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Online Church Part 6: Putting the Smackdown on Heresy and Naughty Church Members

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One of the less glamorous jobs God has given the church is to stand up for truth and integrity.  It’s not a particularly popular responsibility at a time when Christians are often accused of being judgmental in our post-modern, relativistic, politically correct culture.

Never the less, the church called to root out false teaching and confront members who engage in sinful behavior.  And individually, we as Christians are called to help each other by holding one another accountable.

One of the criticisms of online churches is that they simply can’t do this.  The theory is accountability in the online world is difficult, and if an online church leader confronts a person about false doctrine or sinful behavior they will just run off to another online church that won’t confront them.

Is this true?


Accountability in the online world is difficult.  And those who are confronted about heresy or sinful patterns very well may leave.

But honestly, how is this any different than in the offline world?

Ultimately church membership is about commitment and mutual-submission, to God and one another.  If there is no commitment or mutual-submission, then accountability and confronting heresy will never work – online or offline.

Do you agree?  Or do you have reason to believe accountability and church discipline are more or less difficult for online churches?

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    About the author

    Paul Steinbrueck

    Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and CEO of OurChurch.Com, husband, father of 3, blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @PaulSteinbrueck.


    • Mutual love and accountability are less and less even at churches with memberships!
      Church Disclipline is almost non-existant. What would God have us do?

    • It seems that accountability in online churches is just as possible as it is offline.

      The elements that must be present for accountability to occur are:
      (on the giving end)
      – knowledge of God's law to show how the behavior is sinful,
      – enough love for the person to be willing to hold them accountable,
      – time and commitment to follow through and go through the process of repentance and transformation with them.

      (on the receiving end):
      – humility,
      – willingness to submit the governance of a church,
      – receptiveness/trust that the confrontation is done in love.

      (and mutually)
      – an understanding of the purpose for accountability,
      – willingness to commit to it,
      – belief in God's power to overcome sin.

      These things are just as likely to be present in an online church. Offline- (traditional? what is the term we're using?) churches offer little (if any) advantages in preventing people from avoiding accountability.

      I think the bigger threat to accountability online is the absence of physical presence when confronting sinful behavior. It takes a lot to look someone in the eye and tell them that you think that they are wrong. It's also easier for the sincerity of your love for the other person be communicated in person. It is primarily through your words (which can be delivered online), but it is reinforced by your tone, you body language and your behavior (all of which are muted in the online interaction).

      To me, that physical presence, having your discomfort visible to the person you are exhorting, having the love and hurt visible in your eyes… these things are what help break down the barriers that sin builds up in a person's heart. Can it happen online? Probably, I'd love to see if there are any examples out there… but given the importance of accountability to the spiritual well-being of Jesus's people, shouldn't we strive to create the greatest opportunity for effective accountability and not settle for anything less?

      • Great comment, Kevin. I think most people who have concerns about accontability & discipline in online churches are most concerned that people in an online church are more likely to hide their sin, avoid accountability, or leave the church entirely. But your perspective on the importance of non-verbal communication when confronting sinful behavior is gold!

    • […] Dec 16: Church discipline. One of the less popular functions of the church is to confront sin within the church.  Many real-world churches struggle with this because when confronted people often just leave and find another church that won’t confront them.  It’s even easier for people to jump ship in cyberspace, so is church discipline an essential function of a church and is it possible in a virtual church. […]