On a fairly regular basis, I have people who reach out to me for local church recommendations as they’re planning a big move across state lines. Sometimes I have connections to that area and sometimes I have no church that I could recommend. When I evaluate a church for recommendation, there are several key factors that play into the equation that will determine whether or not I could recommend it to my friends or network through G3—and one of those factors at the top of the list is biblical church discipline.
Christ Commanded the Practice of Church Discipline
The basis of church discipline is found not in theological textbooks or circles of serious minded evangelicals—but in the very words of Jesus to his Church. In Matthew 18:15-20, we find Jesus’ command to practice church discipline. That passage, which is sadly overlooked and neglected, is the foundation for how the church must confront sin. It was the basis for the apostles as they engaged in church discipline as they engaged in the planting and formation of local churches beyond the borders of Israel.
In Corinth, a man was engaged in sexual sin with his father’s wife (his step-mom), and Paul’s words to the church can be found in 1 Corinthians 5. Paul told the church at Corinth to “purge out” and to “deliver his soul to Satan for the destruction of the flesh that the spirit may be saved.”
In Thessalonica, the church needed to practice church discipline, and Paul wrote a letter to them that directed them in that very direction. In 2 Thessalonians 3, we find Paul’s instructions to refrain from keeping company with any brother (speaking of a church member) who refused to live in a Christ honoring manner. In other words, those who persist in sinful living, Paul said to refrain from having fellowship with them. He concluded by writing the following, “And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (2 Thess. 3:14-15).
Once again, we find these words in Titus 3:10, “A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject.” The church must was called to practice church discipline, and Jesus’ command was the basis (notice the reference to the first and second admonition). Christ’s command became the firm foundation that provided direction on how each of these specific cases were addressed.
Throughout history, from the early days of the apostles and beyond—church discipline was a common practice. Gregory A. Wills, a professor of Church History and noted historian commented, “To an antebellum Baptist, a church without discipline would hardly have counted as a church.”  In each case, from the apostolic era to the antebellum era—Christ’s command was the basis for the practice of church discipline.
You Want a Church that Will Confront Your Sin
When joining a church, you want to be certain that the pastors who oversee the church and the members who make up the church take spiritual accountability seriously. A church that condones sin is a dangerous place for your soul. Not only your soul, but you must consider the spiritual wellbeing of your entire family (your spouse and children).
It’s not just about the sin of another person that you want to be sure is dealt with in the life of the church, but it’s your own sin—the sin that if left alone will spread like a cancer—that must be confronted, rebuked, and disciplined. For that reason, you need a church that will get in your business and rebuke you if you were to walk astray. As Proverbs 27:17 says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” In an age that chants Matthew 7:1 at any sign of rebuke or confrontation—we must remember that the most loving thing a church can do for you and your family is engage in the practice of biblical church discipline.
Beyond your sin and your friend’s sin within the church, you want a church that’s committed to disciplining church leaders who walk astray. You never want to be in a church that refuses to confront and rebuke pastors who abuse their positions and persist in sin (1 Tim. 5:19).
Church Discipline Helps Purify the Bride of Christ
The Church is depicted as the bride of Christ (Mark 2:19; Eph. 5:22-23). For a local church to ignore sinful behaviors among the members and refuse to engage in church discipline is to turn the bride of Christ into a shameful harlot in the eyes of the world.
Biblical church discipline is a means whereby the very bride of Christ is kept pure and without shame in the eyes of the world. The purity of Christ’s bride is a serious thing that we must regard as a priority—not just for the watching world—but for the glory of God. In the analogy that Paul is making about the husband’s care for his bride, he uses the relationship between Jesus and the Church. Notice the language of purity:
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish (Eph. 5:25-27).
The bride of Christ should be presented to him without blemish and spot or any impurity. Just as the Jewish custom of washing the bride and presenting her to the groom clean and whole without spot or stained garments—so the Church must be presented to Christ in the same manner.
Without Church Discipline—It Is Not a True Church
We have all heard the excuses of unbelievers who point to the church as a bunch of hypocrites, and when we consider the fact that church discipline is rarely practiced in our day, such a statement should not be a surprise. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once made this very sobering statement, “And what calls itself a church which does not believe in discipline, and does not use it and apply it, is therefore not a true church.” Traditionally, throughout church history, scholars and theologians (and average church members) would evaluate the authenticity of a local church on the basis of three primary marks:
- The right preaching of God’s Word
- The right administration of the sacraments / ordinances
- The practice of biblical church discipline
Therefore, the statement of Lloyd-Jones doesn’t seem to be such a radical statement when you consider the fact that church discipline was not only expected, but considered a necessity within the life of the local church in years past. Today, it’s quite possible to find entire cities without a church that practices biblical church discipline. It was J.L. Dagg who once remarked, “It has been remarked, that when discipline leaves a church, Christ goes with it.” 
We must come to the sobering reality that what many people call a church in our day is simply a country club in the name of Jesus rather than a local church. It may seem very strange to modern Christians, but the church should guard the front door of membership and put a high fence up around the Lord’s Supper table as well. A refusal to discipline members and to guard the Lord’s Supper table is one of the greatest tragedies in modern church history. May God give pastors today both wisdom and biblical conviction to lead their local churches according to the Bible—rather than church growth schemes that in turn lead to scandal.
Imagine the shock as local church pastors who refused to protect the bride of Christ and turned her into a local harlot are called to stand before the throne of King Jesus.
- Gregory A. Wills, Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South 1785-1900, (Oxford University Press, New York, 2003), 12.
- John Leadley Dagg, A Treatise on Church Order (Online Version – Accessed 11/9/19)
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