This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
simply, it is not practiced by many believers today. The practice and purpose of church discipline was originated and endorsed by Jesus Christ, but if one judged it by the way it is practiced in churches today, one would think it is not important. Today church discipline has been forsaken in an attempt for churches today to be more pragmatic, efficient, and accepting according to worldly standards. This new direction that churches are striving for is having devastating consequences. Although this compromise may be for the reason of winning a lost world, the church is actually becoming more like the lost world by tolerating sin. Church discipline has disappeared from many churches and the identity of the church is suffering because of it. Southern Baptists used to rank high in Christians observing church discipline, but this mandate has certainly changed. Early Southern Baptists were known for certain principles, including church discipline and obedience to Scripture. The Southern Baptist denomination is viewed as one that fought the good fight and won in terms of biblical inerrancy. Much credit is due to Southern Baptists, but what should be said of them if they do not put into practice that which they fought so hard to keep? The Conservative Resurgence was a David & Goliath story if there ever was one. A few conservatives rose to the occasion to battle the numerous liberals in order to declare God’s Word as inerrant and authoritative, but do Southern Baptists live it out some 50 years later? Gregory Wills, a professor of Church History and Southern Baptist historian confirms that “Southern
2 Baptists have established their commitment to the inerrancy of the Scriptures, but these Scriptures teach the obligation of the churches to protect their purity by church discipline. However, most Southern Baptist churches manifest little zeal to obey the Scripture.”1 Southern Baptist churches throughout history were known for their high expectations and specific requirements of their members, but now, the church rolls are stacked and the pews are empty. Church discipline has become a way of the past, which may explain why the church has not become the way of the future. This paper will seek to follow a logical flow of determining what church discipline is, how it was taught in scripture and applied in early Baptist life, why it was forsaken, and how the abandonment of such a practice has left the church powerless to win a lost world for Christ. The body of Christ is called to be salt and light, two substances which permanently change the environment in which they exist. Without church discipline, the body of Christ looks just like the world. Church discipline is crucial, but many churches do not understand or practice this biblical command. Therefore, before it is applied, it must first be defined. What Is Church Discipline Even before the biblical practice is discussed, most people get the wrong idea of church discipline. At the sheer utterance of the word discipline, people draw conclusions of getting a “whooping” as a child or having his nose put in the corner. The very word carries a harsh tone when in today’s society, people are encouraged to be independent and “take care of number one,” but the simple truth is that life needs discipline. Thabiti Anyabwile is the author of What is a Healthy Church Member and says that “disorganization, sloppiness, and inattention generally introduce the kind of instability that weakens rather than strengthens. Where there is no order Gregory A. Wills, “Southern Baptists and Church Discipline,” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 4 (Winter 2000): 10
there will likely be little in the environment that sustains and nourishes.”2 All aspects of life including raising children, car maintenance, body fitness and even walking require order, structure, and cooperation in order to be successfully completed. Quite simply, life needs discipline. If these elements are crucial for measly acts such as walking, why would they not be found and expected in the church? Order and structure are needed in one’s spiritual life, for “without proper establishment of routines, boundaries, and patterns, thriving spiritually most likely will not occur or will be haphazard at best.”3 Just as physical life and spiritual life require it, discipline is also a necessity in church life. Church discipline has two sides; one is practiced regularly while the other has been abandoned. The first aspect, formative church discipline, involves expositional preaching and teaching of God’s Word and declaring its truths. Every week thousands, if not millions, sit under correct teaching of God’s Word, but this is only the first part of church discipline. Formative church discipline is important “for it equips the individual to fulfill the missions for which they were called as Christians”4 and forms them into the persons who God wants them to be. However, if a Christian is living a life of sin, he or she needs corrective church discipline. If an individual is allowed to live in sin going unchallenged by the body of Christ, he or she gives the church a bad reputation. If the one in sin who claims to be a part of the body of Christ is not corrected, failure to discipline tells the world that the sin has no consequences and the church is
Thabiti M.Anyabwile, What Is A Healthy Church Member ( Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2008), 73
Don Cox, “Forgotten Side of Church Discipline,” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 4 (Winter 2000): 45 3
