12 Reasons Churches Don’t Practice Church Discipline

Some years ago, I conducted a study and wrote a book on membership classes in local churches. Many of those churches included teaching church covenants in their membership class, but they talked very little about church discipline. That is, they established expectations but did not always talk about accountability. Since then, I’ve conducted an ongoing informal survey to see why churches don’t do discipline. Here are the primary findings, in no particular order.

  1. They don’t know the Bible’s teaching on discipline. I can only guess what percentage of regular attenders in evangelical churches even know that the Bible teaches the necessity of church discipline. This topic is one that some pastors choose to avoid.
  2. They have never seen it done before. Some of the reticence to do church discipline is the result of ignorance. Frankly, I admit my own ignorance when I began serving as a pastor 30+ years ago. If you’ve never been part of a church that carried out discipline, it’s easy to let any of these following reasons halt the process.
  3. They don’t want to appear judgmental. “Judge not, lest you be judged” takes precedence over any scripture that calls for discipline, especially in a culture where political correctness rules the day. Judging, it seems, is deemed an unchristian act.
  4. The church has a wide-open front door. Church discipline is challenging to do if membership expectations are few; that is, it’s difficult to hold someone accountable to standards never stated in the first place. The easier it is to join the church, the harder it is to discipline people when necessary.
  5. They have had a bad experience with discipline in the past. For those churches that have done discipline, the memories of poorly done discipline seem to last long. They remember confrontation, judgment, heartache, and division – with apparently no attempt to produce repentance and reconciliation.
  6. The church is afraid to open “Pandora’s box.” If they discipline one church member, they fear establishing a pattern that can’t be halted as long as human beings comprise their congregation. To put it another way, they wonder how many members will remain if they discipline every member with unrepentant sin.
  7. They have no guidelines for discipline. For what sins is discipline necessary? At what point does church leadership choose to make public a private sin? Rather than wrestle with tough questions, many churches just ignore the topic.
  8. They fear losing members (or dollars). We hope no congregation makes decisions based solely on attendance and income, but we know otherwise. Sometimes churches tolerate sin rather than risk decline.
  9. Their Christianity is individualistic and privatized. Particularly in North America, believers often fail to understand the corporate nature of the church. We gather together on Sunday, but we do so while sharing life with no other believers. Discipline seldom happens if accountability doesn’t matter.
  10. They fear being “legalistic.” Legalism can quickly become rules-centered bondage marked by joylessness. Church discipline assumes some standard to which believers are held accountable—and that standard can become legalistic if unchecked.
  11. They hope transfer growth will fix the problem. Most churches are accustomed to members coming and going as congregations “swap sheep.” At times, a church is willing to confront a member in his sin – but only enough to encourage him to move his membership to the church down the road.
  12. Leaders are sometimes dealing with their own sin. When church leaders are hiding their own sin, they’re less likely to engage others about their failures. To discipline others would be to bring conviction on oneself.

What have you seen? Why do churches not practice church discipline?

69 Comments

  • Or maybe the main reason … members won’t submit to discipline.

  • Ken says:

    Another very timely article. I am facing a situation that may require disciplinary action, so I would appreciate everyone’s prayers. Church discipline always tears my heart out, but if I actually enjoyed it, I’d know I was doing it for the wrong reason. I once heard an older pastor say, “If you can discipline a church member without a broken heart and teary eyes, perhaps YOU need to be disciplined.”

  • Heartspeak says:

    I would submit that it IS done more often than one might think. However it is often done improperly and often times secretly. It seldom gets to the ‘tell it to the church’ part. Folks just disappear. Being ‘disappearado’ is common enough that no one notices nor seeks to question why. (this is another whole blog topic, Chuck/Thom–how church folks should relate to people who no longer attend. Hint: they’re not good at it)

    I will relay that twice in my life, I have been unjustly accused and ‘kicked out’ of a church. Both times by emotionally unhealthy pastors who were out of the ministry within a year. It’s dangerous to admit such things, because there is a high occurrence of folks who think that ‘it must have been for some legitimate reason’ and the resultant ‘he said, (s)he said’ would have been ugly.

