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How and When Does Church Discipline Begin?

When Is Church Discipline Warranted?

All of the discussion above begs the questions, “When should church discipline be initiated? For what kind of life struggles is church discipline warranted?” There are four criteria which should be met in order to assess whether a given situation warrants church discipline.

1. Clearly Moral – Church discipline is for sin-struggles. Suffering-struggles and aptitude-deficiencies are not matters of church discipline. When someone is in the process of church discipline it should be clear that they are willfully and persistently violating the moral teaching of Scripture and, thereby, disregarding the Lordship of Christ.

2. Lack of Cooperation with the Plan of Change – The purpose of the systematized process in the document linked above is to ensure that the plan of change is (a) biblical, (b) comprehensive, (c) clear and (d) adequately supported. If these four criteria are met, then non-compliance would be the reason for ineffectiveness. As was stated in the section on “crisis precipitated by hidden sin,” subverting the opportunity to develop a plan of change through hiding and secrecy is also reason for coming under church discipline.

3. Concern for Salvation – Church discipline, at every stage, is a warning; not a punishment. Whatever punishment sin deserves has been paid for by Christ if only we will actively rely on him. Discipline is the increasingly-public voice of the church, as the Body of Christ, drawing attention to the fact that the member under discipline is not actively relying on Christ for freedom from their sin. It is the church saying “God will not be mocked (Gal. 6:7)” by our claim to rely on Christ for the forgiveness of sin without also relying on Christ for freedom from sin.

4. Public Harm to the Reputation of Christ – If “concern for salvation” is the church’s obligation to the member, then “public harm to the reputation of Christ” is the church’s obligation to its unsaved community. When a church holds a member in good standing, the church is saying to its community, “This person is a living example of the redemptive work of Christ.” Church discipline is the process by which the church seeks to either (a) restore the member to a life exemplifying this statement, or (b) uphold its testimony to the community by removing a member who is not actively exemplifying the character of Christ.

[1] Crisis-prompted church discipline begins at “phase two: engagement by more than one believer, including a church elder, in a formal process of change” because the hidden sin circumvented the opportunity for “phase one: engagement by a friend or pastor in a more informal process.”

This article originally appeared here.

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Brad serves as the Pastor of Counseling at The Summit Church in  Durham, NC. He also serves as Instructor of Biblical Counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, a council member of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, and has authored several books including Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk: Why and How Christians Should Have Gay Friends and God’s Attributes: Rest for Life’s Struggles.