The Biblical Practice of Church Discipline -- By: J. Carl Laney

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 143:572 (Oct 1986)
Article: The Biblical Practice of Church Discipline
Author: J. Carl Laney

The Biblical Practice of Church Discipline

J. Carl Laney

[J. Carl Laney, Associate Professor of Biblical Literature, Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, Portland, Oregon]

The Belgic Confession (1561), which grew from Reformation soil, identifies three characteristics “by which the true church is known.” These marks are (a) the preaching of pure doctrine, (b) the administration of the sacraments, and (c) the exercise of church discipline.

Renewed interest in the third characteristic has risen out of several highly publicized cases in which church discipline resulted in lawsuits against the pastor and church leaders. As a result many churches are reluctant to take disciplinary procedures to deal with sin among their members. Many church leaders would like to take disciplinary action but are uncertain as to the proper steps and necessary precautions. A fresh look at the biblical doctrine of church discipline may prove helpful in providing answers and encouraging the scriptural restoration of fallen saints.

The Necessity of Discipline

R. C. Sproul states, “The church is called not only to a ministry of reconciliation, but a ministry of nurture to those within her gates. Part of that nurture includes church discipline.”1 Congregational discipline is really an act of discipleship that functions as the corollary of evangelism. Evangelism ministers to those outside the church who are in bondage to sin. Congregational discipline ministers to those within the church who are in bondage to sin. Jeschke says it

well: “In discipline, as in the presentation of the good news to the non-Christian, a person is presented the opportunity of being liberated from the power of sin in all its forms by coming under the rule of Christ and walking in His way.”2

Church discipline may be defined as the confrontive and corrective measures taken by an individual, church leaders, or the congregation regarding a matter of sin in the life of a believer.3 Unlike the “scarlet letter” in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel, biblical church discipline is designed to restore not to punish.4

Is church discipline necessary? Few would dispute the necessity of pulling a drowning man from a flooding torrent or recovering a fallen climber from a mountain crevasse. Most decent people would skip the verbal exercise and give themselves to the rescue! Should less concern be demonstrated for the believer who has fallen mo...

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