Three Goals of Church Discipline

More from Scott Manetsch and church discipline in Geneva.

Geneva’s ministers believed ecclesiastical discipline had three primary purposes or goals. First, moral correction helped preserve the purity of Christ’s church and protected the Lord’s Supper from being profaned. Second,  church discipline was intended to protect Christians from the bad influence of wicked people. Third, moral discipline was intended to shame rebellious sinners, thereby hastening their repentance and making possible restoration to the Christian community.

Two notes on this.

The primary goal of church discipline is always to honor Christ and his church. While we want to see sinners restored that is not the primary aim. Christ is honored when ministers consider his church, which he shed his blood for, precious enough to remove those who through heresy or wicked living flagrantly dishonor Christ. A refusal to do this is a refusal to love Jesus.

Second, the loss of shame across our society has made church discipline much less effective. Even in churches shame is considered a bad thing, something to be avoided. How can a sinner be brought to repentance without being ashamed of his actions? The only goal of discipline is not to shame a person. Nor is the shame to exceed the nature and gravity of the sin. Still, without shame excommunication loses its power. It is a terrible thing for men’s souls when they can go down the road, head held high, and join another church after having been excommunicated.