July 9, 2014

Hazardous House: The Perils of Plugging Into a Church That Won’t Discipline You

by Eric Davis

Church discipline (Matt 18:15-20) is often messy, costly, and accompanied by damage. The pain experienced is typically unmatched when a professing believer must be publicly put out of the local church.

Even so, when practiced biblically, it is consistent with biblical love, care, and obedience to Christ. Mark Dever rightly says that church discipline is “a loving, provocative, attractive, distinct, respectful, gracious act of obedience and mercy, and that it helps to build a church that brings glory to God.” Along those lines, a friend of mine was biblically disciplined out of a large church and to this day he confesses that it was one of the best things that ever happened to him. But more importantly, it’s a matter of non-negotiable in God’s kind of church.

perilousNow, the existence of church discipline in a church does not mean that church is a biblical church. It’s a process that is sometimes abused. However, a refusal to practice it is a certain red flag. It’s one thing if a church leadership has not been practicing church discipline and is attempting to implement it. But it’s quite another thing if a church refuses to practice it. That refusal is symptomatic of other problems, making it an unsafe church.

Here are 10 perils common among churches that will not practice church discipline on you:

1. A dangerous approach to God and his word.

God commands the sacred practice of church discipline. In addition to Christ’s clear command in Matthew 18:15-20, it shows up in passages like Romans 16:17-18, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, Galatians 6:1-3, 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15, and Titus 3:9-11.

There is no distinction between how we approach God and how we approach his word. Attitude towards the latter is a barometer for attitude towards the former (Ps 119:48, 138:2). Consequently, the issue of a church refusing to practice church discipline is much more than an issue of a church refusing to practice church discipline. There are deeper problems, for example, pertaining to the sufficiency of Scripture, God’s authority vs. man’s, and God’s wisdom vs. man’s. And that problem will not be isolated in a church anymore than an apple tree sick in its roots will only produce one bad apple.

2. An erroneous view of regeneration.

distinction mattersA church that spurns church discipline may have a diluted understanding of the miracle of regeneration. How so? Church discipline, in part, is for the purpose of demonstrating that the converted and unconverted are two entirely different creatures, spiritually speaking (2 Cor 5:17). When it’s practiced, both repentance and the tragedy of discipline demonstrate what it means to be “in Christ.”

For example, when we repent in response to step one (Matt 18:15), our regenerate condition is on display because there is no way we could have such a response unless we are in Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit. When someone is disciplined, that actual distinction between regenerate and unregenerate is also on display. Granted, a disciplined individual may be regenerate, but they are to be treated as if not because they are blatantly acting as if not. So, practicing church discipline is a prescribed way to showcase the radical miracle of regeneration by faith in Christ, which means refusal to discipline propagates an erroneous understanding of what it means to be converted.

That is unsafe because we risk being given false assurance as to our salvation. And maintaining the biblical distinction between the converted and unconverted is not to keep people out of heaven, but bring them in. Bucking church discipline can muddy the waters here.

3. A low view of sanctification.

Similarly, a refusal to practice church discipline demonstrates a de-emphasis on sanctification. If sin is not going to be confronted, then sin is not a big deal, which means Christ-likeness is not a big deal, which means sanctification is not a big deal, which means souls and eternity are not a big deal. Again, the issue is not isolated. If church discipline is less important then, despite credal affirmation, so is walking by the Spirit, personal holiness, and bearing fruit. And, as in #2, the danger here could also be false assurance for the unconverted.

4. A lack of love to both the church and the unconverted.

In his excellent book, The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love, Jonathan Leeman writes:

Church discipline…is a clear implication of God-centered gospel love. It’s an inevitable and loving tool in a world where Christ’s kingdom has been inaugurated but not consummated. If God’s love was centered on man, then discipline would be cruel, and to those who remain convinced of Satan’s God-toppling lie (Gen 3:5), it will always sound that way. Yet for the holiness-seeking church, church discipline is the refusal to call the unholy “holy.” It’s a way of removing an affirmation so that self-deception no longer reigns. In radical defiance of the wisdom of this world, it helps to clarify exactly what love is (pp. 221-2).

