Monday, February 27, 2006

A Plea for Church Discipline

Church discipline is a topic that has been too long ignored by evangelicals in general and Southern Baptists in particular. The time has come for us to face up to our failures at this point, to repent of our neglecting God's Word and to begin reinstituting discipline in our churches.

This is a subject on which those who ar
e Reformed and those who are not Reformed in theology can agree. Dr. Emir Caner (Dean of the undergraduate college at Southwestern Baptist Seminary in Ft. Worth, TX) is on record regarding his vociferous opposition to the historic Southern Baptist understanding of salvation as articulated in the doctrines of grace. However, he wrote this in recent comments on this blog: "The reason why only 37% of church members ever darken the door of the church on a given Sunday is the lack of church discipline" and "a church without church discipline does not meet the standards of the New Testament." His brother, Dr. Ergun Caner (Dean of the Liberty Baptist Seminary in Lynchburg, VA) has decried the doctrines of grace in even stronger language, calling Calvinism a "virus." Yet, he has written (speaking for both himself and his brother), "TRUE New Testament Churches, in our view, MUST practice church discipline to maintain fidelity to the text and model."

My point in quoting these two
respected Southern Baptist scholars is simply to underscore that church discipline is not a "Calvinist" issue. It is a Baptist issue. More importantly, it is a biblical issue.

Local churches are instructed to be disciplined. Every church which bears the name of Christ is obligated to obey our Lord's teachings which are spelled out step-by-step in the inerrant, infallible Bible which God's Holy Spirit inspired. Jesus said:

Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.' And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven (Matthew 18:15-18).

This passage is not hard to understand. Even a child can outline the steps that Jesus says that church members are to follow when an unrepentant brother is among them.

Other passages give equally clear instructions to churches on how to handle wayward members. "Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them" (Romans. 16:17). "Put away from yourselves the evil person" (1 Corinthians 5:13). "Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned" (Titus 3:10-11). "Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted" (Galatians 6:1).

These and other passages like them spell out how a church is to respond to immorality and impenitence in their midst. This is part of what is involved in the discipline of a local church. But it is only the corrective side of that discipline that the Bible requires. Before there can be any ground for correction, there must first be positive formation.

Formative discipline must be recovered before corrective discipline can be legitimately practiced in a church. The former involves a careful use of all of the God-ordained means in promoting genuine godliness among every church member. Thus, churches must insist that the Word of God is preached with simplicity and application. Members are to be taught--and should be expected to practice--the principles of holy living. Where this takes place the members will become increasingly "formed" by the Word of God and healthy spiritual growth will become the norm in a congregation. In such situations, corrective discipline (at least in its final form of removing a member from the church) will rarely be necessary.

Those who do not demonstrate a real, saving relationship with Christ and who show no interest in growing spiritually have no business being received into a church's membership. This is not a false idealism nor an argument for perfection in Christians. Rather, it is a simple recognition that where there is life, there will be at least some demonstration of it. The church consists of new creatures. As Baptists have long argued on the basis of the New Testament, that an essential qualification for church membership is regeneration. Spiritual fruit cannot be cultivated where there is no spiritual life. What does not exist cannot be "formed" or shaped.

Thus, before corrective discipline can ever be restored to our churches formative discipline must begin. Many zealous pastors and church leaders fail to follow this pattern in restoring discipline to a congregation. The results are almost without exception disastrous. Even where disaster is averted what is being practiced is usually preacher discipline, not church discipline. A church must be taught God's Word on this subject before practical steps to institute (or reinstitute) it are taken.

Formative discipline begins by a church exercising care in how it receives members. Where such care has long been neglected, there must be instruction on the biblical standards for church membership. The importance of membership--especially in a Baptist church--must be emphasized and prospective members instructed in the qualifications and responsibilities of membership. The very thought that a church would speak in terms of "qualifications" and "responsibilities" when thinking of new members is enough to send shivers down the spine of many who have never seen discipline practiced in a church. Yet, every church has at least some qualifications that must be met before a person is accepted as a member. I am simply suggesting that these be carefully considered and biblically evaluated, then carefully taught to those seeking membership.

John Dagg, a prominent nineteenth-century Southern Baptist theologian emphasized this point in his
Treatise on Church Order. He wrote,

The churches are not infallible judges, being unable to search the heart; but they owe it to the cause of Christ, and to the candidate himself, to exercise the best judgment of which they are capable. To receive any one on a mere profession of words, without any effort to ascertain whether he understands and feels what he professes, is unfaithfulness to his interests, and the interests of religion (p. 269).
When the unregenerate are not only allowed but encouraged to join the church simply on the basis of a recited prayer, raised hand, firm handshake, completed decision card, or any other superficial method of spurious evangelism, they themselves are spiritually misled, the church is seriously weakened, and the cause of Christ generally in undermined. Yet this is precisely what has happened for more than a generation in thousands of our churches.

