RPM, Volume 12, Number 21 May 23 to May 29 2010

A Neglected Love

Church Discipline
Part I

By Todd D. Baucum

Todd is the Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, PCA in Enterprise, AL. He has a Doctor of Ministry with an emphasis in Cultural Apologetics. He served as State House Chaplain, in the Kansas House of Representatives and enjoys short-term missions, travel, reading, sporting clays, kayaking, listening to my family play piano, guitar and violins and enjoys all things C.S. Lewis, a Narnian at heart.
"What I am for you terrifies me. What I am with you consoles me." Augustine

Joe has not been in church for a while. When a church member told him he was missed, he complained about the stress of his job and the schedule of his kids. He did say he was to be there this coming Sunday. But, Joe was not there the next week.

Martha has a little habit that everyone seems to notice, except her. No matter who is talking or wherever she is, she interrupts others. It happens in Bible Studies, Sunday School and social gatherings with the members. Everyone pretends that it doesn't bother them. New people are often offended, not knowing Martha's other good points, tend to just avoid her. No one wants to offend her. A couple of women think the Elders should talk with Martha. She is beginning to notice that a few people will not talk to her. She is wondering why?

Terry is a new Christian, even though he grew up in a Christian home. He is growing in his faith and eager to know more about the Bible. There has been a noticeable change in his life as he has walked with the Lord. But he struggles with a sin that has had a long hold of his life. A few people in the church have noticed this "weakness". But, since a few others in the church struggle with it, no one feels obligated to help or pray with Terry. Sometimes Terry feels alone, even though people are courteous and friendly.

How can we help Joe who has neglected the worship of God, see the value of regular worship? How can godly women help Martha to see something she can't and encourage her? Why does Terry feel alone and who should help him? What all three of these fictitious persons need is for the Body of Christ to help them. All three are facing some struggle with sin. A reality of living in falling world is dealing with sin. If truth were known, just about everyone in the church is dealing with their own stuff — their own sin issues. They were too kind, too loving to say anything. After a while, "the issues" had to be dealt with in a formal way. The elders are notified; they meet and then have to confront the offender. What happens to Joe, or Martha or Terry?

This scenario is carried out again and again in so many churches. It points out a major misunderstanding of the role of church discipline. Biblically, the discipline of the Church is not a matter of the leaders dealing with the problems that no one else wants to, but the whole Body of Christ helping each other grow into maturity in Jesus Christ.

The Body of Christ is called to be a special type of people. Peter used such lofty labels as kings and priests (1Peter 2:9). It is not because they are no longer sinners struggling with temptations, bad attitudes and habits. It is because they are sinners that have been shown a love they could never earn, a forgiveness they could never buy and a grace they would never deserve. This grace has power to change lives (John 3:5-8; Gal.2:20). There are two parts to this life changing reality. Theologians call the first part of this reality, Justification. It is like a legal declaration by a Judge that a criminal is free, pardoned and his record cleaned. It is what God declares us to be on the basis of what Jesus has done. His righteousness is credited to our account (Rom.4:24). We are free, not just in a theoretical sense, but really and actually set free from the bondage and the penalty of our sins and all that is wrong with us. This is not legal fiction. But it is also not a statement on our moral transformation. It is sinners that need a Savior.

The reality does not end there. It is ongoing, but not in the same sense that God has to justify us everyday — declare us pardoned. The problem is that the process of living in the reality of God's free grace is precisely a process, meaning it is a long journey or walk in a certain direction. We call this Sanctification. It refers to this ongoing reality of the work of grace in the life of a believer to change our actions, habits and attitudes. This is the Christian experience of living in God's already and not yet truth that is so much a part of biblical teaching of kingdom reality(the classic text that we look at is Romans 7:7-25).

When it comes to the Church we look at its present situation with the vantage point of this truth of God's grace. The way I look at the Body of Christ that I am attached to is much like the way I look at my own life: A child of God, saved by Grace, but still a big sinner and if everyone knew what was in my heart they would kick me out. Groucho Marx, humorist of the silver screen used to say, "I don't care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as a member." There needs to a realistic assessment of our hearts and our sinful conditions. Such an acknowledgement can lead to either two things. In a negative direction we can deny the struggle and pretend to be something we are not. Just act real holy and self-righteous and better than the sinners around us. That's the problem of being a Pharisee, which is about being long on holiness and right living, but short on humility and repentance. Yet, there is a positive way to grapple with what Paul called the "law at work in my members" which is the power of remaining sin in those who know the reality of God's forgiveness (Rom.7:23). This way is the way of keeping two truths constantly in view. I am a big sinner, and I rest in God's forgiveness offered freely in Christ.

When you look at the group of people you attend worship with in light of this truth it will give you a proper perspective on the nature of the Church. The already and not yet reality of the kingdom is ever present. This does not excuse bad behavior, ungodly conduct or sinfulness in the Church; it only explains why it is there. In other words, don't pitch in the towel and drop out, whenever you see sin in the church. It is there, because that is the way of this walk of sanctification. Acknowledging this reality also, if we be true to what Scripture tells, means that we are doing something about it. "Go and sin no more," means living in a redemptive way so that grace is being manifest in one's life. This is no less true for the Church. This is the principle reason why the Bible teaches about Church discipline. It is not about keeping the sinners out of the fellowship of the saints. All attitudes about keeping "the Club" free from unsavory elements is out of harmony with biblical teaching. Church discipline is always about restoring, in the final analysis, making grace known and not about house cleaning. There is a corrective element to discipline, to be sure, but even that is done in love. It is about the love that reaches out to a stumbling brother or sister to reclaim them and redirect their life around the Gospel of Christ (Gal.6:1-2). It is living out truth that the "Lord disciplines those He loves" (Heb. 12:5).

This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.

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