When Should Church Discipline be Used?

Protecting the church is a big job of a pastor. False teachers and manipulative jerks abound, if left unchecked, they will destroy people and ruin the church.

At the same time, every person has a little false teaching and manipulative jerkness in them! If the pastor ran out every one of them there’d be no church left to protect.

So the pastor is stuck figuring out how much weird stuff to put up with from people before enacting church discipline.

In my case, church discipline was up to me. The board was mostly unhelpful in actively supporting or going with me to address unruly people. I was sent all by my lonesome into the wolf den. Our church had pastoral discipline more than church discipline. This was terrible for me, but I fear many other pastors are in the same spot.

So, I went by myself. Every time I ever did this the person automatically left right then. Therefore, I knew if I ever went to confront someone, there was a really good chance they would leave.

I didn’t want people to leave the church. I’d rather have them in than out. At least if they’re in there’s a chance they can hear the truth and be edified by the collective body of believers.

Paul says there’s a point in which you turn people over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. That’s harsh. I had a hard time getting there (although there were some I was quite eager to do so!).

How much junk should a church put up with from a church person? When is the line crossed where church discipline, or whatever happens with bad apples, begins?

Here were my criteria to confront dorks in the church.

  1. Are they causing division?

There were plenty of people in my church over the years that were not helpful. They believed weird things and told me I was wrong. That was ok. I can put up with that, again, it wasn’t helpful, but it wasn’t doing anything worthy of church discipline. However, if they were promoting and pushing their weird beliefs on others, or they were trying to form cliques, then I’d step in.
–You are free to believe weird things, but don’t spread your weird to others in an effort to divide the church.

  1. Are they hurting another believer?

This is a little subjective. Believers are to edify one another. The two other options are: hurt others or have no effect on others. I welcomed believers who had a desire to edify others, I put up with those who didn’t do anything, but those who hurt others had to go. Hurting other believers looks like one of these

  1. a) leading people into false doctrine
  2. b) doing unrepentant, bold sin that was an awful example
  3. c) convincing others to sin like them
  4. d) various forms of emotional or even physical abuse

If a believer was being hurt under my watch, I held myself accountable for that. The pastor’s job is not just protecting the flock, but the individual sheep. Defend your people.
–people sin and will hurt each other, it happens, but if it appears as though you are calloused or intentional about hurting them, you must be taken out.

  1. Are they ruining the testimony of Christ?

Every sin ruins the testimony of Christ. People sin, there’s a certain degree of forgiveness and forbearance to be employed. This isn’t just about them embarrassing your church either. I think pastors get more worked up about the reputation of their church (and thus their own personal reputation) more than the reputation of Christ. Church represents something huge. Paul dealing with the guy having an affair with his step mom in 1 Corinthians is a perfect example of this. The world is watching. We represent Christ. An actively sinful lifestyle must be confronted. This gets tricky though. I’ve seen divorce play out this way. One couple gets divorced in a church and shortly thereafter several others will. Should I kick newly divorced people out of church then? It’s tough. It just is. People sin. We all ruin the testimony of Christ. It’s tough but something has to be done or else the Son of God is trampled underfoot.
–You sin, but if you turn your sin into a lifestyle that consistently destroys the testimony of Christ, the Word, and the Church (the Body of Christ) then something must be done.

I found these church discipline areas one of the toughest parts of being a pastor. When to step in, how to step in, and who will go with me? I was routinely confused about what I was supposed to do.

On top of that, we’re supposed to act out of love. Many churches have ceased church discipline because it appears unloving. That’s stupid. God, who is love, is the one who said we should use church discipline.

But it must be done right. It’s not about kicking out people who annoy the pastor, or don’t respect or agree with the pastor. It’s about protecting the church and the reputation of Christ and His Gospel.

The point of church discipline is not to create an echo chamber. The point is the salvation of souls. Restoration is the goal of all church discipline. We want them back; they just can’t be doing that if they return.

Being in charge of such decisions and the whole discipline process is a great burden. Being in a spot to know what to do with other people’s stupid is no fun. But it’s part of the job and the church is counting on you to do it well.

So do it well.

One thought on “When Should Church Discipline be Used?

  1. Synagogues tend to be pretty tolerant, including mine. The Rabbi can send somebody to Herem. Ours did, probably to a nebbish whose main fault seemed a malfunctioning amygdala. And plenty of Rabbis antagonize people who mostly leave for someplace else. But for the most part we are not ostracized or even threatened for what we eat, how we observe or violate shabbos, which candidates and positions we support, or whether our positions on Israel conform to anti-Muslim rhetoric or J-Street appeasement. The Conservative congregations as a unified body to which congregations affiliate did try a form of shunning in the 1960’s-1980’s. They declared intermarrieds ineligible for a variety of things from serving as a congregational officer to Torah honors to becoming a teacher at one of their sponsored schools to having a donation bookplate placed in honor of a new grandchild into a prayerbook if the grandchild was from an intermarriage, even if the grandparent was a loyal member who served the synagogue well. People left and took their money with them, voluntarily. Rabbinical contract non-renewal became more common and for the last 30 years, welcoming and the opportunity new people bring replaced shunning of intermarried people in most Conservative and all Reform synagogues. There is no challenge to the authority that a Rabbi has when there but also an understanding that tenure is rarely permanent, which contract renewal far more dependent on how people think they were treated than any theological positions the congregational Rabbi might have.

    You don’t get to be a senior citizen without a lot of encounters along the way. I think the most enduring have been the times I was unpleasantly leveraged or betrayed by people of authority that left me without recourse. Even in the military, the sergeant may have control but the discharge papers will eventually get issued. Those alter boys who were abused will eventually reach adulthood with lawyers offering to represent them. And eventually, as we find out from multiple Pew reports, people in America maintain their religious affiliations by personal choice. Purging to attain unity has some very negative consequences, probably dating back to the Tower of Babel where unity of purpose enabled a project that should not have happened.

    Enjoy the periodic insights.

    Like

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