The Objectives of Church Discipline

We’re facing some potential church discipline issues as a group of elders. We need to get our act together. This is not something that our theological constituency has thought much about nor practised widely. We’ve made some progress as we’ve looked at the scriptures together. In the course of chewing this one over, I came across this talk by Mark Driscoll. It’s long. The majority of it is essentially a collection of biblical texts and his exegetical and pastoral reflections on them. It’s good stuff.

But it’s his introductory comments that are perhaps most helpful. He identifies eleven scriptural objectives of church discipline.

1. When sin has come between people, the goal is repentance and reconciliation. It’s not simply that church discipline is punitive. It’s purpose is to bring about reconciliation.
2. When a wrong has been committed, the goal is resolution and recompense. We want to see estranged people reconciled. And there needs to be payback. If someone has stolen something we want it returned. If something has been messed up and it needs fixing then they need to do that. I’d also argue that the goal is therefore restoration to God’s people.
3. We tend to focus on the person involved in moral sin or theological error. But the church leader needs to focus also on the victims and the future victims. And so we need to pay attention to the church and the unchurched who look on and learn. The neglect of church discipline is a pwerful sermon. We’re saying something by its neglect. We need therefore to protect the reputation of the gospel. Therefore, it’s entirely appropriate sometimes to kick people out of the church (Deut. 17:7; 19:19; 21:21; 22:24; 24:7; 1 Cor. 5:13; 2 Cor. 2:7; Rev. 2:2).
4. Church leaders mustn’t simply be authoritative and lord it over their church members. It’s not about being dictatorial but doing the right thing under the Lord’s direction (1 Peter 5:1-5).
5. If we don’t exercise church discipline we’ll end up with a church virtually indistinguishable from the unregenerative culture that surrounds it (Heb. 12:11).
6. The intention behind church discipline is to make people self-disciplined. Laws won’t make us holy, but the Spirit will. He enables us to become self disciplined as we understand the Lord’s requirements and gives us the motivation to obey Him (Gal. 5:23).
7. We need to make sure that church discipline is carried out in a  fitting and orderly manner (1 Cor. 14:40). It needs to be done responsibly and with great care for all concerned. That’ll mean that we won’t necessarily share everything in the public domain. A helpful rule of thumb is that public sin requires public admonition and private sin requires private admonition. But whatever we do, we need to get round to it quickly and not let it fester.
8. We’re ultimately after transformation in the individuals concerned. And given that the situations causing church discipline can make us angry we need to be careful of not sinning in our anger (Prov. 16:32; 17:27).
9. We need to hear both sides of the argument. That way we’ll have a clearer idea of the truth. Then we can make a decision (Prov. 18:17).
10. We need to hear from as many as can help us shed light on the issues (Deut. 19:15; 2 Cor. 13:1).
11. We need to recover the significance of the Lord’s Supper. Thi is a time when the church is to be reminded that unrepentant sin and unnecessary division in the church are unacceptable to a holy God. We’re encouraged to settle our disputes. And unrepentant siners are to be excluded from sharing in this meal (1 Cor. 11:17¬32).

There’s nothing here about how discipline is to be exercised. We’re still thinking that one through. Driscoll identifies twenty different kinds of moral sin and theological error. Not the ones we’re having to deal with though.

One thought on “The Objectives of Church Discipline

  1. andybeingachristian March 13, 2009 / 11:18 am

    I wonder if I’m the only one whom, as soon as I read this, started sweating slightly in case it’s me who’s slipped up! I do eat a huge (probably excessive and gluttonous) number of cakes after church each week after all…
    But anyway, not to trivilalise, good to know the top brass are going about things thoughtfully and biblically… I’ll await that phone call!

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