The Role of Church Discipline to Church Growth

Introduction

The issue of Church discipline is a bone of contention between undisciplined members and the pastor at the local Church. Church discipline can either build or destroy the Church depending on how it is administered, meaning the motive of effecting it on a particular individual. This issue is sometimes ignored and misunderstood and yet it is the most desperately needed ministries within the Church. Church discipline is inevitable in every active Church that needs to lead its members to eternal life. “The Greek ‘nouthesia’ is usually translated “admonition,” “counsel,” “warning,” or “instruction” (Oden, 1983, p. 206). This is the same as discipline. The pastor has a duty to pastoral guide to his members. He has to make sure that wrong doings are corrected immediately they are noted. Sometimes, confrontation may be required when things go out of hand. Church Discipline is intended to bring believers in line with God’s standards for His glory, the progress of his kingdom, and the blessedness of the individual as well.  It should not be understood as excommunication though excommunication may be applied as the final stage when one fails to comply with Church discipline so that he/she does not spoil other members and the image of the Church. “It is not a coercive act that would manipulate change, but a respectful dialogue that holds up possibilities for the voluntary redirection of behaviour” (Oden, 1983, p. 206). This article is intended to expose the role of Church discipline by discussing some important elements involved in its administration.

Reasons for Church Discipline

Every action in Church ministry should have a vital purpose for doing it. As noted earlier, Church discipline is part of Pastor’s ministerial actions, therefore, a pastor should have a good purpose for performing it. “Church discipline is necessary because freedom is prone to sin”(Oden, 1983, p. 208). Church discipline should be done as an exercise of love towards a brother/sister who has fallen short from Christian values. Church of the Nazarene manual, Part VI.I.500 states that,

The objectives of Church discipline are to sustain the integrity of the Church, to protect the innocent from harm, to protect the effectiveness of the witness of the Church, to warn and correct the careless, to bring the guilty to salvation, to rehabilitate the guilty, to restore to effective service those who are rehabilitated, and to protect the reputation and resources of the Church.

The following points given by Keathly (2013) compose the purpose for exercising discipline in the Church by a pastor.

i. Every Church discipline should be intended to bring glory to God.  It should not be as a means by which a pastor deals with those who hold different views from his in the Church. It should lead the disciplined back to good relationship with God. It should not be exercised out of anger to afflict anyone.

ii. Church discipline should be able to restore, heal, and build up sinning believers (Matt. 18:15; 2 Thess. 3:14-15; Heb. 12:10-13; Gal. 6:1-2; Jam. 5:20). The Church discipline which leads someone back to sinful life does not please God. Let a pastor and the Church leaders exercise Church discipline in a way that a member will be restored and not shunned away, will be healed from their broken faith and be able to produce a healthy faith, one that is sound in doctrine (Tim.1:13; 1 Tim. 1:19-20). The objective of Church discipline is not to rid ourselves of a troublesome person, to wash our hands of a tough situation and move on. It is to so impress upon this Christian the gravity of their sin as to cause them to fall on their knees before the Lord in heart-felt repentance. “The purpose of discipline is the awakening of self-critical reflection and the reshaping of behaviour toward greater proximate good, and thus, it is hoped, toward greater personal and social happiness” (Oden, 1983, p. 209).

iii. To win a soul to Christ, if the sinning person is a nominal Christian. If a Christian is just a nominal one, Church discipline should be able to win this soul to full commitment to Christ. (2 Tim. 2:24-26).

iv. To silence false teachers and their influence in the Church (Tit. 1:10-11). There are some members in the Church who teach things that mislead other members. Discipline to such people can be applied in order to silence false teachings and their influence in the Church for the glory of God.  Church discipline protects the Church against the destructive consequences that occur when Churches fail to carry it out.

v. Church discipline helps to prevent continuation of sin in the Church. Mars Hill Church (2012) notes that “discipline in the Church helps to deter others from sin”. If members in the Church who are displaying sin are not disciplined, other members will think that such acts are acceptable and they will do the same because a bad precedence was set.

