What should a pastor teach before he leads his congregation to practice church discipline?
- The authority of Scripture. This, of course, is where it all begins. If your church is not convinced of Scripture’s authority over them—over their own lives and over the life and practice of the church—you will not be able to bring them to abiblical understanding of church discipline. The church’s authority, right, and responsibility to practice discipline aregiven solely by the Word of God.
- What a Christian is. If the idea of church discipline is to make any sense at all, a congregation must understand what itmeans to be a Christian in the first place. They’ll have tograsp the fact that being a Christian is not just about making a decision, but rather about ongoing faith inJesus and repentance from sin.They need to know that the church is for Christians, not just nice people, and they need their pastors toteach them the difference.
- The reality and meaning of church membership. Your church won’t be willing to put someone out of the church unless they understand that churches are supposed to have an inside and an outside. The Bible is very clear about the fact that there are those who are “members” of the body ofChrist (1 Cor. 12:27) and those who are “outsiders” (1 Cor. 5:12). Your church needs to understand that,too, or the idea of putting someone “out” of something which has no “in” will soundridiculous.Not only so, but your church needs to understand that church membership means publicly affirming someone’s profession of faith in Jesus as well as their decision to submit tothe oversight of the church. When your church begins to understand that, the idea of church discipline willstart to make a lot more sense.
- The difference between the church and the world. God intends his people to look different from the world. He intends them to live holy lives and to waragainst sin. That’s what it means to repent. Repentance does not mean that a person has stoppedsinning, but it does mean that he or she has declared war against sin. Your church must understand this beforeyou can expect them to understand discipline.
- The church’s responsibility to judge. Many pastors run into opposition to church discipline in the form of a church member quoting Matthew7:1, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” It’s an uncomfortable topic in our hyper-tolerant age, but pastors needto teach their congregations that Jesus does give the local church the authority to exercise a kind of judgment over its own. He does not give local churches the right to determine who will be in heaven, but he does give them the right to determine who is to be in or out of the earthly assembly. That’swhat Jesus meant by giving to the church “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 16:19; 18:17). It’salso what Paul meant when he asked, “Are you not to judge those inside [the church]?” (1 Cor. 5:12).Your church must understand and accept its responsibility to discipline its own members before it will be able to exercise it.
(This material has been adapted from Greg Gilbert’s article, “Before you Discipline, Teach This First”)