A Fresh Look at Church Discipline

Part One

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Valley Community Church had once sailed as a proud flagship. Located in the center of town, people flocked to it. By every external measure Valley seemed successful. But then, factions suddenly ripped into it — like ice to the Titanic — and it all came apart. What happened?

I’ve thought about this plenty because, you see, I captained this Titanic. I came on board after it turned self-destructive. To uncover Valley’s pathology, I decided to probe its history. I found that one factor above all seemed to explain so much. For decades, Valley had not practiced church discipline.

Valley had members, but no standards of membership. It had worship, but no expectation of attendance. You could serve, but only if you wanted. You could believe and behave, or not. Out of a desire to make itself acceptable to everyone, Valley had lost its own soul.

A long time ago, the Protestant reformers taught that a church needs three things to be true: the preaching of the Bible, the celebration of the sacraments and the practice of church discipline. They felt that these marks — Word, Sacrament and Discipline —are all needed for the stability and soundness of a church, much like a stool needs three legs to be safe. The lack of church discipline, I am convinced, explains why Valley — and many other churches — suddenly collapse.

What is Church Discipline?

We know about Word and Sacrament, but what is Discipline all about? It sounds a lot like “church punishment,