One thing that is missing in many congregations today is the practice of church discipline. Some wouldn't dare think of enacting discipline on a member in sin. The very suggestion makes them feel so uncomfortable. As if to do so would be unloving or judgmental. After all, aren't we all sinners? Is what they are doing my business? However, historically it was thought that a church could not rightly be considered a church if did not discipline its members. As I continue to reflect on it, I wonder if a lot of problems in the visible church today stem from a failure to practice godly discipline of its members. While I have previously unpacked Jesus' specific step-by-step instructions pertaining to discipline, I want to look with you this time at a few reasons why a church SHOULD practice discipline, especially since many currently do not.
Jesus Commands Us To
Perhaps the most basic and simplest reason that a church should practice discipline is because Jesus commands us to. This is not something that He says is optional. He doesn't say reprove the brother if you are comfortable with it, if you feel like it, or unless you as a congregation decide differently. But if your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private (Matthew 18:15). That's a command with the condition that your brother is continuing in a certain sin without any repentance.
Jesus serves as the head of the Church so that means His word is binding. If Jesus says to do something, the church that wants to be obedient to His teachings will seek to do it. Regardless of how countercultural it may be though we should never be surprised that much of what Jesus calls us to be and do goes against the culture. It certainly will not be in agreement with the world's way of thinking. A major problem today is that the visible church has allowed itself to be more influenced by the world rather than the Word. The neglect of the practice of discipline is just one of several examples of this.
It is Loving
We need to remember too that discipline is an act of love. This is true for parents with their children. If you did something wrong as a kid or disobeyed your parents, you were disciplined, weren't you? That wasn't because our parents hated us but because they loved us and wanted our well-being. In fact, the book of Proverbs teaches that the parents who refuse to discipline their children HATE their children. He who withholds his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently (Proverbs 13:24).
Practicing church discipline on someone who is in ongoing unrepentant sin as Jesus has prescribed is one of the most loving things that a church can do for its members. If we care about them walking rightly before the Lord and growing in holiness, we cannot keep quiet about their sin and the damage that it does for their witness. We would want to confront them and plead with them to repent for their own spiritual well-being.
Furthermore, we should desire to be disciplined ourselves as well in the case where we wind up in sin and need to repent. We all have our blindspots; areas in which we cannot see our sin. If we were aware of them, they would not be blindspots. At times, we each need someone to be as Nathan was to King David (2 Samuel 12). Yes, due to our sinful pride, we first may not be as accepting of a brother or sister's much needed confrontation and correction. We all have, as Paul David Tripp has called it, an inner lawyer that wants to try to justify us before God and others. But if we know the person loves and cares for us, then we should be more apt to listen to them, knowing that they have our best interests in mind. I for one am glad that God has given me brothers and sisters who will help me stay on track.
It Reflects God's Character
When the church practices discipline upon its members, it also reflects God's character. Proverbs 3:11-12 and Hebrews 12:3-11's commentary on it shows us that, as a loving Father, God Himself disciplines His children. The author of Hebrews goes so far as to say that if you are not experiencing God's discipline, than it indicates that you are not an actual child of His (v. 8). You are illegitimate. You don't belong to Him. And what is His purpose in such discipline? We find that in v. 10, that we may share in His holiness.
So if discipline is something that God does to His children, why should His church shy away from carrying it out as well? Do we not reflect God's character to a watching unbelieving world? What does it say about God's loving character displayed in discipline if the church fails to practice it? Or about God's holiness if the church doesn't confront any unholiness in its midst?
It is Protective
As we learn in 1 Corinthians 5, practicing discipline is protective of the church and her purity. That is one of the reasons why Paul gives such a harsh rebuke of that congregation for doing nothing about the man sleeping with his stepmother. He tells them to cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened (v. 7). A little leaven leavens the whole lump (v. 6). A member who is in ongoing unrepentant sin left unchecked is like a cancer to the body. If not dealt with, it will infect the whole. So, for the good of the holiness of the body, discipline must be practiced. And I have heard of cases where open continual sin was ignored and other members within the congregation also fell into gross heinous sins as well. Then the entire congregation could be described as anything but holy.
These are just a few of the reasons, gleaned from God's Word, why a church should practice discipline. I am sure that many more could be given and perhaps I will come back and add to this list at a later time. But for now, these should suffice. For a congregation to neglect disciplining her members is to be disobedient to Jesus' teachings, unloving, reflecting the world more than God, and dangerous for the spiritual good of the whole community. In keeping these reasons in mind, let's follow our Lord's wisdom and both be willing to practice such discipline as well as undergo such ourselves if necessary.
Love in Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!!!
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. ~2 Timothy 2:15
- I am a young man who is following God's call into pastoral ministry. I have been so blessed with the privileges which the Lord has granted me. I am blessed to serve the Mt. Joy congregation in Mt. Pleasant, PA. I am constantly humbled and amazed at what the Lord is doing in my life.