Christianity Today has published an important series of articles on church discipline. Given the absence of biblical discipline from the life of most congregations, these articles are urgently-needed reminders of what is st stake. The six articles are by different authors, and raise a number of issues. All are worth reading.
1. How Discipline Died by Marlin Jeschke, July 22, 2005.
The church’s history of dealing with problem persons in legalistic fashion is responsible in large part, I believe, for the present distaste for the term church discipline. Discipline is still the watchword of high-school basketball or children’s music lessons, but has become objectionable in the church lexicon. For that reason, I have resorted to the term discipling. Evangelism and mission seek to make disciples of people, bringing them into Christ’s way. But it doesn’t make much sense to bring people into Christ’s way in the first place if the church then fails to make every effort consistent with the gospel to bring back into Christ’s way those who are straying from it.
2. Shaping Holy Disciples by Mark Dever, July 25, 2005.
Spiritual disciplines can seem like a human-potential wellness campaign, only expressed in spiritual terms. Church discipline sounds like excommunication, which sounds judgmental. Many want their antinomian liberty, their freedom to have a life that’s not known by others. They don’t want to be open and honest with others; they don’t want people inquiring about their lives. It’s not just our modern, affluent, individualistic American culture; it’s the sinful human heart. We desire to discipline ourselves only for those ends that we like. And we do not want other people to have that kind of authority in our lives.
3. Spheres of Accountability by John Ortberg, July 26, 2005.
Church discipline is really about the spiritual health of the whole body. In larger churches, people can start to think of it simply as scandal avoidance. But the lack of appropriate administration is really a failure of love and a compounding of sin: “Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt” (Lev. 19:17). Discipline does not merely protect the church from contamination: It builds and strengthens the bonds of love.
4. Keeping the Lawyers at Bay by Ken Sande, July 27., 2005.
A church that has done its work both biblically and legally will not have to look over its shoulder fearfully as it seeks to restore wandering sheep. Instead, it will be able to minister confidently and boldly as it works to guard its people not only from predatory wolves, but also from the plague of division and divorce that so often cripples our witness for Christ.
5. Healing the Body of Christ by David Neff, July 28, 2005.
So when we talk about the church, we are not talking about a voluntary society of people who share compatible religious views or similar religious experiences. We are instead talking about those who are related by (re)birth into a new family. We are talking about the body parts of Christ. Our relationships to each other (the horizontal) do not exist apart from our relationship with God in Christ (the vertical). Indeed, it is our vertical relationship with Christ that makes possible our horizontal relationships with each other. The vertical constitutes the horizontal.
6. Our Uniquely Undisciplined Moment by Thomas C. Oden, July 29, 2005.
Whenever laity or clergy are disciplined, it seems to modern eyes, and especially to the secular press, like overbearing legalism, moral insensitivity, and exclusivism. If any constraints are put on reception of Communion, it appears undemocratic. When church trials have sought to call voluntary believers to accountability to their own voluntary decisions and commitments, the press paints a picture of social injustice. Any attempt at accountability, even for the worst abuses, looks to modernity like oppression. Believers understandably wonder: How can meaningful church discipline be recovered in a culture that prefers no accountability at all?