Section 1: Formative Discipline
Every disciple (follower) of Christ must be under His discipline (His instruction and correction), which He administers to each one, both personally (Acts 5: 1 11; 1 Corinthians 11:30 32; 1 Thessalonians 4:6; Hebrews 12:5 11; Revelation 2:22-23) and through the church (I Corinthians 12:12 17; Galatians 6: 1; Ephesians 4:11 16; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; Hebrews 3:12 14). Mutual submission to one another and to the overseers whom the Lord has set over His church (Ephesians 5:2 1; 1 Peter 5:5) will result in the sanctification of each member individually and of the whole body of the church collectively. There are occasions, however, when formative discipline alone is insufficient and corrective discipline becomes necessary.
Section 2: Corrective Discipline
Paragraph A: General Statement
Corrective discipline becomes necessary when heretical doctrine or disorderly, immoral, or scandalous conduct appears among the members of the church. As a general rule and whenever feasible, an effort must be made to resolve the difficulty, correct error, and remove offense through counsel and admonition before more drastic steps are taken (Galatians 6:1; James 5:19,20). The principles in Matthew 18:15 17; Romans 16:17 20; 1 Corinthians 5:1 13; 2 Thessalonians 3:6 15; 1 Timothy 5:19-20, and Titus 3:10 must be carefully and appropriately applied to each and every case of corrective discipline. In some cases, public admonition may be warranted (Matthew 18:17; 1 Timothy 5:20). In other cases, some of the privileges of membership of the church may need to be suspended and appropriate strictures imposed (Romans 16:17 20; 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15). In the most extreme cases, excommunication from the membership of the church may be necessary (Matthew 18:17; Romans 16:17 20; 1 Corinthians 5:1 13; 1 Timothy 1:20; Titus 3: 10).
Since the church is a spiritual and religious institution, the punishments inflicted by the church in corrective discipline are also spiritual (2 Corinthians 2:6-7; 10:4). They include public, verbal reproof (Matthew 18:17; 1 Timothy 5:20), social avoidance (Romans 16:17; 1 Corinthians 5:9 11; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-14), and the withdrawal of distinctive Christian fellowship (Matthew 18:17; 1 Corinthians 5:13; 2 John 10), and are intended to effect repentance through a sense of sorrow and shame (2 Corinthians 2:7; 2 Thessalonians 3:14). The church has no right, however, to confiscate goods, revoke conjugal rights, or inflict corporal punishment of any kind. Nevertheless, a member guilty of criminal actions may be delivered to civil authorities according to the rule of Scripture (Romans 13:1 5; 1 Peter 4:15). The goals of corrective discipline are always the glory of God, the welfare and purity of the church (1 Corinthians 5:6), and the restoration and spiritual growth of the offender (1 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Corinthians 2:5 8; 1 Timothy 1: 10).
Paragraph B: Public Reproof or Censure
Public reproof consists of a pastoral effort, before the gathered church, to call an impenitent church member or church members to repentance for sin too serious to merely be covered by love. The elders may administer public censure whenever, in their judgment, public misconduct (Galatians 2:11 14; 1 Timothy 5:20), patterns of sin (Titus 1: 12-13), or serious doctrinal error (Titus 1:10 13) pose a significant threat to the godliness, unity, or testimony of the congregation. Those who humbly receive the word of public reproof, own and confess their sin, and manifest a transformed life (Proverbs 28:13), shall afterward be publicly commended for their godly repentance (2 Corinthians 7:7 11). If the reproof is not heeded, further discipline may be imposed.
Paragraph C. Suspension of Privileges
Some misconduct of the part of a member is so detrimental to the unity, holiness, and testimony of the church, that the Lord requires public reproof to be accompanied by the suspension of some or all of the privileges of membership according to the nature and gravity of the offense (Romans 16:17 20; 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15). In all cases of suspension, the offending person is still to be regarded as a brother in Christ and as a member of the church, and not as a wicked man cut off from distinctly Christian fellowship (Matthew 18:17; 2Thessalonians 3:15). In addition, the Lord wills that this severe reproof be expressed and enforced by the entire church (Matthew 18:17; Romans 16:17 20; 2 Thessalonians 3:6,14-15). Therefore, in accordance with the procedures outlined below for each of the five major categories of offenses, the elders shall, at regular or specially called congregational meeting, recommend to the congregation that the offending brother be suspended, specifying the grounds for the discipline, the privileges to be revoked, and the strictures to be imposed. To be valid, an act of suspension must have the approval of at least two thirds of the members in good standing, present and voting. In the interest of maintaining a climate of peace, the elders shall have the right, at their sole discretion, to impose a temporary suspension on a member during the brief interval between their determination to recommend suspension and the congregational vote. A member under suspension shall be treated by the congregation according to the specific applications of the general principle of social avoidance (Romans 16:17 20; 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15) determined by the elders. Those who humbly submit to the imposed discipline shall afterward be forgiven, have their privileges restored, and be publicly received back into the full fellowship of the church (Matthew 18:15; 2 Corinthians 2:5 11).
