I am frequently asked about my thoughts on church discipline. I’ve learned that most of the time, when someone asks, they have a personal agenda they are attempting to address, far more than they have a concern for Biblical accuracy.
They may know someone who committed a specific sin they feel warrants discipline. Sometimes they were injured by someone and want to make sure the person is properly disciplined. They may even want to be a part of the “prayer” process…and they want details…so they can pray (and gossip) appropriately.
If it sounds like I have an angst against church discipline…maybe I do. It’s not that I’m against it. I do believe there is a place for church discipline. How can I not? The Bible addresses it. It’s just that most of the time when I’ve seen it spoken of it seems more like retribution than something Biblical. I’m against that! I think punishment was nailed to a cross.
- Should we being doing more church discipline? Yes
- Should we do it better? Yes
My bigger question would be as to the purpose of church discipline.
I’m a simple minded guy though. I’m not deep. I need thoughts I can wrap my mind around. So, I’m not attempting to give a scholarly reply to the subject, but simply add some of my thoughts. For some of them I give a general reference and for others it’s simply a thought, though each of them is based on my interpretation of Scripture as a whole and my view of God and His plan for mankind. I have often thought in terms of my role as an earthly father attempting to parent my children when I think of how God must think in terms of parenting me. Obviously He’s the perfect parent, but even Jesus alluded to the role of an earthly father in relation to our Heavenly Father. (Luke 11:9-12)
Here are 7 simple thoughts on Church Discipline:
Grace is primary in healthy discipline, not secondary. Throughout Scripture, God approached people with grace and unconditional love. Discipline should never be done in anger, but always in a redemptive way. (Romans 5:20)
The best discipline you will never know about. (Read Matthew 18) If discipline is handled correctly, the person is approached by someone, usually someone close to them, they repent and you move forward. In most cases, no one else needs to know at this point.
Discipline is part of the process of discipleship, not a side product. Healthy discipline is a part of helping others be more like Christ. You know of areas of sin in a person’s life, so you confront them in love, helping them grow and improve. (Proverbs 1:1-3; Proverbs 6:23)
It’s not limited to select sins. If you are doing disciplines as a part of discipleship, then you address known sins…period. It could be gossip…may even be gluttony or greed. (Matthew 5:21-28)
The only people doing church discipline perfectly are the perfect churches. They do discipleship perfectly, also. In fact, they’re pretty much perfect. (Or think they are.)
It rarely involves people having to leave the church. I honestly think that’s what some people feel is the key objective. I don’t see it that way. I see it more restorative than dismissive. (Philemon 1)
I realize scholars can pick this apart. I welcome your input and healthy correction. Just do it in love please. I think that’s Biblical too!
Ron Edmondson is the pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church, a church leader, and a planter of two churches. He blogs his Thoughts on Leadership, Church and Culture.