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.
Maybe the most fundamental dynamic in church discipline is also the simplest: Sin happens. It happens in big churches, it happens in little churches. It probably happens at roughly the same per capita rate no matter what the congregation's size. It should sadden everyone, but it shouldn't shock anyone. So the question is not how to respond if it happens. The question is how to respond when it happens.
A second dynamic is also a constant across congregations regardless of size: In any biblically authentic community, sin is confronted, not ignored.
I believe churches try to cover up sin even more than people outside the church do, and larger churches are more prone to this temptation than smaller ones. Maybe it's because we are apt to confuse "bigger" with "more blessed," and mistakenly confer spiritual maturity. Maybe it's because we erroneously think that covering up sin in a highly visible ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.