At the first sound of it, the practice of church discipline can catch people off guard. Discipline can give off some pretty negative vibes. Plus, when we hear of discipline in the context of the church, it doesn’t fit in with our concept of a loving community. That’s where we need Scripture to offer a helpful correction, to teach us that discipline, though not pleasant, is good and in the context of the local church, loving and necessary. Here’s how Mark Dever describes church discipline in his article in the CSB Study Bible. Let’s take a look.   


Jesus Christ founded and purchased the church with his blood (Ac 20:28), and he builds it upon acknowledgment and faith in him as Messiah (Mt 16:18). This means the church belongs to Jesus and represents him to the nations. In this light, the purity of the church is vital. Rightly practiced, church discipline helps ensure that purity.


Two categories of church discipline describe ways a church may teach its members right living and right beliefs.

  • Formative Discipline: Formative discipline is a preventative measure. It includes the positive, direct teaching of biblical truth through sermons and Sunday school lessons. It also includes modeling godliness and mentoring new believers.
  • Corrective Discipline: Corrective discipline is used when trouble arises. It can include contradicting, challenging, rebuking, and excommunicating a member for unrepentance or erroneous teachings.

Corrective discipline may seem controversial, but Jesus clearly taught that if a believer continues to sin despite the call to repentance, the church should treat him as if he were “a Gentile and a tax collector” (Mt 18:17). This exclusion from church membership is generically called “church discipline.” It is also called “excommunication” because those under discipline are not permitted to participate in Communion (the Lord’s Supper).


Excommunication is the final stage of church discipline. It is undertaken only if other corrective measures fail to bring the sinner to repentance. Though painful and traumatic, excommunication is not an unloving act. One of the obligations of love is to not leave someone in their sin. “Better an open reprimand than concealed love. The wounds of a friend are trustworthy, but the kisses of an enemy are excessive” (Pr 27:5–6).

Excommunication does not mean that the person should stop attending church. Except in rare cases, the congregation desires the disciplined sinner to continue attending and sitting under the preaching of God’s Word. By this the sinner is confronted by Scripture and his life is observed by the faith community that has disciplined him.

Church discipline need not be permanent. One goal is the repentance of the sinner. Paul rebuked the Corinthian church for not readmitting into membership repentant members whom they had disciplined (2Co 2:6–7). Finally, we should not understand this as an infallible assessment of the eternal state of the person disciplined. It is instead a fallible but serious warning about an evident lack of regeneration.


Church discipline presents to the world and believers a clarifying picture of what it means to follow Christ. It is important to make sinners aware of their sin (e.g., 1Co 5). By confronting persistent sin, the church may reveal hypocrites—both to themselves so that they might repent, and to the church so that the church might distinguish sheep from wolves (see Mt 7).

The practice of church discipline is also an important part of glorifying God, for the church is to reflect God’s holy character in a fallen world (1Pt 1:14–16). God is both merciful and holy. To neglect either aspect of his character is to distort his image and lie about him.

Dig Deeper with the CSB Study Bible

This is just one of thirty-one articles included in the CSB Study Bible. The CSB Study Bible also includes over 16,000 study notes on the text, over 200 full-color resources, and 368 word studies on Hebrew and Greek words. Combined with the study Bible functionality in the Olive Tree app, this is a great resource for studying the Bible. Put this tool to immediate use by purchasing it through the link below!

1 Comment

Write A Comment