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 game

Guest Blog by Central Asia RL: Biblical Foundations and Guidelines for Contextualization (Pt 6)

Guest Blog: Biblical Foundations and Guidelines for Contextualization (Pt 6)

Editor’s Note: This guest blog is written by the IMB’s Regional Leader for Central Asia. It is a six part series, giving the biblical foundations and guidelines for contextualization, and making application to Christian ministry in the Muslim world. This series will appear as a chapter in the forthcoming book “Look What God is Doing in the Muslim World.”

The Church:

Muslim background believers in Jesus (MBBs) should be encouraged to remain in their community as much as possible.

Muslim background believers should be encouraged to maintain their ethnic and cultural identity as much as they can without compromising their obedience to Scripture.

MBB churches should be encouraged to be indigenous in their expressions of their faith and worship, without compromising Scripture. This is particularly true in matters of style. The church should look, sound and feel local, not foreign.

New believers and churches should be pointed to the Bible, and not to the foreign expert, to answer their questions about Christian belief and Christian living.

New churches should be encouraged to apply Scripture to the issues they face in their cultural setting, and to express their faith in ways that engage their culture directly. Their teaching and their confessions of faith should respond to the specific issues they face in their culture.

New churches can utilize local cultural practices that are consistent with Scripture.

New churches should be led by local believers and not by foreigners, as much as possible.

New churches should be financed locally (in so far as they need financing at all), and not by foreign money.

New churches should take full responsibility for the Great Commission from the start.

A church can meet anywhere. Neither the presence nor the absence of a building belongs to the Biblical essence of church.

At the same time, insofar as it lies with us:

MBB churches must have a clear identity as belonging to Jesus.

MBB churches should not present themselves as being still essentially Muslim.

MBB churches should not teach or believe that Islam, its prophet or its book are of divine origin.

MBB church teaching, and church confessions of faith, should maintain as central that which is central in the teaching of the Bible. It is true that each culture and each generation raises different issues which the people of God must address from the word of God. However, there are also core doctrines in the Bible which are central to the faith in every age and every place.

MBB churches should pursue all of the elements of a Biblical church, as laid out in the Church Definition and Guidelines.

MBB churches need to be careful about the theological and spiritual baggage that local cultural and religious practices may carry. (For example, in our experience it was MBB’s who resisted namaz-like prayer practices the most, because they connoted to them a fearful, distant, works-based relationship with God.)

MBB churches need to recognize their connection with the global Body of Christ.

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence, Part 11: Church Discipline: One Essential of a Healthy Church, Part B

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 B

Jesus spoke directly to Church Discipline in Matthew 18:15-20. Paul did so in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13. Note carefully the sin we confront. It is 1) public, 2) habitual, 3) serious and 4) lacking repentance. We are not called to be spiritual garbage inspectors or theological peeping-toms. When we become aware of a sinning brother or sister we go to them first individually, second with witnesses, and finally with the whole fellowship being involved if there is no repentance. If at any point the evidence of genuine repentance comes forth, the process of discipline stops and the ministry of restoration begins. Let me add parenthetically that restoration to fellowship does not entail restoration to leadership. God’s standard for the latter is higher than His standard for the former.

My friend Mark Driscoll has led his church at Mars Hill in Seattle to carefully examine and address this issue of church discipline. His church has adopted what they call nine guiding principles from Scripture on the matter of church discipline. (Mark has a whole chapter on church discipline in a forthcoming book entitled Vintage Church. It is excellent!) What are the nine guidelines that a church should follow?

1). When sin has come between people, the goal is repentance and reconciliation, along with recompense, if needed.

2). Church leaders must always pursue the protection of the gospel’s reputation and the well-being of the entire church, not just the interests of individual people who have sinned. This explains why sometimes individuals must be put out of the church.

3). Such matters in the church are entrusted to Christian leaders who must be careful not to abuse in any way the responsibility to oversee the obedience of its members.

4). Discipline is unpleasant but, in the end, produces a holy people by distinguishing between the world and the church.

