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.
Mark Dever is senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist in Washington D.C., where he has been intentional about deepening the meaning of church membership and thus church discipline. He is the author of Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (Crossway). (For more on these topics see ninemarks.com.) Managing editor Mark Galli interviewed him.
What is church discipline?
When we talk about church discipline historically, we talk about formative church discipline and corrective church discipline. Formative discipline is all the teaching we dothe positive statements, the modeling, the instruction and sermons and Bible studies and books that we pass out.
Corrective church discipline is where we have to say, "Hey, Tom, I think you're wrong there." Or, "Sally, we need to switch groups because you're being destructive to that person." Or even finally, according to Jesus' teaching, "Mona, I know that you are ...1