Reasons to Avoid Churches Who Will Not Practice Church Discipline

Article: Reasons to Avoid Churches Who Will Not Practice Church Discipline by Eric Davis (original source here)

The biblical church discipline process described in Matthew 18:15-20 is often messy, costly, and accompanied by damage. The pain experienced is typically unmatched when a professing believer must be publicly put out of the local church.

Even so, when practiced biblically, it is consistent with biblical love, care, and obedience to Christ. It is that sacred process where the holiness of God is upheld, the purity of the church maintained, and the value of souls practiced. Mark Dever rightly says that church discipline is “a loving, provocative, attractive, distinct, respectful, gracious act of obedience and mercy, and that it helps to build a church that brings glory to God.” A friend of mine personally experienced that very thing. He was biblically disciplined out of a large church and to this day he confesses that it was one of the best things that ever happened to him.

But more importantly, it’s a non-negotiable matter in God’s kind of church. Robust confessions of faith such as the Belgic, Scottish, and Heidelberg Catechism rightly identified church discipline as a sine qua non ingredient of a local church.

Now, the existence of church discipline in a church does not necessarily mean that a church is sound. Sadly, it’s a process that is sometimes abused. However, a refusal to practice it is a certain red flag. It’s one thing if a church leadership has not been practicing church discipline and is attempting to implement it. But it’s quite another thing if a church will not practice it. That refusal is symptomatic of other problems, making it a church to be avoided.

Here are 10 common problems among churches that will not practice discipline on you, making them unsafe:

1. A dangerous approach to God and his word.

God commands the sacred practice of church discipline. In addition to Christ’s clear command in Matthew 18:15-20, it shows up in passages like Romans 16:17-18, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, Galatians 6:1-3, 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15, and Titus 3:9-11. Continue reading

Concerning Church Discipline

thinking_manJonathan Leeman (MDiv, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is an elder at Capitol Hill Baptist in Washington, DC. He serves as director of communications for 9Marks and is the editor of its eJournal. He is the author of Church Discipline, Church Membership, and The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love. He has written an article entitled “10 Things You Should Know about Church Discipline” (original source here).

1. Jesus and Paul both command churches to practice church discipline.

Church discipline is not man’s idea, but God’s. Whatever Jesus meant by “You shall not judge” in Matthew 7, he didn’t mean to rule out loving correction between Christians, as he describes it in Matthew 18:15-20. Paul then takes Jesus words seriously and exhorts the Corinthian church to put Jesus’s instructions into practice (compare Matthew 18:20 and 1 Corinthians 5:4). Do we know better than Paul?

2. “Church discipline” goes by different names.

The term “church discipline” is employed in different ways, and people use different terms for discipline. Broadly, people might make a distinction between formative discipline (referring to teaching) and corrective discipline (referring to correcting sin).

Inside the category of corrective discipline, people might use the term “church discipline” to refer to any act of correction, whether that involves privately and informally warning a friend or formally removing someone from membership in a church. When it gets to this last step, people frequently use the word “excommunication.” Among Protestants, excommunication does not refer to removing someone from salvation (which the church is incapable doing). It refers to removing someone from membership in the church and participation in the Lord’s Supper. To excommunicate is to ex-communion someone, kind of like a reverse baptism.

3. Nearly every organization practices discipline.

In spite of its biblical basis, the idea of church discipline can be controversial among Christians and churches, even though people readily accept the fact that other organizations or group must have some means of correcting or removing its members. A fraudulent lawyer can be debarred. A volatile player in the NBA can be fined. A malpracticing doctor can lose his or her medical license. A teacher can be fired.

Ironically, even “watchdog” websites who decry the practice of church discipline exist exclusively for the sake of correction, or discipline (albeit without any accountability!). This reaction to discipline in the church speaks volumes about the individualistic nature of spirituality and personhood in the West.

4. Churches should practice discipline for the sake of love. Continue reading

Corrective Church Discipline

tom-ascolCorrective Church Discipline article by Tom Ascol (original source here)

One of the most important and difficult tasks a pastor must undertake is leading his congregation to understand and obey what the Bible says about church discipline. The widespread neglect of the practice can cause even faithful Christians to be fearful of the idea. When biblical texts that give instruction on the subject are introduced it is not uncommon to hear responses that border on panic. “This will split the church.” “So then only perfect people can be members?” “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” “I’ve been a Christian for ___ (20, 30, 40, etc.) years and have never heard of this, so why are you bringing it up now?”

Such fears can only be overcome by leading people to trust the Lord and His Word. The authority and sufficiency of Scripture are foundational not only to restoring the practice of church discipline but to every matter of faith and work in the Christian life. On that foundation the specific texts on the nature of the church and the steps of discipline must be simply and plainly taught.

To introduce church discipline I would begin with the classic passage on the subject found in Matthew 18:15-20. Any church that obeys Jesus’ words will find that most sin in the church will be effectively dealt with in private as brothers and sisters give and receive correction as they help each other follow Christ together. Repentance and forgiveness will characterize relationships—which is exactly the way life together in the body of Christ is supposed to work.

