Church Discipline

Richard Vanhorn

Whatever happened to church discipline? It is taught throughout the Word of God, and, yet, I cannot remember the last time I heard a preacher preach on it or a Bible class teacher teach on it. I recently read an article titled, "Church Discipline: A Tragic Neglect" by Wayne Jackson, in which he states, "There are countless congregations belonging to Jesus Christ across our land where little, if any, discipline of the wayward is ever enacted." Brethren, why is this? Why are we neglecting such a vital subject, one that is so widely taught by the inspired writers of the Bible?

CHURCH DISCIPLINE ABUSED. Perhaps this is one reason that churches across the land are neglecting discipline. We must be careful that we do not become guilty of abusing church discipline. "The churches within our knowledge have all been too quick to cut their members off and give them up. Be prompt to condemn the sin, slow to give up the sinner." (David Lipscomb, Questions Answered by Lipscomb and Sewell, page 181). Does past abuse mean we should not practice discipline today?

CHURCH DISCIPLINE COMMANDED. Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. (Romans 16:17, NKJV). How long has it been since you have seen discipline practiced? In almost forty years of Christianity, I have never seen discipline practiced in the church. Have you witnessed church discipline within the last few years? I can cite several examples of discipline found in God's Word such as Cain, Lot's wife, Ananias and Sapphira, and, in Galatians 2, we read where Paul withstood Peter to his face. We have not restored New Testament Christianity to its fullest sense until we recognize the value of discipline and begin to apply it in the right way.

CHURCH DISCIPLINE NEEDED. Church discipline will never be practiced or be effective until we become sin sensitive. We have dimmed the lights so low and have become so used to the dark that we no longer recognize sin. Discipline should be the filter to keep error out of the church, but this filter is breaking down and allowing things that are unhealthy to enter into the church.

TWO KINDS OF DISCIPLINE. Our focus has mostly been on corrective discipline, but we must not forget preventive discipline. Preventive discipline can and should begin when a person becomes a Christian. This means that every member must be known by the leadership and be known well enough to head off any temptation coming his or her way. When speaking with the Ephesian elders, Paul said, "I ceased not to warn you night and day, with tears." (Acts 20) How do we prevent lukewarmness and actual apostasy? Involvement is the answer. This means the abilities of the congregation must be evaluated and the members need to let the leadership know in what areas they wish to serve. Loving discipline was as much a part of the early church as preaching and teaching. That leaves us with a question, "Can a church that refuses to practice discipline truly be a New Testament church?" -30 Village St., Waldorf, MD 20602-1837.


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