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The Protestant reformers named three "marks by which the true church is known": the preaching of the pure doctrine of the gospel, the pure administration of the sacraments, and the exercise of church discipline to correct faults. Today, church discipline is feared as the mark of a false church, bringing to mind images of witch trials, scarlet letters, public humiliations, and damning excommunications. Does discipline itself need correction and redemption in order to be readmitted into the body of Christ? We have asked several experts from different (and sometimes contrasting) professional and theological backgrounds to explain how church discipline fell into disrepair and how it can be revived, so that the true church can fully embody the pure doctrine of the gospel once again.

Day One | Day Two | Day Three | Day Four | Day Five | Day Six

Who killed church discipline? As in any good mystery story, fingers point everywhere.

It's tempting to finger the megachurch as the prime suspect, if only for its size. In such settings, it is hard to keep track of the membership rolls, let alone members' personal lives. Congregants from the 9:30 service rarely meet those who attend the 11:00 service, even if they may be committed to biblical mandates to help a fellow church member in spiritual or moral trouble. But how can one even tell a member? Many people attending these churches may be church hoppers or perennial visitors, considering themselves free-floating Christians without accountability—and they like it that way.

But so do those attending tiny congregations; the culprit is not size. Many Protestant churches, especially evangelical ones, have long disconnected salvation and church membership: a consequence of the enduring tradition ...

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How Discipline Died
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In the Magazine

August 2005

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