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.
All of the offerings in this special section presume one particular truth: that church discipline hinges on a high-demand understanding of what makes the church the church.
In For the Glory of God, Baylor sociologist of religion Rodney Stark discusses the dynamics of high-intensity religious movements. High-intensity religion is often created by reformations, he says, by attempts to restore religious belief and practice in existing organizations to a more demanding level. When such attempts fail, reformers are pushed out of the existing structures and create "high-intensity religious alternatives." That is what happened in the 16th-century magisterial and radical reformations, as well as in later movements such as Methodism, Puritanism, Quakerism, and the Salvation Army.
In economic terms, high-intensity religion demands a high price. But, Stark points out, people will pay a high price to obtain ...1