Saturday, March 30, 2013

Church reconciliation part 1

Tooth filling. Doctor appointment. Credit card bill. Church discipline. For many Christians, the subject of church discipline would fit in the list of undesirable subjects to approach. Even the term itself often brings up negative thoughts and memories.  Rather than deal with the challenges associated with church discipline, many churches chose not practice it, or at least practice it consistently. Church discipline does not sound loving or even like something the Christ would approve of. In reality, church discipline, if done biblically, is loving and is what Jesus has called the church to do. Rather than ignore it, Christians need to learn what church discipline is, the purpose of it, what the Bible says about it, and how it is to be carried out. Doing so will bring great benefit both to the church, and to those who could face it or who are in the process of this discipline. At some point, all churches will be faced with individuals who are engaged in open sin. What the church does and how it responds will reflect how faithfully it has determined to remain to Jesus and Scripture. There is a good reason why the Belgic Confession says that church discipline is the third mark of a true church.[1]
When the topic of church discipline emerges, a number of objections to practicing it are frequently given. These objections include: People will just go to another church if church discipline is taken against them, people will see the church as overly judgmental, church discipline is too difficult to implement in larger churches, and church discipline fails to reflect the love and grace of Jesus.[2] These objections seem logical, so how should church leadership challenge and correct these ideas? First, church membership as a covenant and with requirements needs to be communicated to church members. Chuck Colson notes:

Why should anyone join a church (which, after all, is a voluntary decision) and then expect to be able to refuse to abide by its authority. For failing to attend a few meetings, one can be thrown out of the Rotary Club. For failing to live up to a particular dress code, one can be dismissed from most private clubs. For failing to perform the required community service, one can be struck off the roles of the Junior League. Yet when the church imposes discipline-denying the benefits of membership to those who flout its standards-it is charged with everything short of fascism. But shouldn’t the church have at least the same right to set its standards as the Rotary Club? People who don’t like it can and should go elsewhere.[3]

The process may not be easy and can take considerable time, but there are steps that can be taken to help the church understand the importance and necessity of church discipline. To begin, church discipline may not be the best term to use, unless it is correctly understood. The goal is to show the church that church discipline is a loving act undergirded with grace, love, and the aim of glorifying God, carried out in the hope that the sinner will repent and be properly reconciled. While church discipline is a good term to use, the “discipline” aspect frightens off many people, who associate discipline with harshness. Instead of saying church discipline, it could be referred to as church reconciliation, which carries a more positive connotation.

[1]See the Belgic Confession, article 29, which says: “The marks, by which the true Church is known, are
these: if the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if she maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in punishing of sin: in short, if all things are managed according to the pure Word of God, all things contrary thereto rejected, and Jesus Christ acknowledged as the only Head of the Church.”

[2]See Alfred Poirier, The Peace Making Pastor (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 226.
[3]Charles Colson and Ellen Vaughn, Being the Body (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 113.


  1. Sadly, I do think church discipline is a bit of an anachronism these days. Yet it's obviously a biblical concept. Sometimes a very harsh one too, just ask Ananias and Saphira (sp?). Obviously, it has been misused as well. Think back about the 'witch trials', or the 'papal bulls' against Martin Luther, one of which excommunicated him from the church and forcing him to go into hiding. (Interestingly, the next papal bull authorized the use of violence in evagelizing).

    Of course, a big problem with the practice of church discipline today is the fact that members will just go find another church. Discipline may lose you members (read money).

    Good points with the Colson quote. I think the biggest may be this perception of being unforgiving, or ungracious, when implementing discipline. Of course, we can easily see where it would be bad parenting to not discipline our own kids.

    Your point about the word 'dicpline' having a negative connotation is one that Will has been making a lot lately. I think it's more of a misunderstanding than a negative meaning.

    God disciplines and God is loving and gracious. The 2 things aren't mutually exclusive.

    Another problem we have as a church and a culture is prideful rebellion. Who is another man to tell me what I can or can't do. Even if he's the pastor, he's still human, he still puts his pants on like me, etc. etc. Yet Hebrews 13 says: Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for 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.

  2. Also, regarding the point I made about church discipline being ungracious....the Catholic church has had a huge scandal with pedophile priests because the church was supposedly being forgiving and gracious to the offenders. The result? More abused and traumatized boys. They just moved the problem into a new surrounding, rather than dealing with it.