4 accepting of all sin. In order to take such action as corrective church discipline, the body of Christ must know its members. Church discipline requires the body of Christ to be intimately involved with one another, in order to hold each other accountable before God. Corrective church discipline can be defined as “the act of excluding someone who professes to be a Christian from membership in the church and participation in the Lord’s Supper.”5 Many people perceive church discipline as an invasion of privacy, believing that the church has no right to interfere. These same people become defensive when the body of Christ confronts its members so to keep the body pure and holy. They misinterpret Scripture, quoting “Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged.”6 They choose to ignore that just a few chapters later in Matt 18:15-17, Jesus is endorsing the church to carry out this practice. Whatever “Jesus meant by not judging in Matthew 7, He did not mean to rule out the kind of judging He mandated in Matthew 18.”7 Scripture clearly teaches that the church is to exercise judgment within itself. If the church cannot say how a Christian should not live, how then can the church say how a Christina should live? The church is supposed to be different from the world. Mark Dever who is world renown for his teaching in church ecclesiology paints a unique picture tying together church membership and church discipline. Dever says that “membership draws a boundary line around the church, marking the church off from the world and discipline helps the church that lives inside of the that
Mark Dever, What Is A Healthy Church (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2007), 101
Matthew 7:1, all Bible verses are in the Holman Christian Standard Version unless otherwise noted Mark Dever, “Biblical Church Discipline,” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 4 (Winter 2000): 29
5 boundary line stay true to the very things that are cause for drawing the line in the first place.”8 Staying true to biblical principles is reason for church discipline and is taught in Scripture. Church Discipline in Scripture As previously mentioned, church discipline is a process that is difficult to carry out. In modern times individuals are impacted by the culture and taught to seek privacy and are hesitant to sit under correction, but the teaching of church discipline is mandated in Scripture. If the Bible is the inerrant Word of God and is “useful for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, and for training in righteousness,”9 then one would be wise to sit under its counsel and understand its purpose and be obedient to its standards. There are many Bible passages to be discussed that deal with church discipline but the first must be Hebrews 12:9. In this text, the author is comparing discipline from one’s earthly father to that of the Heavenly Father. The author writes that “furthermore, we had natural fathers discipline us, and we respected them. Shouldn’t we submit even more to the Father of spirits and live?”10 The author will go on to say that earthly fathers discipline for a short time based on what is good for themselves but the Heavenly Father disciplines for man’s benefit, in order that he might share in His holiness. Here one can easily see that Scripture teaches that discipline is a positive aspect of growth and that God Himself disciplines us and commands the body of Christ to do the same. The local body of Christ has a special responsibility in this regard. The next reference of church discipline found in Scripture is probably the most discussed and most practical. In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus is teaching His disciples how to handle certain difficult situations and how to respond when a brother sins against another. Jesus teaches that:
Mark Dever, What Is A Healthy Church (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2007), 101 2 Timothy 3:16 Hebrews 12:9
6 If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.11 That, according to Jesus, is how Christians are to deal with disagreement and sin with those in the body of Christ. This is what Paul teaches us as well. The last passage that will be viewed in determining church discipline in the Scriptures, is 1 Corinthians 5:1-11. This passage is coupled with the previous passage in Matthew 18 as a very well known passage when discussing church discipline. In this text, there was apparently someone in the Corinthian church who was living an immoral lifestyle who believed he could be a Christian while deliberately disobeying God. Paul is combating the idea that the church is free to associate with everyone, no matter their lifestyle. Paul enforces church discipline telling the church at Corinth, “you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother who
is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a reviler, a drunkard or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person.”12 Clearly these vile actions coupled with him declaring
himself as a follower of Christ require church discipline. Paul teaches here that this believer must be challenged by the body of Christ so he does not falsely believe that he is in good standing with God and that the church approves of this kind of behavior. Church discipline in these texts and many more found in Scripture makes known the expectations that God gives for His people. In Hebrews, God Himself disciplines for the good of man and so should be practice of the church. In Matthew, practical steps are given about confronting a brother in sin and making known what God expects. In 1 Corinthians, Paul
Matthew 18:15-17, New International Version 1 Corinthians 5:11