When he was the Director of Discipleship Training for the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, Roy Edgemon studied this issue. In his comments at the 1991 Louisiana Baptist Convention's Evangelism Conference he concluded that too much of our evangelism is "manipulative," "shallow," "abortive," and "without integrity." It is more interested in decisions than disciples.

Too often modern evangelistic technique is geared toward getting a sinner to agree with some facts and recite a prayer. Once this occurs, it is assumed he is saved. Those who go through these steps are commonly judged ready for baptism and church membership. The consequence of such practice, as Edgemon observed, is that "we lose thousands of people who are going to die and go to hell, thinking they're saved. And they've never been saved." This is a sobering thought. It highlights the desperate need of churches to reinstitute formative discipline (which will in turn lead to a recommitment to
biblical evangelism).

Fortunately for Baptists, we have a rich heritage from which to draw as we seek to rediscover the biblical teachings on church discipline. Early generations of Baptists saw these teachings so clearly that they took their practice for granted. Yes, there were some abuses from time to time, but in such instances we have the benefit of learning even from their mistakes.

In generations past when Baptists had a more robust appreciation for their biblical ecclesiology, church discipline was readily acknowledged as an irreplaceable mark of a true church. Baptist leaders taught and wrote on it and Baptist churches practiced it. There was not perfect unanimity on every detail of practice as a comparison of their writings will demonstrate (you can make such a study on the
founders website; I personally disagree with some of P. H. Mell's instructions regarding those who have been unjustly expelled from a church). But there was a universal recognition that a church could not be a church without discipline. The consideration of our forefather's insights can be very useful to help promote fresh dialogue and study of church life and practice.

As a pastor, seeing a local church rediscover the blessings of discipline has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my ministry. A church that embraces its responsibility to have a well-ordered membership is a joy to serve. Not because it is thereby free from problems. No church will ever be free from trials in this life (I have repeatedly assured my congregation that as long as I am their pastor, we will have problems!). But where discipline is being practiced, the problems can be handled in a God-honoring, healthy way. And as every pastor knows, it is not usually the "first-level" problems that seriously injure a church. The real damage is done by the problems that emerge when the initial difficulties are not dealt with in a proper fashion.

We desperately need to recover the biblical teachings on church discipline in this generation. The sincere Christians who are trying to follow Christ to the best of their ability in our churches deserve it. The insincere hypocrites who have attached themselves to our membership need it. The glory of Christ in His churches requires it. John Dagg argued, "when discipline leaves a church, Christ goes with it." If he is correct, then the great need of the hour is for church leaders and their congregations to repent of disregarding the Word of God at this point, and plead with Him for grace and wisdom to restore biblical order by reinstituting both formative and corrective church discipline.


Burt Harper said...

You are so right brother Ascol. I also believe that you see a lack of preaching against sin in the church that lacks discipline. You have people that have not been endouraged abstain from sin, so you have a congregation that is not endourage to deal with sin. It starts at the pulpit, but those of us in the pew have a responsibility to admonish the preacher to teach the congregation what sin is, why it is wrong, and what to do about it. If we could get ahold of this practise, maybe we could see a great revival to start this new century. You have woken me up to something I must start sincerely praying about for our SBC.

deacon said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
deacon said...

Thank you for your post as it is very relevant to what is/is not going on in every church.

I agree that if a formative discipline must be in place before a corrective discipline can be established.

Hopefully, this question will not get us off track as much as my last comment, but...

Could you give us an example of what would take place in your church if a member was found to be living a lifestyle outside the biblical boundaries or covenant? Does your church use the elders to form a "discipline board," or is it left to the church?

Matt said...

Thanks for the wisdom Tom. Let me ask a question related directly to your post...

I realize that each individual situation would have to be considered on its own specifics but speaking in general - What advice would you give to a man on staff in a church that is not currently practicing church discipline (and hence has many of the problems you mentioned that are associated with this negligence) but the method of government is hierarchical and the Senior Pastor is not one who...let me say "takes kindly" to questioning?

Uncialman said...

Amen Brother Tom.

