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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

"Church discipline" has gone out of vogue in recent years within the American church. In the rush to avoid judgment in our world of moral relativism, no one is willing to call a spade a spade in fear of committing the ultimate of sins in our society: hypocrisy and prejudice (of course, these words have lost most of their original meaning). After all, aren't we all sinners deserving of judgment? And that is most certainly true. I am, as the Apostle Paul would say, the worst of sinners, or at least, the worst sinner I know (since I know the depths of my depravity much more clearly than I know anyone else's). And Jesus did say not to judge others (Luke 6:37) or to at least first yank out the "log" of sin from your own life before tweezering out the sinful "speck" in the life of a brother. Paul agreed as well with respect to not judging unbelievers (Romans 2:1). Yet Jesus also commanded us to throw an unrepentant brother out of the Christian community (Matthew 18:15-17). It would seem that perhaps the word "judge" means a couple different things or at least is only to be done with right motives and a clean conscience. We ARE to judge (but only those in the Church (1 Cor. 5:12-13), but ONLY to do so with plenty of humility and only out of love for the person and a desire to see them gain eternal life (James 5:20), thus more of the idea of restoration over discipline.

On the rare occasion that we do see church discipline today, many times it is not done well or in a particularly biblical manner. Jesus' four steps aren't followed or it's done in the wrong spirit or on an inconsistent basis (e.g. an adulterous woman is more severely ostracized than the adulterous man). So it encouraged me greatly to see a community of believers at my church be obedient AND faithful to God by practicing church discipline properly and in the right spirit. Both in the message and at last night's Keystone, Pastor Bryan gave the following three reasons for church discipline:

  • Serious doctrinal error that warps the church (Gal. 1:6-9)
  • Deep divisiveness that damages unity in the church (Titus 3:10-11)
  • Severe, persistent, and unrepentant moral failing (1 Cor. 5:1-13)

What doesn't qualify under these (usually) is something like habitual speeding, smoking, gluttony, etc. In those cases, maybe talk to the person and keep reminding him that he isn't helping his spiritual health (or physical health, as might be the case) by his enslavement to that bad habit, but if he doesn't repent, do as the Dude in "The Big Lebowski" and abide.

And always, do all correction with a broken and humble heart; broken over the sin in the life of your brother or sister and humble due to the sin within your own life or the possibility that but for the grace of God, there go you.


Chris A said...

Yeah, I've been thinking a lot about this lately. I think you are right in saying a lot of this has to do with adjustments made within the church that amount to a compromise of values with those of the world. (This is my paraphrase of your "moral relativism" comment.)

I've been thinking about writing a ZFT piece on biblical church government. That is the foundation for proper discipline, in my view.

Without going into too much detail, God's system of church government is predicated on a kingdom model, not a republican or democratic one. Here is where the church has compromised in a great measure. Many churches prefer a democratic model involving voting, etc., but the churches of Christ are not to be run by popular demand. When this thing gets into a church, there are going to be compromises. A pastor in this type of church government isn't going to be able to correct people the way he should; some will receive correction, others will draw up a petition to give him the left foot of fellowship. A wise man once said, "He that followeth the sheep getteth doo-doo on his feet." He was speaking of the democratic model. The logical reservation people have with the kingdom model is the potential for abuse of power, but anything involving people isn't going to be perfect.

Darius said...

The churches I know of give the senior pastor the foremost spot of power, with a group of elders supporting him and holding him to account in the off-chance that he loses his spiritual marbles. I think if done properly, this is a good format to use. It's a delicate balance between the "dictatorship" you mentioned and living a community of equals where the "greatest" is the biggest servant of the community. Jesus said that the world has leaders that lord their power over others, but it's not supposed to be that way in the Church.

I have no problem with a hierarchical system, as long as there are still some checks and balances. A democracy-like system within the Body for certain decisions can be useful as well.

Darius said...

Explain more about what you would like to see, Chris, in practical terms.

Chris A said...

Without writing an entire article here, first of all let me say that I think many churches have a semblance of biblical church government, and I think a system of elders can be done in a biblical way.

I suppose the structure of the system is not as important as the understanding it is predicated on. From my perspective, the ideal church government is one founded on an acute understanding of the kingdom of God and what Jesus said about its operation. You already mentioned some of the principles involved - humility and servitude on the part of the leaders, and the absence of the attitude of being "lords over God's flock", etc.

Deficiencies in church government have their basis in understanding the biblical fundamentals of God's kingdom. Where people get into trouble is when their image of the leadership is such that they cannot receive correction or will not receive correction. This is why the democratic model is flawed; it supposes that the will of the majority always has a legitimate role in making ministerial decisions. Its like the children of Israel telling Moses what should be done when he is the one God appointed to lead them. People take their ideas about earthly government into the church. Although these ideas may have some practical uses, they are fundamentally flawed because they are not in line with God's system of government.

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Darius' book montage

The Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel The Main Thing
Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God
Overcoming Sin and Temptation
According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible
Disciplines of a Godly Man
Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem
When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . .and Ourselves
The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith
Respectable Sins
The Kite Runner
Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak
Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak
A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/calvinist, ... anabaptist/anglican, metho
Show Them No Mercy
The Lord of the Rings
Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass
The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception
Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming
The Chronicles of Narnia
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