7 rebukes the one living in open sin and instructs the church how to respond. Now this paper turns to a point of application in how early Baptists implemented church discipline and how they embraced its purpose. Church Discipline in Early Baptist Churches Early Southern Baptists held church discipline in high regards. To read historical records and minutes of business meetings of Southern Baptist churches upholding and enforcing church discipline, one would think it was a completely different denomination than Southern Baptists in modern day. In the 1800’s, the church was the authority on righteous living and every member was subject to it. If members of a Southern Baptist church in the 1800s did not know it before, they “discovered the hard way that Baptists accepted no opposition to the principle of ecclesiastical authority. To an antebellum Baptist, a church without discipline had little claim to be a church of Christ.”13 It was plain to see that Baptists installed discipline at the center of church life and required their members to submit to the church’s authority. Southern Baptists clearly took church disciple more seriously than other denominations. Wills declares that Southern Baptists “achieved excommunication rates nearly 60 percent higher than their northern colleagues…the Episcopalians abjured such rigor and found little occasion for discipline and the Presbyterians disciplined members far below the Baptist rate.”14 Despite unpopularity, this practice of the Baptist’s clearly made a difference. Research from Baptist State Conventions in the 1800’s showed that “Southern Baptists excommunicated nearly 2 percent of their membership every year, and yet at the same time the membership in Baptist
Gregory A. Wills, “Southern Baptists and Church Discipline,” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 4 (Winter 2000): 5 Gregory A. Wills, Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South 1785-1900 (Oxford: University Press, 1997), 22
8 churches grew at twice the rate of the general population.”15 That is growth that is simply not seen anymore. To early Southern Baptists, it was not just a duty carried out but was a means of being the true church. Early Baptist churches in the south saw the benefit of obedience in this matter as they “sought to repristinate the apostolic church and to stake their claim to primitive Christianity. Through discipline, they would, moreover, sweep the nation, for they believed that God rewarded faithful pruning by raining down revival.”16 Church discipline was at the very center of Southern Baptist life in the nineteenth century. As Baptists saw it, the exercise of church discipline served the vision of the pure church by separating the righteous from the unrighteous. Quite simply, church discipline in early Southern Baptist churches “served the purpose of improving the lives of the converted and exposed the hypocrite.”17Where is that passion and vigor to preserve the body of Christ in Southern Baptist churches today? J. C. Hiden summarizes several key areas where Southern Baptist churches have gone astray and writes that: while it is true that a Baptist church is, in theory, a body of regenerated, baptized believers, it can hardly be doubted that, in our wild scramble for numbers, we of this generation—preachers and people—are becoming less and less disposed to insist upon what our fathers used to call the marks of a genuine “grace experience” on the part of those who offer themselves as candidates for baptism and church membership…if a long churchroll were any evidence of efficiency, or if large numbers were indication of large graces, it would be easy to understand this all prevailing anxiety for numbers. But when it is perfectly clear to the dullest apprehension among us, that such is not the case, it must be confessed that this wild desire for counting up our hosts is too highly suggestive of David’s sad sin in numbering Israel.18
Mark Dever, A Theology for the Church, ed. Daniel L. Akin (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007), 836 Gregory A. Wills, Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South 1785-1900 (Oxford: University Press, 1997), 8
9 While this sounds as if it was written about the church today, this statement about the condition of the church was actually written over 125 years ago. How much more true is it today? As outlined in this section, church discipline was certainly a huge part of early Southern Baptist life. Obviously, it served them greatly in the past, but what exactly are the goals of church discipline today? Goals of Church Discipline Church discipline was instituted by God, taught by Christ, and given to the church to be implemented and put into practice. Don Cox who is a Professor of Evangelism and Church Growth at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary offers four goals that truly reveal the object and intention of church discipline in the life of the believer and its role in the body of Christ. The goals that are accomplished by church discipline are “building a regenerate church membership, maturing believers in their faith, strengthening evangelism, and protecting the church from inner decay.”19 First, building a regenerate church membership is imperative and is accomplished by church discipline. Much is written today about church growth models but what many fail to understand or implement in their program is church discipline. A truly regenerate membership will answer the call of duty to “deny themselves and pick up their cross.”20 True regenerate membership will speak volumes to a lost and dying world. Membership in a “local church [should] be reflective (as best we can tell) of true membership in the body of Christ” and this distinction will only come with the implementation and practice of church discipline.
