Why is carefully practicing church membership and discipline critical to the growth of the saints and the evangelism of the church?
The aim of the Church is to advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ by pursuing people to believe in Jesus and turn to Him for salvation. When a person believes in Jesus Christ and repents from their old way of living, he or she becomes a part of the family, fellowship, and body of Christ. Committing to a local church is the natural outcome of salvation in Christ—it confirms what God has done in a person’s life. Therefore, a church must practice membership and discipline if they are going to disciple believers or reach those who do not yet believe. The world would have no way of knowing who and where the people of God are without marking off those who are Christ’s as members of His family through the firm establishment of the Church and each individual’s connection to it. As the corporate church practices membership and discipline, they are exercising their authority to “bind and loose” people to the Gospel based on his or her profession of faith (cf. Matthew 16:18; 18:18) and subsequent obedience to Christ’s commands. Incorporating baptized believers into biblical membership of a church allows for formative and corrective discipleship to happen, which will cause ongoing spiritual growth and effective evangelization.
God cares for the souls of men, and He has laid out a clear mandate for the Church to call people to repentance if they have walked away from Him. Some church congregations have made excuses as to why not to perform church discipline, claiming that it is unloving or that they are fearful of getting sued by the disciplined member. Nonetheless, Scripture is clear that church discipline is an important part of edification for the Saints and for preserving our witness.
Why all this talk about church discipline?
The primary biblical reasons for church discipline are: (1) to restore the straying member to Christ and to the Church (1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Timothy 1:20; 2 Timothy 2:25; Matthew 18:15), and (2) to maintain the public testimony for Christ that the Church upholds (Romans 2:24; 1 Corinthians 5:6). While there are many types of offenses that could constitute an occasion for someone to be disciplined, the standard should be that a church disciplines any unrepentant offense against another believer. This could include, but is not limited to, things such as murder, adultery, gossip, embezzlement, insubordination to church eldership, and other sins that would cause a disturbance within the body of Christ.
Matthew 18:15–20 gives us the clearest explanation of how we are to exercise church discipline over a brother or sister in Christ who is acting in willful and unrepentant sin. This process exists to pursue the unrepentant person for the sake of restoration to God and to others. In doing so, we, the church, are discipling that believer and the surrounding members by teaching what true repentance looks like; similarly, the church is protecting the evangelistic witness of the community.
There are several passages within the New Testament, especially within Pauline literature, where we can see that the purity of Christ’s Church is important for preserving His glory among men on Earth. One of the clearest of all passages is 1 Corinthians 5:1–13. Those who willfully disregard God’s teaching will make a negative and lasting impression upon the community of God and the people outside who we are trying to reach. It is important that we dispel sinful conduct in order to ensure the body of Christ does not get infected with their defiance against God and His Word. We must remember that the Church is established on Earth to maintain the glory of God’s presence among men, and to uphold the high calling of church discipline, which is not unloving; rather, it is one of the most loving things a church can do. As a parent loves a child (Hebrews 12:7–8), so Christ loves His adopted children enough to discipline them in order to make them more like Him.
Dever, Mark. What Is a Healthy Church? Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007. 25-27. Print.