Question & Answer Forum: Discipline & Oversight Meetings

Is there ever a time when a case of assembly discipline should be made known in a community and not kept among the believers in the assembly?

Without any context for this question, I am assuming the discipline involves a sin requiring excommunication from the assembly (1Cor 5). In this context, the name of the Lord Jesus is invoked as the primary reason for necessity of discipline of individuals within the assembly. In being “gathered unto His Name” each local assembly is collectively responsible to honor the holiness of His presence, and to uphold the authority of His Word. His Name must be disassociated from flagrant known evil. The next priority given in the passage is the holiness of the rest of the saints, and the danger of a defiling influence if the sin is not purged. A third reason implied in the passage is restoration and reconciliation of the sinning brother. This is the happier possibility encouraged in 2 Corinthians 2:5-11.

The issue of testimony in the community is not directly stated, but implied in 1 Corinthians 5:1, as well as in the following chapter where the shame of brothers in Christ “going to law … before unbelievers” is highlighted. Clearly, the general principle is to refrain from spreading the shame of the family of God among the outside community. Yet it is also clear that the Lord demands discipline of sin, even though it may result in public disgrace and dishonor to His Name in the community. The Old Testament example of King David’s sin and the subsequent discipline upon him reinforces this principle. Making a parallel with 1Corinthians 5 again, if a professed believer’s sin has already become a public scandal in the community, then there would be a justification for the discipline also to be made known, to clear the assembly from association with a person involved in wickedness. This would be particularly true if the person continues unrepentantly in the evil. Another possible situation would be evil which requires notification of legal authorities, such as child abuse, and/or where a person’s behavior could be a threat to the safety of others in the community. The public shame that has befallen a number of denominations for failing to discipline and disclose the evil perpetrated in their midst has multiplied the damage to the credibility of Christianity. At the same time, both from a moral and a legal standpoint, great care is required in making public any alleged information about another person.

Bruce Rodgers

Is there a Scriptural basis for an oversight meeting to which all in the assembly are not invited?

The New Testament pattern of leadership in the local assembly involves oversight by a plurality of elders (Acts 14:23; Phil 1:1; 1Peter 5:1-4). On a number of occasions, the apostle Paul consulted with elders as a group, in distinction from the assembly as a whole. In Acts 15, a crisis erupted among Gentile assemblies when certain men from Judea taught the necessity of circumcision for salvation. If we correlate the narrative of Acts 15 with Galatians 2:1-10, it appears that Paul and Barnabas met privately with the apostles and elders at Jerusalem first, as well as in the more public discussions that included “the whole church” intimated in the text of Acts 15. This reveals the important balance of seeking consensus and harmony among the leadership of the assembly first, then also seeking harmony in the whole assembly on an issue. We have a further example in Acts 20, when Paul bypassed Ephesus on the way to Jerusalem, but called the elders of the assembly to meet with him at Miletus to give them his farewell charges as shepherds of the flock. Similarly, when Paul arrived in Jerusalem he arranged a meeting with James, along with all of the elders (Acts 21:18-25). They evidently felt it necessary to consult together to handle potential problems among the believers in Jerusalem regarding Paul’s teaching toward Jewish believers among the Gentiles.

In 1 Timothy 3:4-5 an interesting parallel is made between an overseer in the assembly and a father with his family. Just as a father and mother should consult together privately so that they can harmoniously work together to manage the children, so the elders of the assembly should consult together frequently before God in view of caring for His family. Decisions being made will require a balance of consultation and confidentiality, which would be impossible if the whole assembly were always present.

Bruce Rodgers