J.C. Hiden, “Loosness of Discipline,: Working Christian, 22 Mar. 1877, 2
Don Cox, “Forgotten Side of Church Discipline,” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 4 (Winter 2000): 44
10 Second, church discipline is to mature believers in their faith in much the same way a child learns from his mistakes when a loving parent disciplines him. Scripture teaches and the early church understood that the individual under censure will benefit from strict and prompt discipline, for they will be convinced that the law of Christ condemns their conduct, and that the church must enforce that law. In this instance, and goal, church discipline is “medicine for the soul” for straying members and such correction and attention applied, matures believers in their faith. Third, a goal that church discipline achieves is the aid of evangelism. It seems contradictory that bringing forth ones sin to another will aid in evangelism. Through church discipline, a believer’s faith becomes fortified and solid as he seeks to honor His king. Through this, evangelism occurs. Wills confirms that “both church discipline and personal evangelism goes against the grain of personal comfort,”21 but one is dependent on the other. Wills speaks to the church, saying that “if [the church] does not exercise the self-denial requisite to keep up church discipline, then it could not be expected to exercise the denial requisite for evangelism.”22 Finally, it is the goal of church discipline to protect the church from inner decay. The church is to be a city within a city, being distinct from the sin that surrounds it. Dever takes this task very seriously and simply encourages churches to “guard carefully the front door [of the church] and open the back door.”23 In this last goal, church discipline is to be the vehicle used to carefully consider who is brought into the church to be declared the body of Christ and also provide means of dismissing those that destroy the very essence of what the church is suppose to
Gregory A. Wills, “Southern Baptists and Church Discipline,” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 4 (Winter 2000): 8
Ibid. Mark Dever, What Is A Healthy Church (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2007), 105
11 be. Sadly, many of these goals are not achieved or even strived for which has led to a decline in church discipline. Decline of Church Discipline In the late 1800’s, the practice of church disciple in Southern Baptist churches began to decline, and several decades after that, it was hardly practiced. The last remaining instances of church discipline were just a purging of church rolls. What used to be a practice that promoted a regenerate church body and fortified believers in their faith simply vanished. Church discipline use to be practiced as members of a church would show their love and care by exposing sin and help the sinner in any way possible. Now those that are struggling and needing help from the body of Christ are just “dropped”24 from the roll, if not worse. Because church discipline is not practiced, it is no longer expected, and members of churches live in open sin dragging the name of Christ in the mud. The causes of such a turn of events are complex, but such factors include “urbanization, faith in moral and social progress, civil religion, activism, and ultimately church efficiency.”25 Where has the body of Christ gone? Where has the priesthood of believers gone? Where has the expectation of believers gone? Modern Southern Baptist churches lost their identity when they stopped the practice of church discipline. The desire to have large church buildings and function as a corporation has corrupted the intention of the body of Christ. Modern Southern Baptists have replaced their calling from God with a desire from this world. It is common that many Baptists now “share a new vision of the church, replacing the pursuit of
Henry C. Vedder, A Short History of the Baptists (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1907),
381 Gregory A. Wills, “Southern Baptists and Church Discipline,” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 4 (Winter 2000): 9
12 purity with the quest for efficiency. Church leaders have lost the resolve to purge their churches of straying members.”26 This may keep the rolls stacked, but leaves the pews empty. Church discipline has declined and the reason why is difficult to define, but the results of such a change is certainly easy to see. Results of Lack of Church Discipline Many modern Southern Baptist churches cling tight to the traditions that they have always practiced, but many have fallen into a mundane routine. It is common for many of these churches to feel trapped and powerless in a world of sin, and many wonder why. Thousands of these churches feel as if they have no impact on their culture and fail to become light in a dark place. These are the results of failure to implement and practice church discipline. Church discipline was more than just a strategy to handle difficult church members, rather it was a means to challenge, correct, and strengthen the body of Christ. When church discipline was neglected, some claim that the church ceased to be the church. The results are evident in lifestyle of believers and practices of the modern church. Now that church discipline has ceased in many churches, there is no set standard of becoming a member of the body of Christ. Churches are now allowing members to be accepted into the body of Christ by the whisper of a simple prayer. It is now too easy to become part of the church, and this influences everything thereafter. Because the entrance of the church is not guarded, it is “easy come and easy go.” Members are excited for several months, then they fall by the way side. The calling of the Great Commission is taken as the Great Suggestion rather than the command from God. The church is seen as a place to go on Sundays rather than the
Gregory A. Wills, Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South 1785-1900 (Oxford: University Press, 1997), 9
13 people who are intimately involved in the lives of each other in order to hold each other accountable. While the results of not having church discipline practiced are all interconnected and difficult to single out, it is the belief of this author that these churches are encouraging a type of “lone ranger Christianity.” According to this trend, now everyone is an expert in their own spiritual lives and the sin they live in, but this is not biblical teaching. Because church discipline is lacking, Christians believe that a quick prayer on the golf course on Sunday or tuning into a bible study on the radio is equivalent to meeting, joining and participating in the body of Christ. Christians declare themselves as religious professionals and want to hear nothing from wiser Christians in the faith or even their pastor. Lack of church discipline has destroyed the unity of the body of Christ. Now that church discipline is gone in most churches, and now that one can see the damages of not having it in place, how do Southern Baptists get it back? How to Get Church Discipline Back Church discipline is naturally uneasy and difficult to administer but if nothing else is learned from this paper it should be that church discipline is essential for the body of Christ to function as it aught. The modern church “fears lawsuits and lacks the courage to administer church discipline and in result allows sin to go unconfronted and heresy to grow unchecked,”27 but the need to overcome these obstacles must be seen. J.L. Dagg who is author of a well-known and influential church manual wrote that “when discipline leaves a church, Christ goes with it.”28 So how can churches rediscover the dire need of implementing church discipline?
