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The New Testament teaching on church discipline appears to have fallen on hard times in the age in which we live. There may be different reasons for that. Some churches might fear facing legal reprise in an overly litigious society. Others might fear appearing judgemental or vindictive. Still others may wish to avoid conflict or turmoil. Some churches might find the whole exercise pointless since the disciplined member will simply move to the church up the road and join with no questions asked. And some churches simply do not understand the seriousness of sin.

Churches that are committed to obeying the Lord sometimes face backlash even from within the Christian community. It has become all the rage on certain social media platforms to call out churches who have publicly “shamed” members in church discipline. In the text before us this morning (2 Thessalonians 3:6–18, for a second and last time), in the context of addressing lazy church members who were burdening the church, Paul touches on the matter of church discipline (see, especially, vv. 6, 14–15).

We cannot possibly cover everything the New Testament teaches about church discipline in one brief devotional, but there are a few pertinent considerations that arise from the text.

First, we observe from this text that church discipline is the responsibility of the church, not church leaders (though, of course, church leaders will both give direction to public discipline issues and will be a part of the discipline as members themselves). Paul writes these instructions to the church, not to the pastors of the church.

Second, while the principles of Matthew 18:15–20 should be carried out regularly in the church, public discipline becomes necessary when the wellbeing of the entire church is at risk. Since a little leaven leavens the whole lump, sin in the camp will always have a negative effect in the church. As a rule, disciplinary matters should be kept as confidential as possible, but unrepentant sin will eventually require church intervention.

Third, church discipline, by design, involves a measure of ostracism. Paul says that the unrepentant member should be “ashamed.” While the language of “public shaming” is weaponised against churches today, it is impossible to obey the teachings of the New Testament without disciplined members feeling a sense of shame—because unrepentant sin rightly invites shame!

Fourth, church discipline, properly enacted, is more redemptive than punitive. The goal in discipline is always for restoration to take place. That is why the church must treat a disciplined member “as a brother” rather than “an enemy.”

If it sounds strange that church discipline is designed to both bring shame and be redemptive, it is perhaps because we are so far removed from a biblical view of sin, shame, and the Spirit. Where sin is properly dealt with, and shame rightly felt, there is always the possibility of the Spirit producing repentance leading to restoration.

Of course, it must be noted that, while restoration is the primary goal of discipline, it is not the only thing that motivates obedience in this regard. The purity of the church, the witness of the gospel, and the glory of Christ are also powerful motivators for obedience in discipline. Sin cannot be tolerated in a church that is committed to holiness, interested in a fruitful gospel witness to the world, and intent on upholding the glory of Christ. As Calvin argued, “the good [must not] be corrupted by the constant company of the wicked, as commonly happens. For … there is nothing easier than for us to be led away by bad examples from right living.”

As you meditate again on 2 Thessalonians 3:6–18, ask God to give the church a passion for purity that will manifest itself in commitment to church discipline, in a right spirit, for the glory of God and the good of the church.