The Secular Case for Church Discipline

imageThere’s an old saying—“You’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” Sometimes, Christians employ this adage when it comes to exercising church discipline, whether it be on an individual basis or over an entire congregation. We’d rather try to win the errant brother over with honey, rather than calling a thing what it is. When Christians act in this way, they show that they don’t really believe God’s Word has the power to bring a sinner to repentance.

Though the sinful flesh doesn’t take God at His Word, it’s interesting that the world often does. In a sense, secular society around us practices a form of church discipline…just without the church part (or at least the holy Christian kind). St. Paul writes in Romans 2, “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts…”

Take, for instance, the case of former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich. This was a man who was more than qualified to serve as Mozilla’s CEO after working with the company from its inception—even working on predecessor projects to the now famous Firefox browser. In 2014, after Eich was promoted to CEO, the news broke that he made a $1,000 contribution to the campaign of California’s Proposition 8, a measure that sought to protect natural marriage in that state. Moral outrage, stirred up by the gay lobby, resulted in Eich’s resignation from the position. In effect, church discipline had been carried out.

We can almost certainly think of many such cases of bakers, florists, photographers, and venue owners who have committed a manifest sin against the orthodoxy of American culture; surely, there has been enough ink spilled over these cases. However, what we ought to note is the effect that such measures have. First, this secular exercise of the keys sends the message that heterodoxy and heresy will not be tolerated. If there is any deviation from the creeds and confessional documents of the culture, the cultural clergy warn and threaten the errant brother. If the errant brother continues in his sin, he is put under discipline. Smiting the blasphemer in this way serves to silence him, so that his ideas would not spread to those around him. The cultural clergy recognize that failure to discipline such a man would only embolden him and put a tacit stamp of approval on his false teaching. Second, secular church discipline also makes an example out of the fallen. Others who may hold to the false teaching may be deterred from speaking of it publicly, or they may even be dissuaded from that opinion. Additionally, the weaker brothers, who don’t understand all the nuances of the controversial doctrine, are shown the narrow way. Even the College of Cardinals that sits in the judges’ chambers of our nation has asserted itself in this matter, exercising the discipline from the upper ranks of the hierarchy. In the case of homosexual “marriage,” this discipline has proven to be quite effective. It appears that our nation is heading toward full acceptance and canonization of this doctrine.

But what of the holy Christian Church? Will the Church stand up to false teaching in her midst? Will she warn the errant brother? If he doesn’t repent, will he be removed? Without exercising the keys rightly, the false teacher and his followers will only grow bolder in their teaching. Some say that a little leaven leavens the whole (like Jesus and St. Paul). As if this were not bad enough, the weaker brethren of the church are left in confusion. Some of their leaders say to ordain women is perfectly acceptable, others do not. Some say the creation account in Genesis is a poem, others say it’s historical fact. Some say the means of grace aren’t important in the Church’s mission, others say that those means are the heart and center of it. When two contradictory theological ideas persist, the Church must act to protect the weak and discipline the one in error.

We need not be afraid. God’s Word is like a hammer that breaks the rock (Jeremiah 23:29). The Lord’s Word accomplishes that for which He purposes it, and it succeeds in the thing for which He sends it (Isaiah 55:11). God’s Word has the power to create a clean heart and renew a right spirit within a person (51:10). There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine who need no repentance (Luke 15:7). O Lord, send us a Nathan to kill us with Your Law and revive us by Your Gospel. Amen.

  1. Preserve Your Word, O savior,
    To us this latter day,
    And let Your kingdom flourish;
    Enlarge Your Church, we pray.
    O keep our faith from failing;
    Keep hope’s bright star aglow.
    Let nothing from truth turn us
    While living here below.

  2. Preserve, O Lord, Your honor,
    The bold blasphemer smite;
    Convince, convert, enlighten
    The souls in error’s night.
    Reveal Your will, dear Savior,
    To all who dwell below,
    Great light of all the living,
    That all Your name may know.

  3. Preserve Your Word and preaching,
    The truth that makes us whole,
    The mirror of Your glory,
    The pow’r that saves the soul.
    Oh, may this living water,
    This dew of heav’nly grace,
    Sustain us while here living
    Until we see Your face.


(LSB 658: stzs. 1, 2, and 4)

About Pastor Jordan McKinley

Rev. Jordan McKinley is the pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Vallonia, IN. He’s a 2012 graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, IN, and a 2006 graduate of Ball State University in Muncie, IN. He served his vicarage at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Pagosa Springs, CO, and served from June 2012 to August 2015 at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Bennett, IA, and St. Paul Lutheran Church in Stanwood, IA. He is the husband of one wife, Andrea, and the father of three (Naomi, Collin, and Theodore). Though he has a deep and abiding love of all things Star Trek, he will not likely be writing any theological treatises in Klingon.


