Wednesday, 2 May 2018

What happens when the whole congregation does not consent to the disciplinary action of a member? Must it be a unanimous decision?

     For church discipline to be most effective, everyone in the congregation needs to be involved (Matt. 18:17; 2 Thess. 3:6). Unfortunately, the ideal unanimity is sometimes lacking, making it much more difficult to carry out any aspect of the Lord’s work. Despite the internal division which plagued the Corinth church (cf. 1 Cor. 1:11; 11:17-18), the entire congregation was called upon to discipline the immoral brother in their midst (1 Cor. 5:4-5, 13). Later Paul wrote to them: “This punishment which was inflicted by the majority [hupo tôn pleionôn] is sufficient for such a man” (2 Cor. 2:6).
     The question is whether all or most of the congregation participated in this disciplinary action. It was certainly Paul’s desire that all participate (1 Cor. 5:4-5), and it is possible that this is what transpired. The word pleiôn can be used in the sense of “the many” (cf. 2 Cor. 4:15) and thus apply to the whole congregation from the standpoint of “the large number” involved. Even if pleiôn is translated “the majority,” the rest of the congregation in contrast to the disciplined member is the majority (cf. 1 Cor. 9:19).
     However, the natural sense of pleiôn (cf. 1 Cor. 10:5; 15:6; 2 Cor. 9:2; Phil. 1:14) leaves the impression that a few members of the congregation did not agree with or participate in the disciplinary procedure. There appears to have been a dissenting minority in the Corinth church (2 Cor. 10:2, 10-11; 13:2). But since most of the congregation did heed the apostle’s instructions, this was sufficient to produce the desired effect. This does not, however, excuse the non-compliant members who disobeyed an apostolic injunction (2 Cor. 2:9), and it is certainly not ideal when the decision is less than unanimous. But this passage shows that disciplinary action can (and must) be taken even when some in the congregation are unwilling to comply.
     If something is biblical and right it must be observed, and if something is unscriptural and wrong it must be opposed, whether the whole congregation stands united (Phil. 1:27) or just the majority (2 Cor. 2:6) or only a few (Rev. 3:4). The more dissenting voices there are, however, the greater the division within the body, the weaker the congregation and the bleaker its future (cf. Rev. 2:5, 16, 22; 3:3, 16).
--Kevin L. Moore

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