The SBJT Forum: Perspectives on Church Discipline -- By: Anonymous
SBJT 4:4 (Winter 2000) p. 84
The SBJT Forum:
Perspectives on Church Discipline
Editor’s Note: Readers should be aware of the forum’s format. William G. Travis, Bruce A. Ware, D. A. Carson, and C. Ben Mitchell have been asked specific questions to which they have provided written responses. These writers are not responding to one another. The journal’s goal for the Forum is to provide significant thinkers’ views on topics of interest without requiring lengthy articles from these heavily-committed individuals. Their answers are presented in an order that hopefully makes the forum read as much like a unified presentation as possible.
SBJT: What does the reformation teach us about church discipline?
William Travis: When sixteenth century Anabaptists were baptized, the act was seen as more than an outward testimony to inward faith (though, of course, it was that) and obedience to a New Testament command. In addition, the newly baptized person pledged to live in newness of life in the believing community, placing himself voluntarily under its authority. Baptized believers constituted a holy brotherhood, in which members were subject to discipline by the local congregation.
The model for such discipline was Matthew 18:15–18, where Jesus laid out a three-step sequence of seeking to win over the erring person. If no change occurred after these efforts, the last resort was to treat the offender as a Gentile and a tax-collector, i.e., as someone outside the believing community. The erring person must be put under the “ban” (excommunicated) and shunned by all others in the church. Menno Simons (1492–1559) saw the whole process as an attempt to heal, not to amputate: the congregation issued its judgment in a spirit of compassion, and welcomed the repentant person back in a spirit of grace. He even suggested that the congregation should wait patiently, hoping for repentance, before invoking the ban—up to two years. The shunning was not unrelievedly harsh, especially inside the family, but it was important to let the sinning person know that he was not in fellowship with other believers.
Balthasar Hubmaier (c. 1485–1528) agreed with Menno, and went so far as to argue “no discipline, no church.” Even if adult baptism and the Lord’s Supper are observed in the congregation, without discipline there is no real church. One of the debates of the sixteenth century centered on what the distinctive marks of the church were. Both Luther and Calvin contended for two marks: the Word of God correctly preached, and the sacraments rightly administered. Hubmaier added discipline as a third mark: discipline is esse, foundational, to the church’s very being.
The ban was a church matter—related to issues o...
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