    Once begun, there can be no good outcome unless it’s a case of true repentance from a confessed sin. In my case(s), the ‘sin’ couldn’t seem to be identified but they were ‘certain’ that they were right in their actions.

    I will say that despite a few scars, now well healed, I am happily serving in my current church as a lay groups pastor.. In the 2nd case my wife and I eventually rec’d an apology from the pastor himself.

    I am certain that in today’s highly charged environment fear of a lawsuit is often an underlying reason not to puruse church discipline as well.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Thanks for writing, Heartspeak. “Informal” discipline does take place.

    • Ken says:

      I have to disagree with you on one point. My experience has been that “informal” church discipline often gets to the “tell it to the church” part first, while the person committing the alleged offense is often unaware that anything is wrong. The advent of social media has only added to the problem.

      • Telling it to part of the church is not telling it to the church.

        The Matthew 18 passage (interesting, because there wasn’t a church yet when Jesus taught his disciples) seems clear that the seat of authority rests with all the members, not just a select few friends, or sympathizers, gossips, or even Executive Leaders who supposedly speak on behalf of the church.

        It only goes to the church, when the whole church hears it to decide if this one should be considered a brother, or an outsider.

        • Ken says:

          I agree that the church should make the final decision. My point was, many times the church already knows about the offense before the person committing it has even been confronted. I’m not saying that’s the way it should be (it shouldn’t), but that’s the way it often is. Even so, a few select people in the church should confront the person first in hopes that the person will repent. If the offending person does repent, there’s no need to bring it for the whole church.

  • Ghaze says:

    This is complicated. Church discipline is supposed to be administered in the context of a community of gathered people who relate to one another as family members in Christ. Who are involved in each other’s lives and demonstrate the love if Christ in a multifaceted way, not just when someone does something deemed sinful. Our churches very structures and modes of organization percent that from happening. Our churches are nor set up such that people are organically interacting with each other teaching one another the word and encouraging one another in holy spirit living. No. We come to a building where corporate worship is to take place and we continue our individually oriented worship then we go home and probably never see the same persons until the next Sunday. How can church discipline be done in this kind of culture? Let’s be honest and say that most times we know that any attempt at it just won’t work. Because the entire background is flawed to begin with.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      It is indeed complicated, Ghaze. Thanks.

    • Sonja Moore says:

      I totally agree!

    • Hal says:

      For leadership to begin practicing church discipline where in did not previously exist and with a congregation that is completely unfamiliar with it could be disastrous. It must be taught from the pulpit and in Sunday School classes and Bible study groups. Unfortunately, this is not an area many care to venture into.

      I think another reason many churches do not even go there is simply because the majority of other churches don’t. If a church in the community suddenly begins practicing Biblical church discipline that leadership knows that the disciplined, their family and friends may get mad and will simply go on down the road to the congregation that will welcome them with open arms and before you know it the church that is practicing church discipline is suddenly labeled as a mean judgmental and legalistic church that hates sinners and is throwing them out of the church even though that church may be doing everything right and in love. We are a society that will not tolerate being told we are doing something wrong; even if we are. Many church members believe that what they are doing in their private lives is none of the church’s business and has no business judging (discerning) their actions. However this goes totally contrary to 1 cor. chapter 5. Here Paul states that the church has no jurisdiction over those that are outside the church, but it does have jurisdiction over those that are members of the body of Christ. Paul also states in this chapter “I have judged you” not meaning that Paul has judged them to hell, for God can only do that. Paul simply means here that he has held the actions of this congregational member up to the light of God’s word and has discerned that this person is guilty of sinning against God and the church.

