Friday, November 10, 2017

Thoughts on Church Discipline

Church discipline is a subject that makes me ansty.  I support church discipline, as I understand it (more on that anon) but I also am uneasy about the way some churches are boastful of the fact that they discipline, and make a sort of front-and-center testosterone-laden pronouncement that “We. Practice. Church. Discipline. Hoo-ah!” It's unseemly. The fact that your church practices church discipline should be assumed and is nothing to be proud about.

You don’t have to announce that you practice church discipline. Just do it when necessary.

Let’s talk about the how then the when.

The how, more or less universally, is the promise that the church will follow Matthew 18. I don’t have a problem with that. I am less certain than most of my fellow believers that it is prescriptive for all cases (it is described to handle the specific case of unreconciled enmity)—but it seems like it is reasonable to put it into practice, if possible, for all cases. So I can agree with the Matthew 18 process even though I view it more of a case-study than a one-size-fits-all prescription.  The main reason I don’t see it as a mandate is that it was not obviously practiced in the few examples of church discipline that we see in the New Testament. For example, in the incidents involving Simon the Magician, Ananias, Sapphira, and the man in Corinth sleeping with his step-mother-- we see no record of the Matthew 18 process.

The when is more problematic.  In my reading, I enumerate:

Apart from unrepentant sin, what do these have in common? Nothing you say? I submit they have one very important common trait: they all involve unrepentant sinners who still desire to be part of the body.

The worst place I see discipline discussed is when a member is not attending. There is no call to discipline a member who is not attending. Now, churches generally do the right thing here (but not always), they make multiple attempts to reconnect. But if that fails, then just accept that the absent member was either really never of us, or he/she will return in time.

Do not discipline a member for not attending. It is not called for anywhere in scripture.

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