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Replay: What’s the big deal about church discipline?

Posted by on Apr 16, 2011 in discipleship, discipline | 11 comments

Replay: What’s the big deal about church discipline?

Five years ago, I had just started publishing this blog. One of posts that I wrote during my second month of blogging was called “What’s the big deal about church discipline?” Even then I was recognizing the importance of real relationships among the church. I’d love to hear what you think about this post.

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What’s the big deal about church discipline?

I’ve read several books concerning church discipline. Most of them discuss the various purposes of church discipline (God’s glory, restoration, reconciliation, purity of the church, etc.) and the various reasons that would lead to church discipline (divisiveness, sexual immorality, blasphemy, false teaching, etc.). I understand the proper motivation (love and restoration) and the proper procedure (from Matthew 18). However, one thing has always concerned me: Why should the one undergoing church discipline be concerned about it? In other words, why is church discipline a deterrent?

If I understand the scriptural teaching concerning church discipline, undergoing church discipline should be a major deterrent to sinning, or at least to unrepentance. However, as I’ve seen church discipline practiced, most people who undergo church discipline either continue “attending” church meetings with very little ramifications, or they simply begin attending another “church”.

So, what is the big deal about church discipline?

Well, I’m finally understanding what the “big deal” is. Last night, as I sat among a group of believers, I thought to myself, “What would it mean to me if this group told me that they would not fellowship with me any longer?” It would be devastating! Even if I could continue to “attend” meeting… even if I could continue to “attend” Bible studies and prayer meetings… if my brothers and sisters told me that they would no longer associate with me, it would certainly cause me to stop and evaluate my life. It would be a deterrent to an unrepentant attitude.

What was missing before? Why have I just started understanding church discipline? Because I have only just begun to understand what true fellowship is – and it has nothing to do with occasional “pot-luck” dinners. I am finally beginning to understand what it means to share my life with others, and to share their lives.

Church discipline is meaningless without true fellowship.


11 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 4-16-2011

    Oh dear! When I read this–

    “Even if I could continue to “attend” meeting… even if I could continue to “attend” Bible studies and prayer meetings… if my brothers and sisters told me that they would no longer associate with me…”

    –I realized the typical church is more or less functionally operating as if nearly every member were under discipline. They aren’t allowed to speak (in any substantial way) during the assembly, and most don’t really associate outside of the church “worship meeting.”

    So, not only does the “loss” of edifying interaction and intimate relationship have no meaning, if they were being frowned at, they can simply check out of the current church, and find a couple hundred others nearby that would welcome a few more seats (and maybe an offering buck or two) taken up for their “worship meeting.”

  2. 4-16-2011

    Alan, you are spot on. A couple of months ago, it hit me that if I was ever “kicked out” of my community that it would destroy me until I repented and was welcomed back in. That’s never been the case in any other church I have been in.

  3. 4-16-2011

    Church discipline. Wonder why Jesus didn’t use that term and yet we do. Was he speaking of a new testament gathering? Where in Matthew 18 is the one who is at fault being asked to leave the community? To what degree would someone have to sin in order for us to bring it to a church level? I have more questions than I have answers but I don’t think Jesus had discipline in mind as much as he was thinking restoration. The context would seem to indicate the rescuing of a lost sheep.

  4. 4-16-2011

    Art,

    Yes, exactly. And, meanwhile, the person who is truly unrepentant goes through life with very little difficulty, often “welcomed” by another group of Christians.

    Fred,

    It’s an amazing recognition, isn’t it? These people are not just people that I attend a meeting with. They are truly my brothers and sisters and are an important part of my life. How difficult it would be if they decided tho distance themselves from me?

    Doug,

    True. In fact, I rarely use the phrase “church discipline” any longer. Matthew 18 is about relationships between two brothers/sisters. The church is part of the process of helping those two heal a rift in the relationships. In that passage, Jesus doesn’t speak to the community’s response at all.

    -Alan

  5. 4-16-2011

    Alan,

    You’re on the ball here!

    I have seen quite a few church disciplinary matters dealt with. The one thing that seems to be at the forefront of the thinking in the ones I’ve seen (not been involved in) is a selfish, self-righteous attitude rather than a real concern for restoration of the one being disciplined.

    The difficulty in all of this is that most of these disciplinary actions have been in churches where the Sunday meeting is a mere formality, practiced by people who barely know each other, rather than a meeting of family who love one another.

    “discipline” without genuine loving concern,even tears, is simply not Biblical discipline

  6. 4-16-2011

    If you attend a church without community and fellowship it’s like being excommunicated without them telling you what sins you committed that leads to them avoiding you.

  7. 4-16-2011

    Aussie John,

    Yes, exactly. Any type of discipline (positive or negative) falls flat if it’s not between people with real relationships.

    Steve,

    Plus, why would anyone even care that they’re being avoided?

    -Alan

  8. 4-16-2011

    Alan,

    If the person cared about community and fellowship, they’d care about being avoided.

  9. 4-17-2011

    Steve,

    I agree. But that’s the point of this post. Without relationships, they wouldn’t care about being avoided.

    -Alan

  10. 4-18-2011

    Alan,

    I greatly enjoyed this post. I’m wondering, however, if your concluding statement is in need of qualification. Wouldn’t you agree that church discipline benefits the local assembly as well as the one in sin? Certainly the practice or promotion of false teaching or immoral living requires action from the church, regardless of whether or not the one in need of correction has developed strong relationships with the others in the assembly. When false teaching and sinful behavior are dealt with, the purity of the church is preserved. This doesn’t seem meaningless to me.

    I’m not attempting to discount the importance of fellowship when it comes to church discipline. As you clearly demonstrated, this is extremely important when it comes to the restoration of the sinning member. I’m simply wondering whether or not you would agree that there might be benefits of church discipline that are not contingent upon the type of fellowship that exists. While there are certainly problems with exercising church discipline apart from true fellowship, there are also problems with not exercising church discipline at all out of a fear that true fellowship has not been achieved.

    Ben

  11. 4-18-2011

    Ben,

    I was thinking of mutual fellowship. Thus, if the person being “disciplined” does not have relationships with others among the church, the disciple will not be beneficial. I would say the same is true for the church if the church does not have relationships with the one being “disciplined.”

    -Alan

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