      We must also keep in mind that what we are talking about here is not simply the everyday sins that most of us commit and that are usually repented of before the day ends. All of us sin, but most who are walking in a close relationship to God are quite aware of our shortcomings and are quick to admit and confess them to God. I don’t believe that God intends for us to be the sin police in the church constantly running around snooping into the lives of church members. However, I believe that when we learn of a member who is unrepentant and has laid down in their sin and has made it a lifestyle of unrepentant sin then it is the responsibility and duty of the church to attempt to lovingly restore that individual. And in the event they are talked to and they refuse to repent and plan on continuing in their lifestyle of sin, then the church must take further action even to the point of removing the individual publically in hopes that by handing them over to Satan as Paul says, they will be eventually restored back to the body.

      A Bible college president once told me that a church that does not practice Biblical church discipline can hardly be considered a church. A church that only cares enough for their members only to save them on the front end and then cares nothing about the condition of their soul later on can hardly be considered a church.

      In reality, this issue of church discipline IS a matter of salvation. How many folks is the church enabling into hell simply because they have a dozen reasons not to get involved in restoring its wandering lost sheep back to the fold.

    • H.L. Jackson says:

      Ghaze,

      We can go a step further, even, and remark how individualistic local church bodies have become. Local congregations do not often, in my personal experience, see themselves adequately as being part of the entire body of Christ, connected to all believers worldwide with covenant and kingdom ties to each other. One result is that “the buck stops” at whomever is the most powerful person in a particular congregation, with no accountability or assurance of a court of appeal and protection when a churchman is falsely accused or the transgressor is a leader or pastor.

      Entire denominations are built on the democratic “one person, one vote” model with no sense of being tied to other bodies of believers or any higher denominational authority. It is a recipe for unbiblical church practices and a dilution of the unity for which Christ prayed in the garden on our behalf.

  • ZoltonK says:

    Great summary with every single point being “dead on.” It’s truly a disgrace to the Gospel when church members wholeheartedly support the standards for membership and participation that social and recreational clubs/organizations establish and maintain for their members, disallowing and removing those who refuse to comply, and yet will blatantly overlook willful sinning by church members, even resisting pastors when they attempt to confront and correct those in open sin. You can’t even say that a church is a “country club” because even country clubs have strict standards by which they hold their members accountable. How far we have fallen from God’s Word and ways…..

  • JD says:

    So how do churches move into a healthy model without becoming a runaway discipline train? Are there good models to follow and implement out there?

    • Ken says:

      That’s a tough one, but I would begin by urging all church leaders to take stock of their motives. Remember what our parents used to say: “This hurts me more than it hurts you.” As a pastor who’s had to go this route once, I can say with certainty that church discipline hurts me very much, and I think that’s the way it should be. As I said in a previous comment, if you enjoy church discipline, you’re probably doing it for the wrong reason.

    • John Veazey says:

      Chuck or others may have a better or more complete answer, but as a layman, I suspect that the answer begins with the multilevel process of discipline that Jesus lays out in Matt. 18:15-17. The hope is that the person caught in sin will repent privately (either one-on-one or with a very small group of people) before it has to be brought before the whole church. And even then, discipline follows only if the person doesn’t listen to the church. Those would be only the very worst cases, of which hopefully, there would be very few.

      • Ken says:

        I agree. When I was little we had a lady in our church who was guilty of a particular sin. The pastor confronted her about it, but she wouldn’t repent. He finally brought her before the deacons, and she repented. My Dad was one of the deacons, but he didn’t tell anyone about this incident for many years – not even my Mom. I didn’t learn about it until I was grown and the lady in question had died. That’s the way it should be: if the person repents, there’s no reason for it to go any farther.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Thanks, JD. I think one place to start is to strengthen the church membership process upfront. Until that component is in place, it’s difficult to carry out discipline.

