Church Discipline Not Without Scriptural Precedent
Unfortunate but necessary: Loving disciplinary action taken on behalf of Kate Kelly, Ordain Women activist, and John Dehlin, activist blogger. When is discipline ever easy?
Today, professing Christians—as well as progressive parents—are almost afraid to practice discipline out of fear of appearing uncaring. But actually choosing not to discipline, in the case of grievances of Church doctrine or behavior, is the uncaring, least merciful course, for the offender and for the body of Christ.
We can't forget that Church discipline has its scriptural precedents, as well as its spiritual promise, as in Paul's actions to excommunicate in a local church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 5:1-13) wherein one guilty of grievous offense was removed from membership for a spiritual season. Likewise, Achan, who plundered the remains of the Israelite battle and defied the Lord's command through his prophet to leave the spoils of war, infected the camp, and they were held back from moving forward until his sin was confessed and he was removed from their midst (see Joshua 7).
As with the Savior's Church then, so is it now. There is a divinely prescribed caring way for Church discipline, as in the cases of John Dehlin and Kate Kelly.
That said, excommunication is not the first step in a process of church discipline nor is it the inevitable one. Communication begins with private discussion, counsel from local leaders, and then, if the Spirit dictates and leaders determine a further need, as in the case of Kelly and Dehlin, there is a disciplinary council held. There are several possible outcomes of such a council, discussed below.
Purpose of Church Discipline in The Church of Jesus Christ: Inviting a Change of Heart
Clearly, the purpose of church discipline, anciently and now, is to help the individual to have a change of heart and keep the body of Christ free from influences that weaken others' faith in Jesus Christ and his teachings.
Hopefully, the disciplinary action of the Church is successful. It's not intended to create shame or to harm, but to edify and invite a change and/or to set up a path whereby that individual can be restored to full fellowship. Much of that hinges on the free will of the individual involved. In the case of the man in Corinth, the scriptures affirm that he did repent and that Paul encouraged his restoration to full fellowship. The Savior intends to have a purified Church, where his teachings flow unimpeded by apostate beliefs that canker the soul and still our eternal progression.
Diversity vs. Dissent in The Church of Jesus Christ
Here's a little bit of context that may help as we talk through this current disciplinary action.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a global religion, and as recently stated, we have a welcomed diversity of members from all over the world, reflective of the vast brotherhood and sisterhood of its 15 million members. As The Church of Jesus Christ has stated recently:
The Church is a family made up of millions of individuals with diverse backgrounds and opinions. There is room for questions and we welcome sincere conversations. We hope those seeking answers will find them and happiness through the gospel of Jesus Christ (Newsroom).
From Baton Rouge to Brazil, from Harlem to Haiti, from Boston to Bolivia, Milwaukee to Moscow, San Jose to Seoul, the church membership benefits from diversity and unity among that diversity. While diverse in culture, family size, nationality, age, and every other demographic, members worldwide are united in their faith in the core principles and teachings of the Savior, as espoused in his Church.
So while The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claims to be true in the sense that it contains unchanging gospel truths—or plan for our happiness and salvation—and the Lord's priesthood power and authority to act in his name, it's also living in the sense that the application of those principles and doctrines is ever expanding with the growing global membership in one of the world's fastest growing religions. As a result, there is much rich and welcomed diversity in the experience of those principles in the lives of faithful members.