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This is part two of a two-part post about church membership and discipline. If you haven’t read part one yet, you should do so before continuing on. It lays a helpful foundation for what follows.
The Case for Church Discipline
Discipline often has a negative connotation in our minds, but in reality, that’s not always the case. Athletes discipline their body to become better at their sport. Students discipline their minds in order to learn and grow in understanding. Disciples discipline their lives in order to follow their teacher’s teaching. So, in its broadest term, discipline simply means formation or training. Thus, when we talk about Church discipline, we’re actually talking about what church membership most naturally necessitates: helping one another grow up in love, maturity, and sanctification — you can not have genuine church discipline without meaningful church membership. Discipline means helping one another more accurately display the gospel and character of God in their lives in order that the church itself will be a better display of the gospel. Let’s look at this briefly in a little more detail.
What is Church Discipline? How the Church protects the name of Jesus
Church discipline is the process of correcting sin in the church. It’s how sin is addressed by church members. And it is always formative. That means it is always working to press us and shape us into Christlikeness. Therefore, church discipline may be both positive and negative.
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Positively, discipline gently and graciously challenges us follow harder after God. In fact, God himself disciplines us to this end (see Hebrews 12:1-14). This is done primarily through the preaching (as it instructs and edifies the body), discipleship groups or relationships (where the body challenges one another), and privately (as we devote ourselves to the word and prayer). Back in Matthew 18:15-17, discipline is still seen as a guide for someone in sin to get back on track with God, by the urging and gentle confrontation of a friend or group of friends.
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It is only when sin is so deeply rooted in the life of a believer that discipline can take a more negative approach. Consider 1 Corinthians 5:1-11, where Paul instructs the church to enact the highest form of church discipline — excommunication — for a person who refused to repent of his immoral lifestyle and sin against God, all of which ran counter to his profession of faith. His life was proving his faith to be a false one, and the church needed to discipline this man by no longer recognizing him as member or citizen of the Kingdom of God, but rather as what he betrayed himself to be, an unbeliever. The same was done to others, as well (see 1 Timothy 1:20).
But the goal of church discipline is always restoration. This may not always be the case, but it should always be the goal. Galatians 6:1, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are [spiritually mature] should restore him gently.” So there are numerous reasons why church discipline is a healthy practice:
- For the good of the person disciplined
- For the good of other Christians, as they see the danger of Sin
- For the health and unity of the church as a whole
- For the corporate witness of the church
- For the glory of God, as we reflect his holiness
A Call for Radical Allegiance and Discipleship
So, what are we to do then? It’s all well and good that these are biblical practices, but how can I contribute to the church by means of my membership and discipline? Here are a few ways that Christians and churches, in a society that values self-autonomy and independence, can radically display their allegiance to Christ and become better disciples:
- Become a member, sign a covenant
- Regularly attend services in order to hear from God’s word together
- Concern yourself with the health and direction of the church by constantly attending Members’ Meetings
- Pray regularly, for yourself, your leadership, and other members
- Give yourself and your resources toward the health of the church
- Commit to spend time with one another regularly outside of schedule church events (like services or Bible studies
- Practice spiritual disciplines both privately and in community
- Share your faith with others regularly
- Gently confront sin in others, offering help and guidance along the way
- Receive correction humbly, asking others to hold you accountable to your faith
- Take discipline seriously; remove false teachers and false converts
There are plenty of books to recommend, but here are few:
- 9 Marks of a Healthy Church, by Mark Never
- Church Membership and Church Discipline, by Jonathan Leeman
- Life Together, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
- The Compelling Community, by Jamie Dunlap