The Forgotten Commandment by Ed Smithson

David R. Kenney

This is one of the best books on church discipline I have seen. There are probably other good books on this subject, but I have yet to find one that is superior, considering its conciseness. Perhaps the book would be more accurately titled The Ignored Commandment rather than the forgotten one. That church discipline is commanded in the New Testament is readily apparent to all who are familiar with the contents of the Sacred Book. 

When reviewing materials on church discipline, I always search how it deals with those who forsake and abandon the assembly. To be clear, reference is not to those who occasionally have to miss due to sickness or work. Also, reference is not to those who cannot participate in every program in which the church may be involved. Under consideration are those who have made it a habit of missing – to the point that newer members may never even realize that person was ever a member of the church. 

In this book, Smithson elaborates accurately on some of the excuses used to exempt themselves from disciplining those who forsake the assembly. The writer explains: “In recent years brethren have come up with another device to try to get away from taking action in the form of withdrawal of fellowship from those who will not attend the services. For years we have heard ‘They have withdrawn from us, therefore we cannot withdraw from them.’” (Smithson, page 27).

Smithson provides many effective points that refute this dangerous notion. 

First, we are to withdraw from those who walk disorderly—“But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.” (2 Thessalonians 3:6). The word “disorderly” is a military term meaning “to be disorderly of soldiers marching out of order or quitting ranks to be neglectful of duty, to be lawless to lead a disorderly life." [1] When one forsakes the church, there is no clearer example of walking disorderly. 

Second, refusing to discipline an erring Christian up to and including the point of withdrawal clearly contradicts the parable of the lost sheep. The church is supposed to go out and search/recover those who have become lost in the world. In Bible Class the other day, we were discussing this verse, and a military person pointed out another military principle here—“No man left behind.”

That the church has been somewhat negligent in this matter, each will have to determine. I know of a congregation that has not withdrawn from an erring member in over twenty years. Some may not have elders and believe that gives them a pass on this command. However, while not having an eldership to oversee a progressive discipline process may make the process more challenging, it does not make it impossible. In fact, if one reads Jesus’ explanation of progressive discipline concerning personal offenses, in Matthew 18:15-17, there is no reference to elders in the process. Of course, elders should be consulted in these matters, and it is probably best for them to be included in phase two (not phase one) of the process. One has to ask, honestly, is it a lack of need or a lack of heed?

This book addresses several other key principles of church discipline and objections to its practice in a very effective way. 

One final point I want to emphasize is that administering discipline is an act of love. The goal is always the restoration of the soul to God. When we resist practicing church discipline as God has commanded, we are either implying we do not believe in God’s plan or we do not care what God has said. God’s plan works, and we must give serious consideration to these matters. This book appears to be designed for class study and is an excellent resource for those who need to return to the old paths; cf., Jeremiah 6:16. -29 Flora Dr., Bedford, OH 44146-2011.


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