Sheep (1)Which means the accusation that church discipline is unloving needs rethinking. It may be done unlovingly, but church discipline itself is not unloving. Discipline is an expression of God’s secure, fatherly, unchanging love on his people to further christlikeness (Heb 12:7-11). Moreover, Paul calls the Corinthian church “arrogant” (1 Cor 5:2) for refusing to practice church discipline. I wonder how often we have used the term “arrogant” in such a way. So this means that refusal to lovingly confront sin, even to the point of church discipline, is arrogant and unloving.

Furthermore, church discipline is a means of grace to help the unconverted, but professing, see their perilous state. In such a case, refusing church discipline would be hateful.

5. Inadequate shepherding and soul-care.

Sheep and shepherding are the predominant metaphors for people and church care, respectively. Sheep need boundaries, oversight, and belonging. That’s what a sheep-fold with a shepherd provides. The door for safe entrance, the fence for safe boundaries, and the shepherd to guide—they all provide the care necessary for the sheep.

shepherdingChurch discipline exists, then, because of who sheep are, what they need, and how much God loves them. But a church who refuses to practice it likens itself to a doorless, fenceless sheepfold, with apathetic shepherds. In ancient times, such a thing would not be considered a sheep-fold, though sheep subjected to such treatment would be considered abused.

A church that will not discipline professing believers is inadequately shepherding souls. It shows a dangerously truncated view of individuals. It’s tunnel-vision shepherding: seeing souls in terms of this life only. They forget that without holiness no one will see the Lord (Heb 12:14). Care is wrongly defined in terms of how we make people feel at any given moment. For that reason, its a significant shepherding failure.

Jay Adams puts it this way

The failure to discipline church members amounts to withholding from them the privilege of being confronted by others, and by the church, when they err in doctrine or life. Christ granted them this right; we have no right to withhold it from them (A Theology of Christian Counseling, p. 286).

And on a personal note, I praise God for men around me who love me enough to not withhold my right to church discipline. It’s a sobering grace knowing that if I stray, for example, in my marriage or in doctrine, I have brothers who love me enough to shepherd me all the way out of the church if necessary.

6. A shallow approach to biblical community.

In part, biblical community looks like converted individuals practicing the one anothers in committed, consistent, and candid relationships in the local church. But where church discipline is refused, life “in Christ” is de-emphasized, which means christlikeness and sanctification are de-emphasized, with the result that biblical community will become shallow. Those great hallmarks of love, confessing and confronting each other’s sins as a family under grace, will thereby be absent, which atrophies genuine biblical community (Prov 27:5-6, Heb 3:12-14). The local church then becomes more about living life at a safe, calculated distance from one another. And without the means of grace of exhorting one another, its possible we are being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin and may end not having been genuinely converted.

7. A low importance of the witness of the local church to the world.

witnessThe godliness of a local church is what makes them salty salt and bright light to their respective community. Holiness among church members adorns the gospel they preach (Titus 2:10). But when church discipline is omitted from that church, there is that absence of care for sanctification in the church’s DNA. The inevitable result is a lack of witness to the world.

8. A lack of love to those against whom the offender is sinning.

In a church discipline situation, there are always others, such as a wife, kids, or coworkers, pulled into the carnage by the offender. This means that when a church will not discipline, the offender is not the only one they fail to love. For example, if a church will not discipline a husband in unrepentant adultery, the wife is not given that clarity of God’s pronouncement on him. The mess remains in confusing ambiguity because the church will not bring finality through discipline. The result is that the spouse, and even kids, church members and relatives, are left in unnecessary confusion (which can also be a poor witness). It need not be, however. Church discipline is that heavenly-sanctioned, definitive statement made through leadership to bring peace in the hurt.

9. A shallow view on relational reconciliation.

Church discipline has reconciliation as its goal. The hope is always repentance, so as to win our brother (Matt 18:15). But real reconciliation is never found along the road of ignoring sin. Quite the contrary. For this reason, refusal to have discipline in church practice demonstrates an inadequate view of relational reconciliation.

