[Editor’s Note: This blogpost continues the “Pastorally Speaking” series. Micah Fries is Pastor at Frederick Boulevard and he writes about the important but neglected aspect of pastoral ministry: church discipline.]
Church discipline is among the most painful, and ignored, topics in the evangelical church today. Unfortunately this has led to creeping, massive sin problems that have increasingly found a comfortable home in the church – the church which by most other indices is bible believing and gospel preaching. Thankfully the issue appears to be making a bit of a comeback in some circles, specifically Southern Baptist ones, in recent years. Thanks, in no small part, to the resolution approved at the 2008 SBC annual meeting , ‘On Regenerate Church Membership and Church Membership Restoration’ this issue has gained prominence and validity in the eyes of many SBC churches. Southern Baptists who are committed to the practical application of God’s word owe an enormous debt of gratitude to men like Dr. Tom Ascol and Dr. Malcolm Yarnell for their tireless work in this effort. Work that has again reminded us of the importance of believing and practicing all scripture. Work that does not allow us to simply disregard passages like Matthew 18:7-20, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, and so many more. All of this has served to stir hearts in respect to this issue and nowhere is it more prominent than in the conversations of pastors, denominational leaders and seminary students. Buzzing in hallways and sanctuaries from one pastor to another, this issue continues to build steam and for that I am grateful. Students and pastors are increasingly excited about fulfilling their biblical mandate in this regard, and for that I am also thankful. However, having served as a pastor at two churches that are trying to practice this biblical exercise, I am concerned with the bravado that seems to accompany its application.
Allow me to say this clearly. I hate the practice of church discipline. I take no joy in its practice, and would love to see it go away for good. There is no more heartbreaking exercise in the fulfillment of my pastoral duties than that of confronting the existence of persistent, and unrepentant sin, particularly in people whom I have grown to love. It is emotionally draining for a number of reasons, none more tragic than the issue of the one who claims to be a believer and yet gives consistent allegiance to the power of sin by failing to confess and repent. It is the ultimate gospel contradiction; claiming to be part of the spotless bride of Jesus while prostituting oneself with Satan. Confronting it, however, is not something to take joy and/or pride in (Galatians 6:1-2), which is something that I see all too often in those who like to frequently discuss it. Confrontation over sin is rarely ever anything but painful and humiliating. It almost always leads to strained relationships and severed trust, and that is true whether the one engaged in sin repents or not.
Church discipline is never an issue which we can approach flippantly, or with excitement. It reflects the tragic and fallen nature of humanity, specifically those who have claimed the blood of Jesus. It is necessary because of the persistent and abiding nature of sin and it always leads to a black mark on the bridal gown of Christ’s church. While we plead and hope for repentance and restoration, in my experience that is not often the end result. And yet all of that, and my own discomfort with it, must not keep us from its practice.
Some might wonder if all of these factors would lead me to be less committed to the practice of biblical church discipline. I will be honest, in light of the tragedy and pain associated with it, I would love to give up on it. However, I cannot. I love Jesus and his church far too much to forfeit the vitally important, and biblical I might add, commitment to the purity of Christ’s bride (Ephesians 5:25-27). At the same time, I would not be truthful if I did not say that my heart is increasingly burdened as we practice it at Frederick Boulevard. So, no, we are not giving up on it at our church. We are as committed to it as we have ever been, probably more so. We are, however, committed to practicing it through the tears in our eyes and grief in our hearts. I hope the same will be true for you.
I am thankful when I hear the increased commitment to church discipline because it reflects a people who embrace the biblical mandate, who respect the covenantal relationship of the church and her members and who care more about the spiritual condition of the ones they are called to serve than they do their own comfort or even superficial, spiritually dry church growth. However, I equally despise the casual manner in which I often hear people discuss church discipline. The cavalier attitude among many is tragic and reflects either a lack of experience or a calloused heart, both of which give away a needed heart correction and growth in maturity.
In closing, let me plead with you to go ahead and embrace your commitment to church discipline. However, please leave the bravado and excitement behind. Let us endeavor together to be a people that pursues the purity of Christ’s bride, but let us do so with humble, heavy hearts as we hurt with hurting people, and lovingly correct the sinful ones. I cannot imagine that Jesus would expect any less.