Church discipline is a serious and necessary part of biblical Christianity. Daily repentance and confession of sin is to be present in every Christian’s life and when repentance is not present in the life of a Christian, those whom God has placed to lead each local congregation is to confront the church member regarding the member’s sin (1 Cor 5). Speaking with many Southern Baptists, I have come to realize that church discipline is almost completely void in many, if not most, Southern Baptist churches. This absence of rebuke and tolerance of unrepentant sin will destroy a church and condemn a church member.
Interestingly, the absence of church discipline was also a problem in Puritan Richard Baxter’s era and context. His words in The Reformed Pastor are sobering and worthy of reflection.
How many ministers are there in England that know not their own charge, and cannot tell who are the members of it; that never cast out one obstinate sinner, nor brought one to public confession and promise of reformation, nor even admonished one publicly to call him to such repentance! But they think they do their duty, if they give them not the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, (when it is perhaps avoided voluntarily by the persons themselves); and in the mean time, we leave them stated members of our churches, (for church membership does not consist merely in partaking of the Lord’s supper, else what are children who have been baptized in their infancy?) and grant them all other communion with the Church, and call them not to personal repentance for their sin. Is it not God’s ordinance that they should be personally rebuked and admonished, and publicly called to repentance, and be cast out if they remain impenitent? If these be no duties, why have we made such a noise and stir in the world about them? If they be duties, why do we not practice them? Many of them avoid the very hearing of the Word. The ancient discipline of the Church was stricter, when the Sixth General Council at Trull ordained, that ‘Whosoever was three days together from church, without urgent necessity, was to be excommunicated.’