Saturday, August 19, 2006

Preaching the Gospel Through Church Discipline

"Hard days made me. Hard nights shaped me. I don't know they somehow saved me. And I know I'm making something out of this life they called nothing. I take what I want. I take what I need. You say it's wrong, I say it's right for me. I won't look down. Won't say I'm sorry. I know that only God can judge me." So sings the pop-punk band Good Charlotte.

This is the common view of the world. Our Sunday school teacher at Third reminded us last week that former rapper Tupac felt the same way. But such a view is also not uncommon in the church these days. It is a view that proudly shouts, "only God can judge me." So R. Albert Mohler Jr. discerningly writes:

The decline of church discipline is perhaps the most visible failure of the contemporary church. No longer concerned with maintaining purity of confession or lifestyle, the contemporary church sees itself as a voluntary association of autonomous members, with minimal moral accountability to God, much less to each other (ed. Mark E. Dever, Polity: Biblical Arguments on How to Conduct Church Life. (Wasington D.C.: 9 Marks, 2001). 43.).

But this is not the testimony of Scripture. Matthew 18 clearly proclaims that the church has a responsibility to "judge" one another. This is not meant to sound either legalistic or cruel (see my article "A Theology Against Legalism"). The Bible does, however, express that there is an appropriate form of judgment that Christians are to make within the church. To that end Jesus, in Matt. 18, established church discipline.

It may not sound like it but church discipline is a key means by which the church preaches the Gospel to one another. There are two types of church discipline: formative and corrective. Formative Church Discipline is what happens on Sunday mornings, as the word is preached. It is what happens when brothers meet over coffee to encourage one another in the faith, to be accountable to one another. Corrective church discipline is what happens when a member of the church reveals a pattern of unrepented sinning and is confronted (first by one brother; then if he is unrepentant, by two witnesses; then, if he remains unmoved, he is confronted by the whole church; and finally, expelled from the membership, though not necessarily from church attendance). How does this practice preach the gospel? Let's look at what it does.

In church discipline God is commanding His bride to be concerned about purity and holiness of testimony. The church is to be the pure bride of Christ. While no Christian is perfect, and the church is indeed full of sinners, it is to be full of sinners redeemed by Christ and striving to be conformed to the image of God's dear Son. This means that though they will sin, they are to be humble, repentant, and progressing in their sanctification. Preaching, discipleship, and corrective church discipline are a means to mainting the purity of the church, and an honorable witness before the world, and in so doing it warns members of the serious nature of sin. In this way we are preaching the gospel to one another: when we say that Christ's death and resurrection for sinners and application to His elect will reveal itself in faithful obedience in the lives of believers. We preach the gospel in our simple watching out for one another, and doing our best to keep one another from falling into sin.

The failure of most churches to properly do church discipline, or to even attempt to practice it, reveals a major reason why Paige Patterson, President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, is concerned that many non-Christians are hiding out in our own congregations. Imagine how Biblical Church discipline would preach the gospel to so many in our churches who think they are saved but have never truly trusted Christ. Let me urge you to study this doctrine, come to understand it better, and then seek to understand how it preaches the gospel in our churches, how it urges us all to "keep believing the gospel."

For further reading on Church Discipline see Daniel Wray, Biblical Church Discipline (Carlise: Banner of Truth, 1991), and Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (Wheaton: Crossway, 2000).


Post a Comment

<< Home