The Friendship of Church Discipline and the Gospel

The Friendship of Church Discipline and the Gospel

On one occasion, the chief priests and elders approached Jesus while he was teaching and asked him, “By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?” (Matt 21:23). While it is obvious that the priests and elders were disputing rather than making careful inquiry, the question they asked is good and deserves being asked and answered. Many indeed ask by what authority does the church practice church discipline? In answering this question, I will seek to briefly demonstrate that we not only practice church discipline because of explicit commands to do so (Matt 18:15–20; Rom 16:17–18; 1 Cor 5:1–13; 1 Tim 1:19–20; 2 Thess 3:6–15), but also because church discipline is inextricably related to the gospel, evangelism, and the Great Commission.

We see this relationship definitionally. Church discipline encompasses both individual and corporate actions of a local church seeking restoration of one of her members as well as the preservation of the assembly’s fellowship of holiness, public testimony, and doctrinal purity. Additionally, the purpose of maintaining a conducive atmosphere for following Christ and experiencing his presence and power is paramount.

For clarity, I distinguish between church discipline and formal church discipline. The former refers to the full breadth of New Testament teaching regarding church discipline, whereas the latter refers to steps that potentially lead to the final removal of an unrepentant member. When church discipline is mentioned, it is the latter that most commonly comes to mind, but the New Testament teaching on church discipline is much more comprehensive. Similarly, church discipline is often understood and supported only if it has the exclusive purpose of redemption for the wayward member. Consequently, it is valued only for its utility in winning a wayward brother or sister. Accordingly, if church discipline does not potentiate such or fails to achieve this goal, it is deemed unworthy of implementation or, if implemented, to have failed.

However, in consideration of the full New Testament teaching on church discipline, one readily sees that it is much more inclusive and actually pervades the life of the church. Properly understood, church discipline seeks redemption, correction, protection, purification, and justice.[1] Consequently, while it is for the sake of seeking redemption of the wayward member, it is also for the sake of the gospel. The lack of church discipline hinders the church from being able to fully live and spread the gospel according to the mandate of Christ. The absence of church discipline leaves the church weakened by the sin of the unrepentant (1 Cor 5:6; 11:17–22; 11:30–32). For that reason, in addition to the redemptive aspect that applies to the wayward member, church discipline is essential for the church to maintain a conducive atmosphere for body life and be effectively redemptive toward the lost as well.

The corrective aspect includes such important ministries as prayer, teaching, discipling, counseling, and preaching. These provide instruction and correction for training in righteousness for those who desire to follow Christ. The purity aspect focuses on the purity of the body (1 Cor 5:6). The church is to be a holy place that is morally and spiritually set apart unto God (1 Pet 1:13–16). Similar to the purity aspect, the protective aspect emphasizes the need to protect the spiritual purity of the fellowship, doctrines, and mission of the church (Rom 16:17–18; 1 Cor 5:1–13; 1 Tim 1:19–20; Eph 4:11–16).

The final aspect is that of justice. Church discipline underscores the sinfulness of sin and keeps before the congregation and the world the reality that sin is a violation of holy righteousness and justice, which a holy God will judge. It stresses that sin is not a psychological dysfunction, sickness, social construct, or mistake without accountability; rather, sin urgently requires one to repent. It testifies that unrepentance is not to be taken lightly, and it is a very serious reminder that if the sinner fails to seek forgiveness by grace and repentance through faith (Eph 2:8–9), he will ultimately be judged by God and find himself eternally separated from God in hell (Rev 21:7–8).

Church discipline highlights the reality that God will judge every violation of justice, as is so graphically demonstrated in Christ’s death on the cross. The availability of forgiveness through repentance emphasizes God’s love that provides an escape from our condign punishment through faith in his Son, who died for our sinand bore the wrath of a holy God. The benefit of the gospel is given to all who repent and believe (John 3:16), but the unrepentant will suffer his just desert, as is seen in the practice of church discipline (1 Cor 5:5; Gal 6:1–5).

The reality of church discipline is that it is not the sin per se that results in formal church discipline, but rather it is the lack of repentance, which is the same standard for eternal judgment. The Bible is clear that unrepented of sin is never excused, overlooked, or forgiven, and it is equally lucid that every sin can be forgiven by repentance and faith in Christ (Luke 13:3; Rom 10:9–10; 2 Pet 3:9). That is the gospel. Correspondingly, we see that church discipline, properly defined, elevates both the seriousness of sin and the wonder of grace and, therefore, the gospel (Heb 2:9; 10:10, 14).

As a result, it is clear that church discipline encompasses redemption for the wayward sinner, protects the church from the moral and spiritual corruption that undermines its effectiveness in spreading the gospel, and combats the world’s constant redefining of sin whether by psychologizing, medicalizing, or reducing it to an inconsequential mistake. Church discipline encompasses redemptive measures for the wayward member, but it is not reducible to that one component because it is equally important for the protection of the church members who are seeking to obey Christ as well as for the lost world who needs to see the church of the Lord Jesus as he designed her to be.


[1] For a fuller explanation of these components, see my book, Undermining the Gospel: The Case and Guide for Church Discipline (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2015).

Dr. Patterson’s Review of My Book, The Equipping Church: Somewhere Between Fundamentalism and Fluff

Even a crusty old academe loves a pleasant surprise. And for much of my academic experience Ronnie W. Rogers, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Norman, Oklahoma, has been regaling me with one surprise after another.

The other day, a copy of the book The Equipping Church: Somewhere Between Fundamentalism and Fluff, written by Ronnie Rogers comes to me. Since I have learned not to take a chance setting aside anything that he has written, I immediately took it with me on a journey and read almost every syllable of it before I could put it down. Here is a book that addresses in the most thoughtful and fair way I have ever observed the question of the church and the culture.