But the church where discipline is correctly practiced is the one in which the biblical one anothers are already in fluid motion. Biblical relationships are being attempted which means reconciliation is happening because this side of heaven, there is no such thing as a relationship without the need of dealing with sin. This is the church where it’s weird to not get lovingly spoken to about sin. It’s a place where sin is confessed. It’s a place where, almost paradoxically, sin is safe but unsafe. Interpersonal issues are not swept under rugs, but confessed and repented of, so that reconciliation can occur.

10. A refusal to define itself as a New Testament church.

unsafeJay Adams rightly says that a church that refuses to practice church discipline is a “no church since they will not draw a line between the world and the church by exercising discipline” (Handbook of Church Discipline, p. 103).

That may seem like a strong statement. But, again, a church’s refusal to discipline is symptomatic of other hazards in that house of God: a selective approach to Scripture, a supplanting God’s wisdom with man’s, a potentially dangerous view of salvation and sanctification, a lack of love, inadequate leadership in the church, a worldly view of life in Christ together, a low view on the importance of witness, and a cheap view of reconciliation.

Those are reasons enough to avoid a church that will not discipline you. So, think carefully before jumping in where you won’t get booted out. God’s best for his people is a local church safe enough to get disciplined out of.

Eric Davis

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Eric is the pastor of Cornerstone Church in Jackson Hole, WY. He and his team planted the church in 2008. Leslie is his wife of 14 years and mother of their 3 children.
  • 4Commencefiring4

    The problems inherent with this subject could be:

    1. By whom–and how–are charges of sin to be established? Will the church constitution spell out what it reserves the right to cite as errors and acts that will subject members to discipline? If it doesn’t, that may lead to disputes of interpretation. Overt acts of sin, like adultery or abuse or embezzlement, is one thing; but “doctrinal error” gets tricky. What doctrines can one differ on and still be a member in good standing? There are some who insist that if you don’t subscribe to a “young earth”, or you hold to a “limited atonement”, or you aren’t a dispensationalist, or you read many prophecies non-literally, you just don’t take the Bible seriously and are, for all intents and purposes, rebelling against God. I even know someone who was a pastor–“was” being the operative word–who actually brought people into his office to berate them if they used anything but a King James Bible. And he was dead serious. He’s also out of a job now.

    2. We live in a society today where people who are subjected to public humiliation–and that would be unavoidable with church discipline–may sue those who do the subjecting. Even this week, we have the case of the baseball fan who fell asleep in the stands, was seen on the jumbo tron and the color commentators ridiculed him over the air. He’s suing the network! The case will get tossed, sure, but he’s bringing the action nonetheless and the network must pay their lawyers to handle it. I can easily see a case where someone being disciplined makes a similar threat to the church leadership when confronted, either because he’s defiant or he doesn’t agree his acts are any problem.

    So, while there’s clearly a command to go through this process, today’s realities may have a sobering side effect on its use. Glad I’m not in church leadership (“So am I”, I hear you saying!)

    • Eric Davis


      I can’t quite say, “So am I,” there. But, you bring up a great point, namely, how tricky it can be to navigate real-life church discipline scenarios. I’ve never been pressed, discouraged, and in need of wisdom like I have in these unfortunate situation. But our Lord is with us to guide us through it as we seek faithfulness to him, by his grace.

      • 4Commencefiring4

        No, I meant by “So am I” that you’re probably glad that I’m not in church leadership. I know YOU are. 🙂

        But to the subject at hand: I keep imagining a scene (that I’m frankly surprised hasn’t happened yet, but probably will) where a car pulls up on a Sunday morning and two men about 35 or 40 get out. They come into the service, sit inappropriately close to each other, and–while not being overtly affectionate–making it clear to anyone with eyes that they are not old college buddies.

        The next week, four more cars with four more “couples” arrive. Then it becomes 20 or 50, all sitting in one section of the church, quietly listening to the message, singing, and going about doing what everyone else does. But it’s clear they are not there to hear or obey the Word, or even to “make a scene”, but to just be an uncomfortable presence among those they feel don’t exactly cotton to their lifestyle. It wouldn’t be long before those who have attended that church for years might start to look for alternatives. And by so doing, the gay community quietly takes down a church without so much as a parade or a protest. Just quiet and peaceful attendance, minding their own business. And daring anyone to say something.

