Q.85. How is the kingdom of heaven closed and opened by Christian discipline?
A. According to the command of Christ: Those who, though called Christians, profess unchristian teachings or live unchristian lives, and after repeated and loving counsel refuse to abandon their errors and wickedness, and after being reported to the church, that is, to its officers, fail to respond also to their admonition – such persons the officers exclude from the Christian fellowship by withholding the sacraments from them, and God himself excludes them from the kingdom of Christ. Such persons, when promising and demonstrating genuine reform, are received again as members of Christ and of his church.
Christian discipline has been largely absent from most churches for the last 50 years or so. Some might argue that Christian discipline has been missing for far longer than that. Either way, the fact remains that as believers we have a right and responsibility to one another to encourage and correct one another in our life and doctrine. This is the foundation of Christian discipline. Read 2 Timothy 3:16-17. As believers we must never forget that the Word of God exists not just for ourselves but also for our brothers and sisters. We are called to love each other as a family and to spur one another onward in Christ-likeness.
How should correction be carried out between believers? In general, brothers and sisters should seek to correct and encourage one another privately before going public, though that is not always required. There are instances in the Word, where public sins call for public rebuke. But let us generally approach one another privately and only when that fails, should we bring such concerns to the elders of our local churches. Read Matthew 18:15-20.
What if a person refuses to repent of their sin and accept the instruction of the local church? Then, the church must exclude the person from participation in the sacraments. Christian discipline does not me never speaking to them again, it means refusing to allow them to participate in the assurance of their salvation as proclaimed in the Sacraments. Such a person is still invited to hear the preaching of the Word; they are prayed for as well. But to declare they are participants in the Kingdom of heaven by allowing them to fellowship at the Lord’s Table is contrary to the unrepentant life they are living. Read 1 Corinthians 5:3-5 and 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15.
Are there examples of such correction and rebuke in the Scriptures? Certainly! Paul gave the Corinthians instructions about one man that we read about yesterday. Read 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 and find out how this man responded and what Paul directed the church to do in response. Christian discipline is amazing effective in bringing about the softening of a heart when sin has taken root and mean preaching no longer affects a fellow believer’s life and doctrine.
The story of Ananias and Sapphira is a story worthy of instilling great fear and trepidation upon any believer who refuses to conform their life to Christ’s. Read Acts 5:1-11. This story is one example where the teachings of Jesus about going privately are transcended by the gravity of the public sin, which the couple is engaging. Peter invited the couple to repent by testing their hearts for honesty. When they refused to tell the truth, the Spirit of God meted out the ultimate punishment by separating them from the visible body of living believers.
Read Acts 8:9-25. Simon the Sorcerer is another example where Christian discipline is exercised. Peter and John confront Simon and rebuke him for his sin. As an example of how each of us should respond to such correction, Simon appears to repent and asks for their prayers, which we can assume they offer on his behalf. His confession and agreement with the leaders of the church brought about his ability to once again be part of the church. Let us never underestimate the power of Christian discipline. Our churches need it. We, as individuals need it in order to grow in our faith.