The Secular Case for Church Discipline — 12 Comments

  1. I don’t know how I was gifted the stock photo featuring Tom Wilkerson, but I’ll take it!

  2. Thank you, Rev. Mckinley!

    I’d like to share my favorite Reformation Hymn…that, for some reasons didn’t make it into LSB.

    “O Lord, Look Down from Heaven, Behold”
    by Martin Luther, 1483-1546

    1. O Lord, look down from heaven, behold
      And let Thy pity waken:
      How few are we within Thy Fold,
      Thy saints by men forsaken!
      True faith seems quenched on every hand,
      Men suffer not Thy Word to stand;
      Dark times have us o’ertaken.

    2. With fraud which they themselves invent
      Thy truth they have confounded;
      Their hearts are not with one consent
      On Thy pure doctrine grounded.
      While they parade with outward show,
      They lead the people to and fro,
      In error’s maze astounded.

    3. May God root out all heresy
      And of false teachers rid us
      Who proudly say: “Now, where is he
      That shall our speech forbid us?
      By right or might we shall prevail;
      What we determine cannot fail;
      We own no lord and master.”

    4. Therefore saith God, “I must arise,
      The poor My help are needing;
      To Me ascend My people’s cries,
      And I have heard their pleading.
      For them My saving Word shall fight
      And fearlessly and sharply smite,
      The poor with might defending.”

    5. As silver tried by fire is pure
      From all adulteration,
      So through God’s Word shall men endure
      Each trial and temptation.
      Its light beams brighter through the cross,
      And, purified from human dross,
      It shines through every nation.

    6. Thy truth defend, O God, and stay
      This evil generation;
      And from the error of their way
      Keep Thine own congregation.
      The wicked everywhere abound
      And would Thy little flock confound;
      But Thou art our Salvation.

    Hymn 260
    The Lutheran Hymnal
    Text: Ps. 12
    Author: Martin Luther, 1523
    Translated by: composite
    Titled: “Ach Gott vom Himmel, sieh darein”
    Tune: “Ach Gott vom Himmel”
    1st Published in: Enchiridion
    Town: Erfurt, 1524

  3. That is a great hymn! I put TLH back into the pews for hymns just like this one.

  4. > the weaker brethren of the church are left in confusion

    This is the absolute proof that soft approaches are evil.

    The hard-hearted are spared embarrassment,
    the strong are spared from the fight,
    and: the weak are left in confusion, and much worse

  5. I’m struck by the sharp contrast of how the church deals with false prophets today and how St. Paul dealt with them in the Book of Acts: “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight path of the Lord? Acts 13:9-10

  6. @wineonthevines #5

    Wait, so did St. Paul, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, break the sacred 8th Commandment? Or were these people actually birthed from the devil’s loins?

  7. Dear BJS,
    The Northern Illinois District sent a powerful message to Rev. Dr. Becker and all those that err in regards to the Word of God and our Confessions.

    We do not tolerate error, yet we regard the soul who errors as important, even more so those that this error offends. We call for repentance of those that have disregard for God’s Word.

    Yes, we must fix up some Synodical practice for removing pastors that err and refuse to amend their ways and that will occur later.

    So Resolution 1-05 was approved and will go into effect.

    Some of you have made comments about many, but I am very proud and supportive of the committee that dealt with this troubling situation, yes, all of them.

    As for Rev. Roger Gallup, he was allowed a minority report and for the few minutes he spoke, gave a clear and concise declaration that we must amend what was on the table, and it won the day. I will give thanks and praise for a man like Rev. Gallup who gave a impassioned, yet clear and concise appeal to the Word of God and Luther as well to all present.

  8. @Mac McCabe #8

    No, but I know it is out there. I was up front taking notes. I know they are taping it all. I have a hunch it will be commented on more soon. Remember, I got my own troubles of late, so cannot comment too much; a bit hectic.

    Rev. Gallup, working within the framework of what we have, “nailed it.” At least in my humble eyes.

  9. @Pastor Prentice #7

    How about fixing the synodical practices of removing pastors who have done nothing wrong? The practice of allowing district presidents in essence to coach congregations and recognize service organizations to fire called and ordained pastors? Using a secret document by the dp as pastor poppe mentioned at the Acelc conference? The immediate suspension of any dp should take place where any pastor gets fired in their district.

  10. @Mac McCabe #2

    I have wondered the same thing. This is such a great hymn. While I can think of some that are about as good, I can’t think of any better. It’s encouraging to see other people out that who haven’t forgotten about this one.

  11. @Walter Troeger #10

    This was discussed, “a bit”. But it is a larger issue than a few days can fix.

    200+ men are on the “to be called list.”

    There are many reasons they are on that list.

    01) Yes, for being removed for false cause.
    02) Yes, for not working out, whatever the reason.
    03) Yes, perhaps not pastoral material.
    04) And many more.

    This is a problem, but unlike the Dr. Becker error, this is “sometimes”, no, often hidden. Do we ever really know what happened?

    Yes, big problem…I will be curious where we sit as we prepare for 2016.

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