Informal Church Discipline:
For the community of believers to live in peace with one another, we must all practice a type of informal church discipline (without the elder session’s involvement). This means that as Christ’s body, we should know what is expected of us concerning how we treat one another, and how to take care of our own sin issues. The only way for everyone to be on the same page with this expectation, is to saturate ourselves in the Word of God – learn from it, gain wisdom from it, and apply to ourselves first, before applying it to our brother. Here are a few examples of Scripture that teaches us how to live joyfully with each other: Self-discipline (prayer, Bible study, song/psalm singing, evangelism, encouraging others, letting others serve you, etc.): Exercising self-control or applying self-correction (avoiding temptation, victory over temptation, confession of sin and repentance); Overlooking the minor failings of others in love (1 Pet. 4:8). Therefore, informal discipline is applied by an individual or multiple members of the church without the formal action of the elders or the church as a body.
Informal admonishment: Encouraging one another to faithfulness and warning others in love to guard their hearts and minds against specific temptations and sins (Matt. 18:15).
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Mat 18:15-20)
Formal Church Discipline:
If the practice of informal discipline of brother confronting brother has not turned his heart to confession and repentance, then those who are aware of the need for further admonishment or inquiry are expected to bring it to the attention of the elders. In the case of open and scandalous sin, there is no requirement to attempt private resolution of the matter, and it should be brought to the elders without delay. Formal discipline should be pursued only after scriptural prerequisites have been satisfied , (Matt. 18:15-20), and the elders have looked thoroughly into the matter. In extraordinary situations, the elders have the authority to take immediate disciplinary action if the honor of Christ or the purity of the church is directly threatened by a failure to act. Formal church discipline is applied through the formal action and unanimous judgment of the elders. Formal discipline occurs only under the authority and oversight of the elders.
Formal Private Admonishment:
When a brother or sister is in sin and remains unrepentant, rejecting informal admonition, one or two members of the church, appointed by the elders, will formally inquire and admonish them in private, pleading earnestly for their repentance and solemnly warning them of the dire spiritual consequences and judgment that may follow if they fail to repent (Matt. 18:16).
In some cases, considering the gravity or scandalous character of the sin, the elders may decide to suspend the brother or sister from the Table, from positions of responsibility or leadership, or from normal fellowship so that they may be ashamed and repent (2 Thess. 3:14-15).
Formal Public Admonishment:
In some cases, considering the gravity and scandalous nature of the sin, the elders may decide to admonish and warn the brother or sister publicly so that they may be ashamed and repent (2 Thess. 3:14-15).
When all other informal and formal measures and admonishments have failed to bring about the desired repentance, or in extraordinary situations where the honor of Christ or the purity of the church demand immediate action, the elders must proceed to formally charge the brother or sister of specific, willful, and unrepentant violations of God’s Law and try them accordingly in a fair, just, solemn and timely manner. The most severe judgment which may be brought against a brother or sister convicted at trial is excommunicative censure, which is exclusion from the Supper and being regarded as an unbeliever.
Those Subject to Church Discipline:
To whom can church discipline be administered to? Anyone who is a member of a member household, including children, are under the authority of the governing elders and therefore, subject to the discipline of the church. However, the elders will seek to work with the parents, taking into account the age and circumstances of the child. In the case of children who have not come to the Lord’s Supper over a period of years, the elders will begin offering pastoral help to the head of that household. If the child leaves the household without ever having made such a profession of faith, or if the child falls into obvious and scandalous sin, then the elders will solemnly warn the child of the spiritual hazards in rejecting a biblical upbringing, and urge him to repent and believe. If the warning is not heeded, then the elders will remove the child’s name from the list of member households.
Professing Christians under discipline by other churches:
If another church has disciplined one of its members, and that person subsequently comes to our church, then the elders will decide whether to honor the discipline of the other church after due consultation with the person concerned and after all appropriate information is obtained from the disciplining church.
