Keeping the Lawyers at Bay
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.
Wolves love to prey on sheep. First Church learned this lesson the hard way. A respected member persuaded other members to invest thousands of dollars in a business venture. When the venture stalled and he refused to return their money, they complained to the pastor. The businessman rebuffed the pastor's inquiries, so the elders mentioned the possibility of church discipline. A threatening call from an attorney successfully intimidated them, however, so they simply asked the businessman to find a new church.
The wolf found a new flock to prey on, but he also continued to bilk other members of First Church out of thousands of additional dollars. When those investors later discovered that their leaders had known of the businessman's schemes and did nothing to warn them, they threatened to sue the church! The shepherds were discredited, the flock was ravaged, and the wolf continued to prowl.