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