        A few months ago, my wife and I came into a service in our Bible-based church and sat down behind a couple who, from the back, appeared to be two 50-ish men. When we stood to sing and one put his arm around the waste of the other–I have to tell you–I thought, “Now it begins. This won’t end well.” Well, it turned out–after the service was over and we were leaving–that the one was actually a woman who just looked male from my angle. But it might have been otherwise.

        And if so, what could the leadership do? If confronted about the nature of their relationship, it would get rather ugly without actual evidence of anything. And how to collect that? They wouldn’t have to tell them anything.

        And similarly with other matters among the membership. To what degree do members have to become eyes and ears, reporting what they deem to be sin among others? These are not easy questions, and implementing church discipline is probably the hardest thing any pastor or leadership team ever does. Which is why few do.

        • brad

          I suggest you go to a different church. You need to go to a church that is on mission and believes in community and pastoral care.

          • 4Commencefiring4

            Well, that’s a very spiritual sounding answer. How, specifically, do you believe such a church would react to the situation I described? How does it carry out its “mission” to invoke discipline when it has no direct evidence of overt sin, and has no means by which to obtain it? No parishioner has any obligation to come in for an inquisition by the elder board regarding his private life, and I doubt anyone would volunteer to do so. The only other alternative would be to require everyone in the church to be everyone else’s fruit inspector. And that’s a church that would quickly evaporate or become a congregation of “holier-than-thou” busybodies.

            When it comes to “doctrinal error”, again, are you suggesting that a church should actually invoke public discipline over some viewpoint a parishioner holds that the church says is erroneous? Jesus spoke of a brother who “sins [against you]” and reproving him privately, then with a couple witnesses, then with the whole church. But He didn’t say anything about doing so with a brother whose view of a doctrine differs from yours.

            I don’t agree with my church’s statement of faith regarding last things and would probably have a bit of debate over their view of beginnings, too. And so I can’t join this church or hold office, but no one is suggesting I be brought up on charges before the church. That would be ridiculous.

            You can believe in “mission” and “community” all day long, but when you’re talking real punishments against real people, you can’t go forward with nebulous suspicions of wrong. Smoking guns, as the House of Representatives is finding, are hard to come by.

          • Fibber MaGee

            Why would a church start the discipline process without
            evidence? This line of reasoning is not
            making sense. Before the church leadership begins to put their foot down, doesn’t
            something else need to happen first? Verses 15 & 16 perhaps? May I suggest
            you sit in the front row at church. That could alleviate some problems.

          • 4Commencefiring4

            Look over my “man couple” scenario and tell me how a discipline process would proceed from the evidence given. It would be obvious to anyone over the age of nine that these guys probably didn’t have the Guns and Ammo website bookmarked, but proving it? The church would be powerless to take any action as long as they sat quietly and minded their own business. But you know what their continued presence would likely do, especially if their numbers grew.

            And, as I said, what is going to qualify for church discipline when the question of “doctrine” is in view? If someone doesn’t agree that Christ is Eternal God, our sin bearer, and only means to everlasting life, it would be hard to explain their interest in coming to church in the first place. But what if they differed on lesser questions? I don’t agree with my church’s statement of faith regarding the Second Coming, but no one is suggesting I can’t fellowship there. We just differ about it and keep ministering alongside one another. God’s going to do whatever He’s going to do in the end, and we’re okay with it.

            But in other churches, if men don’t wear a necktie and the women wear lipstick, someone’s going to be confronted about it. And don’t be coming ’round here with any of those NIV Bibles if you know what’s good for you.

            My point is, church discipline can get out of hand and turn an otherwise productive assembly into a feeding frenzy of self-appointed Himmlers. No, you can’t allow someone to be there who openly spurns the clear teachings of Scripture; but neither can we go about lifting everyone’s rock to see what lurks beneath because you may end up with no one left to pass the plate.

          • Jeff Schlottmann

            commencefiring, you seem to be looking for a way to nullify the biblical mandate to discipline. yes people can take it out of hand, but that’s why there are guidelines in scripture. and if its a biblical Church with solid lesdership, then those abuses that you talk about shouldn’t make it very far. removing someone from the church should be the last phase. obviously the secret since we can’t do anything about. Its the known sins that need to be dealt with.

            you mention the gay couple. If they are not saved then I’m not sure they fall under this process since it’s talking about our Christian brothers. someone please correct me on that if I’m wrong.but I think that if that gay couple continue to attend, then the leadership would have to deal with it directly.

            when you speak of differing beliefs on creation–since we either believe the Bible or we dont–I think that’s a whole set of different issues.and as far as the doctrinal errors go, I think it depends on the severity of the error.

