James Leo Garrett, Jr.’s Baptist Church Discipline

Although written in 1962, Baptist theologian James Leo Garrett’s book, Baptist Church Discipline, remains as pertinent for the church today as it was then. The book is compromised of two parts: Garrett’s views of the history and importance of church discipline and a reproduction of the 1773 Charleston Baptist “Summary of Church Discipline.” The book is billed as “A Broadman Historical Monograph.”

One wishes that 40 years of hindsight would prove Garrett’s work prophetic. Unfortunately, it does not. After bemoaning the tragic state of affairs within Baptist churches, Garrett writes, “Nevertheless, a slowly growing awareness of the need for some kind of renewal of personal and congregational spiritual discipline among Southern Baptists is in evidence.” Perhaps that was the case in 1962. It is not the case now. In fact, the only aspect of Garrett’s work that has proven to be prophetic is the litany of mistakes within the church concerning church discipline that he initially chronicles.

For this reason, if for no other, this work deserves to be read today. Garrett does an admirable (though brief) job of discussing the prominence and subsequent decline of church discipline within the early church and, later, the Reformation churches. He then calls for a return to a carefully thought out practice of discipline within the church.

“Those who lead in the renewal of discipline must be thoroughly convinced of its terrible urgency,” Garrett writes. He is correct. Especially in this day of easy membership and low expectations, any move towards church discipline is going to generate the sort of controversy that only stalwart believers in the practice will be able to handle. But for those who sincerely believe that the health, vitality, and even the revival of the church will require a return to Biblical discipline, this controversy will be more than worth it.

Your efforts in finding and reading this book will be well rewarded. The Charleston Summary of Church Discipline is fascinating reading in and of itself and will also convict the modern reader about the unfortunate distance we have drifted from early Baptist churches. Thank you, Dr. Garrett, for you tremendous work.

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