Question and Answer time includes the following panel:
Jay Adams, Jeff Noblit, Paul Washer, and David Miller
What are some of the most common misconceptions of church discipline, and how should we address those concerns?
Adams: For one thing, there are certain sins which are discipline issues, and not others. That is a mistake. Any sin could be actionable if they refuse to do what God says. Another problem is that church discipline is simply getting rid of trouble makers. Another is that it is an unkind sort of thing instead a great kindness of God whereby He makes every measure to bring people back to repentance and faith.
Noblit: We heard, “They will throw you ought of the church.” I was encouraged by Matthew 18 that we were doing what was already decided in heaven, that we were aligning up with God’s will.
Adams: Now there is a man who is after my own heart, who understands what the text says. It “shall have been settled in heaven.”
Washer: People see church discipline is sending people out of the church. It is not. It is tenderly, lovingly correcting them. People often begin where they should not begin. There is also a logical fallacy, viz., that it has been abused in the past; therefore, we should not do it anymore.
What do you do if you are a member of a church that does not practice church discipline? Should you confront the leaders about this issue or should you find another church?
Adams: I think there is no question that you should gently, kindly confront the leaders, not with a kind of attitude like you know better than anybody else, but if you go in the right way, and you present the Scripture, then there is not any Scripture that you shouldn’t bring up to the leaders. And if they do not consider it, then yes, you should pursue Matthew 18 as much as you can (as far as you can go).
Paul, how important is it that missionary church plants to practice discipline, and do you teach your planters about discipline?
Washer: The question is do you plant biblical churches? You cannot have them if you do not obey the Lord of the church. Missions today is a-theological. Missions is to be designed by the exegete and the theologian, and must have your heads stuck in the Scriptures. One of the problems today is the plague of pragmatism. We are not called into in th decrees of God; we are to obey His commands. We fail to see that if a man spends his entire life spending one biblical church, he did something angels cannot do. We must practice church discipline, but we must practice everything else God commands us to do.
Where should a church start discipline when 50% of the church does not attend church, and what are some practical steps to this?
Noblit: We have made a lot of blunders, but I would suggest that you begin by cleaning up the membership roll. We dismissed 500 at one time from the roll that were inactive, etc., but we learned that some did not need to be disciplined. It’s probably not right if you do not know for sure that discipline is necessary. We are updating the rolls until specifically we know the issues, so that we can with good knowledge know the spiritual state of each person. Until God gave you a 1 Cor. 5 issue, I would try to get the deadwood off and take steps from there (i.e. removing inactive members).
Adams: Go to those and seek forgiveness, telling them that you were not the shepherds that we should have been, by letting you go astray. Would you forgive us? Okay, not that you have forgiven us, we are going to be the shepherds and discipline you.
Washer: I was in a church when the leadership realized that they should practice church discipline. All the leadership stood up to the church and apologized.
How long does this process take when it comes to the point when someone is removed from the church?
Adams: That varies according to situations; not two are precisely the same. I would probably think that it is not going to take months, but a lot sooner than that (a few months at the max). I don’t think we get to these things fast enough.
Noblit: One of the things we wanted to make clear is that we haven’t arrived, even though we have dealt with dozens and dozens of cases. Sometimes people show repentance and they fall back. I would say that we have failed in that we have not gone quickly enough, probably because very few other churches in our area does this, and we have been severely criticized by others that we are too harsh. In trying to be overly compassionate as a result, we have sinned against those who need to be brought to repentance.
Adams: If you have waited too long, the problem has multiplied.
If someone is asked to leave the church, but they want to come back without repentance, how are they kept out of the church? Lock the doors? Call the police?
Adams: I would be happy to talk about that. How do you handle a heathen and a publican? You try to win him to the Lord. You share the gospel. We do not want to keep them out of the church, unless they are divisive, and that is another case.
Noblit: You may be implying that they are a sinful or divisive influence. MacArthur points out that they have actually that they were so regular in attendance and open immoralities that they were considered as part of the church and were asked that they stop attending.
Adams: That raises another issue–letting people attending forever without ever making a profession of faith and joining the church.
Washer: We are seeing in these cases, there are various issues, and wisdom is crucial. As a pastor, you must live in the Word, know Proverbs, and you need divine wisdom from God’s Word, and nothing can replace an enduring lifestyle of being in God’s Word and in prayer.
Where do we find the concept of church membership from Scriptures?
Noblit: Acts 2 the Lord added the number those who were being saved; Heb. 10:24-25 do not forsake the assembling together . . .. Exercising your spiritual gifts and ministering to one another takes places in a formal gather of believers.
Washer: One thing is very important here, this question betrays church life as a product of our culture. You are not a part of local, biblical assembly, under the care of elders–that is not the way Jesus designed the church. You need to be under the care and protection of the church.
What about discipling young people who are still under the authority of their parents who are still in their home?
Adams: I would bring parents and children in together and try to bring about some kind of harmonious resolution that everybody would agree to.
Noblit: Typically, we defer to the authority of the parents and encourage them to deal with the issues with their children.
Is a signed church covenant essential to church discipline?
Noblit: We do ask that people sign a church covenant before joining the church body. A person needs to understand the responsibilities of members. Also we had a lawsuit in the church, and the lawyers recommended that we explain in our covenant the responsibilities of a church in discipline.
Miller: The church is a local, visible congregation of baptized disciplines who are united in the belief of what the Lord has said and are covenanting to do what the Lord has commanded. The idea of covenant is essential to the very nature of the church. Selah.
[missed a few questions to take some photos–questions on personal evangelism, sanctification, when a person under discipline leaves to join another church, and when a church ceases to become a church]
What advice would you give for someone who wants to be a church planter?
Washer: Young men come to me and tell me that they want to go to seminary to become a youth minister. I tell them not to do it.
Washer: I will want them to learn Greek, Hebrew, systematic theology, preaching, and hermeneutics; then I want them to learn logic and church history. I want to them to read through the Scriptures systematically and memorize Scripture. We don’t need all this specialization; we simply needs to know the Scripture and church history so that we do not reinvent the wheel. The best place to train a man is in a church under godly ministers and elders, and we have lost that. A man goes off to seminary, but can a seminary do for him? He is sent by the church to be trained; a seminary at best can only provide tools, and so he is never brought under the nurturing and yet he is sent out there to plant there.
I think we should plant churches around seminaries. They are limited; they are not the church. God has only one organization in the world–it is the church. What has happened to us? It is not an organization–it’s an organism. I want to make a t-shirt that says, “It’s the church, stupid!”
Noblit: A biblically healthy church is a place where a young minister and they will send out more preachers and planters than any seminary.