What’s the difference between church discipline and punishment?

Have you ever witnessed, or experienced firsthand, “church discipline” administered by your church community? If the point of church discipline is to correct, not just to punish, what elements must be present in the act of discipline to ensure that it’s not just punitive?

Here’s how Lifetime Guarantee Ministries approaches this question:

Although they may both feel the same, there’s a huge difference between punishment and discipline. A punisher is angry at the punishee and takes out his hostility on him. The result is either fear-motivated conformity to the punisher’s will or rebellion. A discipliner, on the other hand, is not angry. He metes out the discipline despite the fact that it hurts him to do so. The one who is disciplined is motivated to change because of his love for the one who disciplines. Although both the punishee and the disciplinee may receive “three licks with the paddle,” the result will be vastly different.

Nowhere after the cross does the Greek text support the idea of God’s punishing new creations in Christ. The word is chasten, or discipline.

Read more at the Lifetime Guarantee website.

This is something I’ve thought and talked about quite a bit lately in the context of parenting. Our two-year-old daughter is entering a (temporary…. right?!?) phase in which her behavior is sometimes less than angelic. Some form of discipline becomes necessary at points, but how does one administer discipline in such a way that it encourages correction of behavior, rather than simple punishment for behavior? It gets especially tricky when the act of discipline—say, mandatory “quiet time”—looks the same whether it’s administered in love or anger.

All parents have wrestled with this question at some point. But this is also an important issue in the church, where believers are called to correct brothers and sisters who have strayed. Sometimes this correction takes the form of discipline (removal from a leadership position or even temporary removal from community worship) that might be seen as a punishment.

What acts of church discipline have you witnessed or experienced? What was present in the discipline that communicated love rather than anger?

What do you think?

3 Responses to “What’s the difference between church discipline and punishment?”

  • jotabe says:

    This is the type of question I am glad to see answered on your web site. I have been in a situation like this happened, where correction was needed but was done with the wrong tone.

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  • stuck in the middle of a church divided but personally experienced lying, deception, and back-stabbing from the Senior Pastor. Accountability for the last few months has not worked. his heart is still cold to many certain people. praying unceasingly for his heart!!!