Monday, April 24, 2006

Thoughts on (Church) Discipline

In his book "Handbook of Church Discipline" Jay Adams writes that church discipline begins because of a breakdown of self-discipline. The intervention of another, whether the informal rebuke of a brother or sister, or the formal, judicial process of the church leadership seeks to remedy what is lacking in the individual's self-discipline. It also seems apparent that the initial lack of self-discipline which necessitates the discipline process tends to be relatively "small" sins. Adultery, for example, is rarely, if ever, the initial sin requiring disciplinary action; but is preceded by a long string of "smaller" sins which culminate in the more serious sin. Yet, the sad irony is that the "smaller" sins are those that are generally overlooked, or are not thought to require serious disciplinary disciplinary action, formal or informal. A few observations suggest themselves.

First, great humility and diligence are required with regard to our sanctification. We are too prone to overestimate our own strength, or the strength of others, while easily overlooking those areas which speak powerfully of weakness. "Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall."

Second, we must be humble enough to give and to receive loving, yet firm rebuke in any areas where there is a discontinuity between the mandates of Scripture and practice. A Scriptural rebuke given in a timely manner may very well save a brother or sister a great deal of the pain and hardship that sin will bring to God's child. Even more, in God's providence, this early rebuke may be the means that God will use to save a soul from the damning hardness of continued, ingrained sin.

Third, elders must be diligent in their care of the flock Christ has entrusted to them. The final steps of church discipline is generally exercised in cases where there is gross sin; yet any sin, which fails to be renounced despite Scriptural rebuke and ministerial authority calls for sessional action. What elder would fail to deal with the "white lies" or the tantrums of their children, excusing themselves by saying it is not worth the effort, or the sins are not substantial enough to require parental discipline? The manner in which an elder rules his house is not only a qualification for his office, but also an analogy.

"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. For if we go on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries."

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