Second, church discipline provides an opportunity for repentance, renewal, restoration, and growth. Restoration is one of the primary goals of church discipline. As the Westminster Confession of Faith states, “Church censures are necessary for the reclaiming and gaining of offending brethren” (30.3). When a person is confronted with his or her sin and the necessity of repentance, the Lord holds out an opportunity for the transgressor to turn from the path of rebellion and once again walk with Christ. When discipline results in repentance, the church should forgive and comfort the penitent so that the sorrow they feel for their sin might not overwhelm them (2 Cor. 2:7). Through the ministry of the gospel, the doors of the church should be swung open to the penitent, and they should be restored to a place of good standing among the saints. When that is done properly, restored believers are not treated as second-class church members but as brothers and sisters who are a vital part of the fellowship.
With repentance comes a renewed sense of grace. When church discipline leads a person to acknowledge his transgression and seek the Lord’s pardon through Christ, the blood of Jesus applied to the conscience provides comfort and a sense of relief as guilt and shame are washed away (1 John 1:9). This experience of grace leads to gratitude and growth through the hard-learned lessons that come through the process of correction. Though discipline may be painful at the time, the disciplined offender should experience a sense of peace from the fact that the Lord intends the censures of the church to effect spiritual good and not harm. He intends discipline to be a means whereby believers may share in His holiness (Heb. 12:10).
Finally, church discipline is an expression of the church’s faithfulness, and that should comfort us as well. While the work of discipline purges the sin that can affect the entire church and vindicates Christ’s honor and the profession of the gospel (WCF 30.3), the work of discipline is never easy. No faithful elder enjoys it. In my experience, godly elders weep and pray over the wayward and long to see their repentance rather than seeking to bar them from the Lord’s Table or to excommunicate them from the fellowship of the church. When the errant are defiant, however, those same godly elders must be faithful to Christ and their calling and do what is necessary for the good of the church and for the good of the offender’s soul.
If the church allows God’s covenant and its sacramental seals of baptism and the Lord’s Supper to be denigrated by “notorious and obstinate offenders,” then it may well bring on itself the Lord’s anger (WCF 30.3). Faithfulness to the Savior and the well-being of His body demands discipline. If a church will be faithful to maintain the purity of its fellowship, then believers should be encouraged that it will also likely strive to be faithful to the other aspects of biblical doctrine and practice.
While we don’t often use the words comfort and church discipline in the same sentence, we should. We would do well to remind ourselves and others of the consolation that comes from knowing, seeing, and experiencing God’s care for His people through the exercise of scriptural correction.