What comes to mind when you hear the words, “Church Discipline”? For many in the world today, it’s proof that being part of organized religion is “just a bunch of rules.” For others it brings to mind examples from Scripture like stoning in the Old Testament and people suddenly dying in the New. Whatever picture it brings to mind for you, church discipline is one of the least understood aspects of the modern church – and possibly one of the hardest to administrate.
The opening paragraph of Riverlawn’s operating policy on church discipline is a very good place to start. It says,
“The theme of God’s love letter to mankind is restoration, specifically restoration of relationship between His creation, man, and Himself. To that end, we the Elders of Riverlawn Christian Church desire to discipline, when necessary, with the heart of God. For this purpose, we therefore institute these general guidelines drawn from the Bible for discipline.”
The first concept we must keep in mind is that God has called us into a Father/child relationship, and as the ultimate loving father, he takes steps to keep us secure in that relationship by constantly correcting our ways and straightening our paths.
The second concept we must understand is that God through the Holy Spirit has called men to lead and shepherd His church and flock. In Scripture they are called pastors and elders, and it’s the job of those men to lovingly watch over, care for, and discipline the church members – i.e. the flock. Our leadership team has identified Scriptural reasons for carrying out church discipline and the potential hazards of our failure to do so. They are as follows:
Why Church Discipline is necessary
- Bring glory to God
- Restore, heal, and build up – Hebrews 12:10-15; Galatians 6:1-2
- Produce healthy faith – Titus 1:13
- Win a soul to Christ – if that person is a “professing” Christian only – James 5:20
- Silence false teachers – Titus 1:10-11
- Set an example – 1 Timothy 5:20
- Protect the church
Failure to administer discipline
- Loss of purity – 1 Corinthians 5:6-7
- Loss of authority – if sin is allowed to permeate the church unchecked, who is going to trust our authority (1 Peter 2:9-16)
- Loss of progress – if we do not discipline Biblically, we will see a decline in both the spiritual and physical growth of the church
- Loss of purpose – We are to be holy, set apart – 1 Peter 1:14-16
We have also identified the manner and steps in which the actual disciplinary process will be carried out, all with one specific purpose – that the struggling brother or sister will be restored back to a right relationship with God and then with the church. We have also noted in this section that discipline can and should be carried out by all members of the church and not just the leadership, as long as it is done in the proper attitude and manner as described in Scripture.
One last concept we must understand is that discipline can only be accomplished in a committed relationship of trust and accountability. Riverlawn asks all of our new partners to sign a document agreeing to come under the Scriptural authority of the church and her leaders. However, like any relationship, trust, commitment and accountability must be present for discipline to work. Many people would rather drag their baggage to another church than to go through the pain of allowing someone to help them unpack those bags and leave all their contents at the foot of the Cross of Jesus.
I’ll repeat what I mentioned earlier, God is the ultimate and perfect Father. When we enter into a committed relationship with Him, love, guidance and discipline are all part of the package. He structured the local church to help us feel closer to Him through the family environment, and part of that structure must include accountability to others to help us along the path. The church leaders are there to help us back to that right relationship with God as we struggle with the challenges of life. The Bible is very explicit regarding the serious nature of the jobs of pastors, elders and teachers and it is one we here at Riverlawn take very seriously.