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Nov 4

A Primer on Church Discipline

2010 | by Trent Hunter | Category: The Church

At our last Lord’s Supper gathering, Ryan preached on the subject of church discipline in his sermon, “A Redemptive Judgment.” In a sentence, church discipline is that loving process whereby God, through his people, addresses us in our sin for our restoration to him, to his people and for his glory. Matthew 18:15-20 is the most specifically descriptive Scriptural text regarding church discipline, outlining a process of restoration that begins with personal confrontation and ends with removal from the church, if there is no repentance across a careful process involving the whole church. Along with preaching and the sacraments (Lord’s Supper and Baptism), this commitment to accountability and reservation is an historic and certainly biblical mark of the church.

9Marks ministries has done a good job of promoting, explaining, and defending this important practice for God’s people. Jonathan Leeman has written a helpful introduction to the subject, entitled, “A Church Discipline Primer.” Here’s his introduction:

What would you think of a coach who instructs his players but never drills them? Or a math teacher who explains the lesson but never corrects her students’ mistakes? Or a doctor who talks about health but ignores cancer?

You would probably say that all of them are doing half their job. Athletic training requires instructing and drilling. Teaching requires explaining and correcting. Doctoring requires encouraging health and fighting disease. Right?

Okay, what would you think about a church that teaches and disciples but doesn’t practice church discipline? Does that make sense to you? I assume it makes sense to many churches, because every church teaches and disciples, but so few practice church discipline. The problem is, making disciples without discipline makes as much sense as a doctor who ignores tumors.

I understand the reluctance to practice church discipline. It’s a difficult matter for any number of reasons. Still, this reluctance to practice church discipline, a reluctance that many of us probably feel, may suggest that we believe ourselves to be wiser and more loving than God. God, after all, “disciplines those he loves”; and “he punishes everyone he accepts as a son” (Heb. 12:6). Do we know better than God?

God disciplines his children for the sake of their life, growth, and health: God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness” (Heb. 12:10). Yes, it’s painful, but it pays off: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:11). A harvest of righteousness and peace! That’s a beautiful picture.

Church discipline ultimately leads to church growth, just as pruning a rose bush leads to more roses. Said another way, church discipline is one aspect of Christian discipleship. Notice that the words “disciple” and “discipline” are etymological cousins. Both words are taken from the realm of education, which involves teaching andcorrection. Not surprisingly, there’s a centuries-old practice of referring to “formative discipline” and “corrective discipline.”

My goal in this primer is to introduce the reader to the basics of corrective church discipline—the “what,” the “when,” the “how,” and a few more words on the “why.”

Read the whole article here (and note that the article is two pages).