My beautiful wife and I left the SBC Church that I received Christ in, was discipled in, taught Sunday School and mid-weeek Bible studies in, sang for the Praise Team in, Helped build "Judgement House"(another story)in, that I was baptized and married in - not because of issues surrounding reformed soteriology. We didn't leave because the Pastor taught Open Theism, or because the pastor read and exposited "Letters from God" that he claimed had been given to him the night before under his bush, or because the Pastor was fond of saying "God saved me and I let Him." No - we were trying to last through the administration and be faithful to the body that the Lord had brought us to - even when the theology was quirky.

Even though all these bizarre practices were taking place, Dr. James White had given me wise advice when I asked him "when is it time that I can Biblically leave a church?" And he stated "When the church has committed adultery - then, you are free to leave. However, never be running from something; make sure that you are going *to* something."

The worst problem of church, even considering the wacky doctrinal weirdness that was occuring on a week to week basis, was that there was a complete lack of Biblical Church Discipline within the Body. Adultery, gossip, theivery, back-stabbing, lack of accountability for the staff all were a constant problem at our Church and there was no sign of any of it slowing down. So, even though this was the only true Christian fellowship I had ever known and after months of wrangling over the issue, my wife and I finally made the hard decision to leave the church.

I thought that in leaving a church where both my wife and I were so active we would be taking huge steps down in our involvement in future ministries. I mean, honestly, what other church could I involve myself in that would allow us to be so involved *and* be a Biblically balanced church that practiced church discipline? Was there such church that existed anywhere within a 40 mile square radius?

Thankfully, my wife are involved in a fantastic church, Lakeside Community Chapel, that is reformed in it's soteriology and practices church discipline. I am currently the Minister of Music at the church and serve in several other ministries In fact,sadly, we just had to go before the body 2 weeks ago to take the final step of Matthew 18 with a woman in our church. It was a somber, serious moment for the entire congregation. Many visitors to our church were in shock that we would do such a thing, but that is what the Lord has called us to do to protect the church and ensure the purity of it's members.

I'll post the letter of resignation, with names deleted, that my wife and I composed to our Southern Baptist Church as we left. How sad it is that after we left, the situation only grew far, far worse (Even to the point where the Church's woes were on the front page of the St. Petersburg Times for weeks).

I pray that all churches, regardless of their theological convictions, will take the purity of their membership and Pastoral staff seriously.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Michael O'Fallon

Uncialman said...

My resignation letter from 2001:

We attempted to prepare a "brief" letter explaining our decision to leave Calvary Baptist, but it could not be so. This is sent to you in order to avoid any rumors or misunderstandings as to why we can no longer make Calvary Baptist Church our home. We have many fond memories of serving at Calvary for virtually seven years, and consider many within her membership and staff to be life long friends.

Unfortunately, Calvary's mission appears to have changed over the years. The new mission appears to have diluted the Gospel as to not "offend" anyone in order to draw numbers or maintain membership, instead of protecting and instilling the truth of Scripture. This is evident by the statement to evangelize "Non-Christians" instead of "the lost"--as there are many who would call themselves Christians because they've considered themselves as such despite the fact that they may still feel "personal works" are required for salvation, or that Jesus is just "one of many ways" to heaven, but they only choose to identify with Christ as the best of the options. This should not be the case if one reveres the Word of God as the final and inerrant authority for all matters of faith. However, the Word itself has been under attack, and is not defended as the energy and priorities of the church have been geared toward "numbers."

This has troubled us for years and led to our own, financially independent, effort in the church to educate the church we regard as so precious into the light of God's truth. To emphasize, our burdens and and concerns were:

I. Inaccurate, negative Biblical criticism influenced by post-enlightenment thought in evangelical seminaries has caused many on our current staff to conclude that they cannot truly rely on the Bible as their authority. While some on our staff post links on the Calvary website to articles that state that “the canon of Scripture is not closed”, others, including our Senior Pastor seek “new” revelation from God instead of feeding them the true, tested, infallible Word of God. As a good number in our congregation either doubts the Bible’s fullness and completeness or trust “visions” and “voices” instead of Holy Scripture, we will never be able to have a “norm of norms” in which to appeal to settle theological disagreements. This is precisely why we sponsored the conference last year titled "Is the Bible True?" with Dr. White, Dr. Thomas, Dr. Merrill, Mike Gendron and Steve Camp. Even more distressing is the lack of time that our staff actually spends in Scripture. Most now treat their Pastoral positions as “jobs”. The natural inclination by these Pastors is to only treat their offices as CEO positions by which their success is measured only by the size of their congregation, the magnitude of their structures and the quantity of wealth in their churches holdings. If a church is large and prosperous, in today's logic, the pastor is successful. Evangelicalism has come to place emphasis on a pragmatic criteria for success, which has led to a retreat from theological engagement on account of its questionable utility for pastoral and evangelistic practice. Ambivalence towards any measure of theological pursuit has been the sad result that is so evident among the congregation and staff.

