Topic Article #12: Church Discipline
by Dr. Eugene Clingman, Executive Administrator
Copyright 2006, International Church Council Project
(This article may be freely distributed so long as it is not altered
and the above information remains intact.)
As I again read the International Church Council Project’s affirmations and denials “Concerning Church Discipline,” I was refreshed by the clarity and pithiness of the document and I was reminded of how much the Body of Christ needs to take hold and practice the essentials of church discipline. My heart beats faster as I contemplate how this document and the other 19 that make up the International Church Council Project’s statements of Affirmations & Denials is like a gold mine. Here is solid biblical wisdom and direction for the Body of Christ. Here is a potential of great blessing for the Body of Christ as she once again takes hold of truth and biblical practice.
When God delivered Israel out of Egypt, he told them, obey me, I am the Lord who delivered you. They were to obey because it was God who delivered them from their captors to become his special people. To live any other way was to deny that God had delivered them. To live any other way was to deny that they could long enjoy freedom apart from the blessing of God’s providence. If we are in Christ, God has also delivered us. He has called us out of darkness of pagan living into a holy lifestyle. God has a life and practice standard for his people. God requires his leaders within the Church to exercise biblically directed discipline if church members do not live according to the pattern and standard of biblical righteousness. For the most part church discipline is neither believed in nor practiced by God’s people today. If we would be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, we must return to the Bible’s teaching on church discipline.
The remainder of this article consists of excerpts from the Affirmations & Denials document titled, “Concerning Church Discipline,” each followed by my comments.
“I. We Affirm that Christ, out of love and concern for the nourishment, concord, unity, correction, and purity of His Body, has instituted and established through His Word certain ordinances for the discipline of the Church.”
Church discipline is a very serious matter being ignored by many evangelical churches and denominations. This is to our shame and to the ill-health of the Body of Christ. It is also a disservice to the world for which we are supposed to be salt and light. It is also to our peril – for should the Church lose its salting quality, as Jesus said, “It is good for nothing but to be cast out and walked upon by men.” A child left to himself, undisciplined, will bring sorrow to the entire family, so in Christ’s Church, when proper discipline is not exercised, the whole Church suffers.
“IV. We Affirm that disciplinable offenses include both violations of the Divine Will (i.e., transgressions of a moral and ethical nature and delinquency in spiritual obligations)1 and violations of sound doctrine, teaching, and Biblical truth (i.e., errors in belief that have the potential to dishonor God or bring offense to the truth).
We deny that Church discipline is limited in scope to unethical actions involving personal relationships and/or acts of moral turpitude.”
Liberal theologians and pastors have insisted that church discipline is legitimate only for dealing with personal moral conduct. When they deny that discipline is legitimate for dealing with non-orthodox (heretical) teaching, they soon find freedom to corrupt Christian teaching so that there is no theological grounds upon which to require a Christian moral standard. Consequently, church discipline becomes a non-issue and is soon forgotten, considered a relic of a more barbarous, less tolerant, less informed past.
“VI. We Affirm that discipline in all of its biblical aspects is non-optional; that is, it is required by God and Scripture for all Church members, including leaders, and is given great weight as an ecclesiastical duty.
We deny that the Church may neglect or abdicate its disciplinary duties out of fear of reprisal, threat of civil lawsuit, or any other external sanction. We further deny that the civil magistrate has any right or jurisdiction to apply sanctions against the Church for meeting its scriptural duty to discipline its members.”
Church discipline is a very serious responsibility God has placed upon the Church and particularly upon her leaders. It is not something to be ignored. The health and safety of the Church demands that ecclesiastical leaders diligently carry out necessary biblical discipline. Christian leaders must live in the Spirit of Jesus, which is the Spirit of martyrdom. They must obey Christ to carry out biblical discipline even if there may be a danger of personal loss. If they are unwilling to do this, they should not be in Christian leadership.
“IX. We Affirm that active affiliation of all believers with the Church on earth is commanded by scripture, without which membership biblical discipline is hampered or rendered impossible.
We deny that, apart from any unique or special circumstances which God may in His wisdom bring to pass, Christians can fully maintain their sanctification and spiritual growth apart from the Body of Christ.”
Effective church discipline requires Christians to be 1) in a committed relationship to a local congregation of God’s people, 2) in proper submission to legitimate spiritual authority in the church.
“XII. We Affirm that local congregations have a responsibility toward one another for inter-church, mutual care and discipline, for the maintenance of purity in practice and doctrine. We Affirm further that local congregations must honor and respect one another’s discipline of delinquent members, when that discipline has been carried out in accordance with the dictates of scripture.
We deny that any congregation is a totally independent entity and has no accountability elsewhere within the true universal Body of Christ. Moreover, we find reprehensible and unscriptural the common practice of certain churches to accept, without consultation and examination, members of other churches who are or have been under biblical discipline, censure, disfellowship, or ban of excommunication in another congregation.”
No congregation, or denomination is a completely independent and unrelated entity. Christ’s Church consists of true believers of every local congregation. It is Christ’s express purpose that the Church be one; not one organization, but a oneness that transcends denominational and congregational lines; a oneness that recognizes all of God’s people as God’s people. One denomination/congregation must honor discipline exercised by another. For instance, if one congregation excommunicates a member for unrepented adultery, another congregation should not accept him as a member. Or if one congregation excommunicates a member for divorcing his wife who is guilty neither of adultery nor abandonment, another congregation should not then perform a marriage ceremony for him and his partner. It is obvious the Body of Christ needs a good deal of maturing in order to cooperate in such ways, but it is also obvious that she must, if she is to be faithful in carrying out her responsibility of proper biblical discipline which is for the eternal benefit of its members.