The present evangelical church culture that we live in is, in many ways, hitched to the train of pragmatism.  Whatever works is what the church practices because it brings about results.  What if a church grows larger and looks successful from the outside, but did it all without any functional church discipline taking place in the congregation?  It would be like an athlete growing really large by eating something other than protein and lifting weights.  If an athlete takes steroids, he can bypass the normal way of growing muscles, but in the end, it’s very unhealthy.

In some church circles, the practice of church discipline has been relegated down to the level of an ancient method of church life that’s been placed next to the old river baptismal services where the church gathered down by the river because they didn’t have a modern baptistry.  In those same circles, the idea of practicing church discipline is not even a consideration, because it’s believed that church discipline somehow prevents a church from growing.  Is that a helpful way of looking at church discipline?

The Purpose of Church Discipline

Although some cases exist in church history of people abusing authority and misusing the practice of church discipline, the real purpose of discipline is reconciliation.  This is the loving thing to pursue in the life of the church.  Contrary to popular opinion, church discipline is not a means of retaliation against someone who has wronged you.  The overarching purpose of church discipline centers on the goal of reconciliation.

  1. Reconciliation between the church member and God.
  2. Reconciliation between the church member and the body of the church.

Therefore, as the church sees this practice taking place on a regular basis, it causes the church to grow.  What type of growth comes from the practice of church discipline?  First, the church will grow spiritually as sin is confronted and properly dealt with.  Next, the church will grow in unity together as sins that have caused divisions are properly exposed and disciplined.  Last of all, numerical growth will take place as the healthy church demonstrates a passion for God, a love for one another, a hatred for sin, and a love for their community.  The church will be known as a genuine church in the community rather than a “bunch of hypocrites” as the world often labels the local church.  Church discipline is not antithetical to church growth.

The Necessity of Church Discipline

If we read theologians and scholars from church history, we will see that the common belief among the church in former days was that if a “church” didn’t practice church discipline, it was not a true church.  It may have a steeple and stained glass, but it can’t be a true church if regular, biblical, and functional church discipline isn’t being practiced.  Gregory A. Wills who is a professor of Church History at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and noted historian commented, “To an antebellum Baptist, a church without discipline would hardly have counted as a church.” [1]

In the early church, Jesus commanded church discipline to be practiced in Matthew 18:15-20.  Paul urged the church at Corinth to practice it.  A man was sexually involved with his father’s wife and the people of the congregation knew about it. Paul told the church at Corinth to “purge out” and to “deliver his soul to Satan for the destruction of the flesh that the spirit may be saved” (1 Cor. 5).  We see similar language in 2 Thessalonians 3 and in Titus 3 regarding the need to separate from those who persist in sin.  In other words, church discipline is not an item on a spiritual buffet that we can choose if we believe it to be appealing.  It’s an absolute necessity.

Having walked through painful situations of public church discipline and having seen it work as Jesus intended it to, I can firmly state that not only is the practice mandated by Christ, but it’s for the good of the church and the glory of God.

What if my church is not practicing church discipline?  Don’t become a rogue church member who seeks to lead the church by usurping authority that was never given to you.  Take time to sit with your pastors and discuss the subject and ask healthy questions.  Try to work through the need for discipline in the life of your church by starting with your pastors.  Don’t be divisive over the subject of church discipline.

What if I’m looking for a church, but the church we feel led to doesn’t practice church discipline?  The simple answer is—don’t join it.  Perhaps you “feel” led to the church for some other reason, but if they aren’t practicing church discipline, the health of the church has been greatly compromised over time.  It will only be a matter of time before things compile and become much worse.

Albert Mohler has written, “Without a recovery of functional church discipline-firmly established upon the principles revealed in the Bible-the church will continue its slide into moral dissolution and relativism. Evangelicals have long recognized discipline as the ‘third mark’ of the authentic church. Authentic biblical discipline is not an elective, but a necessary and integral mark of authentic Christianity.” [2]


  1. Gregory A. Wills, Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South 1785-1900 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 12.
  2. Albert Mohler, “Discipline: The Missing Mark” In Polity (Center for Church Reform: 2001, 43-62), 2001.

 

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