Professing Christians who attend the church regularly, but who are not members, may be rebuked, but not excommunicated. Though the Lord’s Supper may be withheld from them.
Formal Pre-trial Procedures
When the elders determine that formal discipline is necessary, they will initiate the biblical means to admonish or suspend the brother or sister in a fair, just, solemn and timely manner. The elders shall establish the specific procedures for each admonishment and/or suspension, singly or in combination, on a case-by-case basis, as appropriate to the circumstances and individuals involved. However, at minimum these procedures should include:
Formal Private Admonishment: When a brother or sister is in sin and they remain unrepentant, and the elders have admonished them as described above, the elders will inform them that this admonishment is the first step in formal church discipline. Failure to heed this private admonishment and to repent will lead to further discipline that may conclude in trial and excommunication from Christ’s church.
Formal Public Admonishment: When the elders decide to admonish a brother or sister publicly as described above, the elders will inform them that this admonishment is the first (or second) step in formal church discipline. Failure to heed this public admonishment and to repent will lead to further discipline that may conclude in trial and excommunication from Christ’s church.
Suspension: When the elders decide suspension is in order as described above, the elders will inform the person suspended that this admonishment is the first (or second) step in formal church discipline. Failure to heed this suspension and to repent will lead to further discipline that may conclude in trial and excommunication from Christ’s church.
Formal Trial Procedures
When the elders determine that a trial is necessary, they will endeavor to use all biblical means to conduct a fair, just, solemn and timely trial. The elders shall establish the specific procedures for each trial on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the circumstances and individuals involved. However, at minimum these procedures should include:
Informing the accused of the detailed charges against them in writing, including the time, place, and date of the trial, and giving them ample time for the preparation of a defense;
Informing the congregation’s heads of households at the next regularly scheduled household meeting;
At the trial, one of the elders will open with prayer and a solemn charge from the Word of God on the responsibilities of those present;
Granting the accused time to make a reasonable defense at the trial, to reply and answer all charges, and to cross examine all witnesses called to testify;
Taking a separate vote by the elders on each of the charges, if there are more than one, only after all the evidence has been presented, all relevant considerations have been fairly addressed, and the elders have had time to deliberate and prayerfully consider the matter; and
Declaring publicly the judgment and actions of the elders regarding the accused on an appointed Lord’s day, following an explanation and exhortation appropriate for the occasion, and providing the accused with a written copy of the judgment of the elders;
Making an official file containing all the records pertaining to the excommunication, including pertinent correspondence, transcripts, and minutes. If he requests it, the convicted member will be given one copy of this file at the expense of the church.
Any appeals to presbytery will be conducted in accordance with the Constitution of the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches.
The excommunication shall be ended when, in the unanimous opinion of the elders, the one under discipline has been restored through repentance and rededication, or conversion. A confession by the individual under discipline will be read to the congregation on the Lord’s Day, and the elders shall announce the end of the disciplinary action to the church.
What are we saying when we excommunicate a person from the church? We are saying that he is not a Christian. He is not a member of the covenant community, were he to die right this moment, he would not go to heaven. We do this for several reasons, other than out of pure obedience: first, to protect the church from impurity (I Cor. 5:6-7; 15:33; Deut. 13:11); to bring about restoration of the fallen brother (v. 20 b; I Cor. 5:5; II Cor. 2:6-8; Gal. 6:1-2); and for the sake of the reputation of Christ.
He is to be regarded as an unbeliever and an outsider (Mt. 18:17). Our pronouncement does not make him a non-believer, it recognizes and declares that he is a non-believer (Mt. 18:18-20). If the non-believer has abandoned his believing spouse, he can Biblically be divorced. He can also be taken to court (I Co. 6:1ff; 7:12). He is outside the protection of the church and covenant. He can, however, come to church. In fact we would ask him to come to church. He may participate in every way with us, but he may not participate in the Lord’s Supper. He should be evangelized like any other non-believer, but not allowed to think he is a believer.