Monday, January 11, 2010

Church Discipline

I was in a class all week last week for my class: History of the Baptist. I know what you're thinking. It was exactly what I was thinking when I realized it was a requirement for my Master's Degree: "great, this sounds like fun!" Note this was said sarcastically. To my surprise, I learned more in that class than I have in many classes. The class was loaded with church history, theology, and the question of how church polity (governing) should be. I know some of you are still thinking, "wow, sounds like fun," but in my own little nerdy way, I really enjoyed the class.

This leads me to what I wanted to bring up in the blog. We learned a lot and studied a lot on the practice of church discipline. Now I know this is not a very familiar term today, but church discipline is something that happened from the New Testament churches all the way to the present, though presently very few churches practice or know church discipline. A definition of church discipline would be: the action taken by church governing bodies against individuals or groups of individuals whose actions, beliefs, or reputation effect the holiness and purity of the church body. It is important to note that this happened within the context of single congregations. Members of the church were held accountable for various types of attitudes, actions, and beliefs both inside and outside the church. The church would regularly conduct "tribunals" to try cases being brought up. Evidence would be presented for the accusation and the church would vote on a verdict, then a proper sentence would be given. Sometimes the sentence involved repentance and reconciliation with members of the church, and in many cases, the sentence was expulsion from the church. There were some who refused to undergo such trials to respond to accusations against them, but for the most part, individuals absolutely went through this process.

You see, in the past, church wasn't viewed as simply a place to show up on Sunday to worship. Churches were families. They were communities of faith. There was much love and affection for each other, but there was accountability. They believed the only two ways to leave a church were 1. death or 2. expulsion. You didn't want the reputation of having been expelled from a church. You would not be quickly received by other churches because they assumed that you had doctrinal or character issues that they didn't want exposed to their churches. Purity in the church was paramount!

When I read of this and reflect on what happens in our society today regarding church, I cringe. Very few people would dare to hear a charge brought against them, more-less publicly repent in order to be restored to the "right hand of fellowship" within the church. Today's churchgoer would simply leave and go somewhere else. The church they would go to would blindly receive them into the fold and more than likely, more issues would arise later.

Here's my questions for you: what are your thoughts on church discipline of the Church of the past (NT - 1800's) vs. the Church of today? Would you undergo church discipline or would you leave? What are your thoughts on how churches can, to some degree, recapture the ability to handle issues of discipline, yet retain the individual within the fold of the church? I would love to hear your thoughts.


  1. I don't know how intellectually deep I can get it into this topic, but I love your thoughts. One thing that your words reminded of was when I decided to leave my home church to help plant The Journey. My mom and I had several discussions about it and she stressed to me the importance of not taking the decision lightly. She viewed it as a very deep relationship and I really appreciate that insight from her. It showed me that being part of a church is a commitment.

    I think an overwhelming problem in our churches is the idea of just "loving people to Jesus." I'm reading a book on worship (Worship Matters) and he talks about how having that mentality makes God appear weak and like a sissy. God HAS to deal with sin because He is holy and just. To maintain and even re-establish the purity of the church, we have to do the same while speaking the TRUTH in LOVE.

    People don't want to commit to much of anything anymore - marriage, church, etc. We're very selfish by nature and just want to do what we want. It's a huge problem and I don't know how to fix it. I'm only beginning to become aware of it. I have to believe that God is raising up His people to help restore the church until Jesus comes back. But, we have to be willing to not be able to make everyone happy and even lose members of our church for the sake of Christ.

  2. We often think about silly disciplines such as a church I pastored had on its records the discipline of two folks for dancing,,,In there HOME!! And that person was still in our church.

    True Biblical discipline generally should be around the rejection of the teachings of Christ (doctrines)and moral sins (adultry, fornication, stealing etc.)

    The church during the 80's had a movement called Discipleship. That movement was heavy in to discipleship/discipline. Churches were tellings folks how they were to spent their time on vacations. Such discipline was very unhealthy.

    Even though some churches abuse discipline we should with all of our means have church discipline, because it is simply Biblical.

  3. There has to discipline and structure. We can love the sinner but hate the sin!

  4. Does this "church discipline" still follow the model of going to the person individually, followed by going with a brother if there is an unrepentant heart before the congregation is involved? Is the congregation involved or is it like a governing body? How did that work? Just curious.

  5. Miranda, I love your thoughts on this. I agree whole-heartedly with your thoughts of the church dealing with sin within the flock. We often just turn our heads the other way as if we don't see it, because we'd rather not deal with it. We are financially and volunteer driven, so we don't want to ever potentially lose someone by calling out behavior. I think you've nailed it.

