Since the first Pentecost following the resurrection of Christ, God recognizes only faithful members of the church of Christ as the saved of the earth (Acts 2:47). These persons who heard the Word of God, had faith in Christ formed in them by their correct understanding of the Word (the Gospel; Mark 16:15-16; Romans 1:16), repented of their sins, confessed their faith in Christ, and baptized (immersed) in water by the authority of Christ into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in order to obtain the remission (forgiveness) of sins (Romans 10:17; Acts 17:30; Romans 10:10; Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 2:38; Romans 6: 3-4; I Peter 3:21; Acts 22:16). This is God’s plan of salvation. It is obligatory upon man. Less than these steps in God’s plan one cannot do and be saved from his sins. More than what this plan of salvation requires God does not demand of one in order for him to be saved from sin. Only persons who have complied with the preceding plan of salvation are authorized to be fellowshipped by other children of God (Acts 2:41; Ephesians 5:23).
In order to remain in fellowship with God, church members must continue to live according to the New Testament teaching regarding Christian living (Acts 2:42; I John 1:7). Since space does not allow for a detailed discussion of obligatory matters in Christian living, suffice it to say that obligatory matters relating to faithfulness pertain to what Christians must do to remain saved. A child of God who ceases to submit to any or all of God’s obligatory laws (New Testament principles that one must abide by in order to remain saved or faithful) must have any relationship between himself and faithful members of the Lord’s church terminated.
Christians must understand that all the processes or means by which the church teaches and trains its members to “walk in the light” is disciplinary in nature. However, I am emphasizing the responsibility of faithful members to restore wayward members and to keep the church pure by withdrawing fellowship from those who are determined to live disorderly lives (lives not in submission to the obligatory matters of the Gospel of Christ or those who create factions by making laws for God and splitting the church by striving to make other Christians submit to them as if they were obligatory in nature). The design of all church discipline is to save erring brethren and to keep the church pure in life and teaching.
When the church fails to discipline her members she is not doing all God demands her to do and be. It is a sin of omission (James 4:17). God intends for the church of Christ to be His influence for good on the earth. When church members are allowed to be impure, it is impossible for the mission of the church to be accomplished as God intended. Hence, when members of the church persist in sin, faithful brethren must labor to get the unfaithful to repent. However, if in time a church member adamantly refuses to repent, the church is to withdraw itself from the rebellious member. This means that this person is not to enjoy the fraternal association that exists between and among faithful members of the church of Christ (Romans 16:17-18; I Corinthians 5; II Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15; Galatians 6:1-2). Sins that have their beginning in private between two brethren are taught by Christ to be handled according to Matthew 18:15-17. Furthermore, elders who will not demand that such be routinely preached and practiced are themselves sinning and need to repent. If they refuse to amend their ways, they become subjects for corrective church discipline themselves.
David P. Brown