Inaugural Lecture - Center for Classical Theology - REGISTER
Skip to content
Credo April 2014 DeVine Slider

Who’s Afraid of Church Discipline? (Mark DeVine)

In the new issue of Credo Magazine, “Churchy Gimmicks: Has Evangelicalism Sold Its Soul to Consumerism?”, Mark DeVine has written an article titled, “Who’s Afraid of Church Discipline? Entering Forbidden Terrain In Order to Recover a Biblical Practice.” Mark DeVine is Associate Professor of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School. He joined the Beeson Divinity School faculty in 2008, and teaches church history and doctrine.

Here is the start of DeVine’s article to get you started:

Credo April 2014 Final Cover“One shouldn’t whip children too hard” or they might just “run away” and “hate [you].” Martin Luther’s advice to parents suggests dual convictions appropriate to the matter of church discipline; namely that occasions for spiritual “whippings” do arise and that real dangers of misuse, abuse, and excess attend those occasions. When the church tries to address the “troubles” of its members it often ends up with more trouble than it started with.

So who’s afraid of church discipline? Just about everybody, that’s who. And perhaps with good reason. In the rare instances in which church discipline is attempted, it tends to feel to those involved (offenders and even administrators) like a violation of Jesus’ words, “Judge not” in the Sermon on the Mount. Isn’t it amazing how quickly even the most biblically illiterate among us reflexively and confidently pull these two words of Jesus as if out of a holster the moment anyone, even their pastor, confronts them regarding their sins?

So why not just take Matthew 7:1 and run with it: admit that attempts to practice church discipline are archaic, outdated, unwelcome and unnecessary reminders of one of the most tragic and embarrassing chapters in the history of the church—the Spanish Inquisition! Because love will not let us, that’s why. Confronted with Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5 and other clear and striking texts, we know that in church discipline, love for God, love for the gospel, love for the church, and love for one another are at stake.

Onerous Duty Abandoned

Responsibility for the administration of discipline occupies an ancient and permanent place in the confessional and governing documents of the Christian tradition from Roman Catholicism to Pentecostalism and most points in between. From Augustine’s tolerance of a “mixed” membership of saints and sinners, to Balthasar Hubmaier’s insistence upon the ongoing duty not only to exclude but also to “shun” sinners (2 Thess. 3), all acknowledge discipline and even excommunication, exclusion or “the ban,” as necessary tools for the care and maintenance of the church of Jesus Christ—a church meant to be not only one, universal and apostolic, but also “holy.”

Yet, application of church discipline (like the confessions of faith themselves!) has been largely abandoned. Formal acknowledgement of responsibility for discipline lives on in spite of marginalization, forgetfulness of once sharp skills now atrophied by disuse, and a sheepish ecclesial failure of nerve. Yet the ancient biblical command to administer discipline, and the long formal acknowledgement of that mandate remains and rightly disturbs the consciences of Bible-believing Christians and ministers so long as its neglect prevails.

Within two months of my arrival as pastor, I discovered that a woman living with a man outside the estate of marriage retained her public duties as worship leader. “Is this circumstance acceptable here?” I asked. My question immediately evoked a collective groan and shaking of heads from the nominating committee. Finally, the chairperson, an aerospace engineer, articulated the conflicted consensus into which they and many other churches have undoubtedly settled— “Pastor, we know this situation is not right, but nobody has had the backbone to do anything about it.”

Is there a way forward to the recovery of something which seems distasteful and even dangerous, but which we know in our “gut” belongs to the church of Jesus Christ? At some level, we correctly suspect that our abandonment of discipline puts distance between us and our Lord and does real harm to both ourselves and our witness to Jesus Christ.

Read the rest of DeVine’s article today!


To view the Magazine as a PDF {Click Here}

The Evangelical church in the twenty-first century has in many ways absorbed the consumeristic mentality that is so prevalent in the culture. Churches approach worship as if they were selling a product and the attendee were the consumer. Since the product is up for sale, churches must show that their product is more entertaining than anything else the world has to offer. Therefore, churchy gimmicks are the name of the game. Whatever keeps people coming back for more takes first priority and becomes the controlling principle for all things church-related. The preaching must be relevant, the music must entertain, and church events must keep people on the edge of their seat. If the church doesn’t sell itself, then it will be out of business.

In this issue of Credo Magazine we hope to pour an ice-cold bucket of water in the face of the church. No longer can we turn to the culture to decide what the church should be and do. God, his gospel, and his bride are not products to be sold. And those who walk through the church doors on Sunday morning are not customers to entertain. Such an approach makes man the center and treats the church like a business. In contrast, our aim in this issue is to draw church-goers and church leaders back to Scripture, which we believe should be our final authority and guide for worship. In doing so, we must recover the ordinary means of grace that God uses to equip the saints and transform us into the image of Christ.

Contributors include: Brian Cosby, Dennis Johnson, Harry Reeder, Mark DeVine, T. David Gordon, Heath Lambert, and many others.

Back to Top