A Primer on Church Discipline, An Introduction
One of the marks of a true church is that of church discipline, and much misunderstood practice in today’s Evangelical church. In 1561 there was a document created, the Belgic Confession which pointed out that church discipline was one of three marks of the true church, the other two being the Word of God truly being preached and the sacraments truly being presented. Today however it is not uncommon to attend a church for years and never see anyone ever face public church discipline. One would think that in today’s society somehow sin no longer works within the heart of every man woman and child within any church. Of course it is hard to be seeker sensitive and relevant to the culture of today and yet also call people who claim to follow Jesus to truly follow Him. However in Matthew 28 part of the great commission was to teach those who were His disciples to obey everything that he commanded us. And one of those commands is to practice church discipline (cf. Matthew 18:15ff).
How does church discipline operate? When is it right to practice church discipline? Why should we practice church discipline? These are the types of questions I want to try to answer in this short series I am starting today.
By way of introduction my mind goes to a certain passage out of Hebrews which speaks about the hand of discipline from our Father in heaven. “For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.” (Hebrews 12:10) It is easy for us to think about God disciplining us but never asking how He does it. It is not uncommon for Him to use others as His tool or instrument of discipline. And one of those instruments is His church. Being a child of God means that not one person in the church is exempt from the discipline of the Lord. It may be painful at times but it is good and necessary for our spiritual growth as well as purity within the church.
The purpose behind church discipline is not to denounce someone, shame someone, or even manipulate them; rather, it is to exhort them to repentance and restoration to both God and man. The purpose is to restore a person back to their original walk in Christ–to take a believer and get them to turn from their sin and back to a faithful, obedient walk with Christ in the church. Therefore, this discipline is corrective in nature. It is like taking a broken bone and setting it back in its right place. Therefore we can call this “corrective” or “restorative” discipline.
Over the next several days I want to give six reasons why the church must practice church discipline and try to give practical advice on how it is done. The Bible is not silent on the subject and in fact there are far more passages that discuss it then many people are aware.