II.. If the individuals that make up the church are properly catechized in the faith they will be able to "win" converts without having their own beliefs falter. In other words, if a Christian knows why they believe what they believe they will less likely be prey to atheism or false beliefs (Or more properly stated, the true believer will be sanctified while the unbeliever truly have to question their beliefs). So many in our church lack an objective standard for truth and a proper understanding of the History of our faith. This lack of proper education will eventually lead to a church that is ineffective and whose evangel will be blurred. The Rick Warren (Purpose Driven Church) methods of church growth will eventually fail as so many other methods of men have failed to improve on God's standard for growth and function.

III. If the Church can be distinguished apart from the world in her principles taken from the Bible, and impressed by the spirit of God, she will verify, first, by her vitality, and secondly, in her sober, sincere and godly intercourse, that in her alone are the dawn and light and glory of the precious Saviour's image on earth. Grace "without money and without price" is free grace; it is unmerited, therefore it must be and will be illustrated in Christian character, and exemplified in Christian conduct. Such has not been the case, unfortunately, with our own staff. The lack of integrity within staff must be an issue that is addressed instead of swept under the rug. It is one thing to have differing opinions. It quite another to speak untruths. Theo Benetis, Joel Riley and I (Mike) were also told to "find another church - because its only going to get worse" by a prominent, current staff member in regards to our objections to his blindsided removal of us from teaching. Never were we given a fair examination or biblical attempt to resolve any conflicts PERSONALLY with anyone who may have issues with the three of us (as Scripture mandates)--we would have welcomed meetings even with a staff member present, but this staff member did not even attempt to encourage that. We have attempted to veil our disappointment in this unbiblical behavior in order to continue serving Calvary in other areas.

III. The majority of members at Calvary Baptist Church would be baffled by the claims and evidences of an average Mormon missionary. It is our God given obligation to prepare ourselves to be able to give an answer for the hope that is within us. Unfortunately, our members have been taught the ancient heresy of modalism (water, ice, vapor) in their description of the Trinity and do not truly have an understanding of their faith outside of an emotional construct. An emphasis that looks at the issue of personal salvation with an emphasis only on "getting someone saved" without the proper follow-up in catechesis of the faith. As our Lord Jesus states in Matthew 28:19, " Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" (emphasis added). The Lord did not command the Apostles to "make converts" but was specific to "make disciples." A truly born again (and there are no true Christians who are not born again) Christian will want to know how to apply their faith and share it with others. A church not truly concerned with making disciples of their converts will eventually loose members to other religions who will give them a reason to believe what they believe.

As Robert Selph of the Founders Ministries has stated,, we do not teach "heavy-duty doctrine" for some intellectual ego trip -- a believer is called to speak as a dying man to dying men the careful and thorough exposition of God's revealed truth. That is where men learn of the unsearchable riches of Christ, the excellencies and infinite attributes of the transcendent God of majesty, and the strait gate and narrow way that leads to life eternal. Only from such a doctrinal pulpit will Christ's lambs be fed and grow into strong soldiers in Jehovah's army. Only there will sinners be sufficiently warned and the costs of discipleship be enumerated." Thus it remains a mystery to us as to why this year's conference has been so unmistakably altered by staff decisions from its original (and assured) form. We really had no other alternative than to move to a venue where others actually cared about the content and mission of the conference. The given report from our staff liaison that," the staff feels that there would not be significant interest in the conference from our members," seemed rather wanting. It is perplexing that a "Men's Pie Baking Contest" would get so much promotion but an opportunity to be "a more equipped defender of the faith" would not be highly encouraged. We were saddened when asked to rescind the invitation to Al Mohler and even more perplexed when told that the conference we have spent over a year planning (with staff and Pastoral involvement and approval) would be relegated to a single debate on a Saturday. This was a recipe for failure and has lead us to try to preserve our word to the speakers and debaters and find a “welcoming” venue that would place a high priority on such an event. It will still personally cost us financially but the rewards are great.

I suppose the best statement Dr. John MacArthur has made in regards to this matter is found in his book (which is a critique of The Purpose Driven Church) “Ashamed of the Gospel”, "Have we fallen prey to the church growth nonsense of ballooning our attendance with generic methods that would entice self-centered sinners into having an interest in Jesus regardless of doctrinal convictions?"

