The Dallas Morning News recently featured an article covering a dispute between a northeast Dallas church and a former member in the process of being disciplined by that church for adultery. It’s a tough situation for everyone, but praise God for the faithfulness of local pastors and congregations who attempt to obey the word of God for the glory of God in all things!
Churches that would exalt the name of Jesus and the truth of the gospel through faithful Christian living must have compassion and courage enough to exercise church discipline for the benefit of the person disciplined, for the health of the congregation, for the integrity of the gospel, and ultimately for the purity of Christ’s Bride and the praise of the Lord.
Having said that, however, it is important for church leaders to realize that the practice of church discipline is very misunderstood by many, and unknown to most people today. Before exercising discipline, except in the clearest and most egregious cases, care should be taken to (1) build a healthy culture of meaningful church membership where people are committed to and invest in each other’s lives, (2) teach the congregation that discipline is an act of love (1 Cor. 5:1-5), (3) recognize that the vast majority of discipline is formative, positive growth that occurs as the Word is preached and applied, and (4) make sure the leadership understands how to lovingly and wisely administer corrective discipline when needed.
Some resources for those interested in thinking more about church discipline:
- For a great historical treatment of the subject see, Greg Wills, Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South, 1785-1900
- An excellent one-volume collection historical documents addressing church governance is Mark Dever (Ed.), Polity: Biblical Arguments on How to Conduct Church Life. See especially the chapters by J.L. Reynolds (“Church Polity or The Kingdom of Christ”) and Eleazer Savage (“Manual of Church Discipline”).
- A number of practical articles and audio resources are available at 9Marks Ministries.
- The Dallas Morning News article includes a helpful appendix of recent court rulings re: church discipline issues.