Church discipline is an “in-house” discussion. This is why the context of Church discipline and Church membership are often subjects that intertwine. How can we discipline someone out of the church if we didn’t know that they were first in? But it is so much more than being able to identify the local body so that we can add and cross names off a list. The body acts toward each other. We serve each other. We care for each other. We disciple each other. We teach each other. We pray with each other. We take the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper together so we can unite in remembering why we are one family of believers. We are ambassadors of Christ when we interact with the world. We help each other fight sin and to uphold a calling to be holy because God is holy. The church is much more than a society of members, it is a living breathing family of God as regenerate believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.
All of this screams the importance of thinking through the authority that Christ gave the church, and especially in the visibility of the local church, to maintain the biblical care and protection of the church. It is the church who are the pillars and buttress of truth in the way that we ensure that we do not stray from the authoritative teaching of the Scripture and the central focus of the gospel (1 Tim 3:15). Paul said this to Timothy about how his church should conduct themselves in his absence. Known believers with true gospel confessions committed to the word of God can unite in upholding its truth. This is often why we have statements of faith. In Matthew 18:15-18 we are told that the church has the authority to speak to the unrepentant sinner among them with one united voice and if necessary to exclude them from the fellowship.
The working of the church, the moral integrity of the church, the upholding of truth in the church, all works in the context of a church that gathers together and knows each other. We are not perfect, so there is always sin amongst us. As saved sinners who know each other, the local church has ability to come along side each other as brother to brother and sister to sister to patiently disciple each other in identifying sin and repenting in the forgiveness of our Savior. From gently guiding or admonishing someone privately to even excluding someone from the fellowship publicly, the context of the local church is where it happens within the relational intimacy of a regenerate family. It is in this context that discipline happens with a view to joyful restoration. It’s the only way it can happen with the love and grace of a winsome attitude from a family who are mourning the loss of a member because of an unrepentant heart.
If the local church is doing it wrongly, they answer to Christ. This is the beauty of my church family. When it comes to the spiritual integrity of the church in morality and truth, Christ has not set up any other accountability body or person. It happens in the beautiful environment of a body of people whose knowledge of each other is based on the confession of Christ as our Savior and King. It is only in the intimate workings of a church family that authority for discipline is given and can work in both grace and truth.