The general grounds and generic categories of sin which require suspension are as follows:
1. A stubborn private offender (Matthew 18:15 17)
When a private offense remains unresolved, even after the method prescribed by our Lord in Matthew 18:15-16 has been graciously and prayerfully followed it is considered an aggravated offense.
The brethren involved shall bring the matter to the elders who, if the judge the matter serious enough and cannot persuade the brother to repent, shall report the situation to the church, and recommend that the stubborn brother be suspended (Matthew 18:17). It even after suspension, the person remains adamant in his sin, excommunication shall be enacted according to the procedure outlined in Paragraph D of this Article (Matthew 18:17).
2. Divisive teachings or behavior (Romans 16:17 20; Titus 3: 10)
When a member deliberately persists in the propagation of serious doctrinal error contrary to Scripture and our confession, or attempts to sow discord among us contrary to Scripture and this constitution, he may be suspended as a factious man. Since every member is responsible to help preserve the unity of the Spirit (Ephesians 4:3), none of us are to conceal such divisive behavior, but rather reprove it and disclose it to the elders (Deuteronomy 13:6, I Corinthians 1:10-11). Whenever the elders become aware of divisive behavior they are to confront it meekly and patiently according to the Word of God (I Corinthians 1:10 4:2 1; Titus 3:10). If, after receiving repeated admonition from the elders, a member persists in such behavior, the elders shall report the situation to the church and recommend that the divisive brother be suspended. If, even after suspension, the person remains adamant in sowing discord or in spreading serious doctrinal errors, excommunication shall be enacted according to the procedure outlined in Paragraph D of this Article.
3. Disorderly behavior (2 Thessalonians 3:6 15)
When a member deliberately persists in conduct which displays a flagrant or public disregard for either the order appointed by God for all mankind in the creation ordinances, namely, work and Sabbath (Genesis 2:1 3,15; Exodus 20:8 11; 2 Thessalonians 3:6 15) and marriage (Genesis 2:18 24; 1 Corinthians 7:1 17,39; 1 Timothy 5:8; Titus 2:5), or the order established by Christ for His church in Scripture (1 Corinthians 11: 17 34; 1 Corinthians 14:37 40; 1 Timothy 3:14-15) and adapted to our congregation in this constitution, he may be suspended as a disorderly man (2 Thessalonians 3:10 12). If, even after receiving such admonition from the elders, a member persists in this behavior, the elders shall report the situation to the church and recommend that the disorderly brother be suspended (2 Thessalonians 3:14,15). If, even after suspension, the person remains adamant in disorderliness, excommunication shall be enacted according to the procedures outlined in Paragraph D of this Article.
4. A scandalous sin
If a member has sinned scandalously but shows hopeful signs of repentance, including submission to the admonition of the elders, it would be wrong to excommunicate him. It may still be necessary, however, to suspend him for a time from some of the privileges of membership lest reproach be brought upon the name of Christ and the church (2 Samuel 12:14; Romans 2:24), lest others be emboldened to sin (1 Timothy 5:20), and lest the offender himself fail to test his own soul and realize the gravity of his offense (Hebrews 3:12-13).
5. Contempt of church discipline
If a person is accused or suspected of gross sin and absents himself from the congregation, refusing to meet with the elders that the matter may be investigated, such a person may be suspended from all privileges of membership (Numbers 16:12, 20, 23 27; Matthew 18:17). The elders may recommend at a later date to the congregation that this person be either excluded or excommunicated.
Paragraph D: Excommunication
1. Some types of conduct must be categorized as “immoral” (1 Corinthians 5:9-11; 6:9-10), and a member blatantly and impenitently guilty of such conduct must be cut off from the fellowship of the church (Matthew 18:17; 1 Corinthians 5:3 5,13). In such a case, the elders shall make earnest efforts to bring the offender to true repentance and reformation, but if these efforts fail, they shall report the same to the congregation at a regular or specially called business meeting of the church and recommend that the offender be excommunicated, which must be done, according to Scripture by the action of the entire church (Matthew 18:17; 1 Corinthians 5:4). To be valid, an act of excommunication must have the approval of at least two thirds of the members in good standing, present and voting.
2. Likewise, some wrong opinions regarding the doctrines of Scripture are so serious that they must be categorized as “heretical” (Galatians 1:6 9; 1 Timothy 4:1), and a member who persists in propagating or holding any such position, in spite of earnest and patient admonition by the elders, shall be excommunicated in the same manner as an immoral person.