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Church Discipline: Part 1

July 25, 2009

Biblical Church Discipline: Part 1

            “The decline of church discipline is perhaps the most visible failure of the contemporary church. No longer concerned with maintaining purity of confession or lifestyle, the contemporary church sees itself as a voluntary association of autonomous members, with minimal moral accountability to God, much less to each other.”  Such is how Dr. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Seminary, describes the modern scene of the church. But why would he say something so strong? And exactly what is church discipline and what does it have to do with the current state of the church? This is exactly what I hope to look at in the following weeks. Along the way we will discuss how church discipline is to be carried out,  who does it, why it’s needed, and what issues actually call for church discipline. And I know some will have some other questions and possible even objections. We will look at those together as we study biblical church discipline.

            Church discipline is a God given and mandated process that seeks to restore and reclaim a sinning and erring member. Church discipline seeks to lovingly deal with the sin in members lives to lead them to a life of holiness and to be able to honor God with their lives.  There are several aspects to think about when defining church discipline. Church discipline can either be in regards to private offenses or public sins. It can either be formative or corrective in its focus. Let’s look at each of these.

            Many have the idea that unless I have done some major publically know evil deed, then the church has no right to interfere in my private life. This is simply not the biblical case as we will eventually see. Private sins may be an issue that calls for church discipline.

            Yet some also wrongly think that any public wrong I do is a call for church discipline. Some public sins may call for discipline while others may not. How do we know what sin(s) call for church discipline and which does not? Stay tuned for the next several weeks and we’ll look at that.

Church discipline may be as simple as formative discipline. What is formative discipline? It is how God lovingly corrects and restores us through the normal means of grace in our lives. These include, but aren’t limited to, the public preaching of the word, the Lord’s Supper, and/or your personal time with the Lord in His word.  Formative discipline is all the teaching we do—the positive statements, the modeling, the instruction and sermons and Bible studies and books that we pass out. It is the idea of bringing people to maturity in Christ the way a football coach disciplines his team through daily practices. This includes encouragement, practice, instruction, and showing them what is right and good. This is what a church does through its ministries.

The second type of church discipline is corrective church discipline. It is where we have to say, “Hey, Tom, I think you’re wrong there.” Or, “Sally, we need to switch groups because you’re being destructive to that person.” Or even finally, according to Jesus’ teaching, “Mona, I know that you are claiming to be a Christian, but we’ve got to treat you like a non-Christian, because you won’t stop lying. We love you, but you may not take the Lord’s Supper because you’re not following Jesus, as far as we can tell, and we beg you to repent.” This occurs when someone swerves off the path. When a football player is not paying attention, when he is proud or defiant, the coach will make the player run laps. In the church when a brother or sister gets off track we use corrective discipline to restore and redeem them, to set them back on course. The most noted passage on corrective church discipline is Matthew 18:15-20. 

Corrective church discipline is what I will be dealing with in the articles the next few weeks. To be a Christ honoring and obedient church, we must have corrective church discipline.

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