There is a fairly widespread idea according to which "discipline" is a punishment imposed by the assembly on those who disobey certain rules of conduct considered of importance to the believer.
In some churches this punishment consists almost invariably in forbidding the participation in the Lord's Supper, generally imposed by the overseers; they also require the transgressor to attend this meeting regularly but without taking any part until they are satisfied that he has repented of his sin. Supposing the misdemeanours could be classified according to the degree of seriousness, it would seem fair to scale "discipline" in the same proportion. Hence the question put to us.
The verb to chasten (translated to discipline in Portuguese), translated in the Bible from the Greek paideuo has a much wider meaning than this: it primarily denotes to train children, suggesting the broad idea of education: instructing, teaching and making somebody learn by training and punishing, whether by correcting with words, reproving, and admonishing, or by using physical punishment as a father uses the rod to push his child, a judge commands to chastise with blows, to scourge, or God inflicts evils and calamities. Discipline therefore comprehends all the process of education, maturing and perfecting of the believer in his new life with Christ. It includes his instruction, his training and his correction.
It is used by God with the power of His Spirit in its ample sense, in order that His children may come to the perfection of spiritual maturity (Ephesians 6:4, 1 Timothy 3:4, Hebrews 12:7-11). We perceive that this discipline is of the type which a father uses to educate and train his child, in his infancy and youth until he becomes an adult (Deuteronomy 8:5). Nobody, not even a local church, can usurp the authority of God in this process. It is to be noted that, in all the Bible, the words to chasten and chastening or correcting are only used with reference to the loving dealing by God with His people, a father with his son, and a servant of the Lord, in humility, with those who are in opposition (2 Timothy 2:24-26).
In a certain way the local church, which is the house of God (1 Timothy 3:15) is similar to a school: among its members the Holy Spirit constitutes the overseers (called elders, bishops or presbyters - Acts 20:28) responsible for shepherding the flock, more spiritually mature, who are required to be blameless (Titus 1:7); all members come together for learning the Scriptures and putting them into practice in order to reach completeness and be equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17). The local church in this way has a part in the discipline of the believer, in the aspects of instructing, training, and correcting its members in God's ways.
However, in order to answer the question which was made, we shall look at discipline only in the aspect of correcting, for this is where punishment might be involved. Nobody enjoys punishing his brother, on the contrary, this brings sadness to himself and the others. The apostle Paul teaches: "… This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him." (2 Corinthians 2:5-8).
We do not find authority in the Bible for physical punishment by the church, but to correct the character of its members the church has the authority to use words of reprehension and warning, or to use ostracism. Those who are sinning are to be rebuked in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear (1 Timothy 5:20).
Let us see the circumstances and the different corrections:
1. There should be no dispute over doubtful matters, those about which the Scriptures keep silent: the apostle Paul mentioned some which appeared in his time: to eat or not to eat certain things, to keep or not to keep certain days. "Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God." (Romans 14:1-7, 15:7).
2. As regards the Lord's Supper, there is only one warning: "Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body… For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world." (1 Corinthians 11:28-32). It is an individual decision and the punishment comes from the Lord, the only one who can read our heart.
3. "Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted." (Galatians 6:1). It means to fall aside, to stumble: the church must restore him, heal him, in a spirit of gentleness, which is fruit of the Holy Spirit. A reproof, a warning, some gentle counselling are generally sufficient. Let us be on guard lest we are also tempted.
4. "Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, … be patient with all." (1 Thessalonians 5:14). It has to do with the apostles' teaching, which includes obedience and submission to the rulers over the church because "they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you." (Hebrews 13:17).
5. With the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul commands that the members of the church withdraw from every member of the assembly who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition received from him. He referred particularly to those who didn't work at all and were a burden to the others who supported them, and were busybodies. He ordained that "If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.". They are not to keep company with him that he may be ashamed. He is not to be counted as an enemy, but to be admonished as a brother. (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15).
6. As the local church is the house of God, its members must protect it from any contamination (1 Corinthians 5:1-13). They must separate from the company and not even eat with who calls himself a brother but is:
Sexually immoral, according to the standards of conduct in the Bible.
Covetous, to whom material riches come in first place.
An idolater, who worships other things with or above the living God.
A reviler, whose tongue murders the character of others.
A drunkard, willingly giving himself over to alcoholism.
An extortioner who deprives others from their material or immaterial possessions, for his own benefit.
Note that it is not a case of falling under temptation, as we saw in "3", but of a personal characteristic which puts his new birth in doubt. He says he is a brother but does not give any evidence of it, and if he is not, he is worse than the unbelievers because of the influence he may have attained within the local church.
7. To preserve the purity of the faith, it is necessary:
To silence the insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers: they must be rebuked sharply that they may be sound in the faith (Titus 1:10,11).
A divisive man must be rejected after the first and second admonition, for … he is warped and sinning, being self-condemned (Titus 3:10,11). They are the sectarians and the false teachers, who cause divisions and offences (Romans 16:17-20, 1 Timothy 6:3-5).
Not to receive at home nor greet anyone who does not abide in the doctrine of Christ, for he does not have God. (2 John 1:9-10).
"For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.' But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!" (Galatians 5:13-15)