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Church Discipline: Part 8

September 24, 2009

Church Discipline: Part 8

                At this time, having looked briefly at the teaching on church discipline, I think it would be wise to consider the legal aspects of having and not having church discipline in our present day society. Many churches are facing various issues in relation to church membership policies, their lifestyles, and legalities in the court systems. First and foremost we are to practice and implement loving, church discipline because God has told us how to manage and run His church. But it is also wise in light of present day circumstances of considering the legal ramifications of not having church discipline and its policy articulated in the church’s constitution and by-laws.

                Present day lawsuits look at what is called ‘due process’ in rulings on cases where it applies. What does this mean? It means has a person, group, and/or organization done as much as possible up front to set the parameters, outline the stipulations, and/or articulated the expectations/risks of certain actions. In our terms, it would mean “Has our church done everything to let people know what it means to be a church member and that being a member means you are submitting to the church discipline policy of the church?” It means we have to do everything possible to be clear on what the church means by the responsibilities of being a church member to new and existing members, what can call for church discipline, and the steps that will followed in carrying church discipline out.

                If only implement church discipline, even though we do so biblically, but do not have this in writing as per our constitution or by-laws, then we may have not fulfilled the requirements of ‘due process.’  We have not done all that we could in informing others what the church will do in regards to church discipline. Here’s how that could work in an example. Let’s say a member is involved with sin and is unwilling to repent. The process of church discipline begins to be carried out first by private confrontation seeking to restore the brother, then by 2 or 3 witnesses, and then finally it is brought before the church. Still the member is unwilling to repent so at this point they are to be excommunicated. However, the member does not want this to happen so in a state of revenge mindset, he seeks to sue the church for ‘defammation of character’ because he has been publicly ‘shamed’ for his actions in front of the whole church. So what happens in the court room?

                One of the things the prosecuting attorney will look at to prove his client’s case is what the church did NOT have in place legally, constitutionally in the by-laws that showed what would happen in such cases. Therefore, since the church did NOT have church membership and discipline policies outlined and adopted, the prosecuting attorney will argue that his client was unaware of such church discipline procedures and may even argue that the church is acting arbitrary against his client since the church can’t show legally with their by-laws that this is the normalized practice of the church. The court could rule in favor of the disgruntled, sinning member and the church could lose everything it owns thereby bankrupting the church’s finances and ability to carry out the gospel mission.

                Sadly, many people think “This would never happen to us.” All I would say is search the internet and see how OFTEN this happening already! The court systems are NOT on the church’s side. They are on the side of ‘due process’ and such policies. If the church fails to comply to these standards, she is setting herself up for legal trouble. Therefore it is both BIBLICAL and LEGALLY WISE to have church discipline adopted in our church constitution and/or by-laws.

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