When such private efforts fail and the offender continues in sin without repentance, the matter must be told to the church. Only if he refuses to heed the admonitions of the church is he to be removed from membership, not as an act of punishment but as an expression of love for his soul and with the hope and prayer that he will come to his senses and be restored through repentance. Continue reading

Church Discipline Mistakes

church (1)Jonathan Leeman is the Editorial Director of 9Marks and an elder at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. You can find him on Twitter at @JonathanDLeeman. In an article entitled “22 Mistakes Pastors Make in Practicing Church Discipline” he writes:

Pastors sometimes make the following mistakes regarding formal church discipline.

1. They fail to teach their congregation what church discipline is and why they should practice it.

2. They fail to practice meaningful membership, which includes (1) teaching people what membership entails before they join; (2) encouraging casual attenders to join; (3) carefully interviewing everyone who wants to join; (4) giving regular oversight to all the flock; and (5) maintaining an up-to-date membership list that accurately reflects who is present at the weekly gathering.

3. They fail to teach their congregation about biblical conversion, especially the need for repentance. Continue reading

Matthew 18 and Heresy in the Public Arena

DA CARSONDr. D. A. Carson go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

Several years ago I wrote a fairly restrained critique of the emerging church movement as it then existed, before it morphed into its present diverse configurations.1 That little book earned me some of the angriest, bitterness-laced emails I have ever received—to say nothing, of course, of the blog posts. There were other responses, of course—some approving and grateful, some thoughtful and wanting to dialogue. But the ones that displayed the greatest intensity were those whose indignation was white hot because I had not first approached privately those whose positions I had criticized in the book. What a hypocrite I was—criticizing my brothers on ostensible biblical grounds when I myself was not following the Bible’s mandate to observe a certain procedure nicely laid out in Matt 18:15–17.

Doubtless this sort of charge is becoming more common. It is regularly linked to the “Gotcha!” mentality that many bloggers and their respondents seem to foster. Person A writes a book criticizing some element or other of historic Christian confessionalism. A few bloggers respond with more heat than light. Person B writes a blog with some substance, responding to Person A. The blogosphere lights up with attacks on Person B, many of them asking Person B rather accusingly, “Did you communicate with Person A in private first? If not, aren’t you guilty of violating what Jesus taught us in Matthew 18?” This pattern of counter-attack, with minor variations, is flourishing.

To which at least three things must be said:

(1) The sin described in the context of Matt 18:15–17 takes place on the small scale of what transpires in a local church (which is certainly what is envisaged in the words “tell it to the church”). It is not talking about a widely circulated publication designed to turn large numbers of people in many parts of the world away from historic confessionalism. This latter sort of sin is very public and is already doing damage; it needs to be confronted and its damage undone in an equally public way. This is quite different from, say, the situation where a believer discovers that a brother has been breaking his marriage vows by sleeping with someone other than his wife, and goes to him privately, then with one other, in the hope of bringing about genuine repentance and contrition, and only then brings the matter to the church.

To put the matter differently, the impression one derives from reading Matt 18 is that the sin in question is not, at first, publicly noticed (unlike the publication of a foolish but influential book). It is relatively private, noticed by one or two believers, yet serious enough to be brought to the attention of the church if the offender refuses to turn away from it. By contrast, when NT writers have to deal with false teaching, another note is struck: the godly elder “must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (Titus 1:9 NIV). Continue reading

When to leave a Church and what to look for in a new one

John-MacArthurDr. John MacArthur Bible-believing church. Christians are commanded to respect, honor, and obey those whom God has placed in positions of leadership in the church (Heb. 13:7, 17). However, there are times when it becomes necessary to leave a church for the sake of one’s own conscience, or out of a duty to obey God rather than men. Such circumstances would include:

If heresy on some fundamental truth is being taught from the pulpit (Gal. 1:7-9).

If the leaders of the church tolerate seriously errant doctrine from any who are given teaching authority in the fellowship (Rom. 16:17).

If the church is characterized by a wanton disregard for Scripture, such as a refusal to discipline members who are sinning blatantly (1 Cor. 5:1-7).

If unholy living is tolerated in the church (1 Cor. 5:9-11).

If the church is seriously out of step with the biblical pattern for the church (2 Thess. 3:6, 14).

If the church is marked by gross hypocrisy, giving lip service to biblical Christianity but refusing to acknowledge its true power (2 Tim. 3:5).

This is not to suggest that these are the only circumstances under which people are permitted to leave a church. There is certainly nothing wrong with moving one’s membership just because another church offers better teaching or more opportunities for growth and service. But those who transfer their membership for such reasons ought to take extreme care not to sow discord or division in the church they are leaving. And such moves ought to be made sparingly. Membership in a church is a commitment that ought to be taken seriously. Continue reading

Church Discipline

Justin Taylor writes:

The following notes are from Jonathan Leeman’s short and very helpful book, Church Discipline: How the Church Protects the Name of Jesus (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012).

