What is the Biblical way to discipline a church member?
The Biblical model for church discipline is classically found in Matthew 18:15-21, with New Testament commentary also found in 1Tim 5:20 and James 5:19-20. The principles expressed in these verses can be summarized as:
1. A person’s decision to engage in willful sinning is harmful to the individual and to the Body as a whole, and therefore the church is under obligation to undertake loving discipline.
2. Someone with firsthand knowledge of the sin should correct the sinning Christian privately, seeking to win him over.
3. Should that fail, the sinner should be approached by a plurality of church representatives who will affirm the judgment of the first.
4. If this fails, the church is informed of the matter for the purpose of enlisting the support of the entire congregation in turning the unrepentant Christian from the sin. This is a last resort.
Finally, the individual is placed outside the fellowship of the congregation, as a matter of discipline to the individual and to protect the Body from the harmful influences of the person’s habitual sin.
Admittedly, these principles can be difficult to apply (particularly steps 4 and 5), since public discussions of personal indiscretions may risk a claim of defamation of character, invasion of privacy or other legal challenges.
In our experience, the first three steps outlined above are usually enough to settle the matter, since most people will either respond positively to private discipline or voluntarily leave the church in protest. Nevertheless, church leaders must be prepared for the necessity of engaging in discipline when required for the sake of the Body and the Name of Christ.