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Church discipline is the practice of censuring church members when they are perceived to have sinned in hope that the offender will repent and be reconciled to God and the church. It is also intended to protect other church members from the influence of sin. Excommunication is usually considered a last resort if a person does not repent of their sin.
Catholic Church discipline
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is the oldest of the nine congregations of the Roman Curia. Among the most active of these major Curial departments, it oversees Catholic doctrine. The CDF is the modern name for what used to be the Holy Office of the Inquisition.
According to Article 48 of the Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia, Pastor Bonus, promulgated by Pope John Paul II on June 28, 1988: "the duty proper to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is to promote and safeguard the doctrine on the faith and morals throughout the Catholic world: for this reason everything which in any way touches such matter falls within its competence."
The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments is the congregation of the Roman Curia that handles most affairs relating to liturgical practices of the Latin Catholic Church as distinct from the Eastern Catholic Churches and also some technical matters relating to the Sacraments.
Protestant Church discipline
Along with preaching and proper administration of the sacraments, Protestants during the Reformation considered it one of the marks of a true church. Church discipline is mentioned several times in the Bible.
In I Corinthians 5 and other passages, the Bible teaches that sin if not dealt with in a congregation can contaminate other members of the body of Christ, as leaven spreads through bread. This was an important doctrine in the development of different branches of the Plymouth Brethren movement. It is also an important topic of discussion in many churches today.
The Westminster Confession of Faith sees the three steps of church discipline as being "admonition", "suspension from the sacrament of the Lord's Supper for a season" and then finally excommunication.
The Bible's teaching on corrective Church discipline
Ultimate authority resides in Christ, who authorizes the Church to use it as needed. (Matthew 18:17)
Corrective discipline is for:
- Troublemakers and those who sow discord. (Romans 16:17)
- The unruly and disorderly. (1st Thessalonians 5:14)
- Those who disobey the great doctrines of the faith. (2nd Thessalonians 3:13-14)
- Those who deny the great doctrines of the faith. (1st Timothy 6:3-4)
Procedures in discipline
- Arrange a private meeting with the offender. (Matthew 18:15)
- If a private meeting fails, meet with them and several witnesses. (Matthew 18:16)
- Admonish and warn them. (Titus 3:10)
- As a final resort, bring the matter up to the whole church. (Matthew 18:17)
- Remove their membership, and avoid them. (Romans 16:17)
- Be ready to forgive them when repentance occurs. (2nd Corinthians 2:7)
Purpose of Discipline
- To maintain the standards of the church to a watching world. (Matthew 5:13-16)
- To keep sin from spreading throughout the church. (Joshua 7:3); (1st Corinthians 5:6-7)
- Help the guilty person find their way to God. (2nd Corinthians 2:6-8)
- To escape God's judgment upon habitually sinning saints. (1st Corinthians 11:30)
- Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. .
- For example in 1 Corinthians 5 and Matthew 15:15-18 and Matthew 18:15-20
- Church Discipline, Judgment. Part 1 of 3.Digging in the Word
- Westminster Confession of Faith, xxx.4.
- Dr. H.L. Wilmington Wilmington's Guide to the Bible P. 715