Thoughts on Church Discipline

Posted: August 16, 2010 in Uncategorized

This coming Sunday at Oak Park Baptist Church I will be preaching on the subject of church discipline.  In preparation for this sermon I have spent the past several weeks reading through the book of James (as I will come from the text of James 5:19-20), reading Dr. Curtis Vaughn’s commentary as a companion to the text itself, have worked through parts of Jonathan Leeman’s book, “The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love,” as well as working through a congregational study guide by Dr. Wyman L. Richardson on this specific topic.  It is the study guide by Dr. Richardson that has been most helpful. 

“Walking Together:  A Congregational Reflection on Biblical Church Discipline” is the result of Richardson’s Doctor of Ministry project while at Beeson Divinity School.  I wanted to take a moment and share some excerpts that caught my attention.

Dr. Richardson gives 8 reasons why we must practice church discipline.

  1. It is a simple matter of obedience.
  2. We now see the harmful results of ignoring church discipline.
  3. Love demands it.
  4. False teachings are ravaging the American church.
  5. The church, in many quarters, is now indistinguishable from the world.
  6. Membership in the average evangelical church has come to mean almost nothing.
  7. Respect for our forefathers and for God’s hand in the history of the church demands that we at least think about what they considered to be crucial.
  8. Fear of God calls for church discipline.


Dr. Richardson goes on to state three foundational convictions to his work:

  1. Church discipline has largely disappeared in American churches today because our ecclesiology has been defined more by the culture than by the Bible.
  2. Consequently, many churches are more concerned today with the comfort of the club than with the obedience of the church.
  3. Therefore, churches must return to a biblical ecclesiology even when that ecclesiology brings us into conflict with our cultural desires.


The contrast between a cultural ecclesiology and a biblical ecclesiology is then laid out side by side.


Cultural Ecclesiology     


Biblical Ecclesiology

 Doctrine is a matter of personal opinion.  Doctrine must be in accord with the apostles teaching which they received from Jesus (Galatians 1:6-9).
 Churches should operate on the basis of what works.  Churches should operate on the basis of what Jesus has instructed (Matthew 28:20).
 A Christian is never, under any circumstance, to judge another Christian.  A Christian is sometimes, in certain circumstances, to judge another Christian (1 Cor. 5:12-13).
 Churches should never remove a member from membership.  Churches should sometimes (i.e., in cases of open, unrepentant rebellion) remove a person from membership (1 Cor. 5:2).
 Love means never telling somebody that they are wrong.  Love means being willing to tell somebody that they are wrong (James 5:19-20).
 Christians are to mind their own business.  Christians are to help one another and hold one another accountable.


This is a helpful chart as it shows us the difference between what our culture calls for and what God calls for in His Word.   We must guard against operating our churches in accordance with the dictates of the surrounding culture to the neglect of what God has said.

There is much more I could say, and much more I could take from Dr. Richardson in this post.  I will simply close by saying that  corrective church discipline is something that the Bible clearly and consistently talks about.  The New Testament does not give us a pattern of neglect in this area.  We must make sure that we do not neglect practicing what is clearly directed in God’s Word.

  1. jamie woodyard says:

    Great article,great points, and excellent resources. Just taught through I Timothy 1. 18-20 yesterday evening. I expressed that if we (Pastors & Churches) are going to ‘contend for the faith once delivered to the saints’ and ‘wage the good warfare'(ESV), then we must be willing to confront and discipline when necessary. To not confront (heresy & gross unrepentant behavior) is a sure and slow death for any congregation. Although we confront and discipline with great care and caution (Matt. 18), we must never fail to practice a love that has eternity if view and the church’s integrity valued. Anything less is tragic and uncaring

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