Church discipline can often be an uncomfortable and confusing subject. I am currently working on a document for our church family that articulates our position and practice of church discipline. As I have begun writing I’ve tried to consider some of the ways the various folks in my church might receive the concept of church discipline.
Below are three reasons church discipline is often misunderstood.
1. Culture. We live in a world that increasingly prizes individualism, questions authority, and views morality as relative to each individual. Thus the only unpardonable sin in our culture is telling somebody else they are wrong. And as Christians, we often don’t realize how much we have been shaped by these values. The average American watches 28 hours of television per week. Add to this the songs we listen to, the magazines and books we read, and the advertisements that suffocate us, and it’s not hard to understand how our culture has shaped us. As a result, the very words church discipline can make us cringe. Without really knowing why, these word sound harsh and judgmental to us.
2. Jesus’ own teachings. The idea of church discipline, for many, seems to be at odds with other things Jesus taught. For example, Jesus called his disciples to love their neighbors (Matt 22:39). But is it really loving for the church to discipline somebody out of their membership? Isn’t this the very antithesis of love? Doesn’t love cover a multitude of sins (1 Pet 4:8)? For another example, Jesus warned his disciples not to judge (Matt 7:1). But isn’t church discipline a form of judging? How can we reconcile church discipline with these other teachings of Jesus?
3. Bad experiences. Perhaps you’ve been in a church where discipline was exercised in a harsh and careless way. Maybe you or someone you love was on the receiving end of this careless discipline. These painful experiences can leave a bitter taste in our mouths, making us question the legitimacy and merit of church discipline.
Can you think of any other reasons people might misunderstand or dislike the idea of church discipline?