Marks of a True Church: Exercise of Church Discipline

from Feb 06, 2013 Category: Articles

The third mark of a true church, church discipline, has a largely negative connotation in our culture, but the biblical idea is both positive and negative.

A person is brought into the church by baptism and is nourished, or disciplined, by the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the Lord’s Supper. All true believers need to be disciplined by these means until the Lord comes again; therefore, they should receive the preaching of the Word from their pastors and partake of the Lord’s Supper when it is served by the church elders. By these means, church leaders carry out the positive form of church discipline. It is positive in the sense that members are encouraged, built up, and strengthened through God’s appointed means and appointed messengers. Scripture exhorts believers to “obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb. 13:17). By contrast, discipline in its negative form involves the “punishing of sin” (Belgic Confession, Art. 29) in those who are unrepentant.

Discipline promotes God’s holiness (Ezek. 36:16–21; 1 Cor. 5:1–5), protects the church from infection (1 Cor. 5:6; Heb. 12:15–16; 2 Tim. 2:14, 16–18), and restores the rebellious, making clear the seriousness of their resistance to Christ’s Word and church (1 Cor. 5:5; 2 Cor. 2:5–11; Heb. 3:12–13; 10:24–25; 12:11–16).

Where can seekers of the truth find the authentic Jesus Christ, His authentic gospel, an authentic church? By looking for the three biblical marks of preaching, the administration of the two sacraments, and the exercise of godly church discipline, the diligent and discriminating person may find the genuine article. With so many “churches” in any given local community, it is imperative that one find a congregation that is a true Christian “church,” one in which Jesus Christ truly meets with His people in Word and sacrament, and shepherds them by the discipline of His undershepherds, the pastors and elders.

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This blog series is adapted from Welcome to a Reformed Church by Daniel Hyde.