Megachurch - discipline as mark of church?

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Puritan Board Sophomore
I have family that attends a typical non-denominational megachurch. Thinking about their church and other similar megachurches makes me wonder if the Reformers would consider these churches as part of the true church based on what they considered to be the marks of the church: "The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel; it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them; it practices church discipline for correcting faults."

The purpose of my post here is not to say all megachurches are wrong by any means...but more of a question wondering what should I think of a church that doesn't practice church discipline?
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Puritan Board Sophomore
I'm unsure about your question. Are you just asking about whether a church, which does not practice discipline, can still be considered a "true church?" Or, are you claiming that your "typical non-denominational megachurch" does not practice discipline and can therefore not be considered a "true church?"

If the former is what you are asking, then obviously the answer is that any church which does not practice discipline cannot be considered to have the marks of a true church. I think that not only megachurches, but churches of all sizes and flavours, could be found guilty of lacking this mark.

I have zero experience in "megachurches," but I can imagine how in a larger church you run the risk of loosing personal connectedness between church leadership and the laity, and that this would make the exercise of church discipline difficult. Perhaps some megachurches manage to pull it off...


Puritan Board Sophomore
Eric, I was kind-of asking both of those questions. I want to be very clear that I'm not asking this in an accusatory tone, but instead it's just an honest question I have in meshing what I believe with practical experience. And as for your statement that "not only megachurches, but churches of all sizes and flavours, could be found guilty of lacking this mark," I definitely agree. I've seen this lack both in large and small churches.


Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
If a church lacks 1 of three marks, we shouldn't say: "that's not a church." We don't say, "that's not a man," when we see a guy in a wheelchair, with no legs.

But, obviously there's something that isn't all there, or ideal about a church that has no discipline. It is degenerated and degenerating. It must be, because it is internally disordered.

We say that churches that have "wrong practice" WRT worship, sacrament, or discipline have not thereby become (overnight) "synagogues of Satan." Indeed, a certain amount of Christian love is called for, say from a Baptist church which regards Presbyterian churches as (almost) hopelessly confused on the baptism issue. A man like Mark Dever, or Ivan or Bill, still fellowships with us "cripples." In fact, often they'd rather be in one of our churches than a church that looks very similar to theirs on the surface. And the reverse is also true for us.

But, as our WCF puts it, some churches have so far degenerated as to no more be churches. They have NO marks of a church. The typical mega-church is (in my opinion) not far removed from a typical RCC congregation, so far as the degeneration and minimal connection to the gospel goes. (Not to mention, that theologically, analysis would reveal striking similarity in underlying doctrinal structures, with different paint.)

Jack K

Puritan Board Doctor
I've been part of a fairly large (easily 1000+ people through the doors on a Sunday morning) church that proclaimed the gospel well and did practice effective discipline with its members. And I've tested out much smaller churches that practiced far less discipline. So church size is not necessarily what matters, although I'd say larger churches typically require more diligence in all aspects of member care.

I wonder if the lack of discipline you mentioned has more to do with either (1) the church being fuzzy on what exactly it believes and expects from folks or (2) the church being a church-shopping destination. You didn't say either is the case with this church, but these do fit a lot of churches that fall under the "non-denominational mega-church" label.

If a church's doctrinal position is minimal, then it's hard to know exactly what to discipline a member for. Or if an appeal to church shoppers has become ingrained in how the leadership thinks (so that the church conforms to the members), it's hard for those leaders to turn around and confront members for not conforming to the church. Where both conditions are present, members and leaders start to believe it's no one's business to practice discipline and, even if they did, there's no clear standard to hold anyone to other than what common agreement says is right. Hence, why bother?

I'd agree with Bruce that we don't necessarily start considering that church a non-church, but it is degenerating.
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