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.
Among American Catholics, the collapse of church discipline is symbolized by empty confessionals and more than $1 billion in settlements for clergy sexual abuses. Mainline liberal Protestants present the fool's gold standard of church discipline on every count: the hemorrhage in church membership, the closure of churches, the dilution of doctrinal and moral integrity, the absence of confession in worship, hyper-optimistic ecumenical romanticism, the avid neglect of Scripture, and knee-jerk politics. American Episcopalians maintain stubborn resistance to warnings by the world Anglican Communion that they have recklessly broken fellowship. American evangelicals also avoid church discipline as they acclimate to client-driven church strategies, desperately popular preaching, the health-and-wealth gospel, and the appetite to be really okay within modern culture.
Meanwhile, the attempts to revive ...1
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