Church discipline is a tough subject. I get it. Who wants to talk about something as weighty as that? And even more, what does church discipline actually look like? However, we must talk about it. Why?
The church is made up of sinners. Any church to attend, you will find a group of sinners that are desperate for God’s compassionate grace. But sometimes sinners can be a little more . . . sinful. When that happens, church discipline must take place.
Church discipline can fall into different categories, but for this particular post I want to focus on what Jonathon Leeman calls corrective discipline. “Corrective discipline,” Leeman explains, “helps to correct the disciple through correcting sin.” This is the type Christians normally think about when someone brings up church discipline.
(Leeman explains more in the article linked. Forgive me, but the point of this post is not to hash out all the details of church discipline, so I’ll point you to his article if you want to learn more.)
Now, why would we look for a church that practices church discipline? Does that reflect our hearts that we want to see others in trouble or that we enjoy watching people struggle? No.
We should want the church to practice church discipline, first and foremost, because it’s biblical. Read Matthew 18:15-17. But in addition to it being a biblical practice, church discipline shows that the church cares about the purity and quality of the church. Let me explain.
The purity of the church. I have heard many stories of church members becoming genuine Christians through the process of church discipline. When church discipline is done biblically, it helps purify the church; that is, it either leads members who are false converts to become true Christians or reveals, in the end, that they are not via the process of excommunication.
This is important, as unregenerate church members are, dare I say, an epidemic within evangelical churches. And when you don’t have a formal church discipline process in place, those members go unchecked in their sin (for the most part). If we want our church to be pure—that is, if we want them to be full of true Christians—then church discipline must take place when necessary.
The quality of the church. Church discipline is a great sanctifier when done correctly. If it comes to the point of formal church discipline—whatever that looks like practically—then it gives room for Christians to genuinely grow more in Christ as they are confronted with their sin.
To be sure, we must understand that, if it’s done correctly, we won’t know about it—nor should we. Unless we are directly involved, we should not know about any formal church discipline. But this is one way that God grows His people—through church discipline.
What about excommunication? This is the trickiest of them all. Should we really kick people out of the church? Well, I think the Bible says yes, in so many words. If you go through the whole process of church discipline and there is no repentance, no remorse—no nothing—then we are to treat that person as a tax collector (Matthew 18:17). That doesn’t mean they aren’t welcome to attend the church, but they can no longer be identified as a member of said church because of ongoing unrepentant sin.
Excommunication is a scary thing, but necessary. It purifies the church. It refines it. It’s an act of love when done biblically. It may be an unpopular decision, but it has biblical support and is necessary for all parties involved.
So, friend, if you’re looking for a church, try to find one that takes church discipline seriously, because that shows they take regeneration seriously and discipleship seriously.