Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence, Part 12: Church Discipline: One Essential of a Healthy Church, Part C
Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence is a series of articles by faculty of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary that seeks to offer some definitions of what constitutes a GCR, why we believe the SBC is in need of such a movement, and what such a movement might look like in SBC life. The series will address biblical, theological, historical and practical issues related to a GCR with the hope that God will use our finite and flawed efforts for His glory and the good of the people called Southern Baptist.
Church Discipline: One Essential of a Healthy Church, Part C
Good, godly leadership is absolutely a must if a Church is to carry out the ministry of loving confrontation. Such leadership must be in place and evident to the congregation. This leadership will be visible both among the elders as well as the laity. Church Discipline is no place for a Lone Ranger. Going solo in this arena is suicidal. It is also unbiblical. Following the leader means there is a leader. It means establishing credibility and earning trust. When you have that you can act, act decisively, and act courageously.
Now, there needs to be a pastoral word at this point. Church Discipline should not be the primary focal point of the Church’s ministry. It should not require the neglect of other vital activities because of its necessity and practice. In fact I believe Paul envisioned it as a natural component of the very fabric of what the church is and does, a painful but essential aspect of Christian discipleship.
Paul could instruct Titus (Titus 3:12ff) on the principles of Church Discipline while at the same time giving attention to other ministries needing to be carried out. In all of this he needed the help of others, and others gladly lent their aid to their trusted leader. In all of this we see Church Discipline as a natural dimension of the multifaceted ministries of Church life. It is not preeminent. Neither is it an anomaly! Tony Evans is on target when he notes, “A Church that does not practice church discipline of its members is not functioning properly as a church, just as a family that does not discipline is not a fully functioning family” (Tony Evans, God’s Glorious Church, 222).
Church Discipline should be viewed as a good work, and this good work will meet the need and bear the fruit of 1) the glory of God; 2) love for the sinner; 3) restoration of the wayward; 4) the purity of the Church; 5) the protection of the fellowship, and 6) witness to the world. It is a good work of duty. It is a good work of necessity. Avoiding the ever present sins of legalism and judgmentalism, we testify to God, one another and the world that holiness and purity matter. We proclaim through Biblical Discipline that love cares and confronts. It can be tender but it can also be tough. What it cannot do is stand by and do nothing when one of the family is snared by sin. We do not discipline the world and have no intention of doing so. To them we proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is to ourselves we practice the ministry of loving confrontation. As the revivalist Charles Finney wrote, “If you see your neighbor sin, and you pass by and neglect to reprove him, it is as cruel as if you should see his house on fire, and pass by and not warn him” (Charles Finney, Lectures to Professing Christians, 45).
Now let me share a word of warning. Bitterness is an ever present enemy to those in the ministry. This is especially the case when we are called to the ministry of confrontation and discipline. Only God’s grace will give us balance, self control, wisdom and endurance. By God’s grace and for God’s glory we will be equipped and enabled to stand and serve, even when the odds are against us and the battle seems all for nothing. It isn’t, it never is, as long as the battle we fight is the Lord’s! His grace, His amazing grace, is what we need when the fire is hot or the water is deep. Such is often our lot in the ministry of confrontation. At such times only His grace will sustain us. Amazingly, we shall discover it is all we need.
Let me move to address and answer 2 questions. 1) Why do we practice Church Discipline? My friend Mark Dever provides 5 reasons: 1) For the Good of the Person Disciplined; 2) For the Good of the Other Christians, as They See the Danger of Sin; 3) For the Health of the Church as a Whole; 4) For the Corporate Witness of the Church; 5) For the Glory of God, as We Reflect His Holiness (Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, 166).
2) How do we begin to implement Church Discipline? Let me once more be pastoral and practical in my response. First, we must teach the people in our church what the Bible says about Church Discipline. Second, we must begin to implement Church Discipline lovingly, wisely, gently and slowly. A cram-course and premature action is a certain formula for disaster. Third, we must apply Church Discipline to areas like absentee membership as well as the specifics we find in the various lists of Scripture. We will do this not to cause hurt, but to bring about healing within the body of Christ.
Bryan Chapell is correct when he writes,
“there is a difference between needing to divide and loving to divide. A divisive person loves to fight. The differences are usually observable. A person who loves the peace and purity of the church may be forced into division, but it is not his character. He enters arguments regrettably and infrequently. When forced to argue, he remains fair, truthful, and loving in his responses. He grieves to have to disagree with a brother. Those who are divisive by nature lust for the fray, incite its onset, and delight in being able to conquer another person. For them victory means everything. So in an argument they twist words, call names, threaten, manipulate procedures, and attempt to extend the debate as long as possible and along as many fronts as possible. Divisive person frequent the debates of the church. As a result the same voices and personalities tend to appear over and over again, even though the issues change” (R. Kent Hughes and Bryan Chapell, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus, 364).
In the final analysis, Church Discipline is a painful but necessary extension of Christian discipleship. We do it not because it is pleasant, but because we must. Why? I conclude with 4 concise observations: 1) Because overlooking sin is not gracious but dangerous; 2) Because confronting sin is not optional but essential; 3) Because dealing with sin is not judgmental but remedial; 4) Because correcting sin is not carnal but spiritual. Thomas Oden says, “Only those who take sin seriously take forgiveness seriously” (Thomas Oden, Corrective Love: The Power of Communion Discipline, 47). Our Lord did both, and so must we as we lovingly and faithfully follow the divine directions for Church Discipline.