A common accusation thrown towards churches that practice church discipline is that they are intolerant, ignorant, and just plain mean for putting people out of the congregation. Unfortunately, there have been churches that unbiblically put someone out of the church and are just plain mean. But this doesn’t make all church discipline “mean.” In fact, I would argue that to not exercise church discipline when it is called for would be mean. The most damaging thing that a local church can do is provide someone with false assurance of their salvation. Because church disciplines helps guard against this it is not inherently mean. But we do need to make sure that we don’t make it mean with our sinful attitudes.
It is of the utmost importance for the church to keep in mind that the purpose of church discipline is restorative not punitive. In other words, when the church moves forward with the discipline process the desire should be the restoration of an unrepentant believer into the fellowship and holiness of the church. Punishment is certainly an element of church discipline, but as with our children, punishment itself is not the goal. The goal is restoration not condemnation.
Church discipline is only exercised when there has been a failure of self-discipline (1 Corinthians 11:31-32). As brothers and sisters in Christ we are to be forbearing and patient with one another, tenderhearted and forgiving, even as Christ has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:31-32). We should be quick to seek reconciliation, letting not the sun go down on our wrath (Ephesians 4:26). We must not be overly sensitive (Philippians 2:3-4), and remember love covers a multitude of sins (Proverbs 19:11).