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?