The Baptist Pillar ©      Brandon Bible Baptist Church     1992-Present

"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15

Discipline in the Local Church:

The Importance of Proper Church Discipline

Roger Peterson

Church discipline is of utmost importance to the person who desires to see the local church march ahead with its Leader, the Lord Jesus Christ. However, victory always demands a price, and the price to be paid by the local church in this case is holiness and orderliness. No church can expect to be victorious over Satan without being holy before God and man. Likewise no local church can hope to succeed without orderliness.

It would be utter nonsense to expect holiness and orderliness without Laws. Laws express a standard of right and wrong. This function of the law leads to holiness. Laws also regulate a plan of procedure. This function of the law leads to orderliness. The laws of the local church are found in the pages of God’s Word. These laws are perfect and irrevocable.

Then there must follow a system of discipline, otherwise the laws are meaningless. Let it not be thought, on the ground that God is love, that discipline is contrary to the divine method. The two phases of discipline are teaching and enforcing. The laws must be taught, and the laws must also be enforced. Both phases are necessary.

Without discipline there can be no true force in the laws; without a true force in the laws there can be no holiness or orderliness, without holiness or orderliness there can be no victory for the local church over Satan and his hosts. This vital relationship of discipline to the spiritual victories of a local church underscores the importance of the subject of discipline in the local New Testament church.

However, discipline has a further aspect which equally applies to the local church, that is, the aspect of instruction. Discipline in this sense means to train, to drill, to exercise, to cultivate, and to prepare. This is done from the pulpit, in the Sunday School classrooms, with the young people, across the counseling table, at the sick bed, and wherever else people are taught the Word of God.

No local church procedure of discipline is complete without both of these aspects of discipline, instruction and correction. Instruction is basic to the proper concept of discipline. Before Christians can act right they must be taught right. We have the sure promise of God in II Timothy 3:16, 17 that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”

One of the “profits” of the Word of God is instruction in righteousness so that God’s servant may know how to walk his Christian life properly and grow toward maturity. Note that this aspect of discipline is located right along side the more familiar aspects of discipline, reproof and correction. In 2 Timothy 4:2 pastors are first given the exhortation to “preach the Word in season, out of season;” and then they are to “reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” So discipline must first of all be a matter of instruction in the Word of God and then correction.

Correction is the aspect of discipline to which in this treatment we shall give the greater amount of our attention. Correction of members is done for the glory of God. No selfish interest must ever enter our minds. The Christian’s main business is to glorify God, not to gain revenge. The sin of an erring brother steals from the glory of God. It brings disrepute upon His name and those who call themselves by His name. So sinning members must be corrected that glory might once more come to God their lives and through the local church. When God receives His rightful glory, then the local church can once again regain its strength and power for warfare against Satan.

Discipline seems harsh upon first consideration, but in truth the lack of discipline is still more devastating because by condoning the sin which has been done in defiance to God and His Word, the whole church becomes corrupted and weak. The discipline which in foresight seems too harsh an action to take against an offender appears in hindsight as very mild compared to the trouble avoided. Too often discipline is discussed but not practiced.

The admonition, “Be ye doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” (James 1:22), certainly applies in this area. We need pure relations and separation from wickedness within the local church as well as without. Both are important; both are unto holiness; both are for the glory of God. Order and holiness should characterize every local church that it might be healthy and strong.

Of course, a church which has neglected discipline will find difficulty in reinforcing it. Chain reaction against a disciplinary policy will doubtless follow specific enforcement. It is for this reason that an old established church which has neglected discipline in the past will often continue to do so in the future. However, the church that will brave the storms desiring to be in harmony with God’s laws can anticipate that doing so will result in genuine revival.

A word of caution concerning corrective discipline is needful at this point. Correction can be carried too far as well as not far enough. Both errors can produce serious results. At this point the church needs the wisdom of God so as to act properly. This wisdom is promised to those who ask God in faith (James 1:5). No act of discipline should be a hurried one without the Spirit’s guidance.

“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Gal. 6:1). The conditions of this command require Spirit-guided men to do the restoring. Not only the pastor and officers of a local church, but all who would assist in the disciplining of another member must be led by the Spirit. A Spirit-led church will find that the correction of an erring brother will become a blessing instead of a curse. If Spirit-directed, the action will be proper and just toward the offender and the testimony of the church will be honored and blessed. Discipline that is Spirit-led will bring glory to Jesus Christ.

Each one of the adjectives of the phrase “the local New Testament church” identifies more precisely the type of church to which we have reference.

