A Church Without Discipline Will Soon Cease To Be A Church

In 1554 John Calvin wrote these words to another pastor:

I congratulate you on the tranquility of your churches, but it is greatly to be regretted that you do not possess, along with it, the sinews of discipline so necessary to insure its continuance. (Letters of John Calvin, 3:66-67.)

For Calvin, discipline was essential for correcting those who were in error.  He believed that Jesus instructed the church to practice discipline in Matthew 18:17-18.  Calvin writes:

For this power which we speak depends entirely upon the keys which, in the eighteenth chapter of Matthew , Christ gave to the church. There He commands that those who are contemptuous of private warnings be severely warned in the name of the people; but if they persist in the stubbornness, He teaches that they should be cut off from the believers’ fellowship (Matt 18:15–18). Now these admonitions and corrections cannot be made without investigation of the cause; accordingly, some court of judgment and order of procedure are needed. Therefore, if we do not wish to make void the promise of the keys and banish excommunication, solemn warnings, and such things, we must give the church some jurisdiction. (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.11.1)

So for Calvin, the unrepentant sinner was to be cut off from the fellowship of believers in hope that this action would penetrate that sinner’s heart and restore him/her to proper fellowship with God and the church.

I am not aware of many churches today that practice church discipline (although I know there are some).  I wonder if, by refusing to discipline its members, the church is actually stunting the spiritual growth of its people; perhaps even giving unbelievers (who wrongly believe they are saved) a false sense of security because they, along with their unrepentant mindsets, are warmly embraced by the community of Christ.  Have we contributed to a growth in nominal Christianity in our desire to love others unconditionally?  Have we forgotten that sometimes we love others best by correcting them using “tough love” rather than allowing them to continue to live a life of self-destruction?

If we as churches refuse to practice discipline, are we unknowingly weakening the Body of Christ?  Calvin summarizes his position in the Institutes:

As the saving doctrine of Christ is the soul of the Church, so discipline serves as its sinews, through which the members of the body hold together, each in its own place. Therefore, all who desire to remove discipline or hinder its restoration—whether they do this deliberately or out of ignorance—are surely contributing to the ultimate dissolution of the church. (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.12.1)

Does your church practice church discipline?  Do you think that church discipline is appropriate?  Is Calvin right when he says that neglecting discipline contributes to the downfall of the church?

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5 Responses to A Church Without Discipline Will Soon Cease To Be A Church

  1. ” I wonder if, by refusing to discipline its members, the church is actually stunting the spiritual growth of its people”

    Absolutely! Not only that, but a lack of discipline keeps people in bondage. There is great freedom when the Word of God brings conviction of sin and repentance ensues. A watered down gospel that overlooks sin, perhaps in an effort to love unconditionally, ultimately only leads to deception and hardened hearts.

    As in Proverbs 13:24 “But he who loves his son disciplines him promptly”, the church should have a father’s heart towards the saints therein.

    A great post Tim. 😀

  2. Tim Farley says:

    fivepeasinapod:

    A watered down gospel that overlooks sin, perhaps in an effort to love unconditionally, ultimately only leads to deception and hardened hearts.”

    And maybe this is not really very loving at all.

  3. layrenewal says:

    Discipline is certainly appropriate and something that should be practiced by the church – AS LONG AS it is done for the purpose of restoration (as Calvin advised).

    It’s not something everyone likes, but it should be done nevertheless!

  4. Tim Farley says:

    layrenewal:

    You make a great point. We have to be careful we are not doing it just to punish or because we find joy in seeing others disciplined, it must only be done in an effort to restore the person to fellowship with Christ and his body.

    Thanks for the comment!

  5. Sherie says:

    I totally agree layrenewal! Discipline is a good thing and even can be beautiful but it must be done with the right heart and purpose. If we fail to lead people to restoration and love them through the process we are not honoring God and we will drive them away from God and from the church. Speaking as someone who has faced struggles in a couple churches now the poor handling of issues is really destructive.

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