in the name of Christ
    • to keep purity and the honor of Christ true in the church

What does excommunication look like?

It means that if that person calls you to do something:

  • you cannot have Christian fellowship with them

When you see that person

  • you remind them that things cannot be like they were before because they are under church discipline
  • Instead, when you are together, you should focus on
    • calling them to repentance
    • calling them to restoration

Normal fellowship has been broken

1 Corinthians 10:16-17, 1 Corinthians 5:9, 11

“Not to eat” means two things:

  • (1) that normal fellowship is broken. Eating with another, in biblical times, was the sign of fellowship
  • (2) that the offender is forbidden to partake of the Lord’s Supper because, according to 1 Corinthians 10:16-17

partaking is “communion” or fellowship

  • this is the very thing prohibited at stage 4.

The congregation may no longer fellowship as though nothing were wrong

We are told:

  • “Don’t mix, or mingle, with him”
    • 2 Thessalonians 3:14; 1 Corinthians 5:9, 11
  • “withdraw from him”
    • 2 Thessalonians 3:6

The word translated “withdraw,” means

  • stand aloof; keep away from
  • and “don’t eat” with him
    • 1 Corinthians 5:11


Maybe the reason why the Church of Jesus Christ truly isn't having any effect in our modern age

  • is because our churches have failed to honor Christ
  • is because our churches have failed to teach
  • is because our churches have failed to cousnel
  • is because our churches have failed to discipline


Remember the marks of a true church?

There were three marks

  • preaching of the word
  • right administration of the sacrament
  • church discipline.

If there is no discipline

  • the word and the sacraments cannot begin to be ministered properly

Church discipline is essential in the Church of Jesus Christ.

When practiced properly, church discipline honors Christ and maintains order in the church.

More in Great Doctrines of the Christian Faith

September 17, 2023

Doctrine of the Last Judgment - The Finality of Judgment

September 10, 2023

Doctrine of the Last Judgement - The Great White Throne

September 3, 2023

Doctrine of the Last Judgment