22 September, 2005

Of Sons and Bastards

Church discipline is something on which churches tend to have extreme positions. It seems that there are those that refuse to do any discipline at all, and there are those that find it to be the only means of grace.

In the book of Matthew, we see a pattern for church discipline that the Lord Jesus Christ gives to the elders of the church. The keys of the kingdom include the shutting out of those that are excommunicated.

This, of course, is the extreme of discipline, but it starts at a much more pastoral and compassionate place. (Not that excommunication is not compassionate..another topic.) Church discipline begins with the members of the body holding each other accountable for the profession of faith in Christ Jesus that they have made. This can be very difficult in our day. People see faith (even in the most conservative churches) as a personal matter that is not allowed to fall under the judgment of anyone or anything. This is an unfortunate place for the bride of Christ.

When believers are holding each other accountable and showing a genuine concern for their faith and the advancement of it, the possibility of a stronger and purer church is within view. Church discipline begins with brethren viewing each other's walk as something that is worth taking interest in. Accountability is making sure that we are our brother's keeper.

In the book of Hebrews we hear that without chastisement we are not counted as sons, but we are bastards. This is strong language- no one wants to be illegitimate. Concerning earthly life you do not want to be left without a father. O how much more would it hurt to be left spiritually fatherless. Friends, our call as Christians is to admonish one another, hold each other accountable to our high calling as sons and daughters of the Most High, and seek to be our brother's keeper.

Friends, seek to keep each other accountable. It is the way of Christ.

Belgic Confession, Article 19
The marks by which the true Church is known are these: If the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if it maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in punishing of sin; in short, if all things are managed according to the pure Word of God, all things contrary thereto rejected, and Jesus Christ acknowledged as the only Head of the Church. Hereby the true Church may certainly be known, from which no man has a right to separate himself.

Westminster Confession, Article 30
I. The Lord Jesus, as King and Head of his church, hath therein appointed a government, in the hand of church officers, distinct from the civil magistrate.
II. To these officers the keys of the kingdom of heaven are committed; by virtue whereof, they have power, respectively, to retain, and remit sins; to shut that kingdom against the impenitent, both by the Word, and censures; and to open it unto penitent sinners, by the ministry of the gospel; and by absolution from censures, as occasion shall require.
III. Church censures are necessary, for the reclaiming and gaining of offending brethren, for deterring of others from the like offenses, for purging out of that leaven which might infect the whole lump, for vindicating the honor of Christ, and the holy profession of the gospel, and for preventing the wrath of God, which might justly fall upon the church, if they should suffer his covenant, and the seals thereof, to be profaned by notorious and obstinate offenders.
IV. For the better attaining of these ends, the officers of the church are to proceed by admonition; suspension from the sacrament of the Lord's Supper for a season; and by excommunication from the church; according to the nature of the crime, and demerit of the person.

Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, IV.xii.8
"Some persons, in their hatred of discipline, recoil from its very name, let them understand this: if no society...can be kept in proper condition without discipline, it is much more necessary in the Church, whose condition should be ordered as possible.

John Murray, Collected Writings, 2.382
The Session is under obligation to exclude from the Lord's Supper those who are guilty of such overt sin as requires exclusion... To deny this necessity is to waive completely the demands of discipline.

AA Hodge, Confession of Faith, p371
The end of Church Discipline are declared to be: the purity of the Church, the recovery of the erring brother himself, the force of example to deter others from like sin, and the exhibition of righteousness and fidelity to principle presented to the world without.

Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, p1706
Christian reproof is an ordinance of Christ for the bringing of sinners to repentance, and must be managed as an ordinance.

a Brakel, Christian's Reasonable Service, 2.185
You (the elders) must engage in this task (Church discipline) in the realization that it is the Lord's work, for in doing so you will gain ability and boldness. You will then begin to observe your congregation, neighborhood by neighborhood, and if you become suspicious about someone, you ought to enquire into this. You should privately address such an individual, exhort and rebuke him, and seek to correct such a person in the spirit of meekness. If he hears you, you have gained him.

IBID, 2.187
The use of this key purifies the congregation, makes others fearful of sinning, and delivers those who are weak from that which offends. It will cause the Church to demand respect from those who are without (the church), who in turn will aspire after godliness and salvation and will be enticed to join the Church.
Blessed be the congregation where this may be practiced. "For there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore" (Psalm 133.3).

Discussion Points:

-What can we do to encourage accountability in the church?

-What place does "small groups", "cell groups", or "societies" play in accountability?

-What are some of thindrancesces to accountability?


Droll Flood said...

Given the title of this post, I was instantly on the same track of thought...
-Is it right to say that those elders who do not/ will not discipline the congregants hate them?
-Concerning the Lord's Supper:
Doesn't a lack of discipline invoke God's wrath?
-Even those who refuse to cooperate with the '1-2-3' steps of discipline hate their neighbor?
-Doesn't every 'religion' have its own discipline inherently, and demand conformity ...this testifying against them?

Droll Flood said...

"Concerning the Lord's Supper:
Doesn't a lack of discipline invoke God's wrath?"
-Should a congregation be suprised in its refusing to discipline its members to start seeing their congregants 'drop like flies' if they still try to "celebrate" the Lord's supper?
-"celebrate": Would a better way of saying it be "hurling scorn on?"

shawn said...

wow 2 coments...

either this is an unpopular topic, or people don't know how to hold others accountable?

Good discusion questions, Nate.

Droll Flood said...

'...either this is an unpopular topic, or people don't know how to hold others accountable?'

There is a third and fourth option:
'Perhaps the majority of the lot all of a sudden dropped dead of a heart attack
or just plain are too busy with other things.'
Ooo, Ooo, Ooo... a fifth option:
They've found other blogs thus going apostate!
Perhaps I should go work on mine.