    • H.L. Jackson says:

      It’s called Presbyterianism and it comes straight from scripture. Check it out. 😉

  • Luis Ramos says:

    Thanks for the post. I think that an undisciplined life in general not necessarily overt sin prevents some leaders from disciplining church members. They may also see discipline as punitive rather than redemptive. The Lord disciplines those He loves is a hard verse for some to figure out.

  • Galen says:

    Unfortunately many do not know difference between correct church discipline and administering their own brand of legalism.

  • Jim Evans says:

    You are spot on for many of the reasons. We also live in a culture that says, on’t judge unless you are perfect. The Scriptures clearly teach that discipline is for Christians, not those who are “outside”. (1 Cor 5) It is often a time to help a person get real about their salvation. I have often used the opportunity to help a person understand that as a Christian it is God’s desire that sin no longer have dominion over us and that we are set free from it. Discipline is merely a aid in growing. (Hebrews 12:4-12)

    When I return to churches where we have practiced biblical discipline the first persons to come and hug my neck are often the ones who went through discipline. Their marriages were saved in several cases . . . they experienced release from life-long bondage to a particular behavior or sin . . . and they took a huge leap in their Christian development as a result.

    I have experienced several situations where the discipline was not appreciated and the offended person left the church and continued on hopping from church to church. They are no longer my responsibility. All I can do is pray for them and wonder about their understanding of God’s love and desire for them.

    I have never, and still don’t, look for situations where discipline should be applied. I hope to create a loving and authentic environment where sin is continually being wrestled with and people are continually growing. However, when a situation becomes obvious and public God has given clear instruction about a leaders responsibility.

    “Such behavior that is not even named among the Gentiles” should not be condoned by neglect by the Church. Loving discipline is a demonstration of sacrificial love. It is risky, messy and hard. I remind people that God loves them so much that He has asked me to demonstrate my love for them by moving into a mine field of potential misunderstandings and controversy to rescue them from the consequences of their sin.

    Whoever the Lord loves He disciplines. Discipline is an act of love not punishment. It’s aim is restoration not rejection. One reason it’s not done is because we don’t want to wade into uncomfortable, risky waters in order to rescue someone . . . or should I say sometimes ministry is more about us than it is about the people God called us to serve.

    Sorry for the rambling. You pushed a hot button with me on this blog. Thanks for your stirring up of the church and its leaders with your challenges.

    • ZoltonK says:

      You didn’t ramble and made extremely valid points. As someone who is now administering it for the first time, after many months of prayer, searching Scripture and seeking counsel from others experienced in administering CD, here is what I have learned so far:
      1. Scripture, not opinions/personal convictions must be the foundation for identifying the sinful attitude/activity.
      2. Scripture must be followed in carrying out CD…especially Matthew 18.
      3. Allow time for the Holy Spirit to convict and convert (depending on nature/severity of sin)
      4. Humble and faithful obedience to God’s Word and concern for His glory, over and above our own reputations and the “feelings” of others, must remain the priority. Second to this is the recognition that God has given us the ministry of reconciliation, therefore our desire must be to confront (not attack) for the purpose of reconciling a professing Christian with God and God’s Word. I have heard people say; “What will people think about this in our church/community?” My response; “What does God think about our refusal to uphold His Standard?”
      5. Be aware of the reality that our own flesh will have the tendency to rear its ugly head in our own lives as we administer CD. I have learned to plead for God’s grace to wash over me throughout the entire process so that I don’t sin in/through the process.
      6. Be willing to uphold and obey Biblical CD, even if it means that a community is turned against you by the “patriarch” who is unwilling to confess and repent.
      7. Humble yourself under God and before men…entrusting yourself to the Righteous judge.

      What God knows about you is more important than what others think about you.
      Church leaders and laity must

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Thanks for the insights, Jim. Helpful thoughts.

    • Ken says:

      You make some good points. I don’t think Christians ought to keep tabs on each other and try to catch someone in sin, as though church discipline is some kind of “gotcha” game. If you don’t have solid evidence that a person is doing wrong, the best thing to do is simply let matters ride. Private sins have a way of becoming public. After all, God is not mocked. Once the sin becomes public, then the church has a duty to deal with it.

