Church Discipline: A Call to Repentance
Before we can dive into many of the questions people often have about church discipline, we need to be clear about what it is and what it is not.
Broadly speaking, there is a sense in which all of the teaching and exhortation ministry of the church is a kind of church discipline. We teach the standard for Christian living according to God’s Word and call our members to live according to that standard. However, what we usually mean by the term is something more specific. Church discipline, in this sense, is when the leadership of the church (in our case, the Session) lovingly calls a member (and only one of our members—we don’t have the authority to discipline anyone else) to repent of his or her sin, doing so in the gospel hope that the person will repent and be reconciled.
When the sinner will not repent, Scripture gives us further steps that we can take to impress upon the sinner the seriousness of their sin and unrepentance. We usually begin with a simple admonition to turn from the sin. Then, if necessary, we suspend the sinner from the sacraments. Finally, in the most unfortunate cases, we must remove them from membership, in effect telling them that we no longer believe their profession of faith because of their refusal to repent. All of this, again, is done with patience and in love for the good of the sinner.
What church discipline is not is a tool by which the Session should seek to control members of the church or get retribution for some perceived offense against the leadership or a member of the leadership. It is not punishment in order to teach a lesson. Church discipline is not supposed to be punitive at all, in fact. That doesn’t mean, however, that it isn’t painful for all involved and often particularly painful the sinner.
Next week, we will briefly ask and answer, “Why do it?” This is a very important question!
Your fellow servant of Christ,