Church Discipline

Church discipline is often observed more by its absence than by its application.  Of course no one likes to have to apply church discipline.  It causes great grief and sorrow in the church, and those who are responsible for applying it are often very cast down about having to do so.

But it is a mark of a weak church when discipline is neglected, and of a strong church when it is lovingly but firmly applied.

If a church member or leader falls morally, especially if it becomes known publicly, it causes grief to the Lord, mars the church testimony, and sets a bad example.  If the matter is not dealt with others may think the matter is unimportant and may be tempted to sin in a similar manner.  Also the church is seen to be weak.

The causes of discipline are many and varied.  They range from lack of attendance at church to serious public moral misdemeanours or doctrinal errors.

It is wise to have the causes and procedures of church discipline spelled out in the church constitution.  At the very least relevant scripture passages should be cited.  If these details are not laid down in the constitution of the church the way is left open to very subjective judgments and wide variation in application.

Many years ago a minister sought to dismiss an adulteress privately, thinking to avoid scandal and great upset in the church.  The miscreant sued him successfully on the grounds that he had not followed church procedure.  So whatever procedure is laid down must be followed.

If statements are to be made in a church meeting they should be typed out and read so that an accurate copy is retained in case of further complications.

Always the ultimate goal is the restoration of the offender, but this is not always attainable, at least in the short term.  Sanctions may vary from private admonition, through public rebuke, suspension from the Lord’s table, or from church membership for a period, through to complete excommunication.  Whatever decision is made the church needs to be kept informed and warned against speaking of these things outside the church. (Matthew 18:15-20).

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