          • 4Commencefiring4

            The Matthew passage on this subject may not even apply to confronting general sins in the church, but to specific offenses against others. I’m not a scholar on the Greek text, so I’ll defer to those who may be. But my Bible’s side note indicates the text says, “If a brother sins AGAINST YOU”, go to him privately….etc.

            And so it may not even be the case that if someone in the congregation, for instance, claims tax deductions illegitimately, he’s to be confronted by the church. Again, I’m not defending sin. I’m just reading the text and asking if we’re applying it where it’s not prescribed.

            Paul speaks in 1 Cor 5 of “removing the wicked man from among you”–someone whose life is a litany of immorality, idolatry, swindling, etc. Sure, in that case, we’re on solid ground to remove him if he hasn’t decided to get away from the community of faith on his own. If it’s that overt, I’d think the leadership would simply ask him to go and tell him why. In most cases, he’d probably be the first to want to go anyhow.

            But I would think that’s not the typical situation where an escalating “church discipline” process is invoked. Worth a closer look.

          • Fibber MaGee

            Are you actually saying that if gay couples kept coming to church
            that they would not be welcome there? What would the response be…we don’t want
            sinners in our church? We don’t want the lost hearing the gospel message? You
            make me uncomfortable so you’ll have to leave? Please tell me I have
            misunderstood you!

          • 4Commencefiring4

            A church that’s serious about their message would be expected to open its doors to any and all who are coming there to sincerely seek the Lord and make an honest effort to obey what they learn, as imperfect as that effort always is. There should be no distinction between someone who is committing sexual sin and someone who is involved in any other kind of sin. God doesn’t rank sins from one to ten; nor should we.

            But in my example, the couples who I envision arriving are not coming to hear, learn, and obey the Word; they are there to defy it and (albeit in a controlled way) thumb their nose at the church. Obedience is the farthest thing from their mind; their motives are impure.

            I’m sure you would agree that a woman who came to church dressed in a see-through top and no bra, acting as though nothing was amiss, would be seen as not having a serious desire to learn from the Scriptures or grow closer to the Lord. I don’t think the Welcome Mat would be extended to her again if she continued to show up in that state after being asked to cover up. While we would all want her to “hear the Gospel message”, I think that goal would have to wait until she ceased being a side show.

            If a man attended who was bringing his girlfriend(s) with him when it was known he was married, it would be manifest that he was defying biblical teachings and making no effort to deny it. Again, the evidence would be clear that learning and seeking was not on the menu; so shall the church continue to seat him and his honeys on each side because we want him to hear the gospel?

            So while all people should be welcome, regardless of their particular sin issue, those who purposely and publicly decline to submit themselves to the teaching they presumably are there to hear must be dealt with appropriately. Gays–or anyone else–who know their habits displease God can choose to turn from that life, or they can continue to embrace it. But a church has no obligation to maintain a place for them when they defiantly, openly, and consistently choose the latter.

            It’s been said that the church is a hospital for sinners. True. But it’s not for those who openly refuse the treatment offered.

          • Brad

            Thanks for your response. I am realizing that we are ministering in completely different “contexts.” I feel sorry for your experience of what church is. My experience of a church that values community and mission is pretty much the opposite of what you are thinking! Our church is actually about real people and a real God. We actually know one another and live life together. Church is not about some random meeting in the parking lot or church sanctuary!! In the last few months, we have had to walk through what it means to follow Jesus with a few homosexuals. We listened to their stories and actually lived life with them. At the end of the day, a few chose to follow Jesus and a few chose not to.

            I think you are in a very dangerous place. You are taking all of these hypotheticals to the extreme and you seem to be very cynical and skeptical. You need to be in a church where love and the gospel and real relationships reign. It is difficult to be in such a church, but it is awesome!

