Church Discipline: Difficult, Painful and Necessary

In the more than 30 years that I have been involved in ministry, I have participated in a number of situations dealing with church discipline. Recently another has arisen. Though I believe this current case will result in restoration, it does not remove the difficulty, pain or necessity of discipline.

Church discipline is difficult for several reasons. One is that it makes a person involved keenly aware of his own sin, yet calls for discernment and judgment regarding the sin of another person.

It is also difficult because many Christians (sometimes well-meaning) ask questions such as: Don’t we believe in mercy and forgiveness? Doesn’t the Bible tell us not to judge? Are you so perfect that you can pronounce judgment on someone else? [There are answers to these questions but that is for another time]. In spite of these questions, it is clear that the New Testament church both believed in and practiced church discipline [see, for example, Matthew 18:15-20; Galatians 6:1; I Corinthians 5:1-5].

Church discipline is painful because it breaks our hearts to see a brother or sister who has walked and worked with us for the kingdom of God throw it all aside to pursue some ungodly desire and choose to live openly in unrepentant sin.

It is also painful because the consequences of sin often spread far and wide affecting many more people than the person who has sinned. Relationships, ministries, reputations, and many other things can be destroyed in the wake of sin. Our hearts ache to see this suffering and destruction.

Yet, in spite of these things, many would still say that church discipline should not be practiced. Let me suggest three reasons why I believe the church is called to practice discipline:

  • The Glory of God: A person who lives in openly unrepentant sin yet maintains that he/she is a Christian brings dishonor rather than glory to God. The vindication of the honor and glory of Christ is at stake.
  • The Reclaiming of the Person: Church discipline is not primarily focused on retribution but on restoration. It is the hope that the one who has sinned will recognize that sin, repent, and return to the Lord. I have personally seen this take place in several cases.
  • The Purity of the Church: Though anyone can see that the church, as an organization filled with sinners, has many problems. However, the church is still the bride of Christ called to purity and the edification of its members. The openly unrepentant person calls that pursuit of purity into question and can be a stumbling block to the edification of other members of the church.

Church discipline is difficult and painful but also necessary. What do you think?

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About Dr. John H. Harbison

Son of God, Husband, Father, Author of "Keeping Christ in Ministry,"Vice-President for Academic Affairs, College Pastor, Runner, Writer
This entry was posted in The Church in the World and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Church Discipline: Difficult, Painful and Necessary

  1. Yes, church discipline is painful but necessary, and at the same time, it must be done in love, and not in a very judgmental fashion. If done in love, it is easier for the one being disciplined to see the error of his/her ways, and hence desire to repent and be restored.

  2. I agree. Unfortunately I have seen discipline lacking in love and grace. That was painful. However, I have also seen discipline that was practiced with great love and grace and people have been restored.

  3. I have seen it work well and I have seen situations where it did not immediately appear to be working- other than separating the person from the church. However, regardless of the result, a big factor is that the process just takes so very much time on the part of church leaders, both pastors and elders. The reality is that by spending so much time on discipline issues they simply have less time to spend on other important work God is also calling them to do. I think it is essential to do in some form, but not easy.

    • John H. Harbison says:

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Molly.

      It is true that it takes a great deal of time, energy and endurance. If it were not for the call to vindicate the honor of Christ and the grace of God to call back to himself those who repent and return it would certainly not be worth it.

  4. Pat says:

    Hello John,I believe Church discipline is necessary,and it has to be done in the love of Jesus. With gentleness and much compassion and love.This is quiet a touchy subject and thanks so much for sharing.
    Love you 😀

  5. Thanks, Pat, for your comments as always. It is a touchy subject and surprisingly I did not get any push-back or disagreements from readers. Interesting.

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