Feb 23 2013


I recently got to observe a discussion between pastors on the subject of church discipline, and I got to hear a word that everyone knows used in a manner I had never heard it used before. I have a long explanation before I get to the term. As you likely know, a term is a word used in a specific context.

Portions of the New Testament describe church discipline, a process by which the church as a local body deals with someone caught up in serious, unrepentant sin. I say ‘process,’ because that is how it is supposed to work: as a series of steps designed to bring the believer back to right relationship with God and, therefore, fellowship with the church body as well. It is not simply a ‘you sinned, now get out,’ kind of thing.

Yes, I am aware of some churches that have either really gone overboard, either abusing their authority, or doing nothing, continuing to permit rampant sin (see Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians, where he addressed an issue where a man was married to his own stepmother—and the church at Corinth was apparently cool with it). But I hope to give an accurate overview of the way the process is supposed to work according to Scripture.

  • The first step is simply you as a mature believer approach the individual in a spirit of humility as a friend/brother. Most of the time, that is all there is to it. The church body as a whole is largely oblivious, because the issue has been addressed on an interpersonal level. Despite the belief of many who despise the church, we really don’t like the idea of dragging people out and shaming them, any more than we would want that done to us—or our parents, children, or friends. I think Someone a long time ago might have taught on this concept, but maybe not….
  • The second step, if the person is unrepentant, is taking a couple of witnesses with you to again confront the person, to again implore the person to abandon their sin, and if they will not, to confirm the truth in order to obviate any ‘he said, she said’ business.
  • The third and final step is to take the issue before the church and expel the member from the local congregation.

The results of not performing this duty are bad for the person and bad for the church: the believer is left to continue wallowing in sin and therefore reap its consequences, and the church justly reaps the charge of hypocrisy, because of known sin within its own body that it refuses to deal with.

In the same way that ‘computer’ may apply equally to either an entire personal computer setup (with monitor, keyboard, mouse, etc), or just the computer part (not the monitor, keyboard, or mouse), ‘church discipline’ may refer to either the entire process or just the third step.

I know there is a question I have raised and not answered: what qualifies as serious sin? Well, that was the topic of the discussion—what merits the third step of church discipline?

I was at a youth worker’s conference, and Heather and I were sitting in a coffee shop with our pastor, his wife, and their (and now our) friends (another pastor and his wife). Besides us three couples, there was this guy that looked kind of like a pudgy, part-American Indian Indiana Jones with glasses, fedora, and leather jacket. My pastor and the other pastor brought up a couple of example cases to see how he would handle them. Indy presented his guidelines on how he would handle them based on the available Scripture. He made it a point to inform that there were other pastors who would disagree with him, that they would think he was not being firm enough, but I thought he was very balanced, firm, fair, and generous.

Finally, to get to the actual term. Indy used the word ‘church’ as a verb, expressed as shorthand for ‘church discipline.’

Pastor: “What would you do in the case of x?”

Indy: “I would do y.”

Pastor: “But don’t you think x is serious?”

Indy: “Yeah, but do you church him for it?”


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