  • Tony says:

    I have been on the mission field since 1999. We have practiced church discipline on numerous occasions. It is very tough to do. I only saw it practiced ONE time in the US. The pastor warned the sinning parties to repent. If they did not repent, the pastor would inform other churches. He did just that and yet other churches welcomed the disciplined into their congregation, only to deal with the same issue later on. The BEAUTY in church discipline is restoration. One time we publicly rebuked our assistant pastor for immorality and kept him under watch care for two years. After two years, we held a “restoration service”. We laid hands on him and prayed for him. Though he is not a full time minister now, he is a valuable asset to his church.

    • ZoltonK says:

      Amen! 2 years ago God’s Spirit convicted me concerning how I had sinned against a fellow staff member, 7 years prior in another ministry in which we served together. I tracked him down (figuratively) and called him to confess and repent of my sin and to ask him if there was any other way in which I had sinned against him of which I had no knowledge. I wept as I was broken because of my sin against him. We were reconciled over the phone which allowed us to truly embrace each other about a year later when we both attended a funeral. The joy, release and cleansing of heart, mind and soul is inexpressible. It is this personal experience of confession, repentance, reconciliation and victory that encourages me to pursue reconciliation through Biblical CD. However, if a “professing Christian” refuses to confess and repent after all 3 parts of Matthew 18 have been administered, then we must be willing to remove that person from membership (not attendance) and trust God with the results, always ready to be reconciled if/when the person express sincere confession and repentance. In fact, God will receive greater glory when a truly repentant “church member” is restored to the fellowship.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Thanks for the emphasis on restoration, Tony.

  • Kenn Hartman says:

    I was very interested in reading this timely article. However, I would have enjoyed it more if the author had pointed to the very scripture passages that command church discipline. Jesus Christ actually teaches church discipline in Matthew 18:12-18, which one can understand as a command. It is not optional for a church. Galatians 6:1-5 also calls each believer to be an actual participant in one-on-one discipleship and discipline of other believers. Once again, this is not optional and we should grow to be comfortable to confront those whom are observed in a trespass.

    I am thankful that I am a member of a church that actively deploys church discipline. Here is a summary paragraph from Grace Immanuel Bible Church in Jupiter, FL related to this matter:
    “Church discipline is necessary to protect the purity and the unity of the church. We learn that the grace of the confrontation process results most often in repentance rather than dis-fellowship. We must be concerned first with our personal holiness and then bear each other’s burdens. To love one another, we are called to speak truth into their lives in the form of exhortation, encouragement, and admonishment.”

    One note, I am not a spokesperson for GIBC, only an active member, so please contact them directly, if you have any specific questions about church discipline and the manners in which it is practiced. I love how we organically include discipline on our discipleship relationships. Churches which encourage personal discipleship often have the most robust teaching on church discipline. Furthermore, I have found that if a church has solid church membership practices, they do not run into difficulty in discipline, because the member has signed a doctrinal adherence statement when they became a member.

    Thank you for allowing me to contribute.

    Kenny H

  • Melissa says:

    We recently left a church that has not practiced discipline in a very long time. Many in leadership positions have issues in their own families that they are dealing with and we have a group that has been in power for over 20 years that has been known to drive pastors out that rock the boat.

  • Carl Kincaid says:

    I affirm that church discipline should be incorporated properly in todays church regardless of cultural popularity. However, I would like to first consider the structure of our local church and how it is actually functioning in response to the great commission. We are called to make disciples! Anybody who counts themselves as a disciple maker knows that it is significantly easier to correct/rebuke a close disciple that you have poured your life into than it is to correct/rebuke a “member” to which you barely know. I have heard it put this way, you can only take out what you’ve put in. Many of our churches don’t have a proper discipleship venue or method. Some just call a weekly sermon and an occasional meal together discipleship. It’s not! Discipleship is deeper and more engrossed. When we haven’t connected with the person prior to the offense, it can make the correction not only awkward but sometimes unwelcome.
    I simply conclude in saying that perhaps church discipline would flow a lot smoother if it were done in more of the loving discipleship format rather than in the “You’re a member, submit to the holy police!” format.

