What is Church Discipline?

Our Wednesday night discussion from Chapter 5 of Deliberate Church, by Mark Dever

I think of Church (our church) like a family.  That should explain much about why I value ministry and church membership the way I do.

  • We are not individuals
  • We are not special groups or sub-groups within a church.
  • We are a family.  Different roles, ministries, and functions… but still a family.  When someone joins the church, they are joining OUR family.

So, when we begin the discussion of church discipline let’s consider family discipline.

  • What is it for? What is the purpose?  Why is it important?
    • To raise children to be adults.  To have a process in place that will mold them into the people we would desire them to be.  (To teach, to correct, to model.)

How is it done well?

  • Lovingly and consistently, with the end in mind

How is it not done well?

  • To lax – To strict
  • Both can produce disobedient/rebellious children

Therefore, should church discipline be viewed in the same manner.

What is it? A definition. (Pastor Jon’s short answer)

A biblical culture/mindset in place that allows us to honor the Word of God as we encourage each church member to faithfully walk with Christ (live as a disciple) and therefore allowing our church the greatest opportunity for unity, holiness, and Gospel centered ministry within our community.

  • Which is all motivated by love:
  • Love for the Lord
  • Love for the Word
  • Love for one another
  • Love for the purity of Lord’s Church

It Is Formative and Corrective (Dever points out)

Formative – giving form or shape; forming; shaping; fashioning; molding. (dictionary.com)

In our physical life – Eating right, exercise.

In our spiritual life – How the church gets into shape, stays in shape, and grows into better shape.

  • Preaching, Teaching, Sharing, Serving, Discipling, Gathering for corporate Worship,

Corrective – tending to correct or rectify. (Dictionary.com)

In our physical – Surgery.

In our spiritual – To admonish, rebuke, and exhort. When we deviate from the Word/Truth.

  • In doctrine and lifestyle
    • What we believe/teach
    • How we live
  • Speaking the truth in love to one another and pointing each other to the grace of the gospel

OBVIOUSLY, some aspects of spiritual discipline are not fun, nor SHOULD WE WANT to go through it, but at times it is necessary.  THERE IS A PURPOSE.

What is the purpose?

The Purposes of Church Discipline – J. Hampton Keathley, III

  1. To bring glory to God and enhance the testimony of the flock.
  • To restore, heal, and build up sinning believers (Matt. 18:15; 2 Thess. 3:14-15; Heb. 12:10-13; Gal. 6:1-2; Jam. 5:20).
  • To produce a healthy faith, one sound in doctrine (Tit. 1:13; 1 Tim. 1:19-20).
  • To win a soul to Christ, if the sinning person is only a professing Christian (2 Tim. 2:24-26).
  • To silence false teachers and their influence in the church (Tit. 1:10-11).
  • To set an example for the rest of the body and promote godly fear (1 Tim. 5:20).
  • To protect the church against the destructive consequences that occur when churches fail to carry out church discipline.

The Biblical Process of Church Discipline

Matthew 18:15-17

  1. A private conversation
    1. BY FAR the most common.  Most conversations do not go beyond here.  BECAUSE OF OUR MINDSET.
  • Take one or two others with you.
  • Involve leaders or pastors
  • Tell it to the church
  • Remove the unrepentant from the church (I have never gotten to this point personally)
  • 1 Cor. 5:9-13
  • It seems so harsh, yet… what is the purpose of this (think like a family…tough love)
  • To bring about Repentance – Turning from that which is sinful and will cause God’s discipline.
  • To bring about Restoration – A faithful and obedient life growing and changing into the likeness of Christ


4 Ways Church Discipline Demonstrates Love

Jonathan Leeman. Church Discipline: How the Church Protects the Name of Jesus (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012).

  1. Church discipline shows love for the individual, that he or she might be warned and brought to repentance.
  • Church discipline shows love for the church, that weaker sheep might be protected.
  • Church discipline shows love for the watching world, that it might see Christ’s transforming power.
  • Church discipline shows love for Christ, that churches might uphold his holy name and obey him.


Dever points out two aspects that must be established before a church can even begin to live these principles out.

