The Church Discipline: Is It a Burden or Blessing?

In this episode of the Holy Joys Podcast, Dr. David Fry and Johnathan Arnold discuss church manuals/disciplines, common problems and frustrations, and how approaching the discipline/manual in light of the church’s disciple-making mission can help us work towards a healthier future for the church and its members.

Topics Discussed

  • Change
  • Leadership
  • The church manual or discipline
  • Discipline and discipleship
  • The apostolic faith
  • Church membership
  • Community

Resources Mentioned

  • The Book of Common Prayer

Quotes from Johnathan Arnold

  • Our church’s manual is something that should serve the church’s needs and, in particular, the church’s disciple-making mission.
  • We have to realize that just holding on to everything from the past is no certain guarantee of the church’s continued faithfulness. Every generation has to take responsibility and lead. You have to pass on the values and instill the maturity and virtue that will be able to sustain the founders’ intent. 
  • We need to view manuals as living documents. As our understanding of Scripture continues to grow, as the needs of the church change, with wisdom and much prayer, and the right attitude, we can continue to develop, refine, and improve these documents.
  • A word of caution if you’re going to pastor an independent church: Don’t try to reinvent the wheel, even if you’re writing a manual for your local church. Adopt a historic statement of faith, and draw heavily from other church manuals. 
  • Every church needs to be governed in an orderly way. We need clearly established and clearly articulated principles for our governance and our life together that help to keep us united and help to bring some structure, direction, and order to our life as a Church. Without a manual—some kind of standardized, agreed-upon document—we’re going to inevitably run into situations where it can become a free-for-fall. It is really about church unity, harmony, and orderly government as the foundational principles.
  • The one thing we absolutely cannot do when we revise manuals is lose any of the substance of the faith which has been delivered to us.
  • Church discipline needs to be gentle, restorative, supportive, redemptive, and carried out in the context of a loving covenant community.

Quotes from David Fry

  • When a church manual is not useful, it tends to be forgotten and become institutionalized: we have this “thing” out there that is looking over us as a judge, as though we are all on trial. There is a posture towards the church manual that it is a heavy-handed institution.
  • I would love to convince people to begin to view the church manual through the beauty of discipleship and inter-personal relationship. The church manual is something that is put together by people, to describe love that exists within a local church—interpersonal relationships. It’s not about my relationship to the institution; it’s our relationship first with Christ, but then to one another as a local body. And that’s something we ought to care deeply for.
  • Our church manual needs to have some dynamic to it, because as we are bringing in new believers, our expectations are going to be stretched, need to be amended, or need to be reworded to updated cultural language. We need to have a more personal and dynamic understanding of what our church manuals or discipleship handbooks are actually for.
  • If we forget what our church manuals are for, we tend to institutionalize them, and they become calcified documents that are more of our judge than a tool for discipleship.
  • Our church manuals or discipleship handbooks should be life-giving. If they are not life-giving, life-promoting, and drawing people into healthy, loving relationships, then they are not accomplishing what they are designed to accomplish. 
  • Harmony within a local congregation will be determined by some form of common consent. A manual defines what we consent to. 
  • The reason we need some centralized involvement is that we are a part of the Apostolic Church, so in order to ensure that a local church is maintaining the substance of the Holy Apostolic Faith, which Christians have affirmed through the ages, it needs to receive something from the Church at large. 
  • The metaphor in Scripture affirms that discipleship is membership. There is no idea in the New Testament of a disciple of Jesus Christ who is not a member of the body of Christ. I am talking about the visible church. That invisible membership is always visible. Local churches need to do a better job of practicing biblical membership.
  • Biblical membership is to be a member of the body, distinguished from not being a member of the body; that is, believers vs. unbelievers.
  • A member is not automatically qualified to be a leader.
  • If we (leaders) allow our church manuals to become static, a generation will come along and not understand why we said things the way we did, and they will change it anyway. Each generation needs to help lead the next generation, especially in a place of change. Don’t withdraw from the change process.
  • Change always happens too quickly for some and too slowly for others. Be patient. 
David Fry
Senior Pastor at the Frankfort Bible Holiness Church. PhD in Systematic Theology (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School). MDiv in New Testament Theology (Wesley Biblical Seminary).