If you’re wondering how this Greenville Syndrome works, here’s proof from a recent article, “Discipline for Discipleship,” by Greenville pastor Tony Miller from the Bob Jones University’s publication Today’s Christian Preacher, Winter 2010.
When the word discipline enters your mind, do you also think of the word disciple? These two English words come from the same Latin word: discipulus. Discipline is the process and a disciple is the intended product. Years ago in a church history class, Dr. Edward Panosian explained the threefold purpose of local church discipline. He told the seminarians that the purpose was first to remove leaven from the lump (I Corinthians 5:6-8); second, to restore the sinning brother to fellowship with God first and then to fellowship with the local church (2 Corinthians 2:5-11); and third, to teach other to fear or reverence scriptural standards (I Timothy 5:19-20). The goal of church discipline should be to bring about these three biblical objectives and produce disciples.
Our motives normally determine the manner and method in which we deal with people. In the book of Ephesians, Paul said to keep “speaking the truth in love.” Speaking truth should be done out of a motive of love and in a loving manner. Discipline requires speaking the truth. As a parent may have to discipline his or her child out of love, so the church may have to discipline a member out of love with the goal of helping that member put God first.
Undisciplined individuals are self-indulgent. The list of the fruit of the Spirit ends with ‘temperance’ or self-control. For the believer, the purpose of self-denial (by putting God first) is to become a proper disciple (Matthew 16:24).
Too many Bible-preaching churches are unwilling to obey the Lord in the steps of church discipline. However, church discipline has been ordered by the Lord for our benefit. What are these steps?
- Private confrontation of person sin–go alone and, if necessary, repeatedly (Matthew 18:15).
- Public confrontation of established sins, especially of church leaders (I Timothy 5:19-20). The sin, if not admitted, must be established by two or three eyewitnesses.
- Plural collaboration–two or three witnesses (Matthew 18:16; I Timothy 5:19; 2 Corinthians 13:1).
- Public disclosure (within the church) of personal sin if not repented. “Tell it to the church” (Matthew 18:17a).
- Public correction (by the church) of personal or public sin if not repented. “Let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican” (Matthew 18:17).
- Treatment of the unrepentant former church member as unsaved (Matthew 18:17b).
- Private association forbidden with unrepentant former church members (I Corinthians 5:9-12).
- Personal reconciliation with the disciplined brother if he repents at any stage of the process (Luke 17:1-3; Matthew 18:15; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11).
- Public restoration of a publicly repentant former member (2 Corinthians 2).
- Progressive restoration of the repentant church member to certain biblical ministries.
The ten steps listed above need some clarification. If the sinner repents at any stage, he should be forgiven. The church should distinguish between fellowship, membership and leadership in restoring one who is forgiven. Forgiveness should be given instantaneously because God restores fellowship with the individual who asks forgiveness. He forgives for Christ’s sake, not because the sinning brother deserves it (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13).
When a church has removed an unrepentant brother from membership, it usually is better to withhold membership until he cures his wrongdoing (making restitution, telling the truth to those to whom he has lied, reconciling his marriage, gaining victory over drugs, etc.). Leadership positions might never be restored. For example, a Sunday school teacher might return to teaching God’s Word after a sufficient time has lapsed for a credible testimony to be reestablished; but a pastor who becomes sexually involved with a woman other than his wife would always be doubted in biblical preaching and counseling on the family. The majority of a pastor’s counseling time deals with family needs. Therefore, the life of a pastor or a deacon must be blameless in moral issues (“the husband of one wife”) so that family counseling and preaching can be authoritative.
If the sin is private, keep it private if the person is repentant. If the sin is public, then public confession and restoration is necessary. The sin of the incestuous man of I Corinthians 5 was public and not repented; therefore, Paul publicly rebuked and asked for removal of the leaven of this unrepentant brother (v. 7).
When a Christian sins privately against another Christian, the one sinned against is told to “go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone.” The Greek for go implies continuing confrontation if necessary. Ken Sande in his book The Peacemaker says go several times alone to repent. If private confrontation does not work, two or three other church members should go with the offended brother as witnesses.
Public correction is the next step for an unrepentant church member. After repeated confrontations, unrepentant members should be removed from membership. In I Corinthians 6:1-5, Paul points out the importance of having Christians urge matters among themselves.
If the unrepentant member withdraws his membership before the church votes, a church cannot legally proceed with an official vote. However, if a second church requests from the first church a letter of release from membership for the unrepentant one, the leadership of the first church can tell the second church that the individual is not in good standing.
Paul makes it clear that we should not “keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner” (I Corinthians 5:11). Jesus said to treat an unrepentant brother who has trespassed against another Christian as a heathen man and a publican (Matthew 18:17). Obviously, though, a mate or a blood relative should relate naturally to the one who has been disciplined.
Early in one of my church pastorates, a teenage church member who admitted to immorality refused to listen to appeals calling for repentance. With brokenness we voted to remove this one from membership.
It is essential that a church have a clear constitution and that it publish clear information regarding what is required of members. Often, pastors are concerned that they will scare people away if they spell out on the front end what is expected of church members. In fact, the opposite may be true. One Sunday our church leadership asked a person in public sin to ask for forgiveness. That person stood before the church and asked for forgiveness and asserted repentance A visiting Bible student who witnessed the event came and said, “I want to become a member of this church. I have never seen this done where I come from.”
Scriptural church discipline has been ordered by the Lord for our benefit. We cannot please Him by ignoring His instruction. The steps should be followed in order and carried out in love. The desire and prayer of the church must be that the offending brother will respond positively and be restored. “If he shall hear thee, thou has gained they brother” (Matthew 18:15).
Anybody care to discern where the Bible ends and Greenville Syndrome begins? My favorite is paragraph #6.