“Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:14)
Imbalance does not come from an over-emphasis. It is impossible to have too much love or too much faithfulness. However, it is quite possible to have unfaithfulness masquerading as love. When God’s people compromise through sentimentality or self-love or for some other reason, they are unfaithful though they speak much of love. Again, it is quite possible to have unlove masquerading as faithfulness. When God’s people create schism by disciplining the wrong person, or with the wrong motive, speak much of faithfulness, they are unfaithful to the very first commandment, to love as one loves one’s self.
Righteousness and peace, usually estranged, are embraced at Calvary. May they embrace again in our congregations lest the King return and find us compromised and polluted or dismembered, grotesque and impotent. And yet, since there was no way for righteousness and peace to meet except on the cross, no doubt they will meet in our day only where there are those willing to be crucified. When God’s people fill up that which is lacking in the suffering of Christ (Colossians 1:24) through choosing the way of personal sacrifice, God’s own character will shine through again as it did at Calvary. The way of the cross is to exercise discipline faithfully, and with love that chooses to act for the welfare of another even at personal sacrifice. And the cross is always painful. The innocent always pay for the sins of the guilty.
Church discipline can be useful in protecting the reputation of Christ and of the Church. It is also useful in protecting other believers from defilement. However, it is quite significant that when the New Testament deals with the problem of church discipline it does not use protection as a motive. 1 John 1:19, 20, 1 Corinthians 5:6-8, and 2 John 11 may include this concept, but this is obviously not the central thrust of the teaching of the passages. Jude, who uses stronger words to denounce heretical teaching than any other biblical author, does not end with an injunction to begin disciplinary procedure or to separate from such people but instead exhorts the Christians who were faithful to keep on being faithful (20,21). He then concludes the passage with these words: “And on some have mercy, who are in doubt; and some save, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh” (22,23, ASV). Following this, Jude again turns to the faithful ones, assuring them that God is able to guard them from stumbling and to keep them till that day when they will stand in the presence of his glory without blemish in exceeding joy (24).
One could reasonably expect the protection of the reputation of Christ and the protection of the Church to have been the primary motives given for church discipline. But the Bible seems to take a rather nonchalant attitude at this point. Why? Perhaps because the name of Christ and the Church of Christ are strong and quite able to care for themselves. Or is it because if these were the primary motives rather than that of love for the sinner, discipline could quickly degenerate into inquisition? Christ also seemed to be less than careful – “He that is not against us is for us” (Luke 9:50). Paul also rejoices that the Gospel is preached whether in pretense or in truth (Philippians 1:18). He excoriates the heretic but doesn’t give protection as the reason for church discipline.
Note that one motive is excluded as a motive for discipline or separation. Church discipline is not to be punitive, retributive. God clearly reserves this motivation to himself – “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). This is different from God’s pattern for relations with governmental authority and in the home where punitive intention may be legitimate. In the Church, only God can be the ultimate judge- “Who art thou that judges the servant of another?” (Romans 14:4). We are all in the fellowship of mercy-receivers.
From this brief outline of biblical teaching on motivation for disciplining an errant brother or sister, when Christians discipline or separate from motives of legalism, vindictiveness, fear, or pride rather than with the basic motivation of saving the brother, they are guilty of the sin of schism. We must ask ourselves whether in thought or practice could any of these motives impact our judgement of another?