Current Page: Opinion | Friday, February 07, 2014
7 Observations on Church Discipline

7 Observations on Church Discipline focuses on the local church, pastors and staff, and leadership. By its very nature, the blog is practical, often citing statistics and sociological research. There are many able persons who focus on areas I do not, such as key biblical and theological matters.

Still, if my blog, or any of my other writings for that matter, do not have biblical foundations, I am nothing more than an amateurish sociologist or a secular researcher. I must constantly ask if everything I write is in line with Scripture. Ultimate truth is found in His Word.

But when I write about church discipline, the topic expands into both biblical teachings, particularly ecclesiology, and practical church ministry. A healthy church is ultimately a biblical church. And there should be little debate about the biblical mandate for churches to exercise church discipline.

Yet the topic of church discipline seems to be primarily reserved for the theologians and a few pastors. Those of us who write about practical ministry and church health rarely mention this topic, even though it is a clear biblical practice. Allow me to note seven observations about church discipline.

1. Church discipline is thoroughly biblical. As examples, note the following passages in Scripture: Matthew 18:15-20; Romans 16:17-18; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11; 13:1-3. Galatians 6:1-2; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12; and Titus 3:9-11.

2. Church discipline is rarely exercised by leaders in local churches. In my own denomination, church discipline began to wane in the 1870s, and is almost non-existent today.

3. Church discipline is perceived by some church members to be authoritarian, judgmental, and legalistic. And, of course, it can be if it is exercised outside the parameters of Scripture, or with the wrong heart and motive. Like many other good things, it can be abused.

4. The introduction of church discipline in a local congregation often results in a schism, and sometimes dismissal of the pastor. Frankly, that is one reason why many leaders avoid the issue.

5. Small steps toward church discipline are often met with opposition. I am specifically referring here to the removal of members from church membership rolls, even some who have not been seen in years.

6. Entry points or new member classes are very helpful. These classes can provide not only information to new or prospective members, but expectations of them as well. Many current church members do not see the local church as a place where they are to serve and model spiritual maturity. An entry point class can establish such expectations. It can also set biblical standards by which church discipline is practiced.

7. Some leaders forget that a key role of church discipline is restoration. Some forget that the goal of discipline is to lead prayerfully toward the restoration of the wayward church member. Church discipline should break our hearts. Restoration should bring us great joy.

I would love to hear from you about church discipline. It is my prayer that one day we will see many congregations bearing the fruit of church discipline: the glory of God; the love of the sinner; the restoration of the wayward; the purity of the church; the protection of the fellowship; and a witness to the world.

Dr. Thom Rainer is president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.