Biblical Church Discipline -- By: Mark Dever

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 04:4 (Winter 2000)
Article: Biblical Church Discipline
Author: Mark Dever


Biblical Church Discipline1

Mark Dever

Mark Dever is pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. A graduate of Cambridge Universit y, Cambridge, England, he is the author of Nine Marks of a Healthy Church and a recent book on Richard Sibbes. He is a contributing editor to The Founders Journal.

Emily Sullivan Oakey was born, educated, and then taught in Albany, New York. As with many other women of the mid-nineteenth century, she spent a good bit of time writing down her thoughts—sometimes as part of a journal, other times as part of articles, very often in poetry. She published many of her articles and poems in daily newspapers and in magazines. As a young woman of twenty-one, perhaps inspired by Jesus’ Parable of the Sower, she wrote a poem about sowing and harvesting. Some twenty-five years later, in 1875, the poem was set to music by Philip Bliss and appeared in print for the first time under the title “What Shall the Harvest Be?”2 The little group of Christians who formed what would become Capitol Hill Baptist Church selected that very song as the first song to be sung in their meetings together, in February of 1878:

Sowing the seed by the daylight fair,
Sowing the seed by the noonday glare,
Sowing the seed by the fading light,
Sowing the seed in the solemn night.
O, what shall the harvest be?
O, what shall the harvest be?

Very appropriate words to ring off the bare walls and bare floorboards of the building they met in. Those thirty people were planning to covenant to form a church: “What would the harvest be?”

In that same church, now more than a century later, we are still helping to determine what will be the harvest of their efforts. We are doing this by what we think and how we live, by whom we plan to see and what we plan to do, by what we feel and what we care about, what we give ourselves for and what we pray about.

What has the harvest been, and what shall the harvest be? That gets to the very heart of our question in this article: Are we to live as Christians on our own? Or do we have some obligation to each other? Do our obligations to each other involve merely encouraging each other positively? Or do they possibly include a responsibility to speak honestly to each other of faults, shortcomings, departures from Scripture, or specific sin? Could our responsibilities before God also include sometimes making such matters public?

One vital aspect of a healthy church is church discipline. As we approach this subject, let’s ask ourselves seven questions:

  1. Is all discipline negative?
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