Church discipline is not a popular concept today. Numbers from the recent SBC convention show this clearly to be true: 16 million members with only 6 million of those members in weekly attendance on Sundays last year. This is unfortunate to say the least. That means there are 10 million people out there representing a distorted view of Christ and his church to a watching world. That also means that there are many elders that will be held accountable on judgment day for many, many people whom they have never even met (Heb 13.17)! That also means that many of those 10 million probably have some false assurance of salvation "because they are members of so and so Baptist church."
The church growth movement (whether seeker-sensitive or emerging) would have us lower the wall of separation between Christians and non-Christians. For example, Frost & Hirsch in "The Shaping the Things to Come" propose a 'centered set' rather than a 'bounded set' when it comes to church membership (which is bound up with church discipline). The bounded set is the out-dated 'attractional' approach of having clearly delineated boundaries for membership. What is needed, they say, is an incarnational approach for today's post-modern world. They write, "a centered set is defined by its core values, and people are not seen as in or out, but as closer or further away from the center" (47). . . . In bounded-set churches all sorts of criteria are determined for the acceptance of rejection of prospective members. . . . In a centered-set church it is recognized that we are all sinners, all struggling to be the best people we can be. But we also believe that the closer one gets to the center (Christ), the more Christlike one's behavior should become. . . . No one is considered unworthy of belonging because they happen to be addicted to tobacco, or because they're not married to their live-in partner. Belonging is a key value" (48-49). This mindset is popular today. "Its not about who's in or out, but where we are at in relation to Jesus."
This is wrong-headed on a number or fronts, not least of which is church discipline. If we truly believe in church discipline and a regenerate church membership, then if anything we will raise the wall between members and non-members. The need of the day is pastors not driven by "becoming all things to all people," but by the fact that one day they will stand before Christ and give an account for those sheep under his care.
To this end I want to recommend a great resource: "Handbook of Church Discipline: A Right and Privilege of Every Church Member" by Jay Adams. Jay Adams has been a gift to the church, known mostly for being the father of nouthetic counseling. This book is a great read for any Christian. Elders and aspiring elders especially would benefit, but it is just as important to inform the congregation of their duty to practice discipline on a regular basis. Adams helpfully covers preventive disciple, then covers 5 steps in corrective church discipline:
1. Self Discipline
2. One on One
3. One or Two Others
4a. The Church (leaders)
4b. The Church (whole body)
5. The World
So buy, read, share and implement church discipline for the reclamation of sinners, the purity of the church, and the glory of Christ.