Posted by: chuckbumgardner | January 16, 2008

Attitude in Church Discipline

Church discipline is a lost art in contemporary Christendom (although there are, of course, exceptions).  One reason, I suspect, is that it is seen as harsh and unloving in a day marked by tolerance and inclusiveness.  Some observations from studying church discipline passages in Paul:
Paul’s concept of church discipline is marked by an absence of harshness, vindictiveness, and enmity. This is not to say that it is not marked by a resolute firmness; however, the offender is not to be viewed as an irredeemable sinner, but as a brother or sister to be restored to full fellowship with the congregation, if possible, even after expulsion (2 Cor 2). Steps of church discipline are to be practiced in gentleness, with an eye to one’s own actions, and not in a conceited or high-handed fashion (Gal 6:1; 2 Tim 2:24-25). Partiality and favoritism have no place in the process (1 Tim 5:21). Love is essential, whether love shown in expelling a unrepentant brother with an eye toward his restoration, or whether love demonstrated in receiving a repentant brother back into the fellowship of the congregation (2 Cor 2:8).*
*”What makes the Pauline concept of discipline unique and potentially potent . . . is the infusion of Christ-like love into disciplinary practice.” (Thomas E. Schmidt, “Discipline,” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters [Downer’s Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1993], 218). “Love” heads up and summarizes the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, and thus underlies the restoration of an erring brother by “those who are spiritual” in Gal 6:1.


  1. I have seen church discipline from two angles. One was restorative in nature and the other was mainly punitive. Unfortunately, I have seen too much of the punitive and not enough restorative.

    I have also seen churches that absolutely refuse to practice church discipline and as a result, they have a lot of issues and problems because of their failure in this area.

  2. Good point, Terry. I have been part of churches which, for the most part, were fairly balanced in their use of church discipline, although probably a bit more to the side of being reticent to use it. But I agree with you that there are churches where it is used as a tool to keep the people in line, and to punish those not in agreement with the leadership — not as a tool of restoration to biblical norms.

    I suspect there are many more churches in your second category than in your first category, don’t you?

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