    James, your definitions of issues we should go after are spot on. I agree with you 100%. The dancing and issues like that are kind of silly. I know they had reasons for doing it in the old days. But your definition of issues that should warrant church discipline are accurate in my opinion.

    Diane, hating sin is indeed a mark of a church seeking purity. I would say in addition to loving the sinner, we should correct and point out the sinners sin, so that they don't continue to walk in it. But it is absolutely in love that this is done.

    Amber, the answer to your question is yes. The first steps of church discipline are individuals going first to the individual, then with others if it is not resolved, then it becomes a church wide issue where a "tribunal" would take place. (Matthew 18)

  6. The bible as others have stated clearly lays out the way discipline should take place. Brother to brother, then so on and so on through the church We always must remember that LOVE and Discipline must be one in the same. The two cannot be seperated for if they are the we are just punishing and degrading. I never ever punish my children I discipline them with LOVE as to teach them something valueable for their own good. Other wise I am simply, abusing and dominanting a weaker person.

    As a church there must be discipline as well for without discipline chaos and anarchy will reign. Those following the discipline of Christ will be discouraged if those who are out of line are not disciplined in LOVE.

    I dont see a "tribunal" as much of an act of LOVE. Yes I suppose this is what some christian would call a "matter of the heart." But we all can tell the difference between being rebuked in the LOVE of Christ for our own good, and being rebuked with a malicious intent.

    LOVE and Discipline must never be seperated!!


  7. I think that the fear of appearing "narrow-minded" or "bigoted" has caused the church to allow sins to be acceptable. We invite people to come in as they are, but never require that growth and change be part of their relationship with Christ. In the midst of wanting to be loving and accepting, I think many people have forgotten that there are consequences to actions. Without these consequences, much like a lack of discipline in children, we will become spoiled, lazy, complacent and never learn to accept responsibility for our actions.

  8. itaMiranda I loved your comment that God HAS to deal with sin because He is HOLY and JUST. We often confuse the word JUST with FAIR.
    And James, I lived through some intense rules imposed by the church and witnessed church discipline on several occassions...Not a pretty sight when the list of do's and don'ts are made up by a bunch of people who feel they are superior.They used disciple as a means to foster conformity.
    There was one instance I saw it done correctly. There was a bible study where the leader was teaching about speaking in tongues. They began to teach that if one truely loved God they too would speak in tongues.Then it turned into some saying they loved God more than others because they spoke intongues.Well by the time this was discovered and dealt with, the church was beginning to split.Most left, but those of us who remained felt we had remained true to the gospel.
    Church discipline is a serious matter and you do it Because you love God and His people.
    You do it to protect the integrity of the church and it's message.
    You do it to remove obstacles that hinder spiritual growth and the spreading of the gospel.
    Sometimes the disciple can be administered in a soft,loving way and if the one being disciplined has an ear for God, they accept it, repent and are restored.
    But like in the case of Annanias and Saphirra,they were struck down dead by the Holy Spirit.Both were offered a chance by Peter to come clean, but held to the lie because their heart was hard.Some may think that punishment too severe, but how could the fledgling church grow if it harboured such a cancer?
    Ryan, I like the idea of a tribunal better than discipline falling to one man...usually the pastor. There are a few reasons I say this. One,a pastor has enough on his plate. Look at Moses for example, and how he listened to Jethro's wise council in this matter. Two, some pastors(because they are human,get a little full of themselves and develope a god complex. Next thing you know your in a church of rules based on one mans likes and dislikes. Also, some pastors are closer to certain members in their congregation and there could be favoritism or the impression of it.
    People grow at different rates. The REAL CHANGE was when they were saved...supernatural and unseen by us. The external change should develope as the Holy Spirit works.
    Most of the discipline I've seen growing up was because someone broke a mandate as to the appearance of a person or what music they listened to while the one who did the real harm were the gossipers.
    Interesting to hear this subject brought up.

  9. Laurie, My point about tribunals is that often times they end up spilling over into a lynch mob mentality. They sometimes throw Love, grace, and mercy out the window. The point is well taken about the power of a "panel" style over one mans view or one persons flaws running the show.

    I have seen first hand the "we love God more" because we speak in tongues or have a prayer language. Not that I would say I have a problem with either one. Paul speaks about both extensively, and said in his letters to church that he wish they all spoke in tonuges. But when anything of that nature begins to split the body or cause confusing its not the work of the Holy Spirit but of man. Our God is not a god of confusing. We show we love God with our actions based upon our faith and following the discipline of Christ and the church is a part of that.