Scope of Church Discipline

When we talk about the scope of Church discipline we mean the parameter in which Church discipline should end. It is about the gravity or extent to which Church discipline should be exercised. As I noted earlier, Church discipline should be done out of love, justifiably and equal to all members who are found in sinful acts. If the pastor tolerates some people’s sinful acts, he will find it hard to apply discipline to a particular individual in the near future, because he will make reference of the same act done in the past by someone and nothing was done. Church discipline should be applied to all members who have done a sinful act regardless of relationship, economic status, tribal lines, education, and position in the Church etc. The Church is for everyone; therefore rich people’s sins should not be tolerated for that will lead them to hell. It should be noted that, Church discipline is not the first solution to a fallen believer. The pastor should do his job of counselling people who are living a life of sin so that they can change, but if words are not enough for them, a whip of discipline may be applied so that an individual can realise the gravity of his/her sin. If this does not work excommunication may follow so as to protect other members from such acts and also protect the integrity of the Church and that of Christ (Matthew 18:15-20). Here is the story of my Church on discipline in brief.

One appearing faithful committed member in my Church  fell in sin. This member held top positions in the Church, “youth ministry and evangelism”. He was faithful in giving tithe and helping me as his pastor to meet my needs. One day he came to Church and told me, “pastor, I need to see you soon after the end of the Church service”, I agreed. When the service ended, I sat down with him in the Church and he told me “pastor, I have sinned”. I asked, “what do you mean?” he told me, “if you saw a strange woman in the Church today, she is my wife”. I was shocked because, he never told me even about his relationship with her and the woman did not even stand to be introduced as a visitor or a new comer. I talked to other members of the board about it and showed them the gravity of the sin committed and we agreed to discipline him with only three months of not being in any position or lead the service in the Church. Considering the integrity of the Church and to avoid setting precedence, I disregarded his giving life and exercised discipline on him but not the woman for she was a new member to us. Unfortunately he did not comprehend it. He told his wife to go to another Church while he never attended any Church service from then. Well, I kept on visiting him to show him the love of Church discipline but I kept on missing him. He was a busy man so to speak.

What I am trying to say here is that, don’t limit discipline to other members because, you think they are your bread winners. You will destroy their spiritual life. This member is now back into the Church after he realised that running away from the discipline was killing his spiritual life.

Procedures for Church Discipline

Before exercising any discipline, any pastor should remember Romans 3:23 that all of us have sinned. The only difference is the gravity to which one goes into sin. Church of the Nazarene Manual Part VI.II.501 states that,

A response is appropriate any time a person with authority to respond becomes aware of information that a prudent person would believe to be credible and which would cause a prudent person to believe that harm is likely to come to the church, to potential victims of misconduct, or to any other person as a result of misconduct by a person in a position of trust or authority within the Church.

The following procedure would help in exercising Church discipline without dispersing members.

  1. When you hear about a sinning believer, bring the issue to Christ in prayer before you confront the brother or sister. (1 Sam 8:6).
  2. While you are praying, do an honest investigation to be sure of the sinful act done by your member. Do not act on rumours.
  3. After you find that it is true, please “don’t gossip or even talk to others about it in the sense of Matthew 18:16 until you have talked to the sinning believer privately to find out more from him/her” (Keathly, 2013). This will help the integrity of that member, the Church and yourself. Remember that the real truth remains between God and particular person.
  4. After the findings “don’t procrastinate. The longer the delay, the more difficult the condition can become” (Keathly, 2013). The sinful acts may replicate in your Church to the point of loosing your members to the devil.  Early action will save the integrity of the Church.
  5. Evaluate the gravity of the sin to see if it requires discipline or just a counsel. Remember if you apply discipline to every sin done by your members, you fail as a pastor to be their counsellor. If there are many grave sins in your Church, it means you are not doing your job well as a pastor of bringing people to Christ.
  6. If you happen to apply discipline, please give a reasonable one and remember restoration, don’t loose them out of your Church.
  7. Remember to also apply the Biblical steps set in Matthew 18:15-20 which speak of showing the sinning believer his sin, if he doesn’t listen bring two more as testimony in correcting him, if he doesn’t listen take him to the Church and if he doesn’t listen, treat him as a pagan. The last part of verse 20 entails excommunication.