  • Deb Mills says:

    Always great to see a piece from you, Chuck.

    I just wrote about church recently myself and will just copy & paste the point about church discipline: “Church Discipline – You may think that churches don’t all have a church discipline protocol. That may be true. I am thinking that church discipline is part of most churches, whether spoken/written or not. How does one even look for how the church does discipline? The sermons can give some sense of what is “tolerated” or not. That’s a sad thing to have to say, but we all know the expression “bully pulpit” which can happen in churches as well as in politics. Shunning is prescribed rarely in Scripture (Romans 16:17, 1 Corinthians 5:11, Titus 3:9-11). Honestly, if a church uses shunning as a discipline, I would run. It would require the church to have such humility and such wisdom. Who is able, over months or years, to do it with a pure heart? Jesus taught on discipline in the church in Matthew 18:15-20. It’s so like Him to place that teaching between the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the unforgiving servant. Think about it.”

    Also loved the quote Ken shared about the pastor maybe needing discipline himself if he can do it without “A broken heart and teary eyes”.

    Thanks always for your Rock-solid teaching.

  • Ryan says:

    Personally, I feel that number 8 is a much more frequent reason than any of the others (whether we like to admit it or not). I also have seen that many churches that do practice church discipline, do so selectively. We choose what we are going to discipline and leave out the ones we’re not. Just my thoughts.

  • ZoltonK says:

    Great posts by everyone! One thing that crossed my mind while reading is the idea that somehow we cannot administer CD until we can do it perfectly. The reality is that “nothing” we do in church; worship, service, evangelism, discipleship, preaching, teaching, sunday school, etc. is ever done “perfectly.” Humans, even the most spiritual, will lead and serve imperfectly. Even our parenting is done imperfectly. However, our shortcomings in all these areas do not keep us from engaging in them. Hence, we should not apply this to CD. We must do our very best to approach and apply CD, recognizing that we may “stumble” along the way. When we do, we must confess and repent of our failures, learn from them and move on just as we would in any of the other areas. To simply ignore Scripture in this area is to ignore Jesus Christ’s own teachings. What else are we going to ignore in applying Scripture for fear that we will not obey perfectly?

  • Sonja Moore says:

    Much needed topic! It’s so very true. I find and have experienced that church discipline is harder amongst a church where many of the members are related including the Pastor.

  • D says:

    Mr. Lawless,
    Great entry. I am actually going through a church disciplinary action as we speak where I signed up to be a member but there was nothing in the membership packet about discipline. I got disciplined but they did not follow their own book of order and so I had to flee. It would make for an interesting case study. Let me know if you are interested.

    I think related to bullet point #8 is litigation.

    D

  • RC says:

    The church does not practice true Biblical governance. Pastor’s, Overseer’s, Elder’s, Shepherd’s have authority/rule over the church! Because our polity in the church is structured wrong it is easy to see how so few churches ever deal with “discipline”. We have recently corrected our church governance by appointing Elder’s and it is still very difficult. This is largely due to congregants believing that there is no Authority beside the congregational vote. The will of the people. No wonder so many churches are void of God’s power. We can’t even get this simple teaching right…..Appoint Elders in every town says Paul to Titus.

