Part 1: Court Involvement in Church Discipline -- By: Jay A. Quine

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 149:593 (Jan 1992)
Article: Part 1: Court Involvement in Church Discipline
Author: Jay A. Quine

Part 1:
Court Involvement in Church Discipline

Jay A. Quine

Pastor, Van Alstyne Bible Church, Van Alstyne, Texas
Former Municipal Court Judge, Colfax, Washington
Former Deputy Prosecutor, Whitman County, Washington

This series of two articles attempts to curb the fear of lawsuits against local churches and church leaders who exercise church discipline. Because several recent judicial decisions have been determined in part on whether the church has clearly articulated its church discipline policy to the disciplined member, the purposes, causes, and methods of church discipline are briefly reviewed in this first article.1 The major legal theories and defenses used in church discipline cases are examined to help church leaders avoid unnecessary conduct that tends to increase the risk of a lawsuit. The second article presents a historical overview of church discipline cases and guidelines for church leaders to enable them to remain beyond legal liability while being scriptural in their discipline procedures. An inventive case narrative in the second article demonstrates how a common church situation can raise many of these legal issues.

The Biblical Basis for Church Discipline

Church leaders should have a clear understanding of the necessity, purpose, causes, and method of biblical church discipline. Explaining these principles of church discipline to the congregation is a large step toward avoiding a lawsuit.

The Necessity of Church Discipline

Many passages in Scripture call for discipline of erring church members. These passages lead to the inevitable conclusion that church discipline is as much the function of a local church as the preaching of the “pure doctrine of the gospel,” and “the administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ.”2 “Discipline in the church is not optional but mandatory—it is an absolute necessity if we are…to be obedient to the Scriptures.”3

Matthew 18:15–20 and 1 Corinthians 5:1–5 clearly proclaim this necessity. In view of the procedure in Matthew 18:15–20 with the present imperative ὕπαγε (“go”),4 church discipline is not merely suggested; it is required. First Corinthians 5:1–5 confirms its necessity in addressing a specific situation requiring c...

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