The concerns that we have over doctrinal teaching have only been eclipsed by the apparent lack of regard for internal staff and ecclesial discipline. The absence of enacted church discipline will only allow cancer to flourish at the expense of the standards that have been passed down to us from our apostolic fathers. We must admit that neither Sau nor I have ever encountered in the secular realm of business the lack of truthfulness and integrity that is being allowed to coexist with the Gospel of Christ at Calvary.

This being said, we have enjoyed honest and straightforward relationships with Skip Dvornik and Greg Toney regardless if we have not seen eye to eye on all issues.

Therefore, it is with a heavy and sorrowful heart that Sau and I must resign our memberships in Calvary Baptist Church. We pray that Calvary will be a beacon for the lost and a fortress against evil.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Michael and Sau O'Fallon

David B. Hewitt said...

Dr. Ascol,

I completely agree with what you've stated. This is a serious problem, and one that needs to be addressed in our churches. However, where can it start when it seems so clear that it is not taking place?

I know you mentioned the issue of formative discipline, stopping things with certain membership requirements before the problems start. What would that look like? I know many churches have started requiring membership classes, but sometimes these classes are more informative than actually meant to weed out well, weeds.

Can you offer some suggestions since your experience far exceeds that of my own?

I eagerly await what might fall from your table, so to speak.

For the Glory of Jesus,
Dave Hewitt

Tom said...


In our church we try to emphasize the responsibility of every member to "watch over" each other. Elders obviously give leadership to this and try to teach and model this in roles. But we teach that it is "church" discipline, not elder discipline. In this, we handle things somewhat differently than some of our Presbyterian and Bible church friends. We do not believe that the elders can discipline someone in the place of the church. Rather, the church bears the responsibility to accept members and exclude members and to discipline members.

What I have discovered in the course of 17 or so years where this has been taught and expected (it took me 2-3 years to address foundational issues to help the church move in this direction) is that now most of the "discipline" takes place without me or other leaders ever hearing about it until after the fact. Often it works like this: someone will approach me and express gratitude to God for being encouraged in his or her Christian walk by a fellow member--sometimes through simple words of admonition and sometimes through correction and gentle rebuke. I am always filled with praise to the Lord when I receive these reports.

We have, sadly, had to carry out the final steps of corrective discipline on a few occasions. It is always painful, sobering and grievous. But it has always been redemptive in that the church is reminded of the cost of discipleship and the reality of heaven and hell.

Tom said...


I have been in the very position you describe, though not with a heavy-handed pastor. It is a delicate spot because you serve under the authority of the senior pastor, and yet you have the Word of God that you must honor and teach, as well, under the greater authority of Jesus Christ. Here is what I suggest: at appropriate times, simply raise questions about the texts of Scripture that teach church discipline. Do not do it simply to prove a point or to win an argument, but do it prayerfully, with a desire to encourage your superior to consider a biblical path that has been long neglected and that he probably has never seen walked.

If there is a resolute rejection of the Bible's teaching on these matters, then you are faced with the decision of whether Christ can be honored by your staying and participating in a ministry that refuses to heed His Word.

Tom said...


One fundamental principle of reformation that I have tried to keep in mind in pastoring is this: it is immoral to ask people to make a change when they have not been properly instructed in God's Word on the rightness of that change. This applies in introducing church discipline.

I would encourage as a matter of course that reforming ministry in our day needs to be emphasizing the church all the time. Read Barna's new book called, "Revloution" for a scary look at the future as he not only sees it but as he in many ways advocates it. Church is an add-on; a nice feature if you can get one to suits your preferences.

Along with this, I would encourage a series of messages on the church--its nature, purpose, polity, ordinances, doctrine and discipline. Quote from historic resources (confessions of faith, covenants, etc.) to give a sense of how church was "done" by our forefathers. Consider utilizing resources from Ken Sande's Peacemaker Ministries ( Many "leading" SBC churches have actually been in contact with Ken about his materials and ministry. Emphasize the importance of membership and show the wisdom for taking it more seriously by interviewing prospective members before asking the church to vote on receiving them. Then set up a process where this can happen. I think membership classes are great. Put content in them that will set forth this kind of vision of the Christian life and the church.

When the Lord adds someone to the church who goes through this kind of process, however formal or complete, and it works well, have that person share a testimony about the value of being dealt with so pastorally and carefully.

I am sure others will have more thoughts. These are a few that may be worth chewing on.

Jason E. Robertson said...

