Nowadays, few people relish talk of church discipline. People immediately begin thinking of the sort of chastisement doled out to naughty children. But discipline, from the same root as the disciple, is about learning rather than punishment. It exists to teach and train. Much, if not most, is entirely positive and designed to teach in the way we understand most teaching. Even the seemingly more negative stuff is designed to teach somebody that the path they are choosing to follow is not glorifying to God and to restore them to fellowship with God’s people.
Whilst the vast majority of discipline is not negative at all (called ‘formative discipline’) – it is the kind of positive input we get from regular sermons, Bible study and chatting with godly believers – there are times when corrective discipline is necessary. Again, the overwhelming majority of corrective discipline happens at the level of one believer gently suggesting to another that they might want to think about something they are doing as less than God’s best. There is nothing formal or harsh about it, especially in the context of a good friendship. It is only in the most serious, and typically less common, situations that formal, corrective discipline takes place.
But why should we need discipline in the church today? Can’t we all just rub along together without this sort of thing? Listen below to hear why it is vital to the health of the church. The audio clip is taken from a longer sermon on Numbers 5-6, which you can access in full here.