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Rick Sutcliffe

Disclaimer: The contents of this page are offered as general principles, but not as legal opinions.


The word "discipline" comes from the same root as "disciple" or "person under instruction". Its meaning is "instruction", generally with the connotation of correction.

Discipline can be:

  • self-imposed, or externally imposed,
  • a single or isolated instance or a course of instruction,
  • to put it another way, an event or a process,
  • academic, legal, military, governmental, corporate, or associated with membership in an organization

NOTE: Despite their common association, discipline is not punishment, unless the latter is demonstrably corrective or a deterrent (and therefore instructive), for the essence of discipline is growth and positive, healthy change. Punishment is essentially consequences after the fact (when discipline has failed).



A person imposes a regimen of learning of behaviour on him/herself for their own betterment.

Spiritual discipline

These are practices one follows to be better instructed in spiritual things, and may include:

  • study of the Scriptures,
  • prayer,
  • fasting,
  • meditation,
  • tithing,
  • providing ministry to others,
  • regular attendance at Divine services

Military discipline

From classical (Roman) times, discipline included knowledge, education, training, self-control, determination, and an orderly way of life (largely based on transmitted custom). The particular virtues of Disciplina were frugality, sternness, and faithfulness. Military discipline incorporates a chain of command, and the concept that once authority is delegated, superior officers do not"reach around" their junior officers to give orders or impose discipline.

Government discipline

The primary governance principles of

all play a role. For instance, a cabinet member who wishes to dissent from a decision can only do so within a cabinet meeting unless (s)he first resigns.

Academic discipline

is one of the most common kinds, for it directly involves instruction, on a daily or hourly basis. The student is under discipline (instruction for correction) until able to demonstrate learned competence by passing a test of some kind, then is released from the specific discipline (perhaps only to enroll in a higher level of the discipline).

Church discipline

is a term normally used to describe a specific process of instruction for correction, and is derived directly from the Bible. It has the following steps:

  • The person becoming aware of the undisciplined behaviour confronts the offender privately (carefully! "There but for the grace of God go I.").
  • If this fails to correct, the action is repeated with one or more witnesses.
  • Should correction still not take place, the matter should be taken to the Church leaders (elders, board) who make an in camera determination (in accord with standard board disciplinary practice). This is not specifically stated as a step in the Scriptural process, but is best for confidentiality, and due process. Boards always have the authority to handle discipline for the entity, so the step makes sense, and is an extra precautionary stop on the way.
  • If there is still no correction, the matter should be referred to the church for confirmation of the discipline already undertaken, and the result of this, if still not heeded, may be a breaking off of fellowship until such time as correction is achieved.

NOTE: When using board governance, church board decisions are final and binding. They can only be overturned in a congregational government system by a vote of the members in a confidence motion. A no-confidence motion requires the directors to call new elections and resign when the election returns are made available. Alternately, in a hierarchical (denominational) government, an appeal to a higher ruling authority may be possible.

NOTE: This is entirely a process of instruction, and no punishment is implied. Even disfellowshipping is intended to be temporary, until the person repents and the behaviour is corrected, then the offender ought be welcomed back.

However, if the behaviour involves illegal acts such as breach of trust, defamation or libel, it may be reportable to secular authorities even if the offender does express repentance. If it involves harassment, sexual misconduct, molestation, assault, or bullying, it must be reported even before undertaking the above process. The law trumps organizational polity.

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Last updated 2013 02 06
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