Church Discipline and the Courts -- By: H. Wayne House

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 04:4 (Winter 2000)
Article: Church Discipline and the Courts
Author: H. Wayne House


Church Discipline and the Courts

H. Wayne House

H. Wayne House is Distinguished Professor of Biblical Studies and Apologetics at Faith Seminary, Tacoma, Washington, and Adjunct Professor of Law at Trinity Law School (Santa Ana, CA) of Trinity International University. He holds a J.D., Regent University School of Law; Th.D., Concordia Seminary, St. Louis; M.Div., Th.M., Western Seminary; M.A., Abilene Christian Universit y; B.A., Hardin- Simmons University. He formerly was Professor of Theology at Dallas Theological Seminary and Professor of Law at Trinity Law School. Dr. House is the author of a number of books and articles, including Christian Ministries and the Law (Kregel, 1999).

Concern abounds in the Christian community today in ways that would have been unheard of several decades ago in America. Until recent years churches had little to fear from the civil authorities, church members, or their local communities in regards to legal matters. The church was viewed as sacrosanct in American culture. The local church building was a place of refuge that provided safety for persons pursued by civil authorities. Other than a few instances regarding property disputes, parishioners, for the most part, would not consider taking their pastor, church board, or local church body to court, Clergy were highly respected members of the community and charges against them were viewed as highly suspect. If churches were careless in caring for the physical premises, they did not need to worry about being sued by members or visitors who happened to be injured. Churches that exacted discipline against its members had no reason to believe that the member would, in turn, sue them for such things as defamation, infliction of emotional distress, or invasion of privacy. None of these matters is the case any longer in America. Lawsuits against churches are on the rise and there appears to be no end in sight to their proliferation.1

Church Discipline in the History of the Church

Jesus’ Teaching on Discipline in the New Testament

The subject of church discipline first appears in the gospel according to St. Matthew in a conversation between Jesus and His disciples. Jesus, having spoken earlier (Matt 16:17–19) of building a church,2 then proceeds in 18:15–20 to explain what kind of discipline the church is to use when disruption occurs in the community of believers. Certainly the Jewish community from the time of Moses had judged issues and persons by the law,3 so this was not unfamiliar to the dis...

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