5). All matters in the church, including church discipline, are to be done in a fitting and orderly manner.

6). Because the situations causing church discipline can be incredibly frustrating, it is important that those involved don’t let their anger lead them into sin.

7). For the truth to emerge, the elders must hear first-hand reports from all sides of a dispute before a decision is reached.

8). When at all possible, multiple witnesses should be required.

9). The fellowship of the church is a regular time appointed by God when his people are to be reminded that unrepentant sin and unnecessary division in the church are unacceptable to a holy God. It is a time to look at sin in light of God’s grace and commitment to help us grow.

The ministry of Church Discipline is mandatory, if we are to be faithful to our head who is Christ. We do it for the sake of the body and for the sake of the sinning brother. Dietrich Bonhoeffer saw the crucial nature of this when he wrote, “Nothing can be more cruel than that leniency which abandons others to sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than that severe reprimand which calls another Christian in one’s community back from the path of sin” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together – Prayer Book of the Bible, in Bonhoeffer Works vol. 5., 105).

Dealing with an individual in the manner noted above also has pastoral benefits. It will keep the issue on the level of principle and not personality. Personality battles result when we delay in taking action and are perceived to be showing favoritism. This is always a lose – lose scenario and must be avoided. We must move quickly in the initial stage when the sin is discovered. We may extend the “grace of patience” as we seek the repentance of the one living in sin. However, we must be clear, above board and timely. We cannot go once, and then walk away as if all is forgiven, if there is no change. Vigilance and steadfastness are required, all the while keeping Galatians 6:1-2 before our mind’s eye.

Now a crucial question: why must habitual, public, serious, unrepentant sinners be disciplined? Because they are dangerous. Paul describes them in Titus 3:11 as warped and sinning. Warped is in the perfect tense and means twisted, turned inside out. Sinning is in the present tense. Here is a man living life upside down and inside out. This is his settled state, heart and mind. It is his continuous habit of life. GOD FORBID THAT WE WHO LOVE THIS PERSON WOULD STAND BY AND DO NOTHING! Now an important question begs to be asked. What sin(s) require church discipline? Again I like the approach adopted at Mars Hill Church in Seattle because of their rigorously biblical commitment.

  • When a Christian sins against another Christian and it cannot be overlooked in love.
  • When a Christian who professes faith lives in sin without repentance.
  • When a Christian continually blasphemes God.
  • When someone encourages or promotes false doctrine.
  • When a Christian is a habitual doctrine debater.
  • When a Christian will only heed false teachers.
  • When a Christian is sincere but deceived.
  • When a teacher is in moral sin or doctrinal error.
  • When an elder is in moral sin or doctrinal error.
  • When a Christian appoints himself or herself to leadership.
  • When a Christian is divisive.
  • When a Christian is an idle busybody.
  • When a Christian promotes legalism.
  • When a Christian refuses to obey civil laws.
  • When an alleged offended Christian seeks legal recourse.
  • When a Christian has repeatedly rejected counsel by a church elder.
  • When a Christian is not consistently in community.
  • When a Christian leave the church to pursue sin or heresy.

Bonhoeffer was right, “When another Christian falls into obvious sin, an admonition is imperative, because God’s Word demands it” (Bonhoeffer, 105). We do neither the sinner nor ourselves any favors when we wink at or ignore. Why?

Because sin is destructive. It destroys. What it can do to a fellowship is serious. What it does to the sinner enslaved by its addiction is tragic. Sometimes a sinning brother or sister will claim the leading of the Spirit, even the providence of God, in their sinful actions. There are times when he or she may even say, “my head tells me this is wrong but my heart tells me it was never more right.”

With grief, humility, self-examination and a broken heart we must confront them and if necessary shun them and reject them. Following Paul’s directive in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 we must turn them over to Satan with a hope and prayer that the discipline of the heavenly Father (Hebrews 12:5-13) will bring them to brokenness and repentance, and that they will give evidence that they are indeed God’s child after all. We have our duty. God has games