  • David Rogers says:

    Picking up on some thoughts Ghaze already hit on in an earlier comment, I think a big reason we don’t practice discipline, especially in relatively large churches, is we don’t really know each other. What right do we have to call someone down on something if we have not first invested the time to get to know them and to speak into their life in a more positive way? In small churches the causes may be something else. But in large churches, in order to make church discipline work in an edifying way there must be an effective small-group system in place in which small-group leaders are trained in the principles of discipline, and both small-group leaders and members are explicitly empowered by congregstion-wide leaders to carry out the initial stages of discipline with those in their small group with whom they have ongoing personal, redemptive relationships.

    • David Rogers says:

      An interesting line from the Confession of Faith of the first Baptist church in England, which migrated to London in 1612, under the leadership of Thomas Helwys: “That the members of every church ought to know one another, that so they may perform all the duties of love one towards another both to soul and body.”

  • John says:

    To this fine article I would add

    Power in Leadership & Martial Arts
    http://bachdevelopment.com/bach6a3.html

    “Practical Spiritual Self Defense for the congregation.”
    http://bachdevelopment.com/bach15a.html

    .
    The church at Corinth is an example of a church that did not practice church discipline. There was a moral problem within the church at Corinth. A man was shacked up with his dad’s wife. They seemed to think that their lack of discipline was an example of being loving. Paul rebuked the Corinthian church for their lack of love seen in tolerating sexual immorality among church members (1 Cor. 5).

    We must remember that Christian love does not contradict the holiness of Jesus Christ. It is that holiness to which he calls his body in every arena of life as outlined in the epistles. Doing so calls for a powerful balance of grace and truth. Then we can speak the truth in love and restore the fallen in a spirit of gentleness (Eph.4:15; Gal. 6:1)

    Such a lack of church discipline over broken moral boundaries within the church body damages the well-being of more than just those directly involved (1 Cor. 5; 6:12-20; Eph. 4:17-25; 5:3-20). Ben Witherington states that

    certain types of deviant behavior threaten the health, if not the existence of the body of Christ, not just the moral health or well-being of the individual Christian. Therefore, Paul’s attempts to direct and regulate the head, mouth, hands, feet, and genitals of the Christians in Corinth arise not simply from concern for personal morality. He also seeks to protect the body of Christ from acts and attitudes that can harm it. (255)

    Church discipline is called for concerning those who cause divisions in Christ’s Church through immorality, false teaching, or domination need removing (1 Cor. 5; Rom. 16:17-18); III John. As Witherington puts it, “Discipline was one of the key tools for making clear the limits of acceptable behavior and so establishing the community’s moral boundaries and for unifying a community” (160-161). Today’s pluralistic society and church world urge us to ignore the biblical call for discipline and limits for acceptable biblical behaviors. Insofar as the Church ignores this call, it eludes healthy maturity.

    The history of the church at Corinth after the writing of Paul’s epistles gives us a surprising and yet very important lesson. No church exists as an island. Lack of discipline within a church not only damage its credibility in reaching out to new people but also how other churches are viewed. It does not matter if they are near of far away. Forty-five years after Paul wrote I and II Corinthians, Clement of Rome wrote to that congregation about its problems with divisions. Not only did he quote Paul at length, but he also shared the impact of their divisions upon Christian outreach in Rome. Their divisions within the church at Corinth, Greece was damaging the evangelistic outreach in Rome, Italy. Wow! What an important lesson to learn from a day when radio, tv, telephones, cell phones, and the internet did not exist.

    The whole NT and the Bible as a whole is full of boundaries that apply to marriage, family, children, work, young people, older people, young widows, older widows, being a good citizen, and relating with those who are not disciples of Jesus Christ.

    Preventative church discipline involves teaching biblical boundaries and the selection of leaders who lives reflect these boundaries. Preventative church discipline is much less painful than punitive church discipline.

    Witherington, Ben, III. Conflict & Community in Corinth. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995.

