Baptist Distinctives: Church Discipline

We live in a “mind your own business” world and, sadly enough, this is the dominant attitude even in churches today. If a church member gets tired of his wife or her husband and runs out to find a new one, the expectation is that the church certainly doesn’t agree with that, but…what can we do? So, we do nothing. If a “member” desires to come to church on Easter and Christmas, but never come the rest of the year, then we should pray for them – but we should never be so cold, arrogant and unloving as to say anything to them. The world would tell us that our religious belief, or our faith, is “personal”. This attitude comes from a total misunderstanding of church membership and the gospel. If a person doesn’t understand what being a “member” of a church means, they will not understand the “why” of church discipline.

One of my favorite lines in What is a Healthy Church is when author Mark Dever states:

“Membership draws a boundary line around the church, marking the church off from the world. Discipline helps the church that lives inside of that boundary line stay true to the very things that are cause from drawing the line in the first place.”


In our day, any form of discipline is frowned upon in our “anything goes” society.  Most believe everyone should be able to do what feels right to them without fear that someone would have something to say about it. We even see it underlying parenting skills today – “be their friend but don’t correct them.”

But we need to remember two things:

(1) Not all discipline is negative: When we hear discipline we always think of correction or spanking. However, I believe every one of us would agree that there is a need for discipline in our lives. This positive discipline, or “formative discipline,” serves much the same way as braces on teeth, changing the shape and direction for a healthier outcome.  From a spiritual perspective – every sermon, every truth of Scripture we have encountered could be part of our formative discipline.

(2) Negative discipline can be positive: I have two boys and they each have characteristics of both Michele and me – but unfortunately, the most dominant characteristic they have is our sin nature! Because of that, there are times we must discipline them. I do not enjoy it – I do not desire it. In fact, my life would be easier many times if I just ignored their misbehavior. But the most selfish, arrogant thing I can do is to let them do what they want. If I were to choose to ignore their sin, by my silence I am approving of it! But, I am also thinking of my comfort over their good, and I am thinking that my way is better than what the Word of God has instructed me to do. Now, if this is true in my family life, this is also true in the local family of God. The Church is commanded to be set apart: believers are to live holy lives….How do we do this in our sin nature if we are not held accountable by other believers in our Church? Discipline in the church, as with parenting, reminds me that the boundaries of the Word are consistent and real, and that when I cross those boundaries, I am reminded of what I know I should be doing.

Very few people will discuss Matthew 18, Luke 17, 1st Corinthians 5 and 6, or Galatians 6.  But they will run to Matthew 7:1 “Judge not that you be not judged” – but that certainly doesn’t prohibit all types of judging. In fact, reading this chapter we see there is a righteous kind of judgment. Even looking at Matthew 7:6, I must make a judgment as to the difference between dogs and swine, and that of true believers. In Scripture, He has given the power to the state to judge (Rom. 13:1-7). He intends for believers to judge ourselves (1st Corinth.11:28, Heb. 4, 2nd Pet. 1:5-10). The Church is to judge (Matt.18, 1st Corinth. 5-6). This should not surprise us.  After all, if we can’t say how a child of God should not live, then we certainly have no right to say how a child of God should live. In order for us to glorify God as His Body, we must be able to show a distinction between the church and the world.

The idea of holding one another accountable is not new; in fact, Pre-Civil War Southern Baptists excommunicated nearly 2 percent of their membership every year. Just so you know, during this same time frame Southern Baptist churches grew at TWICE the rate of the population growth. Certainly this issue could turn into abuse, or be self serving. But to be fair, every thing the church is called to do could turn into abuse. This is the reason the church should be involved in this – after all, it is called church discipline, not staff or deacon discipline. The key is doing this with brokenness – understanding the need for the cross and importance of the gospel during this process. The goal of the church is always restoration.
In closing, why restate what Dever stated so well, as he gives 5 reasons discipline should be done:


1. The good of the disciplined individual:
1st Cor. 5:1-5 -  This man was lost in his sin, thinking God approved of his having an affair with his father’s wife. The Church had to respond to this.

2. For the good of other believers: 1st Tim. 5:20

3. For the health of the church as a whole: 1st Corinth. 5:6-8

4. For the witness of the church: 1st Corinth. 5:1, 1st Pet. 2:12 -  This is a tool for evangelism

5. For the glory of God: Eph. 5:25-27, Heb. 12:10-14 – Our holiness should reflect God’s holiness

 

Now understanding that the Word of God speaks so clearly on this subject shouldn’t make discipline the focal point of the church, any more than taking an antibiotic becomes the focal point of life. But, it is needed in all of our lives. It is good to know that God has put us around other believers to help our walk and help us glorify Him. We can’t let the enemy use the extreme cases to cause us to disregard the Word of God. As a church, we must love one another enough to exhort, encourage and, when necessary rebuke using the Word of God and the wonderful gift of Grace He first gave us!

 

i What Is A Healthy Church: Mark Dever p. 101

ii Nine Marks Of A Healthy Church: Mark Dever p. 179

iii Nine Marks Of A Healthy  Church: Mark Dever. P. 188-190

 

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About Chad Everson

Chad is the Pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Southaven, MS.