Poll: Church discipline and non-members

9 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Gary on June 10, 2009 at 10:46 am

    I voted “no”, but I wanted a category between “yes” and “no” which would allow for evaluation of individual cases. A particular non-member may be very involved, to the extent that many people would be surprised to learn he is a non-member. For certain individuals like that, discipline may be appropriate, the same as if he were an actual member.

  2. Posted by fatherof11 on June 10, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    I voted yes, but essentially agree with Gary that I would prefer another choice. It seems that there is this group of people that are functional a part of the local body, but not formally a part of the local body. How ought we to treat them in this regard?

    It seems to me that if they are functionally a part of our local body then there is no reason to not treat them as one for the purposes of restoration/discipline. Since the process is first for their good (winning our brother) and second for the protection of the flock (treating them as a heathen and a tax collector), these would seem to still apply whether the were formally a member of the church or not. Or if we are going to place such an emphasis on formal membership, we probably need to be lovingly confronting them earlier about the fact that they have not formally committed to the local body.

    On the other hand, I don’t think this would apply to someone who just shows up for a couple of times, unless they posed a danger to someone in the flock,


  3. Why would you allow a non-member to be so actively involved in the church? It seems to me that church discipline is reserved for members of the church because those are the ones you have been given the “right” (because they joined) to exercise oversight. In other words, elders are called to complete oversight of their flock. I am not sure I want to allow non-members to be so involved because I can’t exercise proper biblical oversight (how do you excommunicate some one who is not a member and can’t commune?). I don’t discipline the neighbors children. Granted, if a neighbor who is a Christian is overtaken in a sin, I believe I should lovingly “help” him, but I can’t disicplien him.

  4. i marked no, but also believe there would be some exceptions.

    we have some people in our church who have been taught church membership is actually anti-biblical (not that it isn’t required, but actually that it is wrong to ever become a member of a church) and therefore they are committed to our church, yet have not become actual members.

    also, we have a few paedobaptists in our assembly who cannot become members (since they have not participated in believer’s baptism), yet they are quite committed to our body and we would hold them accountable.

  5. Posted by Tony Henson on June 10, 2009 at 10:07 pm

    I voted no, but I must admit my vote is mostly for practical reasons.

    In today’s world a church that attempts to practice church discipline on an attender who has not submitted to the authority of the church by becoming a member, is a church itching for a lawsuit.

    I find long term attenders to be a troubling thing. I understand that some don’t join for the reasons discussed above, they have been taught that church membership is unbiblical. The elders of the church should make a special effort in that case to teach the attender the error of their viewpoint.

    But many long term attenders do not have this excuse for not joining. For these attenders I think the elders should apply some gentle pressure to make them understand the importance of committing to the local church. I even think that at some point, after a season of encouragement to commit, the elders should lovingly suggest to a long term attender that if they cannot commit to the church they are attending, perhaps they should find another church to which they can commit.

    In short, I think that this question should be a mute one. Regular attenders of a church (excluding very young children, of course) should be members of the church who have been taught that the church practices loving church discipline/restoration, and who have agreed to submit themselves to this by joining the church.

  6. We wrestled through this a few years ago after a faithful attendee fell into unrepentant sin. Our Bylaws did not specifically address this issue – it only talked about discipline in the member section but did not say anything about non members. Elsewhere our Bylaws gave the elders unilateral ability to make all necessary decisions for the ministry of the church. We opted to do discipline.

    Out of all of that we did a thorough reworking of our Bylaws and doctrinal statement and we added a section about “life in community” to outline the believer’s responsibility to Christ and the local church as well as the leader’s responsibility to Christ and the people of the local church. It was a valuable exercise. We added this statement to the front of our Bylaws to help people understand that our responsibility to hold the accountable as a “believer” was not predicated upon their willingness to join. If they attend the church regularly, we have an obligation before God to shepherd them as scripture commands us.

    Here’s the quote:
    We encourage you to expressly embrace these Commitments and formally join Grace Bible Church by going through our membership process. An application that defines the process of becoming a member may be obtained from our Church Office.

    If you are not yet ready to become a member, you and your family are certainly welcome to attend our worship services and Bible classes, to find fellowship in a fellowship group, and seek assistance from our leaders. Please also realize that if you continue relating to us in any of these ways, you are giving your consent to these commitments (by your attendance) even if you are not formally a member of Grace Bible Church.

  7. Posted by colin saxton on February 20, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    It depends how you define a member. Todays membership scheme works quite well for the church. You can attend a church for sometime but never be a member…you will take their offering, you will allow them to take communion (even before they have confessed that Jesus Christ is their Lord)…and so on…however because they are not “members” (which in some churches just means they are allowed to attend the church meetings) then you can’t discipline them….we need to get back to the bible.