3 Forms of Discipline

Formative discipline helps to form the disciple through instruction.

Corrective discipline helps to correct the disciple through correcting sin (Matt. 18:15-17; Gal. 6:1; Eph. 5:11; Titus 3:10; 2 Thess. 3:14-15; 1 Cor. 5:1-13).

Preemptive discipline disallows someone from participating in the fellowship of the church in the first place (2 John 2:9-10; see an example of this in Acts 8:17-24).

The following notes have to do with “corrective discipline.”

6 Reasons Churches Should Practice Church Discipline

Church discipline is biblical.
Church discipline is an implication of the gospel.
Church discipline promotes the health of the church.
Church discipline clarifies and burnishes the church’s witness before the nations.
Church discipline warns sinners of an even greater judgment to come.
Most importantly, church discipline protects the name and reputation of Jesus Christ on earth.

4 Ways Church Discipline Demonstrates Love

Church discipline shows love for the individual, that he or she might be warned and brought to repentance.
Church discipline shows love for the church, that weaker sheep might be protected.
Church discipline shows love for the watching world, that it might see Christ’s transforming power.
Church discipline shows love for Christ, that churches might uphold his holy name and obey him.

5 Purposes of Church Discipline from 1 Corinthians 5

1. Discipline aims to expose.

Sin, like cancer, loves to hide. Discipline exposes the cancer so that it might be cut out quickly (see 1 Cor. 5:2)

2. Discipline aims to warn.

A church does not enact God’s retribution through discipline. Rather, it stages a small play that pictures the great judgment to come (v. 5). Discipline is a compassionate warning.

3. Discipline aims to save.

Churches pursue discipline when they see a member taking the path toward death, and none of their pleading and arm-waving causes the person to turn around. It’s the device of last resort for bringing an individual to repentance (v. 5).

4. Discipline aims to protect.

Just as cancer spreads from one cell to another, so sin quickly spreads from one person to another (v. 6).

5. Discipline aims to present a good witness for Jesus.

Church discipline, strange to say, is actually good for non-Christians, because it helps to preserve the attractive distinctiveness of God’s people (see v. 1). Churches, remember, should be salt and light. “But if the salt loses its saltiness . . . ,” Jesus said, “It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled by men” (Matt. 5:13, NIV).

4 Foundational Assumptions for Church Discipline

1. An expectation of transformation.

The new covenant promises that Christ’s people will live transformed lives through the power of the Spirit. Even if change comes slowly, churches should expect change—the visible fruit of God’s grace and Spirit. Discipline is the right response to a lack of visible fruit, or, even more, the presence of bad fruit.

2. The work of representation.

Christians are to be little Christs, representing Jesus on earth. The concept of representation depends on the idea that Jesus is Savior and Lord; it depends on the fact that Christians are given a new status and a new work. Discipline is the right response when Christians fail to represent Jesus and show no desire for doing so.

3. The local church’s authority.

Jesus gave the local church the authority of the keys to officially affirm and oversee citizens of his kingdom. Churches do not make people Christians. The Spirit does that. But churches have the declarative authority and responsibility for making public statements before the nations about who is and isn’t a Christian. A church’s act of excommunication, therefore, does not consist of physically and forcibly removing the individual from its public gatherings, as if the church had the state’s power of the sword to physically move people’s bodies; rather, it consists of the public statement that it can no longer vouch for an individual’s citizenship in heaven. Excommunication is a church’s declaration that it can no longer affirm that an individual is a Christian.

4. Membership as submission.

Christians are called, as a matter of obedience to Christ, to submit to the affirmation and oversight of local churches. When threatened by a possible act of disci­pline, therefore, church members cannot simply preempt the church’s action with a resignation. That would be analogous to an individual resigning his national citizenship before a court could prosecute the criminal activity for which he had been indicted.

5 Principles for the Process of Church Discipline

The process should involve as few people as possible for yielding repentance.
When the process moves beyond one or several people, church leaders should lead the process.
The length of the process depends on how long it takes to establish that a person is characteristically unrepentant.

Individuals should receive the benefit of the doubt until the evidence indicates otherwise.
Leaders should involve and instruct the congregation as appropriate.
What Excommunication Signifies

“The church removes its public affirmation by barring the member from the Lord’s Table. It takes away his passport and announces that it can no longer formally affirm the individual’s citizenship in Christ’s kingdom” (p. 50).

1 of 3 Conclusions Churches Need to Arrive at before Determining It Is Time to Act

When a church becomes convinced that a person is genuinely repentant, it should not proceed with any form of discipline (and I cannot think of a single exception to this principle).
When a church becomes convinced that a person is characteristically (not temporarily) unrepentant, it should proceed with excommunication.

When a sin is so deliberate, repugnant, and indicative of a deep double-mindedness that a congregation is left unable to give credence to a profession of repentance, at least until time has passed and trust has been re-earned, it should pro­ceed with excommunication, determining to test for repentance after the fact.

See also, Pastors, Don’t Let Your People Resign into Thin Air and 22 Mistakes Pastors Make about Church Discipline.