CLASSES OF CHURCH DISCIPLINE
There are three kinds or classes of church discipline mentioned in the Scriptures: (1) Cases which deal with personal offenses. (2) Cases which deal with public offenses. (3) Cases which deal with doctrinal offenses. Each of these should be dealt with differently. God gives us a plan, in His Word, for each separate kind. Let us consider them in the order named above.
1. Personal differences, Matt. 18:15-17. Details for such offenses are very clearly given here by the Lord Himself. We read "Moreover if thy brother trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican."
Observe here that no mention is made of a church-sent committee. There is neither precept nor example for the appointment of a committee by the church to settle the matter. The above mentioned Scripture, as spoken by the Lord Himself, plainly states the manner in which we are to deal with personal offenses. When this plan is followed in spirit and in practice, the Lord will recognize it in heaven, Matt. 18:18. Heaven is the headquarters for all the Lord's churches, and all things that are done according to His divine plan are recognized and endorsed in heaven. Jesus is the Head over all things to His churches, and He is in heaven at the right hand of the Father.
2. Public offenses, I Cor. 5:1-13. In this passage we have an example of how to deal with one who has committed a public offense against the church, the house of God. The ground required for dealing with such an offender is, according to Paul's instruction to the church at Corinth, a local congregation, on the basis of a common report based on facts.
First, before a church can act upon any case, her members must be gathered together, assembled, I Cor. 5:4. This cannot be done by circulating a petition around to the members. Bear in mind the Scripture reads "Let all things be done decently and in order," I Cor. 14:40. Paul warns of the danger of allowing such matters to go uncurbed and unnoticed too long. Observe I Cor. 5:6, 7 "Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?" A little sin and a little worldliness in the lives of a few of the members, if not removed, will soon corrupt the whole congregation. The remedy is found in verse 6: "Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump." In verses 4 and 5 of this chapter the Corinthians are told what to do with the offender, "Deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh (not the soul) that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." From this we understand that it is an injustice to the offender to allow him to go undisciplined. To do so will cause him to lose respect for the house of God.
In this passage we are instructed that we cannot, as a church, bother those wicked persons not in our membership, for God will deal with them. As far as those who are in the membership are concerned, the church has a Scriptural right as well as a responsibility to deal with them. Let us read I Cor. 5:12, 13: "For what have I to do to judge there also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person." This is to be done on the basis of a common report. No church committee is mentioned...
Another example of public offenses is found in II Thess. 3:6: "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received from us." This is a direct command to the church at Thessalonica. As in the case of the Corinthian church, there is no mention of a church committee. Just simply a common report based on facts that satisfies the church is all that is needed...
3. Heretical offenses. In Titus 3:10, Paul gives instructions regarding disciplinary measures as applied to doctrinal offenders. We read: "A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject." This is not hard to understand, is it? Such an offender is to be admonished twice; after that, if he is not in harmony with sound doctrine he is to be rejected. As in the other cases, we find here no church-appointed committee is authorized to deal with the offender. The practice of churches naming committees to effectuate discipline is completely without Scriptural sanction. Accordingly, such a practice is a human invention, the which, instead of helping a church out of trouble, betrays churches into more and deeper trouble.
...We are insisting, however, that the Scriptures nowhere suggest nor make provision for a committee to function in church discipline. In fact, the practice of appointing of committees to chase down rumors against members, or to try members, is borrowed from some so-called churches, rather than found in the Word of God. God has given us no such example. By common report, as referred to above, we mean a report on which the church can rely as evidence on which it may deal with a disorderly member of any of the above-named offenses.
From Church Discipline by Lester Stewart Walker, 1913--1982