    If someone is in the congregation every week then they fall under the discipline of the church because they are mixing in your congregation. This is like saying you wouldn’t discipline sexual immorality of individuals because they don’t have their name on the member ship role…wouldn’t you put him or her out of the congregation or would you just let the roam around the congregation…what if someone generally entered the congregation who was looking for a church and then found out this other regular “attendee” gets drunk at the weekend and has sexual partners whenever they like…wouldn’t you discipline them!?

    Church membership is automatic as soon as someone begins to mingle in the flock. At that point elders in the church need to assess whether or not they are wolves or generally looking for Jesus Christ. This membership role list is not biblical and it astounds me!! Ask your leaders for the difference between members and those who come to church every week? Ask them for the biblical difference? There isn’t one because the bible doesn’t teach it that way.

  8. Posted by colin saxton on February 20, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    …sorry for the double post…Just wanted to put it another way…A wolf slips into a sheep fold and the shepherd doesn’t realise. Then he spots the wolf but decides to leave it because it isn’t a sheep!? It doesn’t make sense does it!? You put out the wolf otherwise it will ravage the flock and it won’t care whether they have their name on a membership role or not!? That didn’t take a lot of wisdom to figure out did it!!

  9. Posted by fred on June 15, 2011 at 9:25 am

    If we have not availed ourselves to the hard privilege of church discipline (as necessary), can we truly say we have submitted to God’s ruling in and through His church?

    Of course, if your church does not practice church discipline, this point is moot. And, I might add, your church may not be a true church in the first place.

    “church discipline is rarely done in the modern church, and because it is rarely done, when it is done, it is rarely done well. As with everything, we have to turn to the Scriptures for guidance and protection.

    ‘ I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.’

    A moment’s reflection shows the need for discipline. In a fallen world, sin will seek to corrupt anything of value. When sin begins to work, the one in a position to discipline has a choice to make. Discipline is inescapable. At that point, we will either discipline the sin, or we will discipline the righteous. But as long as the antithesis between the two exists (which is to say, throughout history) we must choose one way or the other. (Jay E. Adams, Handbook of Church Discipline (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986).

    Scripture does not just command the discipline. We find in the Bible five basic reasons to practice church discipline. Not surprisingly, these biblical reasons for disciplining usually anticipate and answer some of the most common objections.

    First, we are to discipline to glorify God–our obedience in this matter glorifies God. We know that God intends discipline for His church (Matt 18:15-19, Rom 16:17, 1 Cor 5, 1 Thes 5:14, 2 Thes 3:6-15, 1 Tim 5:20, 6:3, Tit 1:13, 2:15, 3:10, Rev 2:2, 14-15, 20). God tells us what to do, and because we are His people we are called to do it. This answers the objection, “Who do you think you are?” We do not discipline in our own name, or on our own authority. The Bible says that our good works (when defined by Scripture) glorify God (Matt 5:16).

    Second, we are to discipline in order to maintain the purity of the church. If we measure the “success” of discipline by whether or not the offender is restored, we will be forced to conclude that sometimes it “doesn’t work”. But if we see other things accomplished by means of discipline, our perspective changes. Conducted biblically, church discipline always purifies the church (1 Cor 5:6-8). It also prevents the profanation of the Lord’s Table (1 cor 11:27). This also answers the common objection against the faith–“too many hypocrites in church.”

    Third, we are to discipline to prevent God from setting Himself against the church. If we have a choice to distance ourselves from sin, and we choose rather to identify ourselves with it, then what will a holy God do? We see that God will come Himself and discipline a church which does not willingly follow Him in this (Rev 2:14-25).

    Fourth, we are to discipline in an attempt to resotre the offender. We are not promised that the offender will be restored, but this end is nonetheless one of our goals. This rationale is clearly sset forth in Scripture (Matt 18:15, 1 Cor 5:5, Gal 6:1). This purpose answers the objection that “discipline is ahrsh and unloving.” The goal is not to destroy the offender; the goal is a confrontation in which we formally proest the fact that the offender is destroying himself. Discipline is an act of love.

    And fifth, we are to discipline to deter others from sin–the Bible teaches that consequences for sin detor others (Ecc 8:11, 1 Tim 5:20). The objection here is that “people sure wouldn’t want to mention any of their spiritual problems around those elders!” But the issue is always impenitence, and if someone is intending to continue in sin impenitent, then he had better not mention it to any of the elders. But if he struggles against sin, as all of us do, then he will find nothing in church discipline except an aid in that struggle.

    What does biblical discipline look like once it has been implemented? Many misunderstand what is actually being done in discipline. Discipline is not shunning or avoiding. It is rather avoiding company on the other’s terms.

    the most obvious result is that the one disciplined is refused access to the Lord’s Supper, as well as the general communion which that Supper seals. But the offender is not being denied kindness, courtesy, opportunity to hear the word preached, the duties owed to him by others, or anything else due him according to the law of love. he is merely denied one thing: the right to define the Christian faith.” ~ Douglas Wilson, Mother Kirk: Essays and Forays in Practical Ecclesiology, (Canon Press, 2001), 158-159

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