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?


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 '16 at 6:58

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