Magazine Article


The ideal church discipline scenario

Jeffrey O. Brown
Photo by Jack Sharp on Unsplash

I could feel them watching me. A new pastor. Whose side would I be on? I sensed at least one person was musing, “Will he uphold the standards of the church?” I sensed another might have been pondering, “Will he be merciful to my son who got a girl pregnant?” It made me wonder about love and discipline and the futile battle they are so often in.

Discipline and disciple come from the same root word. Discipling is about training, not thrashing. Prevention, not punishment. The ideal goal of discipline is to prevent an incident from happening, rather than to invent a punishment once it has happened. Discipline your child so she won’t run all over the supermarket, not because you have finally caught up with her. True discipline ought to make us better, not bitter.

Receiving Discipline with Integrity

When we receive discipline from the body of Christ, we should not get mad. Instead, we grieve—but not as those who have no hope. We grieve the fornication, adultery, and abuse we engaged in before we met Christ. We doubly grieve those activities conducted since meeting Christ. Our recourse, however, is the same: “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him” (Col. 2:6, KJV). We come in abject repentance for the shame we have brought to ourselves, the hurt we have brought to our family, the pain we have brought to Christ, and the reproach we have brought to His church. We are not capricious. We are not flippant. We do not continue in sin that grace may abound. We recognize all too clearly that while salvation is free, grace was not cheap. It cost the life of the Son of God.

We suffer the consequences of our actions, the removal of our privileges, and the curtailment of our liberties. We submit to the body, as unto Christ. Our eligibility for church membership may now have been affected. Our reconciliation with our spouse may now have been placed in jeopardy. Our freedom to remarry may now have been taken away. With a cry of anguish we declare, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me.” With an eye of faith we submit, “Nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42, KJV). We commit ourselves to unprecedented heights of holiness, purity, and obedience.

Giving Discipline with Reluctancy

The body of Christ grieves also. When one member suffers, all suffer together. There is grief, and there is discipline. We recognize that if there is to be love, there must be discipline (Rev. 3:19). Indeed, if there is no discipline, we are no longer children of God (Heb. 12:8). The presence of grace does not diminish the practice of discipline. Rather, it defines it. It is now discipline infused with love. Ellen White states: “[Jesus] did not censure human weakness. He fearlessly denounced hypocrisy, unbelief, and iniquity, but tears were in His voice as He uttered His scathing rebukes.”1 Thus, “Christian love is slow to censure, quick to discern penitence, ready to forgive, to encourage, to set the wanderer in the path of holiness, and to stay his feet therein.”2

The Bible says, “A certain man had two sons” (Luke 15:11). There it is. Whichever child you are, we have the same heavenly Father. If you’re the son who stayed home or the son who left home, the Father loves you the same. Dwight Nelson says it is outrageous: “so outrageous His grace, so relentless His love.”3 The Scriptures demand the highest standards of duty but display the deepest levels of mercy. They delineate the most exacting principles of obedience but demonstrate the most awesome acts of forgiveness. They preach the strictest code of law but practice the widest form of grace. Max Lucado calls it stunning: “One can’t help but be a bit stunned by the inconceivability of it all. Why does Jesus stand on life’s most barren hill and await me with outstretched, nail-pierced hands? A ‘crazy, holy grace’ it has been called. A type of grace that doesn’t hold up to logic. But then I guess grace doesn’t have to be logical. If it did, it wouldn’t be grace.”4

Who wins?

They were playing for a place in the 2010 World Cup Finals in South Africa. Six-time African champions Egypt were playing Algeria, a team looking to book their first trip to the World Cup in 24 years. Incredibly, the group stages of the competition left the pair inseparable at the top of their group with the same number of points, the same goal difference, the same number of goals scored, and the same head-to-head record. The two were forced into a one-time playoff in Khartoum. What happens when there is an impasse?

What is the outcome when sin has reached its worst and salvation has achieved its best? In other words, what takes place when there is a tie? In God’s economy, there is no need for a playoff. The showdown has already taken place. Two thousand years ago, on a hill far away, stood an old rugged cross. Law and grace met face to face, and the result was amazing. Instead of competing, they embraced. Ellen White says, “God’s grace and the law of His kingdom are in perfect harmony; they walk hand in hand.”5 The psalmist was even more intimate: “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Ps. 85:10, KJV). There are no winners or losers; it is a win-win outcome. That is what church discipline demands.

1 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898, 1940), p. 353.

2 Ibid., p. 462.

3 Dwight Nelson, Outrageous Grace: Finding a Forever Friendship With God (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1998), p. 100.

4 Max Lucado, No Wonder They Call Him the Savior (Portland, Oreg.: Multnomah Press, 1986), p. 91.

5 Ellen G. White, God’s Amazing Grace (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1973), p. 10.

Jeffrey O. Brown

Jeffrey O. Brown is associate editor of Ministry magazine and associate secretary of the General Conference Ministerial Association.