Restoration

Discipline is meant to strengthen spiritual life of a believer. During, the member’s discipline, a pastor should frequently visit this member in order to counsel him and make sure that he is responding positively. Observe his present lifestyle and make sure that he is coming to Church every Sunday. Please, do not condemn him/her. Lead a believer to repentance before restoration. Restoration means “accepting the person and forgetting the past (2 Cor. 2:7a)” (Keathly, 2013).

Remember that, the purpose of Church discipline is not to punish a believer but to restore him/her to salvation that comes through living a Christ-like lifestyle and protect integrity of the Church. If you know that a member is now repentant and has served the discipline faithfully, make sure that you restore him back into active participation in the Church. The question is; how do we know that the repentance is genuine? The following passages answer this question. Luke 3:8, when they bring forth fruits in keeping with repentance. Acts 26:20, “. . . that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.” They bring out the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Keathly (2013) states that;

Genuine repentance will make itself evident by its deeds and attitudes. The repentant person will: Freely acknowledge his sin (1 Jn. 1:9; Prov. 28:13a) and cease the activity for which he was disciplined or at least seek help if it’s a case of life dominating patterns (Prov. 28:13b; Gal. 6:1f; Jam. 5:19-20).

Negative Effects of not Exercising Discipline in the Church

It is unfortunate that many people see discipline as a punishment; as a result some pastors avoid applying discipline to their misbehaving members so that they appease everyone in the Church which is impossible and harmful to the life of the Church. Here are four negative effects of not exercising Church discipline by Keathly.

The Loss of Purity:

“Church discipline is vital to the purity of the local body and its protection from moral decay and impure doctrinal influences1 Cor. 5:6-7)” (Keathly, 2013). Church discipline will remind an individual on this and serve as a lesson to other members to maintain their purity so that the Church is holy wholly.

The Loss of Power:

Sin shuns away the Holy Spirit from the sinning believer and if it remains unchecked lovingly through discipline, the Holy Spirit abandons such a Church. The result is the loss of God’s blessings on it and its members until the sin is repented.

The Loss of Progress:

The Church that does not apply discipline does not grow, which is the opposite of what many pastors think when they don’t apply discipline. Growth of the Church is in the hands of the Holy Spirit and if the Church denies Him by not applying discipline to undisciplined members, it will not grow, no matter how hard the pastor may work (Revelation 2:5 and 3:16).

The Loss of Purpose:

We are called to the Great Commission, to be ambassadors for Christ and live a Holy life. If this is to remain, we must be different from the world and Church discipline helps us to both remember and maintain that purpose.

Conclusion

Church discipline is not pleasant to everyone, as so, it is better to prevent the acts that bring about discipline than delighting in it. The pastor should set an example of a Holy living as the servant of God so members may follow his footsteps. “Christ needed leaders for his enterprise, and he knew that only disciplined are prepared to lead” (Adams, 1978, p. 8). For the sake of not looking at discipline as a punishment, the pastor should teach his members about what Church discipline is and why they should practice it. New members should be taught the bible seriously so that they see the reason why they should live a Christ like life. Discipline should be done as an act of love and not to be used in dealing with people with different view from that of a pastor. Go through discipline together with that member by frequent visits, counselling and encouragements. Let a believer feel part of you during this time. Let him see the love of the church even more than before so that he sees that the discipline was applied in good faith. Let only spiritual counselling and not discipline done in some cases where the gravity of sin is shallow but emphasise that sin is sin.

 

Bibliography

Adams, A. M. (1978). Effective Leadership for Today’s Church. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

Keathly, H. J. (2013). Church Discipline. Retrieved March 14, 2013, from Bible.org: http://bible.org/article/church-discipline

Mars Hill Church. (2012, January 27). Church Disciplne in the Bible. Retrieved March 14, 2013, from Mars Hill Church: http://marshill.com/2012/01/27/church-discipline-in-the-bible

Oden, T. C. (1983). Patoral Theology. HarperSanFrancisco: HarperColiins Publishers.

The General Superintendents. (2009). Church of the Nazarene Manual. Kansas: Nazarene Publishing House.

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