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The Place of Discipline in Churches Today

September 22, 2014

Whenever the issue of church discipline is raised, it tends to be met with a negative response from the Church herself. Such a response is not surprising especially when the Church of recent times is raised within an environment of autonomous moral individualism. "What is my sin is my sin, I will deal with God privately. It has nothing to do with the Church."

Worryingly, as such thinking begins to dominate the atmosphere of the Church, the Church becomes vulnerable to the extent that in the words of John Dagg, "when discipline leaves a church, Christ goes with it."  As a result, instead of being the Church that exists solely because of Christ, it is reduced to merely being a hollow organization and building.

In view of such alarming probabilities, the Church needs to be awake to place the authority of the Scripture above the respect of individual rights and privacy. Drawing from the understanding that any Christian is part of the wider Christian community, as the member of the body of Christ; it makes church discipline over any individual believer all the more significant.

There is no such understanding of personal sin. Rather, when one sins, the whole Church community suffers. For "if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it" (1 Cor 12:26). The Christian faith is a corporate faith, contrary to the popular view that every believer is left to fend for his individual moral behavior. Writing to the church in Corinth that was ignorant about their member who was sleeping with his mother (cf. 1 Cor 5:1), Apostle Paul urged them to "get rid of the old yeast, so that they may be a new unleavened batch". Instead of allowing the sin to spread forth like yeast, it is crucial to remove it to ensure the church remained an "unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Cor 5:7-8).

Discipline applied to any guilty member is crucial to uphold the image of the Church as the holy people of God. This does not merely reflect the holy character of God (cf. 1 Pet 1:15-16), but it also makes sure that the Christian witness is not jeopardized in her efforts to glorify God before a corrupted world (cf. 1 Pet 2:12; Matt 5:16). Should discipline not exercised when it should, it could be seen that the Church conforms to the pattern of the world, making the Church no different from pagans who even despise of sins (cf. 1 Cor 5:1). It weakens the mission of the Church as a whole, making a mockery of God's election of the Church and His holy character.

The exercising of church discipline that is such a rarity today ought to be revived if the Church is serious about appropriately presenting Christ. My sin is not merely my own as it affects the whole Christian community. By constantly being awake to withstand the temptation to sin, it strengthens the Church's efforts of "letting Her light shine before men in such a way that they may see Her good works, and glorify Her Father who is in heaven" (Matt 5:16).