The term discipline conjures up a huge range of actions in most people's minds. A parent disciplining a child could mean time-outs in the corner or a swat on the rear, not getting to hang out with friends, or any number of other things.

Introducing the modifier 'church' probably doesn't do much to clarify. I can imagine the range of things brought to mind by the term church discipline could range from being made to wear a dunce cap during service to 40 lashes.

I have asked about the purpose and Scriptural basis of discipline, but what is an overview of how it is implemented? Is there a common definition for what consequences make up the 'discipline'? What is an overview of methods employed by different traditions?


2 Answers 2


Across denominational lines, the range of practical actions to discipline members can include:

  • Confrontation. To some people, simply pointing out that they are doing something wrong is received as a form of discipline - it can certainly be humbling when this happens. This may be done by a peer or even one in a subordinate relationship, but is more typically done by those who have some form of pastoral duty-of-care.
  • (The act of) Penance. Although penance is not exclusively a Catholic term, the particulars of imposed discipline post-confession as part of the wider Catholic sacrament of penance can be a little unique and vary from saying a certain number of prayers, to reading a portion of scripture, or practicing a particular form of self-denial, or performing a particular act of service or kindness to someone (source).
  • (Mandated) Counselling. Although most churches will have avenues for their members to voluntarily receive counsel geared towards assisting them to overcome various problems; if their "problem" is one that affects a wider group, they may be "strongly encouraged" (ie do this or face alternative consequences) or even formally required to receive counselling regarding the issue.
  • (Temporary) Suspension from serving official and/or volunteer ministry duties.
  • Public Admonition. Rarely used, a significant escalation over private confrontation.
  • Withholding the Sacrament (of the Eucharist / Communion).
  • Demotion (loss of title) or dismissal (from a particular role).
  • Excommunication / disfellowshipping.
  • Re community wiki - feel free to add to or otherwise refine this post with the view to making it a practical resource. May 7, 2016 at 6:58

Protestant Churches The procedure in most Evangelical, or Charismatic churches is a simple following of the scriptures:

  1. Confront the offender (sinner) personally.
  2. If he refuses correction, take the matter to the Elders of the local church, but with witnesses, not just an allegation. (Mtt 18:16)
  3. If the sinner still does not repent (change conduct), then the matter is to be taken to the local church congregation. (Mtt. 18:17)
  4. If the sinner repents, they have saved a brother from destruction. But if he/she still refuses correction, he is to be considered a "heathen." That is not fellowship intimately with the sinner (Mtt. 18:17)

But, as all other unbelievers, the purpose of any Christian is to love people and hope for their redemption, not destruction. (2 Corinthians 2:16, Romans 15:1-3) Any future contact with the sinner is to be with continual encouragement to repent, and be restored.

(See Matthew 16:19, 18:15, 1 Corinthians 5:1-18, 2 Thessalonians 3:14; 1 Timothy 5:20; Romans 16:17, 1 Timothy 1:19-20, Titus 1:13, Galatians 5:10.)

Discipline, according to the Bible, may be because of (a) schisms, (b) heresy, (c) immorality. But there may be other justifiable discipline not herein mentioned---because of modern technology: malicious gossip on social media, pornography, fake news, scams, etc. (See the book of Proverbs re who you should associate with and who are downers. Evil companions corrupt good manners.)

A large number of Protestant churches do not go farther than the local Eldership in discipline. But those who belong to Denominations may appeal to their denomination officers. They usually have a separate committee that deals with such matters of discipline. These CEOs may be considered to be like the Apostles whom local churches in the New Testament appealed to for hard cases. Some of those cases may not be because of sin, but differences of policy or differences of opinion re denominational customs/traditions.

A few "high church" denominations, of course, have a whole hierarchy of ministerial leadership that may become involved in major disciplinary cases (bishops, arch-bishops, etc.)

Watching World Discipline, or the absence thereof, is an important part of Christianity because of the ever-watching world that is so quick "to judge" Christianity (ironically, at the same time ever-quoting the verse, "Don't judge!")

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .