The Forgotten Side of Church Discipline -- By: Don Cox
SBJT 4:4 (Winter 2000) p. 44
The Forgotten Side of Church Discipline
Don Cox is Assistant Professor of Evangelism and Church Growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition to teaching, Dr. Cox served thirteen years in the pastorate in Southern Baptist Churches in Alabama and Kentucky. He has also written on the subjects of evangelism, church discipline, and church growth.
A few years ago I attended a breakfast meeting for local Baptist ministers. Being a new pastor, I looked forward to meeting the men and engaging in fruitful discussion. In the midst of the friendly discourse the topic of church discipline emerged, and the tone of the conversation grew pointed. One older, retired pastor said, in essence, that church discipline should not be exercised today since it is divisive and leads to legalism. He was speaking of corrective church discipline, as addressed in other articles in this journal, and for him it had no place in contemporary ecclesiastical life.
Unfortunately, this type of hostile attitude towards church discipline is pervasive in North American Protestant churches. It is an attitude that reveals, among other things, a poor ecclesiology, a pitiful grasp of Scripture and the positive unifying purpose of corrective discipline taught therein, and a propensity to view church discipline in an extremely narrow fashion. This brief article is devoted to addressing this last problem— the propensity to view church discipline narrowly. My breakfast acquaintance only related church discipline to the subject of correction. He forgot that the church’s task of discipline also involves providing a framework for spiritual formation. This forgotten side of discipline must also be reestablished in the churches, and such a reformation may prove to be the key step in helping churches extol the virtue of biblical discipline.
Church Discipline: A Binary Concept
To understand church discipline properly, we must first broaden our horizon concerning the subject. Church discipline is, in actuality, a binary concept rooted in Scripture that seeks to accomplish at least four goals. These goals are: (1) to build a regenerate church membership; (2) to mature believers in the faith; (3) to strengthen the church for evangelism and the engagement of culture; and (4) to protect the church from inner decay.1
Writers who have addressed the subject from this broader perspective have thus spoken of church discipline by using two headings. Reformative or corrective church discipline refers to discipline administered for the purpose of guiding an erring believer away from sin. If the believer willfully persists in sin, he should be removed from the church to protect the body from ...
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