Ben Bowden said when he came to know Christ, he started “ferociously reading” his Bible, and he saw some inconsistencies when he looked at the church.
“In the Bible, I saw this idea of covenantal church membership and the idea of compassionate, gracious, loving church discipline,” said Bowden, pastor of First Baptist Church, Enterprise. “And I saw almost no churches faithfully living this out.”
The purpose of church discipline is to lovingly restore members who are in a covenantal relationship, he said in his sermon to the Alabama Baptist Pastors Conference held virtually Nov. 16. In the Bible and in church history, congregations did this together for the purpose of helping each other stay true to Christ. But over the years, the church changed — it stopped prioritizing holding each other accountable inside the church and began focusing more on pointing fingers at the sinfulness of the culture.
Bowden encouraged churches to have a renewed commitment to the four steps of church discipline put forth in Matthew 18:15-17 — confront alone, then confront with others if needed, then tell it to the church if needed, and finally excommunicate the members if they don’t respond to loving accountability.
All of that is aimed at restoration, not retribution, he said.
“Restoration has to do with pointing out someone’s wrongdoing and loving them enough to risk the awkwardness to bring them back into fellowship,” Bowden said. “You’re not the one cutting them off — they’ve already been cut off by blatant, unrepentant sin.”
It’s a means of grace, he said. Even the final step — excommunication — is meant to help church members feel the weight of sin and long for repentance and to be added back into the church.
“We need to ask the question, ‘what does it look like to actually carry this out faithfully?’ — the way that Jesus demands, the way that history tells us, the way we ought to biblically and faithfully carry out covenantal church membership and compassionate church discipline,” Bowden said.
The conference sermons are still available online at albaptistpc.com/virtual-conference.