  2. We have to be a church of healthy (family type) relationships.  Look beyond our own interests to the interests of others. Phil 2:4– Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (ESV)
    1. We love one another (the entire family)
    2. We have concern for one another
    3. We care for one another
  • A CHURCH UNDERSTANDING OF PROPER LEADERSHIP – No one leader (the pastor) should be walking through this process alone.  It takes not only the called/vocational staff but also lay people.  That have the same desire for their church.  FAITHFUL, COMMITTED people that has a desire to see their church Reach the World as it GLORIFIES THE LORD.

Dever’s Church – A plurality of elders.  Staff Elders and appointed Lay Elders as spiritual leaders.  This way more than just the “paid staff” are considered to be leading the church.  They have elders that lead, but still are a Congregational church.

Baptist Churches –Typically have 1 Elder (the senior pastor.  Some churches would consider certain staff members as Elders).  They will also have deacons, committees, and teams. Each church is unique in how and who makes these types of decisions.  (KEY IS EVERYONE IS HEADING IN THE SAME DIRECTION)

CONCLUSION FROM CHAPTER 5 (pg. 72 “Deliberate Church)

Gathering a church is hard work. It takes diligence, watchfulness, wisdom, and patience. Some in the congregation may not understand why you are doing things the way you are. Some might become impatient when immediate results are difficult to see or numerical growth takes longer than they expected. Some may be offended that you seem to be questioning people’s salvation by clarifying the Gospel so often. Others might actually leave the church because the inherent offensiveness of the Gospel begins to make them uncomfortable or even angry. All of this is okay. These are often the signs of pastoral faithfulness in the early years of a work.

Keep preaching. Keep praying. Keep building personal relationships. Keep being patient when people forget, misunderstand, or wrong you (2 Tim. 2:24). Keep cultivating trust among them. Keep trusting that Jesus will build His church by the power of His Word. Lay the foundation with patient, biblical wisdom. It’s worth it. Doing this work now will ensure the structural integrity of the house decades later—and it will save you a bundle in repairs.

But gathering a church is also eminently worthy and exciting work! Don’t give up! Don’t give in to doubt or disillusionment or fear of man! Take a longer view. God’s purposes for all of human history revolve around the local church as the visible, corporate manifestation of His Son, Jesus Christ! He has ordained that His most important objectives both here and in heaven be accomplished through the agency of the local church (Eph. 3:10-11)! He has promised that His church will not fail (Matt. 16:18)! His love for the church is so great that Paul has to pray for capacity just to comprehend its dimensions (Eph. 3:17-19)! The church is of cosmic importance to God—literally. And as pastors and church leaders, we are privileged to build up this church that God loves so much, as we ourselves obey the Gospel and follow Christ (Eph. 4:11-16). Model godliness (1 Tim. 4:12-16). Be strong and courageous— God’s presence, power, and promises are all with you (Josh. 1:1-8). “Be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Tim. 4:5)

Purposes of Church Discipline from 1 Corinthians 5

Jonathan Leeman. Church Discipline: How the Church Protects the Name of Jesus (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012).

1. Discipline aims to expose.

Sin, like cancer, loves to hide. Discipline exposes the cancer so that it might be cut out quickly (see 1 Cor. 5:2)

2. Discipline aims to warn.

A church does not enact God’s retribution through discipline. Rather, it stages a small play that pictures the great judgment to come (v. 5). Discipline is a compassionate warning.

3. Discipline aims to save.

Churches pursue discipline when they see a member taking the path toward death, and none of their pleading and arm-waving causes the person to turn around. It’s the device of last resort for bringing an individual to repentance (v. 5).

4. Discipline aims to protect.

Just as cancer spreads from one cell to another, so sin quickly spreads from one person to another (v. 6).

5. Discipline aims to present a good witness for Jesus.

Church discipline, strange to say, is actually good for non-Christians, because it helps to preserve the attractive distinctiveness of God’s people (see v. 1). Churches, remember, should be salt and light. “But if the salt loses its saltiness . . . ,” Jesus said, “It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled by men” (Matt. 5:13).

Other Resources:

Bible.org – J. Hampton Keathley, III


The Gospel Coalition – Jonathan Leeman


Grace Community Church


Scripture References

1 Corinthians 5:9–13 – [9] I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—[10] not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. [11] But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. [12] For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? [13] God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (ESV)

Matthew 18:15–20 – [15] “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. [16] But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. [17] If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. [18] Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. [19] Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. [20] For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (ESV)

Ephesians 4:15–16 – [15] Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, [16] from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (ESV)

Leave a Reply