          • 4Commencefiring4

            I’m not sure exactly what I’ve said that leads you to think my church isn’t involved with “real people” and a “real God”, or that my fellow parishioners are not those I know well and live next to who lead and attend Bible studies, minister to the homeless, and evangelize…among other commands.

            That said, we aren’t about hauling people to the front of the church to place them before the congregation under klieg lights for marrying an unbeliever or going to the track. Perhaps your church considers that kind of thing “awesome”, but many would find it meddlesome and petty. It’s not that biblical directives aren’t important, but the way we implement them might be a bit much.

            I had a lot more to say regarding the examples I cited that you found “hypothetical” and “extreme”, as one of them actually occurred in SF (surprise!) in the last year or so. But I won’t get into it any further. Suffice it to say I think the 21st century church will be threatened with a WHOLE lot more than just some disobedience in the ranks. That’ll seem like small potatoes when those other forces get up a head of steam. The rumbles of their trains are already being heard across the land. Buckle up. It’s going to be a bumpy night.

          • Brad

            Sorry to jump to conclusions! What does life look with your church community? To be specific, how many times in the last week did you have a meal with someone in your church, confess sin to someone else, read Scripture together, minister to the homeless or evangelize the lost? I am encouraging you to not watch from a distance and criticize, but to be a part of the church and bring light into darkness!

          • 4Commencefiring4

            1. On Saturday. A few of us meet monthly for breakfast.

            2. We share prayer requests with one another regularly and, in the midst of conversation about our lives, there will be things we say about a struggle or challenge we’re facing. But not everything is for “public” consumption, either, nor should it be. We respect confidences and boundaries. I’m sure there are things all of us keep to ourselves. If someone’s wife is alluring (I’m being circumspect with my words), I’m not going to tell the husband I can’t get his wife out of my head. Perhaps others believe that’s exactly what I should say so as to “confess our sins to one another.” Well, I don’t agree. Some things are best dealt with off the radar. I’m sure everyone’s spouse or kids don’t know every detail of our lives.

            3. “Read Scripture together”? Well, many are involved in Bible studies through the week, if that’s what you mean. But none of us calls another out of the blue and says, “Ed, how about we get together on Thursday and read some Scripture? Come on over about 8.” Most of us like our down time, especially if we work.

            4. A small circle of us actually prepare and distribute food to homeless along a busy corridor in our area one Friday per month, while five other area churches also do the same. We hand out about 350 bags of food at day-rate motels and where people are living on the streets.

            5. Evangelism happens as God brings the right people into our path during that distribution run, among other times.

            Hope that helps.

          • brad


            I would say you guys haven’t really embraced the gospel or what it means to live honestly, as children of God who still battle sin but are covered by the blood of Jesus and sent to tell others about the gospel. When you understand the gospel, confession of sin is not scary but freeing and brings us into fellowship with one another. After all, the point is to glorify the grace of Jesus! It also means moving from handing out food to the homeless to inviting them into your home and actually developing relationships with them. Finally, I would say evangelism is more an everyday thing rather than something that just “happens.” We should be pursuing the lost actively. I can’t tell you how many times people have told me that they can only speak the Gospel to people if they feel it is the right person at the right time. I respond: “Do you really think God is going to be mad at you because you told someone about Jesus when you shouldn’t have?”

            I admit that what I am writing is pretty scandalous and probably unwise from your perspective. But I have to say, it is pretty freeing and great!

          • 4Commencefiring4

            Well okay, I’ve told you what happens in my circle. The people I rub shoulders with would be very surprised to hear that they “haven’t really embraced the gospel or [know] what it means to live honestly, as children of God.”
            These are people who have intentionally and specifically trusted in Christ as their Savior, as you have, and know the Scriptures pretty well. Our church has ministries to children, young adults, ESL, young married, etc., all the typical outreaches you might expect. We support missionaries to every corner of the world.

            The leaders of this church are seminary trained, seasoned theologians who bring Bible-centered messages that pull no punches. They take their theology and their ministry pretty seriously, I’d submit. If you sampled Bible churches across the country, I have no doubt that what they mostly all do and teach would align with what we do at ours.

            Oh, I should mention that the church I’m talking about is one of the four churches listed on this website under “Our Ministries.” Bet you didn’t see that coming.

