Church Discipline

Ethics Scandals and Local Church Autonomy

The Oxford Concise English Dictionary defines autonomy as (1) the possession or right of self-government, (2) freedom of action. In other words, autonomy is the freedom to make choices according to the individual or group’s own principles and values. It’s freedom of conscience.

For Christians and New Testament local churches, autonomy is 100% conditioned by obedience to our Lord. In that sense, we have no autonomy. But in relation to those other than ourselves and Christ, we do have autonomy: the freedom to act according to what we believe to be the will of Christ.

We should view that kind of autonomy as precious, fragile, and a sacred trust.

We may better understand and value it if we consider it through a historical and theological lens. That consideration may also help us better understand how allegations of misconduct among members (including staff) ought to be handled.

Some Historical Light

During the Reformation, as churches were recovering biblical views of Christ, faith, and grace, they were also recovering a more biblical understanding of church structure and order. All reforming churches rejected the authority of the Pope and the traditions of Rome. Congregationalists went a step further, rejecting episcopal and presbyterian forms of church government.

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The Restorative Church Discipline Process: Series Introduction

Editor’s note: This video introduces a series on the topic of local church discipline. Subsequent installments in the series will be in article form. Reposted, with permission, from

The goal of church discipline is restoration. The process of church discipline should be clear, so that confusion does not create temptation towards mistrust. The role of each person involved should be clear so that differing ideas about what should be happening do not distract from restorative efforts.

This post provides the training and documentation guide for the Summit’s church discipline process. It is the first post in a series designed to equip pastors/elders/churches to conduct church discipline with restorative excellence.

The following steps are recommended for a church considering adopting this document as their church discipline guide.

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LifeWay Research: Most pastors say their churches never discipline members for misconduct

"When asked over the phone when the last time their church formally disciplined a member, 55 percent of pastors said that 'a member has not been formally disciplined since I came as pastor nor prior as far as I know.'" CPost

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Correct Ways to Correct: Addressing Sin in the Church

From The Cripplegate, with permission.

Some believe he was the greatest tennis player of all time. He finished as the world’s top-seeded player four years in a row and spent a total of 170 weeks in that top spot. He won Wimbledon three times and the US Open four times, and finished his career with 77 singles titles and 78 doubles titles, which remains the highest men’s combined total of the Open Era.

But most of us probably don’t remember him for those stats.

We know him for his harsh words fired mercilessly at umpires in fits of outrage and unbridled temper tantrums. Who else could I be referring to other than John McEnroe?

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Church Discipline: the Correction of a Believer or the Excommunication of an Unbeliever? (Part 3)

Harmonizing Matthew 18:15–17, 1 Corinthians 5:1–13, and 2 Thessalonians 3:6–15

(From Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal (DBSJ), Volume 20: 2015. Used with permission. Read the series.)

2 Thessalonians 3:6–15

Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example. For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good. If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

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Church Discipline: the Correction of a Believer or the Excommunication of an Unbeliever? (Part 2)

Harmonizing Matthew 18:15–17, 1 Corinthians 5:1–13, and 2 Thessalonians 3:6–15

From Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal (DBSJ), Volume 20: 2015. Used with permission. Read the series so far.

1 Corinthians 5:1–13

It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst. For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.

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