GREENSBORO, N.C.–“How’s your church’s evangelism going? How’s the harvest?” Mark Dever asked the approximately 1,000 pastors and church leaders attending an SBC Pastors’ Conference breakout session titled “Church Discipline? Are You Kidding?”
The pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., said because it takes God’s Word seriously, a disciplined church would also be evangelistic.
Dever began by telling the audience that discipline in its simplest form comes from the word “disciple” and describes the obedient practices of the believer.
“Much of church discipline is positive discipline, formative discipline,” Dever said. Strictly speaking, teaching is church discipline, “so do not think this is only a negative matter.”
In most church contexts, however, the meaning is taken from Matthew 18 and other passages that prescribe remedies for unrepentant sin among believers in the church. Dever acknowledged that some may ask, “Aren’t we supposed to be drawing people into church and not throwing them out?”
He stated that Jesus in Matthew 7 describes false prophets as wolves in sheep’s clothing and warns believer to be wary. Further, in 1 Corinthians 6, Paul exhorts the church to mediate between striving brothers.
“That passage clearly shows that the church is to exercise judgment within itself.”
The biblical requirement to deal with unrepentant sin in the church is a message all pastors and church members need to hear, Dever said.
However, he warned that churches practicing church discipline must guard against self-righteousness. Don’t go home and implement church discipline if you haven’t been doing it, Dever pleaded. Instead, spend adequate time preaching on the necessity of biblical church discipline, he said.
“Make it hard to get in and throw people out for unrepentant sin,” Dever said. “Then we’ll see the church grow and people saved.”
One safeguard that churches often overlook is the importance of baptizing only regenerate people who have a testimony of their saving faith.
“As best we can, we are to baptize believers,” he said, adding that it is difficult in some cases to properly judge one’s testimony.
It is important for church members to understand that they are “covenanted to each other and for each other,” Dever said, and to cast off besetting sins as mentioned in Hebrews 12:1-2 and fix their eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of their faith.
Dever built his case by citing numerous scriptures, including 1 Corinthians 5, the longest passage on church discipline; Galatians 6:1 (restoration); 2 Thessalonians 3:6 (avoid the irresponsible brother); 1 Timothy 1:20 (deliverance to Satan for learning); and Titus 3:10 (reject a divisive person after two warnings).
In answering the question of why practice church discipline, Dever warned, “We do not practice church discipline to be vindictive.” Vengeance belongs to God alone; church discipline must be done “out of love for the offending party.”
“Pastor … you must not abuse authority. And you help Satan if you abuse your authority. Be extremely careful of your authority.”
Rather, church discipline is to be temporary and redemptive, he said, and should be done:
>For the glory of God.
“Don’t take that to mean that the church is all about church discipline,” Dever said. Rather, “like medicine, it is not what life is about, but it sustains it.”
Dever said pastors who claim belief in the inerrant Bible but don’t practice church discipline are hypocritical. Conversely, disciplined churches must avoid pride.
Finally, the church that lacks discipline bears God’s name in vain, Dever said.
“We are to be conspicuously holy, not for our namesake, but for God’s glory.