            So now it’s your turn. Tell us what you do that puts you into the “saved” category, as opposed to what I’ve told you. Tell all of us here on this website something that is a personal sin issue for you that you would like us to know and pray about for you, and don’t hold back. Let us hear something most of us “unserious” folks might choose to keep to ourselves. Go ahead–the floor is yours.

            Describe for us your approach to evangelism. Do you go door to door in an organized and planned fashion, buttonhole people on the bus, or approach them in stores and ask them if they’re going to heaven? Jesus wouldn’t be “mad at you” if you did any of those things, but the question is whether you would be effectively getting the Gospel out, or just causing trepidation and suspicion and getting yourself booted from the store by management.

            Unlike in some societies, ours is one where most folks step away from those who approach them out of the blue with personal questions unless the conversation should bring that about naturally. Accost a woman on the street and say, “Miss, can I tell you about Jesus?”, and most will answer by taking out their pepper spray…or a firearm.

            Tell us about bringing the homeless into your house. Tell us what the conversations with them are around the dinner table, whether you hand them a towel and soap to shower with, and how you explain to them why they can’t move in. I trust you are also taking them to their court dates, bailing them out when they’re picked up on some charge, and making travel arrangements for them to see their kids in other states. If you have that kind of close relationship with them, I would expect you’re doing all that and more. Unless, of course, you “haven’t really embraced the gospel.”

            So by all means, show me the way to go Home. Show us all how real christians live out their faith. I’m all about learning something new.

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  • My (now ex) husband had an affair and brought the woman to church with him, while we were only separated, having not even filed for divorce. I went to the pastor in hopes of having them talk with my husband and the pastor’s response was “it’s a big church, just go to a different service than them”. That was my last week at that church. 🙁

    • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

      That is so sad, Melissa. I hope you’ve since found a church where you are supported and loved.

      • Thanks Jane. Yes, I have!! I just feel like things might have been different, perhaps even the marriage saved, if the pastor had decided to at least address the situation. Because he didn’t, I feel as if my husband took that as a sign that it was accepted, and all about the love, rather than the discipline of the Lord regarding adultery. Who knows though! Thanks for your kind words 🙂

        • elainebitt

          “… and all about the love…” There was no real love there.

    • Eric Davis

      That’s terrible, Melissa. I’m so sad to hear about that situation. Glad that the Lord has provided a church for you.

  • This is an excellent topic, and timely too, as there are far too many churches I’ve been a part of in which discipline was sadly lacking. Additionally lacking is a focus on shepherding, where the church had good, confessionally-centered leadership and teaching but you aren’t there for a month and no one seems to notice or care.

  • Brad

    Great points! Personally, I have found church discipline to be heart breaking. We kicked a family out of our church recently because they were being divisive and challenging everything we did as a church. They were constantly saying we should be more like this or that church (whatever they read on the internet…believe it or not it was a mixture of Grace to You and Acts 29 stuff!). Eventually we brought them before the church and read charges against them and told everyone in the congregation to shun them. This has actually been healthy for the church and brought us together. I hope the couple repents and can one day be a part of a local church. At the same time, we have been disciplining two homeless guys. There life is full of sin and addictions, but they have a soft heart. We have not kicked them out of the church because they show signs of change and repentance, even though they are much less “sanctified” than the other couple!

    • Eric Davis

      Wow, those sound like some difficult situations, Brad. Thank you for sharing. And I completely agree that it’s certainly heart breaking.

      • brad

        Thanks Eric! It’s tough. It seems like there is so much “grey area” when you are involved with real life and real relationships. I have just been asking for wisdom!

        • Jeff Schlottmann

          So…either you just answered yourself in a different personality, you and brad are the same person, or you and brad share a PC and you forgot to sign out before brad replied. Just an observation.

          • 4Commencefiring4

            So they cried about it all on Sunday and left with each other on Monday? And now everyone in the center of it have become friends? Good thing they aren’t Muslims. They take “discipline” to a whole new level.