  • Reginald Gabel says:

    Church Discipline is always for me a hard thing to do but it must be done. Sadly many pastors, deacons and church members look at it as a time for punishment. Our goal should be to help the person see that what they did is ungodly and to help them return to a healthy relationship with Christ. In the past 2 years I have had 4 cases of church discipline. 2 took only the first visit, 1 took several visits and still in counseling. None of these caused anyone to leave the church. Though many of the members knew issues were happening, they knew that it was being addressed properly. I had early in my time at the church share how I would handle discipline and that it was not going to be a time of gossip, hurting or judging. Of course I continually mention church discipline in sermons sometimes when talking about sin. There was church discipline when Jesus handled the issue of the woman caught in adultery. Now it was not the punishment of what the time called for but it handled it and told the woman “go sin no more.” If possible there should be grace, mercy, forgiveness, and restoration, if there is first repentance… along with a lot of prayer. Sadly my 4th issues looks like it will end with a family or two leaving the church. There is not repentance, no desire to correct the issue. It is more of a “sorry I got caught”… I was told it was their church and I had not right in correction or confronting family issues. I welcomed them to continue coming but before they could be back on a ministry team they needed to realize there was a need in a life change and a coming to Jesus time. (not in those words). Sin is sin and we have to address all of them, some more harsher than others. But as a pastor I must always seek a reconciliation. It must be done in the spirit of Matthew 18 but also with the understanding that the culture, the make up of the church. Our church today is not made up the same way as the 1st century church, nor like our churches of the 50, 60s. Many that come to church today are not Christians, not committed, not devoted to Christ Church. We have a team of devote believers that handle our Church Discipline along side of me. If there is a need to address the whole church it is not a time to air details but a time to pray for God intervention and reconciliation. I know it is not what some would do but, it has worked with most being reconciled and families healed. Have a blessed and wonderful day.

  • Jody says:

    I appreciate this article and all of the thoughtful comments. I don’t usually comment on blogs but I’d like to present a different perspective on what it means to “tell it to the church” that someone shared with me many years ago. The sequence of steps is to confront privately, then with a couple of witnesses. As was mentioned in many comments, the purpose is always redemptive and restorative, not punitive. The confrontation is to be bathed in prayer, grace, humility and love, and those doing the confronting should have spent considerable time first in self-examination and confession. These are vital steps that cannot be omitted! As others have mentioned, when done correctly, this is usually sufficient. When it is not, the “telling it to the church” part is not so much a courtroom experience, but rather calling upon all of the resources, relationships, and influence within the larger body to bring about restoration for a fallen brother or sister in Christ. No doubt there will be some who fail to respond to even that, and the church will then need to withdraw fellowship collectively. Even in that, we are told to treat him/her as a pagan or tax collector. This doesn’t mean to treat him with contempt, but as one who needs to be led to an authentic relationship with Christ. God’s mercy and longsuffering is great and He ALWAYS desires repentance and restoration. Even when the ultimate discipline is necessary, that should always be our model.

    • Reginald Gabel says:

      So true my brother… I think of how Christ treated the pagan and tax collector… he did not turn his back on them… he witnessed, loved, and reached out to them. But there is a caution that must be taken, a non-buddy relationship but a heart to continue to reach out. It is a hard thing to do in our culture but it must be done and done as Christ would do and not as the world would do.

  • wyclif says:

    As a minister, I’d re-write the #1 reason as “if you excommunicate people in unrepentant sin from your church, they’ll just roll down the road to The Church of Low Expectations where they will be welcomed with open arms.”

    No phone call from the minister or church who receives these people with no questions asked. No accountability. It’s a huge problem in evangelicalism.

  • Brian says:

    Good topic. My experience with this subject is with Baptist churches only, and my observations are that there is a lack of courage and humility in church leadership. The power of the good old boy network is alive and well. If discipline and accountability were was first carried out with deacons and pastors, then the membership could grow in this area and become healthier.

    People yearn to see humility and brokenness in church and denominational leadership. This needs to be modeled by high profile representatives and leaders, then it can be taught. As long as the perception and prevalence of arrogance exists, the church cannot bear greater fruit.

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