Church Discipline, Don’t Do It.
Church discipline can devastate a church body. When spiritual leadership permits “control” to become the dominating factor, legalistic chaos is certain to follow. Innocent people get hurt. Faith in church leadership wavers. Pride increases. Respect for the church decreases. And there is no honor for Christ.
Yet on the other side of that coin, some church leaders refuse to practice any form of church disciplinary action. Thus arises the counter argument: Discipline is unloving, counter-evangelistic and judgmental. Thus innocent people get hurt. Faith in church leadership wavers. Pride increases. Respect for the church decreases. And there is no honor for Christ.
So where lies the balance?
According to Mark Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, church leadership should not practice church discipline (1). Say WHAT?
Yea, that’s what I thought too when I first began to read Mr. Dever’s comments. But it only took a moment to see the catch line. In the depth of his discussion, pastor Dever adds the comment, “…at least not yet,” and the tone of his discussion begins to address the principles of right discipline church style.
Spiritual Leadership, Human Error, Scripture and Church Discipline
Open your bible to 2 Thessalonians 3:6, and you catch a word that seems to demand practical separation from any brother who leads an unruly life ignorant of tradition. The words seem ordered such that any Christ-loving believer should be moved to reject those who do not align with the local body of believers. Then comes Romans 16:17 with additional commandments that we are to keep away from those who cause divisions. Follow this up with 2-John 1:10, which teaches that we should not even welcome false teachers into our house, and it becomes easy to let yourself leap onto the spiritual bandwagon of church discipline without respect to full understanding of the Scriptures.
But be careful that you do not confuse human error with moral failure or reasonable objection with divisions via false doctrine. The Lord commands holiness and excommunication (Deut. 17:7, Isa 52:11, 1-Peter 1:16) but He also demands honorable spiritual leadership. In the wake of pride and human error, it is easy for a church body to perceive every doctrine that is contrary to tradition as a false doctrine. Yet throughout the history of the world, God has done battle with sometimes earnest but miss-guided leaders. Likewise, there have been times when the leaders were not merely miss-guided, they were dead wrong.
For example: Jeremiah 1:17-19 portrays a prophet called forth to pronounce judgment upon a people who resisted the right words of the living God.
“Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them. Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.”
And this man who brought forth truth was treated with dishonor, rejected by his own family and by God’s people. The spiritual leadership – so-called – of the time not only rejected the words of the true prophet, they attempted to dishonor him and defame him. See an example in the following text:
“Then Hananiah the prophet took the yoke from off the prophet Jeremiah’s neck, and brake it. And Hananiah spake in the presence of all the people, saying, Thus saith the LORD; Even so will I break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon from the neck of all nations within the space of two full years. And the prophet Jeremiah went his way,” (Jeremiah 28: 10,11).
Church Discipline: Do It
Church discipline is about excluding unrepentant sinners, not controlling the voice of righteousness. If not careful, spiritual leaders – so-called – may end up casting out the only voice that could help their church grow into spiritual maturity. From the Judges to Isaiah and from Ezekiel to John the Baptists, the religious world has resisted the prophets. As such, it is critical that spiritual leadership applies a balanced approach to church discipline.
Taking aggressive out-of-context disciplinary action can leave a normal, well adjusted and popular pastor with the task of overseeing the bitterness of a maladjusted church body. Perceived obedience to the Word suddenly becomes dogmatic resistance to all things contrary to tradition. And the loving church becomes a legalistic burden to all members within that church. Thus every word that lays challenge before the leaders results in miss-guided application of church disciplinary action.
Church Discipline: If you proceed, do so slowly, cautiously, prayerfully and in the exact order defined in Matthew 18: 15-17. Be certain that you do not ignore step one of the process least you become guiltier than the victim of your carelessly applied church disciplinary tactics.
“If your brother or sister sins go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”