ARTICLE 69 – Aim of discipline
Church discipline shall be exercised in accordance with the Word of God and to His honour. Its aim is to reconcile the sinner with God and the neighbour, and to remove the offence from the church of Christ.
ARTICLE 70 – Mutual responsibility
If anyone departs from the pure doctrine or is delinquent in conduct and this is a secret matter which does not give rise to public offence, the rule which Christ clearly prescribes in Matthew 18 shall be observed.
ARTICLE 66 – Nature and Purpose
Since church discipline is of a spiritual nature and, as one of the keys of the kingdom of heaven, has been given to the church to shut and to open that kingdom, the consistory shall ensure that it is used to punish sins against both the purity of doctrine and the piety of conduct, in order to reconcile the sinner with the church and with his neighbour, and to remove all offence out of the church of Christ—which can be done only when the rule given by our Lord in Matthew 18:15-17 is followed in obedience.
Ghelijckerwijs de Christelijcke straffe Geestelijck is / ende niemant vanden Borgerlijcke gherichte ende straffe der Overheydt bevrijt / alsoo wordê oock beneffens de Borgerlijcke straffe de Kerckelijcke Censuren nootsaeckelijck vereyst / om den Sondaer met der Kercke ende zijnen naesten te versoenen / ende de ergernisse uyt de Gemeente Christi wegh te nemen.
Wanneer dã yemandt tegen de suyverheydt der Leere ofte vromicheyt des wandels sondight : soo verre als het heymelijck is / ende geen openbare erghernisse ghegheven heeft / soo sal den reghel onderhouden worden / welck Christus duydelijcken voorschrijft, Matth. 18.
English translation of the Church Order of Dort (external link)
Topics related to this article
VanOene, With Common Consent
VanRongen, Decently and in Good Order, art. 69
VanRongen, Decently and in Good Order, art. 70
Discipline is task of the entire congregation, as our Lord also teaches us in Matthew 18. It is not the clergy that disciplines, but the church. Often we tend to forget that a bit, and leave it too much to the consistory. However, it is important for the congregation to be involved and not to let this responsibility be taken away.
Exercising discipline according to God’s Word is the third mark of the Church. Therefore it is important to notice here that discipline shall be exercised in accordance with the Word of God and to His honour. It is easy to assume that your own opinion or interpretation of the Bible is the same as the Word of God, but that is not so. We can err, others can interpret the Bible in a different way, even though they genuinely accept the authority of the Bible. Therefore, it is important that we can show directly from the Bible that what someone is doing is a sin. It is clear when someone is a murderer, a blasphemer, an adulterer, a thief, etc. But there are situations that are not so clear. And then we are mainly speaking about the application of biblical commands in our daily life. For instance: should someone be disciplined who is a member of a trades union? Membership of a trades union in itself is not sinful. However, if we can show that membership of a union forces Christians to act against God’s commandments, or that by their membership they actively support and show agreement with godless acts of the union, then it can come to the point that someone has to be admonished.
An interesting question is: “What is the purpose of discipline?” When I ask this question, during church visitations or on other occasions, I often get the answer “To keep the Lord’s Supper holy!” While that is in itself not wrong, this is not the main purpose of discipline. It is a result, but the first purpose is to reconcile the sinner with God and with his neighbour. How do we determine whether someone is sinning? Paul writes to Timothy: “Some men’s sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later. Likewise, the good works of some are clearly evident, and those that are otherwise cannot be hidden.” (2 Timothy 5:24-25). With that God teaches us that sins will be visible in someone’s life, sooner or later, so that we do not need to have doubt whether someone is a sinner. However, that also means that sometimes we can err when we think a brother is sinning. Joshua 22:10-34 teaches us how wrong we can be if we only base ourselves on superficial stories and do not know the whole truth. Therefore, the church must be very careful in exercising discipline and it should start with those who are closest to the sinner (‘the rule of Matthew 18’). They are the ones who know the sinner the best and are best placed to judge whether the brother/sister is truly a sinner or not. If someone in his/her daily life shows to be a child of God and a genuine believer, but in one aspect he/she disagrees with others, then we must be very careful. It might be that we are too strict in our judgments and then we need to study the Bible again, to make sure whether we are correct. We should stand on a firm basis before we start to admonish the other. Or it may be that the other is wrong, but doesn’t see it as such. If he is willing in his entire life to submit to the church but errs in one specific area, we have to determine whether and how this is going to affect his relationship with God and with the neighbour and according to that we should decide how to deal with it and if discipline is really the right answer. It may also mean that we need a lot of patience with this brother/sister and try to instruct or convince him/her. Always keep in mind: the goal of discipline is to reconcile the sinner with God and with his neighbour.