It comes as a surprise to many today to learn that God intends others to judge as well. The state is given responsibility to judge (see Romans 13). We are told to judge ourselves (see 1 Corinthians 11:28; Hebrews 4; 2 Peter 1:5). We are also told to judge one another in the church (though not in the final way God judges). Jesus’ words in Matthew 18, Paul’s in 1 Corinthians 5-6, and many other passages clearly show that the church is to exercise judgment within itself and that this judgment is for redemptive, not revengeful purposes (Romans 12:19). In the case of the adulterous man in Corinth, and of the false teachers in Ephesus, Paul said that they should be excluded from the church and handed over to Satan so that they might be taught better and so that their souls might be saved (1 Corinthians 5; 1 Timothy 1).
One church growth writer has recently summed up his advice on helping a church to grow: “Open the front door and close the back door.” By this, he means that we should work to make the church more accessible to people and to do a better job of follow-up. Both of these goals are good. Yet, most pastors today already aspire to have churches with such front doors open and back doors closed. Instead, attempting to follow a biblical model should lead us to this strategy: “Close the front door and open the back door.” In other words, make it difficult to join on the one hand, and easier to be excluded on the other. Such actions will help the church to recover its divinely intended, winsome distinction from the world.
This discipline should be first reflected in the way we as churches take in new members. Do we ask that those becoming members be known to us to be living Christ-honoring lives? Do we understand the seriousness of the commitment that we are making to them and that they are making to us? If we are more careful about how we recognize and receive new members, we will have less occasion to practice corrective church discipline later.