"The marks by which a true Christian Church is known are these:
if the pure doctrine of the gospel in preached therein;
if she maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ;
if church discipline is exercised in the punishing of sin."
Have you noticed? Church discipline is back in vogue in conservative Christian churches, particularly those that are Calvinista strongholds.
When I think of church discipline, I think of Mark Dever. Here he is talking about one of his favorite topics.
Is church discipline getting a bad rap? YES and NO
Church discipline has become so popular in some circles that it inspired a RAP song. Curtis (Curt) Allen, a pastor at Solid Rock Church (part of Sovereign Grace Ministries) wrote a song about it back in 2008 called Don't Go. Unlike the self-proclaimed pastor-athlete C.J. Mahaney, Curt is a pastor-rapper. You can read about him here on A View From the Cheap Seats.
Check out these lyrics from Don't Go.
To whom it may concern: I hope this letter finds you doing good
It just so happens, I’m rapping in your neck of the woods
I heard you thinking ‘bout leaving the flock. Your secret sin has been exposed
Now church discipline got you hot. It’s embarrassing
You thinking that everybody is judging you
And not realizing this process is loving you. It’s biblical, believe it or not
And its invent was meant for you to repent, not vent and leave the flock
You gotta understand a pastor’s position, if you sinning and won’t repent
Then you are living like a non-Christian
It’d be foolish to judge the past fruits of your life
And be like, “All right, I think they in good standing with Christ”
This is serious, as Scripture teaches that what you gotta do
Is repent and believe the gospel that was a part of you
If you don’t, your sin can’t be condoned, but we hoping that it won’t go there
Repent and come back home
To read all the lyrics and download the song from the SGM Store for less than a buck, go here.
Before you think I'm ragging on Curtis, you need to know that I actually have a lot of respect for him. Why? Because he is one of the only SGM pastors who has shown genuine compassion for those who have been victimized in Sovereign Grace Ministries. Several months ago he engaged in a dialogue over at SGM Survivors and even fielded some questions. That took a lot of courage, and I applaud Curtis for his bravery.
Getting back to the SGM rap song, I believe these lyrics demonstrate that church discipline in some churches has gone over to the dark side. Why in the world is church discipline the subject of a rap song? I'd love to know who suggested it.
YES, church discipline is definitely getting a BAD RAP – pun intended!
Now for the real purpose of this post.
Is church discipline getting a BAD RAP, which we define as "unjustified criticism"?
Have you noticed that church discipline has almost become a cottage industry?
Take a look at the 9 Marks book we featured at the top of the post. According to Amazon, this book will be coming out at the end of April, right after the Together for the Gospel conference. How convenient! Conference attendees will in all likelihood preorder the book for an early May delivery. The number of books, sermons, blog posts, articles, and videos about church discipline is staggering! Just Google it and you will see what I mean.
I did some research and discovered that Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has been highly outspoken about church discipline for well over a decade. Perhaps he knew about Mark Dever's Nine Marks when he penned this article: "Church Discipline: The Missing Mark" which was featured in Chapter 8 of The Compromised Church: The Present Evangelical Crisis (1998). It certainly appears that Al Mohler and Mark Dever have been strategizing how to re-implement church discipline for quite a while.
Mohler concludes his church discipline article with these words:
"The mandate of the church is to maintain true gospel doctrine and order. A church lacking these essential qualities is, biblically defined, not a true church. That is a hard thing to say, for it clearly indicts thousands of American congregations who long ago abandoned this essential mark and have accommodated themselves to the spirit of the age. Fearing lawsuits and lacking courage, these churches allow sin to go unconfronted, and heresy to grow unchecked. Inevitably, the false unity they seek to preserve gives way to the factions that inevitably follow the gradual abandonment of biblical Christianity. They do not taste the true unity of a church grounded on the truth and exercising the ministry of the keys.
John Leadley Dagg, the author of a well-known and influential church manual of the nineteenth century, noted: “It has been remarked, that when discipline leaves a church, Christ goes with it.”16 If so, and I fear it is so, Christ has abandoned many churches who are blissfully unaware of His departure.
At the end of the twentieth century, the great task of the church is to prove itself to be the genuine church revealed in the New Testament— proving its authenticity by a demonstration of pure faith and authentic community. We must regain the New Testament concern for fidelity of doctrine, purity of life, and unity of fellowship. We must recover the missing mark."
A decade ago Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Trustee of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Founder of Nine Marks sat down with Wyman Richardson and answered some questions. The questions and answers were recorded in an article entitled: Concerning Church Discipline: An Interview With Dr. Mark E. Dever. The interview begins with these questions (in bold) and answers.
"Dr. Dever, we do appreciate you granting us this interview.
Thank you very much. I’m delighted to spend the time with you.
We will be referencing two things rather frequently throughout this interview, so I suspect we need to offer some definitions up front. Dr. Dever, if you don’t mind, could you give us a definition of (1) church membership and (2) church discipline?
“Church membership” would be the concept that there are a certain number of people who have committed themselves before the Lord and with each other to the service of God in a particular local assembly, in a particular local church. “Church discipline” is really the larger idea of us as Christians realizing that in that church part of the function is for us to help each other grow up in Christ.
Commonly, when people use “church discipline,” they don’t mean it in the formative sense, but only in the corrective sense. But really, technically, it would be all of the training we do: Sunday School, preaching, everything. That would be considered formative, the positive side. Negatively, when you correct somebody, it’s called “corrective church discipline,” and that’s usually taken from Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5, and elsewhere, but mainly from those two texts about how we should try to realize that our brother’s or sister’s sanctification is partly our responsibility also. Then, when we confront them, if they don’t change, as Jesus says in Matthew 18, after being confronted by us alone, and then by two or three others that come with us, then finally, our appeal is to the ecclesia. That’s the word that’s used there in Matthew 18. It’s to the church. And so we take it not to the Southern Baptist Convention or not to simply the pastor and staff or to the board of deacons, but we take it to the church. And so it’s called “church discipline.”
You have dealt with the topics of church membership and church discipline in your book Nine Marks of a Healthy Church and also in the book Polity, which is a collection of writings. But you contributed an essay to that and edited it.
Why have you felt led to focus so much on these two topics?
Well, because when I look at the gospel in America today, I think one of the main roadblocks is not our lack of telling people, though I want us to tell people more, but it’s what our churches look like when they’re full of people who say they know it and believe it. And I think our churches are one of the main roadblocks to our evangelism. So I don’t think we need one hundred more churches doing Evangelism Explosion. I think we need one hundred more churches practicing church discipline. And once those churches begin to look distinct from the world, then all of a sudden the verbal witness that all of the Christians give starts to mean a lot more."
It certainly appears that Al Mohler and Mark Dever have been two of the leading voices for church discipline. We will continue this topic of discussion in our upcoming post.
Lydia's Corner: Jeremiah 1:1-2:30 Philippians 4:1-23 Psalm 75:1-10 Proverbs 24:17-20