Our SBC church is Southern California has a very healthy "church discipline" practice. Accountability, counseling, and discipleship is encouraged, organized, and taught by our pastors to our church members. Many times we the pastors have not had to get involved in church discipline as members bring their brothers/sisters to repentance. Sadly, when we pastors have had to get involved we have not seen a high percentage of those disciplined come to repentance. Our hearts grieve over this reality. Any encouragement for us?

Tom said...


I think you should be encouraged! It is always painful, isn't it, to see people you shepherd unresponsive to guidance and correction? But the very fact that the church you serve has a culture where this is expected and practiced is something for which praise should be offered to God! Be encouraged, and pillow your head each night on the comfort that the Lord has promised to build His church. Even Jesus had 8% of his disciples fall away.

Jeff Richard Young said...

"Cursing at the Store and Walking Disorderly"

Dear Dr. Ascol and Everybody,

God has been helping me lead the church in baby steps toward church discipline. Here's how far He's brought us so far:

1. We now receive candidates for membership in the invitation, but don't vote right then. I have a membership interview; we wait to receive a letter, if joining by letter; when all is in order, and if the candidates have been regular in attendance, then we vote at a business meeting. We have already saved ourselves several unqualified members so far in this way, and raised the standards for membership a notch.

2. I taught a unit in an adults leader's group about church discipline, using the same scriptures mentioned in Dr. Ascol's post. There were many objections at first, but after Bible study and discussion, everyone came around and was getting into it!

Here's the fun part:

A few months ago, our members found a church record book from the early 1900s in an old storage building. They had it specially bound and preserved. It had records of several people being disciplined (kicked out) for such offenses as "cursing at the store," "dancing," "drinking," and several instances of "disorderly walking." (2 Thessalonians chapter 3 in KJV) This was a big help, in that the members could see the discipline practices of their grandfathers.

So, we're taking small steps of obedience---God will get us there in time!

Love in Christ,


Chuck said...

I currently work at a small Korean church (long story) and have not been at my SBC church consistently on Sunday mornings for several months now. My wife and I had several friends from that church over yesterday, and they informed us of a new temporary policy. The pastor has been slowly working for disciplinary and doctrinal reform for a decade now, and has just recently spent several years in Ephesians and then on the purpose of the church from Matthew 28. The new policy? They are putting sign-in sheets in the pews each week, so the staff can see who is actually coming regularly to worship. This came about due to multiple people on the roll who were either dead or had moved years before.

Jim Shaver said...

Wouldn't you love to see as much excitement and encouragement from the podium of the SBC over Church Discipline as we have seen over the goal of a million Baptisms?

G. Alford said...


Quick! Delete your last comment before someone in the SBC Leadership reads it... they are watching you know!

Seriously, Good thought Jim. I would love to hear the SBC Leadership stop sounding like a broken record on Baptisms and speak to these issues just a little bit… but I’m not holding my breath.

jbuchanan said...


I like this post. I am convinced that if our convention is to experience reform it must begin with a return to expositional preaching and church discipline. These are two issues by the way that both Calvinists and Arminians can agree on.

Scripture Searcher said...

Realisticly, who believes the soundly scriptural doctrine (teaching) regarding CHURCH DISCIPLINE
WILL EVER BE ENFORCED IN ANY BUT A VERY SMALL MINORITY OF CONTEMPORARY CONGREGATIONS affliated with the SBC and other evangelical groups called fellowships/denominations?



Travis Hilton said...

Tom, this is a timely issue. I'm convinced this is one of the ways we get back to the gospel. I just concluded a four week series on the church. The Sunday before last while I was preaching on church discipline, I realized I had more material than I had time to share. I asked the church, "what shall I do? continue to preach, or continue next Sunday with the same subject?" I got a hearty "amen" from some. The problem was, I didn't know if the "amen" was to continue, or take up the subject again next Sunday, so I did both. I don't think I've had a more positive response in the three years I have been here. We have a long way to go, but I'm pleased with the desire that I see on the part of some to be a pure church.

james said...

I am curious since I have my own experiences of why church discipline is often not practiced, even by those who outwardly affirm it, of what are some reasons why others believe this practice has been forgotten, ignored or even rejected by many?

I posted about my own experiences here. Sorry Tom for taking your title...

J.D. Rector said...

Tom, Brother, and Sisters: Thanks for you intelligent discourse on this often-missing factor in the New Testament Church. I have experienced it from the actual carrying out of discipline to a wayward member who committed adultery. That took place some 8 years ago. The quilty party to this day has not repented as far as I can discern. That concerns me the most, and I am confident that it grieves our gracious Father more that I can fathom.