Al Mohler, “Church Discipline: The Missing Mark,” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 4 (Winter 2000): 26
J.L. Dagg, Manuel of Church Order (Harrisonburg: Gano Books, 1990), 274
14 The recovery must start from the beginning and focus on church membership. It is common for individuals to grace the opening of a church and be hurled down the aisle and dunked in a tub of water and then be expected to be a full contributing member of the local church. However it does not work that way. Often times, new members are unsure of Christian basics, much less how they should daily live their lives impacting a lost world for Christ. New members must be taught, and all members must be held to high expectations. It should be noted that churches with high requirements are returning to the practices of their forefathers, where formative discipline began at the door of the church with high requirements and expectations. After the body of Christ is disciplined at the front door of the church, correct teaching must come from the weekly preaching ministry of the pastor proclaiming the whole counsel of God. Second, attention should be given to the teaching ministry of the church in order to correctly disciple and train the body of Christ how to act. Finally, churches must unite in order to hold each other accountable. The lack of church discipline has ripped the body of Christ into clicks and clubs instead of each member caring and being involved in the lives of every other member. These suggestions are not exhaustive but with intention and prayer, church discipline could once again be a part of Southern Baptist life. Believers should unite and challenge one another in love in hopes of becoming more and more like the body of Christ that impacts this world with the Gospel. Conclusion Church discipline is the process of guarding and protecting the church from sin, and it results in producing church members that are fortified in their faith. This process was initiated by Christ. The early church sought diligently to put it into practice, but over time something happened. Churches, in a sad attempt to look like the world, rejected church discipline in order
15 to win lost people, but the opposite occurred. Without church discipline, the church fails to be the church and falls short in her duty to reach the lost people . Where is the church that spoke with authority in regards to sin? Where are the people of God that sought to follow Him no matter the cost? Without church discipline, the church today is weak and powerless to impact a sinful world. Church discipline must return to its once proper place at the center of all church life and will only come with intention, prayer, and dedication to return to the Word of God.
Bibliography Anyabwile, Thabiti M., What is a Healthy Church Member. Wheaton, Ill Crossway Books, 2008 Cox, Don. “The Forgotten Side of Church Discipline.” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 4, no. 4 (Winter 2000): 45-59 Dagg, J. L. Manuel of Church Order. Harrisonburg: Gano Books, 1990 Dever, Mark. A Theology for the Church. Edited by Daniel L. Akin. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007 Dever, Mark. “Biblical Church Discipline.” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 4, no. 4 (Winter 2000): 29-43 Dever, Mark. What is a Healthy Church. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 2007 Deweese, Charles W., A Community of Believers: Making Church Membership More Meaningful, :Judson Press, 1978 Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic 2001 Erikson, Millard. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House Company Garrett, James Leo Jr.. Baptist Church Discipline: A Historical Introduction to the Practices of Baptist Church, with Particualr Attention to the Summary of the Church Discipline Adopted in 1773 by the Charleston Association. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1962 Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000 House, Wayne H.. “Church Discipline and the Courts.” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 4, no. 4 (Winter 2000): 60-75 McBeth, H. Leon. The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1987 Mohler, Al Jr.. “Church Discipline: The Missing Mark.” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 4, no. 4 (Winter 2000): 17-27 Rainer, Thom S. The Book of Church Growth: History, Theology, and Principles. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993
17 Ryrie, Charles. Basic Theology. Colorado Springs, Colorado: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1981. Schreiner, Thomas. “Loving Discipline.” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 4, no. 4 (Winter 2000): 2-3 Vedder, Henry. A Short Histroy of the Baptists. Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1907. White, Thomas, Jason G. Duesing, and Malcolm B. Yarnell. Restoring Integrity in Baptist Churches. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2008. Wills, Gregory. “Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South, 1785-1900. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. Wills, Gregory. “Southern Baptists & Church Discipline.” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 4, no. 4 (Winter 2000): 4-15 York, Hersheael. “The Compassion of Confrontation.” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 4, no. 4 (Winter 2000): 76-83
THE UNCUT JEWEL OF CHURCH DISCIPLINE
A Term Paper Presented to Dr. Ken Keathley in partial fulfillment of the requirements for THE6130 Christian Theology 3
John Sanders Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary May 6, 2010
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.