“Local” has reference to the visible, real churches. It does not refer to a building, as some have so misunderstood but to a congregation of Christians! This is the primary meaning of the New Testament usage. It is the local church, then, to which we have reference. However, all local churches are not New Testament churches, that is, they do not govern themselves after the pattern set forth in the New Testament. Some churches have added to the pattern of the New Testament and some have subtracted from it. Only a portion of the local churches today are governed by the standards of the New Testament.

The New Testament pattern for local church government allows the individual Christian member the greatest amount of freedom to worship God according as he believes the Scriptures teach him. This is because the New Testament sets no authority over a church other than God Himself. In any action to be carried out by the local church each individual member of the particular congregation is given an equal amount of voting power to declare that which he believes God would have him to declare. In this way the New Testament plan for local church government protects the individual Christian members from being ruled by a man or an outside group of men rather than God.

Discipline is directly related to the government of the local church. The local church alone has the right to admit worthy members, to exclude unworthy members, to restore to fellowship an excluded member, and to exercise final authority. The New Testament clearly establishes the fact that the local church does have these rights. However, many churches have departed from the authority of the New Testament in these matters. Some churches place in the hands of bishops or prelates the power to govern the affairs of the church. The bishop in this type of government has the power to ordain and the power to rule over lesser clergymen. This authority of a bishop is foreign to that of the New Testament. In the New Testament the words “bishop,” “pastor,” and “elder are synonymous.

Some groups place governmental powers in elders who are responsible for taking care of all the business of the local church including the admission, dismission, and excommunication of members. Again, we do not believe this to be local church government after the New Testament pattern.

The form of government in Baptist churches is in contrast to the two previous types of government mentioned. Among Baptists the power of church government lies with all members of the local church rather than in the bishops or elders. The leaders of the church must receive their authoritative power from the members. The desire of the majority of members of any local Baptist church determines the rule of that local church. The minority always submits to the will of the majority.

Even the pastor has no more voting power than any other member of the church, and if found on the side of the minority, he also must submit. His power lies in his personal influence as the leader and teacher of the local church. The action of the church is final. There is no opportunity of appeal to another board or a convention in order to change the decision of a church. Each church is independent and is not subject to any group other than its own membership. Therefore, whatever decisions the local church makes are final unless the majority in that church wish to reverse a previous decision. This type of local church government, we believe, can rightly be called New Testament church government.

The importance of discipline in the local churches is found, not in, what we may think, but in what the New Testament says about the subject. Basically, then, there are three reasons which underscore the importance of local church discipline.

First, it was instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ. The subject of church discipline is not a new one, but is as old as the foundations of the church itself. It was not conceived by the straight-laced churchmen of our grandfather’s day, nor by the rigid disciplinarianism of the Puritans of New England, nor by the Reformation fathers, nor by the Jesuits who purged the Roman Catholic Church of “heretics” through the Inquisition, nor by the church fathers, nor by the apostolic fathers, nor by the apostles themselves.

Rather, the basic principles for local church discipline were first presented by the Lord Jesus Christ to His disciples. Christ, the Head of the Church and of every local church, presented these principles for discipline to His disciples who were to become future pillars of local churches. He did so even before the first local church was organized. At the same time that the Lord was preparing His disciples, He gave them instructions regarding discipline in the local church (Matt. 16:19; 18:18). Second, discipline in the local church was preached and practiced by the great church-builder, the apostle Paul.

But far as the New Testament is concerned, Paul was instrumental in establishing more local churches than any other apostle. Wherever he went he established churches. Upon returning to a field he made it a practice to visit and strengthen the churches. When he wrote letters they were written to pastors or churches. Paul was given insight as to the needs of local churches.

It is not at all strange, then, to find that the apostle Paul was chosen by God to write more upon the subject of church discipline than any other New Testament writer. God revealed to Paul the needs of the local church. Among the needs of the local church which God revealed was the need for church discipline. And so in the Epistles which God inspired Paul to write we find commands and inferences concerning church discipline.

The third reason for the importance of local church discipline is the most obvious of all, namely, the local church cannot be true to the Word of God without practicing discipline whenever necessity arises. The Scriptures do not merely hint or suggest that local churches practice discipline, but straight-forwardly command them to. The Holy Scriptures outline the practices of church discipline in a form absolutely pure and perfect.

Therein therefore we have our standard and guide for the right practice of correction. The question is not whether the majority approves or not, but rather a question of obedience to the Lord. Throughout the New Testament there are commands that discipline be enforced by local churches, each for its own membership. That God has commanded that the local church exercise discipline upon its erring members is reason enough that it be taught and practiced in our churches.