In 1998, when Immanuel Baptist Church of Little Rock, Arkansas, was called upon to discipline President Bill Clinton for his infidelity, the church refused. At the time, Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University (Southern Baptist) commented, “Church discipline was common among Baptists until early this century...” (AP, Sept. 12, 1998). Dean Register, president of the Mississippi Baptist Convention, said, “It’s very unusual for Southern Baptist churches to take disciplinary action against an individual” (The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Mississippi, Sept. 13, 1998).
Neglect of discipline is not a problem that is isolated to Southern Baptist churches. It is widespread across the entire realm of “evangelicalism.” In “Church Discipline: The Missing Mark,” R. Albert Mohler, Jr., observed: “The decline of church discipline is perhaps the most visible failure of the contemporary church. No longer concerned with maintaining purity of confession or lifestyle, the contemporary church sees itself as a voluntary association of autonomous members, with minimal moral accountability to God, must less to each other. ... The present generation of both ministers and church members is virtually without experience of biblical discipline. ... By the 1960s, only a minority of churches even pretended to practice regulative church discipline. ... Consumed with pragmatic methods of church growth and congregational engineering, most churches leave moral matters to the domain of the individual conscience” (from chapter 8 of The Compromised Church, edited by John H. Armstrong, Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1998).
Even among staunch fundamental Baptist churches, the ones that are so frequently labeled “legalistic,” there is a rapid decline in the practice of church discipline. Most of the big ones simply don’t practice discipline and have never done so. And a great many of the smaller ones avoid anything that would interfere with the popular philosophy of “get as many as you can as fast as you can.” They wouldn’t dream of being cautious about baptism and receiving members, of requiring that pastors meeting the standards of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, of maintaining high moral standards for all workers, of requiring that deacons and other officers have a good testimony in their families.
Great numbers of fundamental Baptist churches are filled with members in good standing, including large numbers of young people, who are brazenly indulging in the type of sins that are the focus of 1 Corinthians 5 discipline, especially fornication (e.g., shacking up, pornography, public nakedness, homosexuality), covetousness, and idolatry. Their social media exhibits irrefutable evidence of this, but the pastors don’t care enough about God’s Word.
It is doubtless true that church discipline has been abused at times, but this is no excuse to neglect it. Churches are commanded by God to exercise discipline toward erring members. It is not an optional part of a New Testament church. See Matthew 18:15-18; 1 Corinthians 5; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15; 1 Timothy 5:19-20; Titus 3:9-11. Discipline has the two-fold purpose of bringing the sinning church member to repentance and keeping the church body pure so it can be salt and light in this world. Proper church discipline is a matter of love—love for God, love for for holiness, love for the truth, love for Christ’s testimony in the church, and love for the brethren.
Pastors who refuse to lead their churches in the exercise of discipline are in open rebellion against the Chief Shepherd, are helping to create the immoral climate that exists in Western civilization today, and are fulfilling 2 Timothy 4:3-4, regardless of whether they call themselves American Baptists, Southern Baptists, Conservative Baptists, or fundamental Baptists.
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
See the following:
“Biblical Church Discipline” (Report)
New Testament Church Discipline by James Crumpton (Free eBook)
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