The Extinction of Church Discipline

I have always found it amazing when I hear comments from people which expose their self-centered perspective. For example, it is pretty amazing when someone says, “Why can’t that person speak English?!” The most appalling part of this is that they are saying this not in America, but in a foreign country! (I still shake my head in disbelief). Then there are others who would say, “Why do we pray out loud in one voice in church prayer gatherings, isn’t that a Korean thing and aren’t we trying to be a transcultural church?” It is at that moment I realize that this person has never been out of the country and/or have not interacted with Christ-followers from other countries. If we have never experienced non-Koreans praying out loud in one voice, then the conclusion might seem valid. But we know that just because we have never experienced something, it does not make it invalid or untrue. It just seems like common sense, but nowadays we cannot take anything for granted.

I bring all this up because when it comes to church discipline, so many people see it through the lens of the Western mindset (the rugged individualism). This is why so many people do not fully understand the significance of church discipline or they have a strong aversion to it because it goes against the self-reliant and individualistic mindset. Also, churches are so gun-shy of disciplining their members because instead of following Scripture, they follow the currents of society and have lowered God’s standards.

Recently, I was reading an article on church discipline and it just reaffirmed the importance of it and the wisdom in having church membership.

If there is anything that people need to understand about church discipline is the fact that it is always for the benefit of the individual. But it is so hard to see it this way because so many people who are getting disciplined see it as something that they are being “punished” for, rather than seeing as an avenue to grow in Christ-likeness, restoring a healthy biblical community, and displaying the holiness and glory of God.

Some principles to keep in mind when it comes to church discipline are (the 4 R’s):

1) Relationships. The discipline must be done in the context of relationships. This is why if the person is not a covenant signing member and they do not have relationships within the context of biblical community, then it will be an uphill battle. Who are they accountable to? Why in the world would they want to go through church discipline if they don’t feel the responsibility of being in community? It will be hard to follow the principles laid out in Matthew 18:15-17.

2) Restoration. The ultimate goal of any church discipline is restoration. When a person deviates from God’s ways or falls into destructive behavior that affects them and the faith community, then it is imperative that discipline is applied. Once again, without the relationship then it will be hard to accomplish the end goal. In that relationship there has to be humility and a willingness to do what is “right” and not what might make a person “feel good.”

3) Revelation. One key component of church discipline is to help people see the holiness of God and how He is constantly preparing the Bride to be a radiant Church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish (Eph 5:27). When people see the seriousness of sin, then they will understand more of God’s honor and glory. The more we ignore sin and go under “sin management” mode, then we will turn a costly grace into a cheap grace that will weaken the Church. How can we take God seriously, if His people flippantly take God’s Word?

4) Redemption. When church discipline is done correctly, there is a Gospel story to be told. There is not only the pain and damage of sin, but there is grace, mercy and God’s love woven into the whole story. It becomes a powerful testimony of how God can take some of our failures and mistakes and transform it to something beautiful. It is the beauty for ashes story and this always enables us to give praise to God.

If there are many benefits, then why aren’t churches engaging more in church discipline? Ken Sande of Peacemaker Ministries in his article says, “[There’s] a general breakdown in respect for authority, and the embracing of individualism, the attitude that says nobody can tell me what to do. And even the democratic perspective in our country has entered many churches, so people believe everything should be done in a democratic way.”

Sande hits it right on the nail.

Another contributing factor is the lack of commit to the local church. Sande says, “I believe churches that allow a lack of commitment for an extended period of time is an error both biblically and legally. We should be calling people to make a formal commitment to membership. It used to be the case that you could not move from church to church without a letter of transfer. That was done to maintain accountability and discipline. We need a clear commitment to membership, but we also need churches in a community working together to discourage church hopping. In some communities churches have begun to sign covenants of cooperation saying they will not sit back and allow people to move from church to church to church looking for a new thrill, and causing the same problems each place they go.

He gives an excellent illustration by stating, “The situation we find ourselves in today is like allowing all the kids in the neighborhood to play in your back yard. If they do some really bad and destructive things you are going to have a hard time responding because they are not your children, and you are limited in the discipline you can use. Today churches basically allow people to come in and play church year after year, but when there is a serious problem they find their ability to deal with it to be very limited.”

It is my prayer that the Church will regain the healthy perspective on church discipline and have the guts to exercise it so that God’s glory will be displayed – then just maybe people will start taking God seriously.