Church Discipline Doesn’t Work?
Church discipline is not popular and is rarely practiced in Thai churches, and the same can be said for churches in the West. When it is practiced, it is often for those “big” sins like adultery or embezzlement of church funds. Other repeat offenses like slander, gossip and divisiveness are unrightly overlooked. The term conjures up images of judgmental, critical, self-righteous nitpicks who stick their nose in other people's business where it doesn’t belong. Many Christians incorrectly see the goal of church discipline as punishment, despite the fact that the Bible says that the goal of church discipline is restoration and reconciliation.
Restorative church discipline is in the Bible (Matthew 18:15-20, 1 Corinthians 5, 2 Corinthians 2:5-11) so shouldn’t we practice it? Some would say “No” because it doesn’t “work.” The argument goes something like this, “If we try to discipline this person than they will get upset with us and our relationship will be ruined. If we don’t have a relationship with that person anymore than we no longer have the opportunity to speak into their life.” Another objection is, “If we try to do discipline then the person will just leave and find another church somewhere else.” One objection that I have not heard in the U.S., but have regularly encountered in Thailand is, “We can’t say anything to the person. We just need to pray for them and leave it up to God. It is God’s job to take care of the situation.” None of these objections are satisfactory because they display either an ignorance of the Bible’s teaching or a flat out lack of faith that what God says to do is really the best course of action.
In our current ministry situation, there are some messy issues in the church that require discipline yet are very difficult because of the overall state of the church. I am getting a hands on education on church life and Thai culture. Thai culture in general is very adverse to confrontation. There is a high value upon maintaining outward harmony in relationships even if that means suppressing true feelings and hurts, and allowing bitter wounds to fester for years. There is not a high value on reconciliation. It is discouraging to see those inside the church acting worse than those outside of it.
However, in the midst of these things, I read an encouraging story of a pastor, a church, and a man who was on a very long journey into sin before the grace of God restored him to the loving fellowship of the church. The following three posts from the Founders Ministries blog are worth reading in their entirety as a good example of how church discipline can be exercised in a loving, compassionate yet firm way, and through the grace of God, still have a happy ending.
Long Journey in Church Discipline - Part 1
Long Journey in Church Discipline - Part 2
Long Journey in Church Discipline - Part 3