Whatever Happened to Church Discipline?


Christian Reformed Church Order, Article 81 a reads, “Members who have sinned in life or doctrine shall be faithfully disciple by the consistory and, if they persist in their sin, shall be excluded from membership in the church of Christ.”  Preceding and following that statement are more instructions concerning “The Admonition and Discipline of members”. 

I was thinking about discipline in general and from my experience discipline in the home has changed from generation to generation.  I am a retired pastor so when I state my own childhood experience concerning discipline, I recall something that occurred many decades ago.  My father adhered to the old adage, “Spare the rod; spoil the child”.  He did not spoil many of his six children. In fact school faculties were not hesitant to use the same method of discipline. I was the father of one child and if I used the rod it was very seldom if at all.  I raised my voice more than once to be sure to make my point.  I watch parents that are my daughter’s age handle misbehavior of their children and I notice they have conversations with their children rather than the “rod” or even raising their voice. 

In fact as an investigator for Arizona Child Protective Services I soon discovered that using “the rod” caused many a parent to be questioned as to why they inflicted that kind of punishment.  Any marks on the child and the police were called in. 

Methods of discipline have changed.  In fact, if a child receives a reprimand from teacher and complains at home about how unfair the teacher’s reprimand is, the parents will many times question the teacher or even rebuke the teacher for discipline.  In my day, complain about the teacher’s reprimand and the parent would punish you a second time without any investigation or hearing.

So I wonder what has happened to discipline within the church. When I first entered the ministry, I know Classis on a regular basis would receive requests from consistory asking for advice concerning discipline cases.  However, as decades past, less and less of those requests were brought before Classis. I know that it is a difficult function of the church to administer.  Those who are admonished are capable of resigning and/or moving to another church without any consequences.  However the church order still contains the article.  Does your consistory have any discussion concerning “Admonition and Discipline of Members”?   What do you do about members who no longer participate in the church or who persist in a pattern of life that is inconsistent with faith in Jesus Christ?

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