Recently, I posted an article that spoke briefly about the importance of church discipline. At the same time, though, many churches don't practice discipline.
My own informal surveys have shown these reasons for this omission:
1. They don't know the Bible's teaching on discipline. I can only guess what percentage of regular attenders in evangelical churches even know biblical teachings about church discipline. This topic is one some pastors choose to avoid.
2. They've never seen it done before. Some of the reticence to do church discipline is the result of ignorance. If you've never been part of a church that carried out discipline, it's easy to let any of these reasons halt the process.
3. They don't want to appear judgmental. "Judge not, lest you be judged" takes precedence over any Scripture that calls for discipline, especially in a culture where political correctness and individual freedom rule the day. Judging, it seems, is deemed an ungodly act.
4. The church has a wide-open front door. Church discipline is challenging to do if membership expectations are few; that is, it's difficult to hold someone accountable to standards never stated in the first place. The easier it is to join the church, the harder it is to discipline people when necessary.
5. They've had a bad experience with discipline in the past. For those churches that have done discipline, the memories of poorly done discipline seem to last long. They remember confrontation, judgment, heartache and division—with no attempt to produce repentance and reconciliation.
6. The church is afraid to open "Pandora's box." If they discipline one church member, they fear establishing a pattern that can't be halted as long as human beings comprise their congregation.
7. They have no guidelines for discipline. For what sins is discipline necessary? At what point does church leadership choose to make public a private sin? Rather than wrestle with tough questions, many churches just ignore the topic.
8. They fear losing members (or dollars). Sometimes churches tolerate sin rather than risk decline.
9. They fear being legalistic. Legalism can quickly become rules-centered bondage marked by joylessness. Church discipline assumes some standard to which believers are held accountable—and that standard can become legalistic if unchecked.
10. They hope transfer growth will fix the problem. At times, a church is willing to confront a member in his sin—but only enough to encourage him to move his membership to the church down the road.
11. Leaders are sometimes dealing with their own sin. When church leaders are hiding their own sin, they're less likely to engage others about their failures. To discipline others would be to bring conviction upon oneself.
What have you seen? Why do churches not practice church discipline?
For the original article, visit chucklawless.com.
Chuck Lawless is dean of doctoral studies and vice president of Spiritual Formation and Ministry Centers at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where he also serves as professor of evangelism and missions. In addition, he is team leader for theological education strategists for the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
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