The Grace of Church Discipline
Image: Jonathan Bartlett

The response was not surprising. Some called it a “purge”; others a “witch hunt.” In October, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) told its 1,300 staff members that they are expected to abide by the organization’s theological commitments—in particular those on human sexuality. If a staff member disagrees with IVCF’s views (which are traditionally orthodox), they are expected to resign.

We have a different name for IVCF’s action: discipleship.

Discipline is not something most American churches practice. It’s not even something they talk about. In a recent LifeWay Research survey, 62 percent of churchgoing Christians—and 57 percent of evangelicals—said their church does not have the authority to withhold the Lord’s Supper or to exclude them from fellowship. An earlier LifeWay survey found that 9 in 10 evangelicals said the church doesn’t have the authority to declare they’re not Christians. A 2011 Barna study found that only 5 percent of Christians involved in a church say their church holds them accountable (the figure was about the same for members of Christian small groups).

The popular belief among Christians seems to be the one expressed in an open letter to IVCF, posted in full by Religion News Service, objecting to its decision: “We understand that conversations related to marriage, sexuality, and gender are critical for Christians, but we also recognize that Christians of mutual goodwill can have those conversations and arrive at various conclusions.”

Of course they can. But that doesn’t mean those Christians should be discipling college students through InterVarsity, or heading up a local church college and youth ...

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The Grace of Church Discipline
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