Final Thoughts about Church Discipline (for Now)
Again, as with the previous post about this subject here (March, 2018), this particular conversation is for evangelical Protestant Christians only. Others can ask questions, of course, but the invitation is to discussion among evangelical Protestants (especially church leaders and influential lay persons) about “church discipline.” As before…please keep responses brief and to the point and avoid revealing any identifying information about individuals or congregations.
*Sidebar: The opinions expressed here are my own (or those of the guest writer); I do not speak for any other person, group or organization; nor do I imply that the opinions expressed here reflect those of any other person, group or organization unless I say so specifically. Before commenting read the entire post and the “Note to commenters” at its end.*
The responses to my immediately preceding post about the seeming disappearance of church discipline among non-fundamentalist, “moderate” evangelicals in America have been interesting. Some have been insightful and helpful. My goal here is simply to open a new conversation about the issue because it is my personal observation that, for the most part, church discipline has simply gone the way of traditional hymn-singing and Sunday evening worship and Wednesday evening Bible Study (among American evangelicals).
Many reasons have been given for this; few have argued that I am wrong. Some have suggested that it might be a good thing that we have dropped church discipline as it is extremely difficult to practice without abuse. The discussion has been enlightening. I hope it will continue—off this blog and into the board rooms of congregations and even denominations.
To those who object to “church discipline” entirely I can only say this: “Discipleship” and “discipline” are cognate terms. We all like “discipleship” but “discipleship without discipline” seems empty if not outright contradictory.
To them I also say “Don’t react to a phrase such as ‘church discipline’ in knee-jerk fashion—wrongly assuming it must mean abuse of persons.” Church discipline can be done redemptively. Just because it has so often been abused does not mean it should be abandoned. “The right response to abuse is proper use and not disuse.” (My paraphrase of an old Latin saying I read in a volume of systematic theology.)Discipline of children has often been abusive; does that mean we should drop all discipline of children? Not many would say that. Sure, “discipline” often brings to mind corporal punishment, but there are other methods of child discipline such as “time out.” That, too, is discipline.
I admit that I am somewhat bemused if not downright confused by many evangelical Christians’ rejection of church discipline—just because it’s not easy and is hard work (to do it rightly). Whoever said being a Christian (in the sense of being a follower of Jesus Christ) is easy? Whoever said that being a church properly is easy? Being saved is easy—so long as one is willing to repent and trust in Jesus Christ—but being a disciple was never easy or meant to be easy. Being church properly has always been messy and complicated and full of challenge.
I hope that we can somehow turn this trend around and move back towards a time where being a member of an evangelical church meant something. I hope that even if that means the loss of many members.
Let’s begin with each church/congregation/denomination having a written statement of “Our Life Together” that spells out in some detail the expectations of church members. Then welcome all to attend public worship services but restrict membership to those who are willing to “sign on” to the statement and live by it. And let’s make clear to those being baptized or confirmed that this is the case and that from that moment on they will be expected to live under the gentle but firm guidance of the church. “It takes a church to make a disciple.” And that assumes some standards of behavior. Otherwise membership and discipleship mean little or nothing.
*Note to commenters: This blog is not a discussion board; please respond with a question or comment only to me. If you do not share my evangelical Christian perspective (very broadly defined), feel free to ask a question for clarification, but know that this is not a space for debating incommensurate perspectives/worldviews. In any case, know that there is no guarantee that your question or comment will be posted by the moderator or answered by the writer. If you hope for your question or comment to appear here and be answered or responded to, make sure it is civil, respectful, and “on topic.” Do not comment if you have not read the entire post and do not misrepresent what it says. Keep any comment (including questions) to minimal length; do not post essays, sermons or testimonies here. Do not post links to internet sites here. This is a space for expressions of the blogger’s (or guest writers’) opinions and constructive dialogue among evangelical Christians (very broadly defined).