  • Lyndon Unger

    Eric, I am fully in agreement with you on the necessity of church discipline, and I have the privledge of attending a church that does discipline, but what do you say to someone who lives in, say Western Canada, where there are quite literally less than two dozen churches that practice discipline between BC and Manitoba? I can think of several cities that have no possible open for church, and are several hours away from any other church options, if discipline is a “make or break” factor.

    For example, I believe there is one disciplining church in the entire province of Saskatchewan. Would you place discipline on the “then pack up and move” level of importance?

    • Eric Davis

      Great question, Lyndon. Briefly, “pack up and move” is often a good idea. Go for it if one can. Moving oneself in order to plug into a sound church is probably one of the best reasons I can think of to move. We’re talking about our souls here, and those of our family if we have one. Often, though we may take some financial hit to move, we can trust God that he loves me and my family dearly and will bless us for looking to plug into his kind of church. And as mentioned in the article, not having church discipline in a church is a deeper issue than not having church discipline. It’s a barometer of many other things wrong justifying finding another church wherever possible.

      But I understand that various circumstances do not always permit. It may not be possible to move from/to Yellow Knife or Banff or Nelson or wherever. What I would do if I was in such a situation is: 1) Pray and pray. Pray that God would change the hearts of my current local leadership to see the issue and implement it wisely in the church. I’m also praying that an opportunity to relocate to a sound church arises. 2) Humbly go to my leadership and ask them to read something like Leeman’s “The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love.” Buy them copies. Read it with them. Take them to lunch and discuss each chapter or something. See what they do and say. 3) B/c of the inevitable deficiencies associated w/ not having church discipline in a church as mentioned, I’m supplementing my soul-diet (and my family’s) heavily w/ sermons and reading from sound pastors. 4) And if I have a few like-minded families in my area, I’m praying about planting a church through someone like Grace Advance or something.

      That’s my 2 cents. Hope it helps.

    • Brad

      I wouldn’t. I think it is more important to be a part of a local church and be on mission with them. We are never going to find the perfect church. You should faithfully love those in your church and community with biblical truth rather than go to a a biblical church 30 minutes away.

      • Lyndon Unger

        “On mission”? Uh, sure thing. I don’t know what your secret code means.

        And “30 minutes away”? I suspect that you’re American.

        I live in Canada. My current church is 30 minutes away, and if I wasn’t going there I’d need to drive an hour, and if I wasn’t going there, I would need to drive at least 4 hours…one way. I have friends who drive 3 hours to church, one way, every Sunday.

        It’s not because they’re looking for a “perfect church”. It’s because they’re looking for a church that simply preaches the gospel and isn’t hopelessly shallow…and when I say hopelessly, I mean hopelessly. I have friends who attend a church that I’ve visited several times, and the pastor actually lies from the pulpit regularly: he doesn’t want to waste his time doing sermon prep (or doesn’t actually have a clue how) so he just reads a verse, prays, and then says whatever comes to mind…and he once told an anecdote from the pulpit about how in Bible College he was made fun of for being an idiot…and that’s the “good” church in town.

        • Brad

          Hey Lyndon,

          If you want to learn what mission means I would suggest reading these books: The Mission of God by Christopher Wright, Transforming Mission by David Bosch, and anything by Tim Keller. Those would just be for starters and I think they would help free you to see that God has called us to be on mission to the people we are around!

          Hope that helps!

          • Lyndon Unger

            Hang on a second. David Bosch? Like THIS David Bosch?


            Is that who we’re talking about?

          • brad

            Yes! I think you realize that we are on very different trajectories! From what I can tell, the practicals of it are that you can’t attend a church or pursue your neighbors because you have to constantly quibble about theology. I think “missiology” would free you to love your neighbors, be a part of a local church, and spread the glory of God!

  • Mic Horvath

    From my dealings with several church’s I see a whole lot of Holier than thou going on, I have left a church because the childrens pastor was jumping up and down with his fists clinched, threatening to kick my butt simply because I was inquiring where my stepson had been and he’s a pastor… and never came and apologized to me… he has done at least three things to apologize for and never once can to reconcile and restore the relationship. Hypocrites I say ! Self-Righteous Hypocrites are what I find in most church’s today. And I hate to say it but the older congregations seem to me to have more self-righteousness and hypocrisy. I can’t believe the church made the youth pastor the full time minister. Talk about no discernment.

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