There has never been a time when the world has not been at odds with the church. The church is supposed to be “a little heaven on earth” in the midst of the upheaval of the lost and confused world. At its worst, the church has been a mirror to the world, mimicking its problems and doing absolutely nothing to be salt and light. At its best, the church has been both salt and light and has introduced the love of God and the love of the church into the human dilemma and presided over changed lives. Culture can be one of three things. It may be good; it may be evil; or, in rare cases, it may be neither.

Ronnie Rogers in The Equipping Church recognizes that the culture is neither universally good nor capriciously evil. As a matter of fact, Rogers sees that part of the duty of the church and of the pastor through his preaching is to help the sheep of the flock make wise decisions about their own response to the culture. In doing so, he is unafraid to take on the culture and state where it is a ubiquitous evil and when it is just not helpful. So often today pastors hesitate to make that identification or else they make the identification in a ranting fashion that causes the younger generation simply to turn them off. Rogers knows better. First, for years now, he has been the pastor of a church just off the campus of the University of Oklahoma. Although he has many people in the church who are unrelated to the University of Oklahoma, he has enjoyed a stupendous ministry to students, faculty, and staff members at the university; and none of them find him to be shrill. They find their pastor to be thoughtful, just, and, more often than not, right.

But Rogers does more in The Equipping of the Church. Having identified the limitations of the culture, he moves on to a discussion of how the church can respond positively to the culture and reach it for Christ. Having discussed the liabilities of the contemporary model as well as many positive attributes and contributions, he continues with the responsibility of the church in the secularizing world. In the process of this, he defines what the church is and stresses that it is not a matter of choice but a matter of faithfulness to Scripture that binds the church in the nature of its ministry. In the final chapter discussing the model of the church for carrying out his mandate, there is an incomparable exegesis of Ephesians 4:11-16.

I love it when a relatively unheralded pastor writes a book that not only will challenge the thought life of academics everywhere but also, due to his pastoral experience, will be easily comprehended by any thoughtful individual who reads it. The Equipping Church is exactly that kind of book. This pastor’s book needs to be carefully read by everyone interested in the relationship of the church to the culture.

Paige Patterson, President
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Fort Worth, Texas

Do Not Forget To Remember

It is not new knowledge that we reject, for we should always be growing in the knowledge of the Lord. Rejecting new knowledge is the failure of traditionalism. Nor do we reject what has been known for years, decades, or even centuries from what God has revealed in His Word because of some superficial changes in culture, for that is the failure of new is better mentality. Rather we embrace knowledge that allows us to continually grow deeper in our understanding of God’s person, will, and ways so that we can honor Him with all of our being. This knowledge comes from learning the Scripture in order to live the Scripture. It is kept fresh by remembering. Continue reading →

The Vulgarization of Christ’s Church: Combatting Progressivism’s Damning Influence upon Christian Thinking and Preaching

My new book is available in paperback and Kindle, along with my other books at Amazon

The Vulgarization of Christ’s Church seeks to clarify and demonstrate the incalculable and injurious influence that progressive education has had and is having upon preaching, thinking Christianly, and the local church. Progressive education began at the turn of the twentieth century, replacing classical education with what is purportedly a science-based education, which necessarily results in scientism. This seismic shift in public education has not only affected what we learn but how we think. In order to enable the church to detect progressivism’s deleterious sway and protect herself by being equipped with the progressive revelation of God, and thereby counter the influence of progressive education of man, I seek to highlight some of the underlying intolerable essentials of progressive education. My major concern regarding progressive education is that the vast majority of Christians can be or are unknowingly facilitating the very philosophy of education and thinking in the church that will ultimately cause Christianity to be regarded as the scourge of modern society, which will immeasurably complicate the task of evangelism and discipleship.

In the companion book to this one, The Equipping Church: Somewhere Between Fundamentalism and Fluff, I explain the biblical model for the local church and how to build such a church.

Copies are available from the publisher at wipfandstock.com and amazon.com as well as the author, ronnie@trinitynorman.org.

Pastors Dare Not Become Enablers of Spiritual Milkoholics

I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able (1 Corinthians 3:2)

Note the past tense verb, gave milk, referring to times in the past when Paul taught the Corinthians milk because they were not ready for meat and that was okay; but the poignant criticism is indeed, even now, you are not yet able. Even now, still, at this point they were not able, when in reality they should have been much more mature and able to think as spiritual followers, feeding on the meat of the Word. Continue reading →

Pastors Beware of Being a Purveyor of Biblical Illiteracy

To think of pastors, some of the most biblically trained people in the world and by in large the most biblically trained people that the majority of Christians come in contact with on a regular basis, becoming merely the masters of quips, quotes, and clichés, which effectively only keeps people biblically illiterate, is unimaginable except for the stark reality that it is true of far too many. Some of them are the most recognized and esteemed in evangelicalism.

Sometimes under the pressure unleashed by the idea that “the pastor has to model everything or it will not happen” coupled with the idea that recognition and accolades for success are inextricably tied to growth, the pastor forsakes his time-consuming call to study and equip the saints (Ephesians 4: 12) and instead models everything else.

Pastors must remember that we cannot do everything nor be the best at everything, but we can support what God is doing in others in the church as well as model what it means to follow God’s call upon one’s life; the most biblical way to model this is by following God’s call upon our own life to shepherd the flock that God has granted us (1 Peter 5:2), which necessitates feeding them upon the deep riches of the Word of God.