Church Discipline: Third Degree

church-discipline-3“And 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-gatherer.” (Matthew 18:3 NASB)

This Scripture is one of the harshest Scriptures in the entire Bible, and many people hate and disagree with this verse. Let me tell you, I have seen this verse hideously distorted, and the pain that it has caused people who are dear to me through its misapplication has been unbelievable, especially if first and second degree has never occurred. Yes, four times in my life I have personally witnessed third degree happening BEFORE first and second degree. Never, EVER do this to people, because they might leave God forever because of the grievous sin of the church against them. At best, it leaves a permanent scar, after causing the sweet Christian to crumple up in so much pain that he doesn’t know where to turn. Because, you see, his heart was open to God, and you committed spiritual capital punishment against him before he even knew what he did.

God has created third degree church discipline as the spiritual capital punishment for the vilest offenders who have hearts of stone and continue to refuse to repent. That is why God has created it to be so unbelievably painful. For example, if a man is unfaithful to his wife, and several people have confronted him already and he refuses to repent, he needs to be thrown out of the church. Maybe if this happens, he will realize, “Oh wait a minute. My sin has more ramifications than I thought. What I justified in my heart is actually wrong and has deeply wounded my wife. The church is holding me accountable for this, and rightly so.” Then he comes to his senses, like the prodigal in the pig slop.

Stealing is another reason to throw someone out of the church. But it’s better just to send them to jail. If someone is harming other people, this is the only reason I believe that a person should be thrown out of the church.

If someone has an “attitude,” that is NOT something that I believe someone should be thrown out of the church for. For example, someone was accused of pride. Okay… If you’ve already confronted them about the ugliness of their sin, at this point, just pray for them. After all, EVERYONE has too much pride. Heart issues are NEVER something that you should be thrown out of church for.

I would also like to mention informal third degree, because it happens all the time, and it is just as painful as being thrown out of the church. This is when people in a position of power, usually the pastor, an elder, or a Bible study leader, block a person from meeting with other believers because of a perceived sin. If the person in power has never confronted that person gently one-on-one, he has no right to throw him out of a Bible study. The guy doesn’t even know he did something wrong, for crying out loud.

If the first time a person is confronted includes the eldership, and it is only something based on heresay, this is completely bewildering to the person being attacked. That person can’t defend themselves and try to understand the situation because it is considered insubordination to the pastor. But he has NEVER heard of his sin. How then can he understand what he did, if everyone is ganging up against him and no one will listen? I’m telling you, this is demonic. It causes the internal destruction of the church. Most people can’t survive this. They will leave the church and never go back.

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8 Responses to “Church Discipline: Third Degree”

  1. Yes this is designed to cause a person to repent so that he can be restored. The problem is people these days don’t think there should be consequences. They have a “if you’re spiritual you’ll just forgive me” kind of attitude. I wonder if this has started in the lack of discipline of children…so they don’t expect it when they are older.

    • Susan Evans says:

      I agree with you that people in this country expect there to be no consequences for their actions. It would be wonderful if the church actually did church discipline correctly, which means that ordinary people would do first degree all the time. You would hardly ever need second degree, which is still not damaging to a person’s reputation. What I can’t stand is for third degree to be inflicted out of the blue. It’s morally wrong to damage a person by sinning against them like that. The pastor and elders are accountable to God for their misuse of power and their outright disobedience to the Word of God concerning church discipline.

  2. Christie Gibson says:

    The Church should be a gathering of believers, ideally in such fellowship that the removal of fellowship has meaning.
    Those doing any kind of exhortation should be humble servants of the King and preferably those who don’t have a dog in the fight and whose only goal is for God’s Name to be glorified (not theirs or their best friend’s).

    • Susan says:

      God’s name to be glorified is usually not the reason people are thrown out of church. They are usually thrown out because the leaders don’t want to hear the truth. Unless the person has committed a biblical crime, it is morally wrong to commit capital punishment on them through excommunication.

  3. Lori says:

    I have only seen the third degree applied one time in my life. The elderly lady was put out of church after 30 years for telling the truth about a horrible act the pastor had been caught in. I’ll never forget her being ushered out the church by the two largest men on staff. Six months later, the pastor was removed from position. Everyone involved needs complete spiritual guidance from God.

    Susan, you have a way of explaining these degrees as simple as possible, and I appreciate that. Thank you.

  4. Donna says:

    I had a friend whose husband had an affair on her. He ended up leaving the church. We have such an entitlement society now. No one takes responsibility. The Pastor counseled my friend’s husband, but didn’t ask him to leave. I imagine if the pastor had asked him to leave, her husband would have left with the excuse that someone else made him do it. There is so much confusion in the world. When we justify our sins, we cannot receive conviction.

    • Susan says:

      We do have an entitlement society. People who commit evil against others ought to come to justice. That’s what 3rd degree church discipline is supposed to do, when it’s done right.

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