Church discipline is a very difficult area of church practice. Many churches have faltered and compromised in this area to their own peril.

R C Sproul says, “The church is called not only to a ministry of reconciliation, but a ministry of nurture to those within her gates. Part of that nurture includes church discipline.” Any church that claims to obey the Word of God in its teaching and practice is bound by Scripture to maintain order in the household of God.

Church discipline is not an option for the church nor should she have debates over it. It is vital to the purity, power, progress, and purpose of the church of Jesus Christ. Therefore, any church that claims to honour God in her ministry, should exhibit the same zeal and faithfulness in the execution of church discipline as it does in fulfilling the other commands and teachings of Christ. Brethren, church discipline is an integral part of the life of a healthy and God-honouring church. A church that loves God, loves the people of God, and is concerned about the glory of God, will not neglect this means of grace.

This issue of Reformation Zambia has given space to look at this vital subject, and to provide some doctrinal and practical guide on this very important area of doctrine in the life of the church and her membership.

Robert Murray M’Cheyne, a God-fearing man who always had the glory of God as a primary concern in his life and in his church, made the following sober and heart-searching observation on the subject of church discipline. He said, “We must take care that we do not regard the teaching of church discipline as a mere academic subject or mechanical procedure. It involves the eternal welfare of souls, the strength and health of the church, and the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He goes on to say, “I do not think that you will find any who have witnessed the proper exercise of corrective discipline to its final step willing to joke about it or dismiss it with a cavalier (casual) attitude as some have done.”

I want to submit to the readers that the subject of church discipline in whatever form, whether formative or corrective, must be approached and treated with the gravity it deserves.

It is a common trend that whenever the subject of church discipline is discussed, a number of Christians think of it often in the negative. Perhaps this is so because of their experience or the wrong teaching in which this has been executed. More often than not, it has been done in a spirit of harshness, severity, coldness, vindictiveness and loveless-ness. This may be the reason why it is perceived with such negative notions. But that should not be, because church discipline is a helpful and glorious means of grace that brings purity and blessings to the church, and to the disciplined individual, and it brings glory to God in his church.

The church should not be threatened by this subject, but rather should see the blessings that come with this means when done in the right spirit. It is required of the church to maintain order in its organisation and fellowship, and when this order is disturbed or threatened, the church is bound by Scripture to execute discipline as determined by its membership and leadership in accordance with the Scriptures.

The basis and purpose of church discipline is clearly taught throughout the pages of Scripture from both the Old and New Testaments. It is, therefore, important to underscore the fact that the Bible remains as the final authority in all matters of conduct, controversies and church discipline—and not human wisdom or experience.

As a church, our biblical motif, upon which we ought to base the desire to honour God in the matter of church discipline, should be patterned after God the Father himself who is said to discipline his children (Heb. 12:5–11). It is important to appreciate the fact that the Lord has delegated the discipline of the church family to the church itself (1 Cor. 5:9–13; 2 Cor. 2:3–9).

It is also vital to know and believe that the practice of discipline is based on the holy character of God (1 Pet. 1:16). God’s holiness and his desire for the church to be holy is an important reason why the church should jealously uphold order and exercise discipline. A failure to exercise discipline is a clear evidence of lack of awareness and concern for the holiness and glory of God.

The church should, therefore, not turn a blind eye to matters of church discipline. It has a duty to maintain a sound and God-honouring testimony in the world. When the church fails in the area of church discipline, it loses its credibility, authenticity and power to witness to the world. (1 Pet. 2:11–12).

Therefore, it goes without saying that as long as the church is on this side of glory, as the church militant still undergoing the process of sanctification, contending with the onslaughts of the world and the devil, we should definitely expect matters of church discipline to be on the agenda of our discussions and to even execute church discipline where and when it is necessary.

As local churches, we should bemoan the failure to deal biblically with the issue of discipline in our churches. May the articles featured in this issue of Reformation Zambia help to serve as a reminder, rebuke, instruction, and challenge to the churches as we consider the necessity of church discipline, the forms or types of church discipline, the role and procedure of church discipline and the ultimate goal of church discipline—the glory of God.

Let me end with Roger Peterson’s exhortation on church discipline. He says, “A church which has neglected discipline will find difficulty in reinforcing it… An old established church which has neglected discipline in the past will often continue to do so in the future. However, the church that will brave the storms, desiring to be in harmony with God’s law, can anticipate that doing so will result in genuine revival.” AMEN!