What saddens me is the comments I have received from other members of the faith, yes, within my own denomination concerning church discipline. The often quote the passages in the gospel "where Jesus is the only authority to seperate the wheat and the tares!" Out of context remarks like that from leaders that I consider very influential in the life of my home, the Southern Baptist Convention, trouble me greatly.

So, James, that plus the legalism of discipline back in the 50's and 60's for "dancing" may be why some do not exert this.

We must return to New Testament orthodox teachings! I for one, do not care what Bro. Popular-Preacher- among-the-Big-Dogs proclaims!

Burt Harper said...

I wonder if someone could take the time to make a list of the sins that would demand church discipline. The list would need a scripture reference for each sin I would think. For if I was to want to start the process of church discipline for one of my brethren, they might ask me to show them from the Bible that church discipline is demanded for their act of sin.

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Burt,

For what it's worth, here's Dr. Mohler's list, with some relevant scriptures:

Three areas of concern:
1. Fidelity of doctrine
2. Purity of life
3. Unity of fellowship

Romans 16:17
2 Thessalonians 3:6
2 John 1:9-10
Rev 2:2
1 Corinthians 5:1-13
Titus 3:10-11

Hope this helps!

Love in Christ,


Gordon Cloud said...

Brother Tom, I really appreciate your post. This is something that has been on my heart for some time now. I pastor a very old church that has not legitimately discussed church discipline in Lord knows how long. The deacons and myself have been discussing how to teach it and apply it. You have given some good insight on that.

Thank you.

Burt Harper said...

Thanks Jeff,

I really appreciate you taking the time to get that for me. That is not as specific as I hoped or thought it would be. However, I will take a look at it as soon as I get a chance. Maybe the scripture references are more specific than the listed areas of concern.

Kevin said...

Dr. Ascol,

I have read your blog faithfully, for many months and this issue is the first one I have commented on. My church is experiencing some of the points raised. I will give two situations:

1. Recently we had a couple join the church who were living together outside marriage, though they plan on marrying this June. I have raised objections to this, to several people and all I get is a lukewarm reception. One person even told me that we know the Bible says its wrong, but they could not judge the couple. Others said we must accept whoever comes.

I believe the church should establish policies where candidates for membership have a counseling session with the pastor and attend a membership class, where the obligations for membership are throughly explained. Should this be the proper process?

2. We had a baby dedication where the child's parents are unmarried, but have a wedding scheduled for 3/4/06. The child is also two years old. The child's maternal grandmother, asked me if I thought the dedication should have been postponed until after the weeding. I told her it should have been, do not think she liked my answer.

The church has many problems, one being we are too lax towards sin and do not expect repentance from our members. The church has an interim pastor and began the process this past Sunday to seek a pastor. Please be in prayer for us.

By Grace Alone,


G. Alford said...


“No Church will ever rise above the commitment of its Leadership!”

If the Leadership of a Church has very little or no commitment to: the Authority of Scripture, a Regenerate Membership, and the importance of Purity within the Body (That the name of Christ be not brought to an open shame) then Discipline is out of the question.

Biblical Church Health begins first in the hearts of the Leadership of the Church.

One thing to ask those who say “they could not judge the couple” is would they be willing to call a Pastor who was living in open adultery? If it is ok for the membership to commit open adultery by living together before marriage, then is it also ok for their Pastor to do such a thing? I mean if we are not going to judge anyone then we surely cannot have a double standard for those called into the ministry, right? And why stop at just allowing adultery before marriage? If the Church is willing to accept those who openly commit adultery before marriage (without repentance), then why not after marriage?

Sadly this “we cannot judge anyone” mentality (even when the Scriptures speak so clearly toward their sin) has infected many SBC churches and until the Leadership of a Church is convicted by Holy Spirit that to tolerate open sin within the body of Christ is itself a sin, the very notion of Church Discipline will be viewed with apathy.

As I stated in the beginning “No Church will ever rise above the commitment of its Leadership!”

By His Grace Alone,

SocietyVs said...

