Courageously doing the right thing these days, like practicing church discipline, is going to exact a cost.
What’s courageous church leadership look like these days? It looks like Todd Wagner, pastor of Watermark Community Church in Dallas, Texas.
Recently, Watermark removed a man caught in sexual sin from its membership rolls. Watermark is one of those rare churches these days that practices church discipline. After the man’s Facebook post titled, “Watermark Church Dismissed Me for Being Gay,” was picked up by the Dallas Morning News, the church is, no surprise, being accused of religious intolerance. A Morning News columnist wrote an opinion piece titled “Watermark megachurch banned a gay man that it didn’t deserve to have as a member.”
What most of the media coverage neglects to tell is that the decision to remove the man was neither arbitrary nor sudden. After the man decided to actively pursue a homosexual relationship over a year ago, friends and church leaders began meeting with him to understand how to better love and help him.
But, as Pastor Wagner wrote, “this friend made clear to us that he no longer believed same-sex sexual activity was inappropriate for a follower of Jesus Christ and no longer desired to turn from it. Like any member whose beliefs move away from the core commitments, biblical convictions, and values of Watermark, it became appropriate to formally acknowledge his desire to not pursue faithfulness to Christ with us.”
And so the church did the only logical thing—it removed him from its membership rolls. But now, they are made the villain of the story for holding members accountable to live by Christian teaching on human sexuality. At the risk of repeating what I said about the recent story about InterVarsity, “News Flash: evangelicals have evangelical beliefs.”
But I also want to say this: the Church needs this kind of countercultural courage that Watermark leadership is demonstrating—not only by this story, but by practicing church discipline in the first place! That’s so rare.
The Protestant Reformers listed three marks of a true church—preaching the gospel, administering the sacraments rightly, and church discipline. Back in the 1800s, according to Jonathan Leeman, author of “Church Discipline: How the Church Protects the Name of Jesus,” Baptist churches in America removed about 2 percent of their members per year—and yet they grew faster than the overall growth in the population.
But somewhere along the way, many churches abandoned church discipline. Perhaps it was the growing trend of seeing churchgoers as consumers rather than as fellow sinners who need to be gently led to live the faith they profess. Or maybe it was the rise of a relativistic worldview, which made it hard for any of us to call sin, sin. No one likes being called judgmental or intolerant, which is exactly what Todd Wagner and Watermark Church are now facing.
The neglected art of church discipline needs to be recovered, and not just in order to target those who struggle with particular sins. As Pastor Wagner says, we all struggle with something. No, we do it because Scripture commands it, for the good of the Church, and by extension, the good of the world. Come to BreakPoint.org for some helpful resources on the subject, including some from Watermark Church itself.
But make no mistake—any firm stand for Christian morality, even within the walls of the church, is hard these days. Those who violate church discipline—especially when it has to do with sexual freedom—will be hailed as the good guys of the story.
Which makes the faithful the bad guys. As George Orwell once wrote, “The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.” It’s not hard to imagine that lawsuits will likely accompany the bad press in the near future.
But as Todd Wagner and Watermark have shown us, being faithful to God’s Truth is our highest calling.
A Call to Church Discipline: The Courage of Watermark Church
Discipline is a part of life, and church life is no exception. Practicing loving correction, and accepting that correction, contributes to maturity in the faith. Check out the links below for articles on church discipline, as well as biblical references on this subject.
Watermark church’s ‘loving correction’ helps members deal with sin
Todd Wagner | Dallasnews.com | October 16, 2016
What Is The Purpose Of Church Discipline
Todd Wagner | wordsfromwags.com | October 22, 2016
Is a church anti-gay for practicing church discipline?
Denny Burke | dennyburk.com | October 17, 2016
Our Uniquely Undisciplined Moment (limited access)
Tom Oden | Christianity Today | October 15, 2007
10 Things You Should Know about Church Discipline
Jonathan Leeman | Crossway.org | October 3, 2016
Church Discipline References, New Testament
1 Corinthians 5:1-5
2 Corinthians 3:14-15