Church discipline is 'meant to produce joy' not oppression, theology professor says

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Congregations should practice church discipline for staff and members, says a theology professor who believes the practice is "meant to produce joy."

Jeremy Kimble, assistant professor of theology at Cedarville University and elder at Grace Baptist Church in Cedarville, Ohio, was recently interviewed by Dallas Theological Seminary professor Darrell Bock on the podcast "The Table."

In an episode posted online on Tuesday, Bock asked Kimble about the concerns some have with the concept of church discipline, namely that it can create "a pretty grim congregation."

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"Everyone's keeping an eye on everyone to make sure that they're dotting all their i's and crossing all their t's. And there's the danger of almost a kind of legalism setting in the atmosphere, and almost an oppressive kind of environment," said Bock.

Kimble responded that he felt it's important for church discipline to be done with a proper recognition of "what sin actually is," noting that with sin "we reject what is life giving and pure and good, for what is going to produce death and destruction."

"If we can get back to that doctrine of sin, we can then start saying something like, 'Discipline is done for progress and joy in the faith.' It's not meant to produce a, as you said, a grim, austere kind of environment. It's meant to produce joy," replied Kimble.

Kimble then drew a parallel to when a parent disciplines a child and explains to them that "I'm doing this because I love you."

"You always feel as a kid like, 'Aw, that's not true,' but it's loving in actuality, and the long game is that we want joy in Jesus," continued Kimble.

"It's to awaken the sinner to their need for repentance, and Corinthians says to keep the community of faith pure, to not let sin spread as it could."

Bock and Kimble agreed that when elders examine whether to discipline a church member, the process must have extensive deliberation.

"The worst thing you want to do is discipline someone who doesn't deserve it, and deal with whatever the array of factors might be that could be in play. So it's a very, very deliberative process," Bock said.

There is also a potential legal dimension, Bock added, noting that, "in an American legal context," practicing discipline "might get the church into trouble."

"We have some good lawyers in our church that are able to give us some guidance in that regard, as well, to know what kinds of documentation do we need," Kimble replied.

"If you're committed to membership and discipline, and you want to do those things biblically and correctly, and you get into that process, you have to be able to account for, not just church realities, but world realities."

In July, the Kentucky-based Cave City Baptist Church garnered controversy for a news story focused on how the congregation removed several people from their membership roles for various offenses, including low attendance and giving.

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary administrator Hershael York defended Cave City Baptist in a series of Twitter posts, asking the Lexington Herald-Leader, which reported the matter, "if the Rotary Club dismissing members for non-attendance and non-payment of dues is noteworthy."

"Church membership is a covenant relationship. We are accountable to the Lord and to one another," York tweeted earlier this year.

"Worship attendance, service, communion, the ministry of the Word, submission to the elders, and holiness are not arbitrary requirements of membership but mandatory commands of Jesus."

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