I must say, never saw such a topic in a biblical discussion but it was bound to happen. The church and discipline, not that I am against discipline but for adults, are you serious? Can this solve or create problems?
Church discipline is being practiced but it is quite wacky and un-founded from what I have been seeing thus far in churches. The people judge one another, leading to gossip, leading to everyone having a clue of their business. In my life, I have yet to see church discipline be praticed in a accountable way and interpreted correctly.
You threw some scriptures out there but the one that really matters is the one that Jesus mentions about correction. I read that scripture the other day and it makes all the sense in the world to reprove someone of their 'sin', mention they may be doing something wrong...first personal, then 2 or 3, then by a church. You state they are not a church member anymore, i think that is a fair assumption but you still are a church member. It's actually not long after that scripture where Jesus tells Peter to forgive his brother 70 X 7 times. So even if the are no longer a member, they are still to be treated with respect or does Jesus treat a 'heathen' and 'son of God' differently?
So to me church discipline has a basis in the bible but should always start off as a brother to brother (friendship ideal) thing. But I think in the end we are not to 'hate' the infidels, but love them all the more since it is written, 'love your enemies'. So even in discipline, or kicking someone out of the structure, love conquers all.

SocietyVs said...

Church discipline, riddled with mistakes, full of biases, basically has been unfounded and mis-interpreted in most churches I have attended. I do congratulate your endeavor to explain it though and I think it is neccesary since it is biblical. Here is what I interpret.
You mentioned the passage on correction that Jesus spoke about. Firstly, reprove your brother in private, secondly with 2 or 3 people, then lastly in front of the church...if at any point they want to change then welcome back your brother. If not they are a no better than a tax collector. That is church discipline in a nutshell, or at least thats what Jesus taught. And I have to agree, it's sound advice. Here is where i part ways with some of it.
The scripture itself is absolutely true and it works but it's the after part that doesn't, well the structure of the church I think interprets it wrong. If someone should fail all 3 tests then what? Are we to treat them any differently? any less? I don't think so. It is written 'love your enemies, bless those who curse you'. It seems Jesus lays out in the Sermon (Matt 5-7) the principles of how to treat people of non-faith...God shows no partiality between us and them...'the sun shines on the good and the evil'. So what am I getting at?
Even if fellow believers become as 'unbelievers' to us they still deserve our respect and love. It's actually not long after that discipline speech that Jesus lets Peter know that he should forgive his brother 70 X 7 times. We may not like what the person that is an unbeliever does, but we have 2 commandments...Love God with everything and love your neighbor as yourself...that goes for that person who may not want to be a member of the church; we are to love and that will cover a multitude of sins.

angela said...

This was an excellent reminder of how the church should be. Sometimes we know that things don't seem right to us, and yet we can't articulate them.

I know that this is not your most recent post, but I hope you see my comment, because reading this gave me such a sense of relief...that someone had been able to articulate feelings that I had in a vague sense.

This is my first time reading your blog, but I will be back. Keep up the good work, saying the hard things that need to be said.

GB Shaw said...

Hi! First let me say that I really enjoy your blog, you have some very interesting and impressive posts! As far as this particular post is concerned, I agree with you - but only to a point.

At one point you state, "Those who do not demonstrate a real, saving relationship with Christ and who show no interest in growing spiritually have no business being received into a church's membership." I struggle with this simply on the basis that one of the biggest reasons the church in America has become nearly irrelevant is because of our judgementalism. I have found so often that if a person doesn't wear the uniform, doesn't live the same lifestyle, doesn't view things quite the same as the other, well quite frankly - the church passes judgement on them - driving them away.

When Jesus spoke of "church discipline" he spoke of believers who directly sin (or offend) against another believer. I think we tread on very thin ice when we take on the mantle of judge. It smacks of the Pharisees who were so devoted and zealouos about their belief that they rejected anyone who wasn't as "holy" as they were.

Jesus certainly did make statements about church discipline, but again it concerned believers directly offending eachother. Jesus' statements and examples however, belie an attitude of love, forgiveness and acceptance.

If there is a real leson here it is in the story of Jesus chasing the money changers out of the temple. The problem there wasn't that they were changing money, selling items needed for sacrifice, it was that they were doing it in a way that prevented people from entering the "House of Prayer for ALL people." And he was ticked about that!

So while I agree that church discipline is necessary, I think it behooves us as a church to be sure that we don't become judges and Pharisees and preventers, and focus on what Jesus focused on - Loving God with all our hearts and loving our neighbors! Let's be careful with church discipline - it's already hurt enough people.
GB Shaw

joy said...

A Question? A teenager was removed from our local church. Her mother and nephew both died within a one month period of time. The teenager has become suicidal and acts out. The youth pastor offered to go to counseling with her but decided after one visit that he could not. The teenager lashed out at him and put gum in his bible and she felt betrayed. The church asked her to never come back. I feel that the steps regarding church discipline were not followed properly and the complicity or poor judgement of a very young youth pastor was not weighed properly. How should this be addressed? How can a lay person approach our pastor about this situation?