Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Three Cheers for Church Discipline

Those of you reading that title must think that I have perhaps: a) taken leave of my senses; b) become a hard-line fundie, who loves whacking people publicly for their sin; or c) become hopelessly irrelevant in a modern church-going context, since the disciplined person(s) will, likely as not, simply go on down the road to the next church, probably a larger one, at which they can disappear and not bear the stigma of facing correction. Nevertheless, though option a) always remains a strong contender, I'll assure you that none of the above is the case. Moreover, I think that the restoration of discipline to the appropriate place in the life of the Church is of supreme relevance, because I believe that is the distinct lack of it which is at the root of many of the Church's problems in our day.

So without further ado, here are three reasons to celebrate appropriate, restorative, biblical discipline by the Church:
  1.  Protection. One of the things which is even now wracking Roman Catholicism is the priestly sexual abuse scandal. Men who should have been immediately defrocked and removed from office were allowed to continue, even being moved from place to place so that they could find fresh victims. I am not so naive as to think such sins are strictly a Roman Catholic phenomenon(though this particular type is admittedly less common among evangelicals). Nevetheless, appropriate discipline serves to protect the people within the church from continually being victims of sin The good of the Body demands we protect its people.
  2.  Purification. Sin is like cancer, always seeking to spread to new people. Churches which never discipline or do not seriously pursue it soon find themselves wracked by divisions and problems. Sin can even become part of the culture of a church, such that no effective ministry can be done because so much time is dealing with the results of sinful behavior. 
  3.  Witness. Nothing is more thoroughly scandalous to me than the fact that, by many measures, Christians live their lives in a way indistinguishable from unbelievers. For example, the fact that many "Christians" watch porn and have sex outside of marriage leads many to think that Christians are not against sin, they are only against those forms of it in which they themselves are not participating. Thus we come across not as those who want to rescue people from sin and its results, death and hell, so much as self-righteous hypocrites who simply don't like other people and their sins. For our Gospel to be good news, it must be accompanied by the power of a life well-lived in submission to the Jesus we claim to follow. And our failure to discipline sin means that too many people see no distinction between the Christian life and their own as an unbeliever.

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