RESTORING CHURCH DISCIPLINE
If Baptist churches do not restore church discipline, we will have no testimony left with the world. When a lost person looks at Baptist membership and sees unrepentant adulterers, homosexuals, gamblers, drunkards, gossips, liars, and embezzlers, we have become a laughingstock. We MUST restore church discipline.
Some say they honestly want to practice discipline, but have ignored it so long they don’t know where to start. They feel it unfair to discipline someone now when they have let others get by with the same sort of things in the past. A church must simply resolve to draw a line and say, “We have been wrong and lax heretofore, but, starting from this point, we put that behind and will practice scriptural church discipline.”
Once a church has reached by prayer, study, and conviction the point to exercise discipline, what comes next? Acknowledgments. This means admitting sin, repenting of it, and seeking the forgiveness of the church.
First, those who have done nothing should make their acknowledgments. They must acknowledge their guilt and complicity with gross sin and/or doctrinal error in the church by saying nothing to rebuke the guilty and doing nothing to help them.
Second, those involved in gross sin or heresy must acknowledge the error of their ways and seek the forgiveness of the church. This applies only to those who are repentant and trying to turn from sin.
Third, the church must extend forgiveness or exclude from membership. Those who are repentant should be forgiven. Those who are stubborn and unrepentant should be excluded. In some cases a church may need to labour with individuals over a short period of time to bring them into compliance with biblical standards.
These thoughts refer to cases of known public sin (I Cor. 5) and heresy (Titus 3:10). Broken relationships between brethren (Matt. 18:1 5-17) would be initiated differently.
Many excuses are given for not practicing church discipline, but none are acceptable to God.
(1) “We’re all sinners and we can’t judge someone else because we sin too.” Yes, we all sin; but, hopefully, we are daily seeking God’s forgiveness and are trying to not wallow in sin as a way of life. Exclusion is for that church member who continues to live habitually in sin without remorse or repentance and has no intentions of changing.
(2) “If we excluded so-and-so, their family would leave and it would bust up the church.” If we are only playing church, it would be better “busted up”. Church discipline will not be popular with carnal Christians. Members will sometimes be lost, but a purged church is a stronger church.
(3) “The church has no right to exclude a member.” A church that cannot determine her membership ceases to be a church. When a person joins a church, he or she agrees to come under her discipline, and has no right to complain if he does.
(4) “We love them too much and wouldn’t want to hurt them.” God’s love for his children requires that He discipline us; parents’ love for their children requires disciplining them; a church’s love for her members requires that she discipline them. Fear and failure to discipline does not imply love, but the lack of it (or the lack of strength to apply it). Discipline for discipline’s sake is harsh, but discipline for correction’s sake expresses love.
• A person is not excluded for sinning, but for refusing to repent of and turn from sin.
• Exclusion is not the goal; restoration is.
• Exclusion is the last resort when other efforts have failed.
• Church discipline must be applied equally. It is the same for the preacher’s son as the lay member’s son; the same for the fifth generation member as the new member; the same for the one whose family are church members as the one whose family are not members.
• Discipline will benefit the individual in its attempt to cure (I Cor. 5:5) and the church in its attempt to prevent (I Cor. 5:6-7).
From The Baptist Waymark, Vol. III No. 4, July-August 1995, p. 3