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Wednesday: Church Discipline — 17 Comments

  1. Having been a parent and a teacher, you may think that I know all about discipline! The only lesson I have learned is that I have made a lot of mistakes along the way.

    Here are some ideas to think about:

    1) Do not react to situations. Think about it and develop a strategy. (I learned that by experience with my own kids)

    2) For any discipline to be effective it should provide the opportunity for a change for the better in the recipient. That means that the disciplined still know they are loved. That is an example of tough love.

    3) In the church environment, discipline should not be seen as an opportunity to save face.

    Church discipline has the potential to be a minefield. In my own circle of friends, I have seen some awful administration of church discipline. Often these cases have involved family breakups and perception of sexual misconduct. One of the issues that concern me is that once accusations are made, there is often an element of congregational shunning even where there is no evidence to support the accusations. It is clear that we still have a lot to learn about discipline.

  2. It's been a long time since I checked in here and commented. This is always a sticky one, that few church people want to deal with. It is so easy to just let some things pass by, until a situation arises that makes enough people upset that it is "dealt with" in a discipline situation by a church. At that point, the partiality against the offender becomes so obvious as to become unfair. Like offenses by other church members have slipped through the cracks for so long, but all of a sudden an attitude of "we got to do something" seems to warrant action toward a particular individual. I think this is particularly evident in cases where a church member is "shacking up" out of wedlock with someone. My attitude is treat everyone equally, or don't so anything at all.

    • Thomas, a fair number of church members have been exposed to circumstances at one time or another, that are distasteful. Often the result is gossip fodder. The church board should be the first line of defensive action.

  3. *Wednesday: Church Discipline*

    The author's comments at the end of this study, have a lot of "meat" (forgive my wording) to chew.

    "We cannot deny the biblical teaching about the need of church discipline. We cannot be faithful to the Word without it. But notice the redemptive quality in many of these admonitions. As much as possible, discipline should be as redemptive as possible. We need to remember, too, that we are all sinners and that we all need grace. Thus, when we administer discipline we need to do it in humility and with a keen awareness of our own failings, as well."

    Maybe we need to examine this with a fine tip. Discipline is always perceived from a point of punishment; even it's dictionary definition puts an element of punishment in its elaboration. However, the fact that we cannot run away from moments of discipline should not be distanced from its objectives; - to reprimand, to remedy, to correct, to restore and to protect - these all run concurrently during discipline. Many times as human beings we adopt a "banish and avenge" approach of discipline, which rightfully massages our egos but to a very little extent addresses to the reconciliatory part that discipline should deliver at the very end. We have supported this using a purported analogy quoting Roman 6:23 passively "The Wages of Sin is Death", or many other scriptural texts to justify condemnation in punishment, but a holistic perspective would remind us of Roman 3:23 "All have sinned" and that Deuteronomy 1:17 ( also see 2 Corinthians 5:10; Matthew 7:1-5; John 8:7; John 4:11-12 or Hebrews 4:12 ) dictates that God reserves the role of judgement. Aren't we then entitled to discipline our brethren, you may ask? We are to discipline, but our motives should ensure that the objective to redeem the situation and at the very end restore an offender - giving the offender a chance to reflect, recollect and repent (where possible). Discipline should in turn protect the victims of the offending parties, but also lead the offender to a personal self-examination, not being shut off, but given access to return to the fold. Discipline should not be deemed as vangeful (Romans 12:17), should be redemptive (John 3:17), should not be deemed as bias (Leviticus 19:15), should be cautious (Galatians 6:1), should adopt wisdom (James 3:17), should not be quick tongued or loose tongued or reactive (Ephesians 4:29) and should at every point be considerate (Romans 14:1-13).

    Discipline may be seen as a simple word, but entails a lot. The great commission (Matthew 28: 16-20) requires us to "make disciples". The word disciple comes from discipline, therefore let's ask ourselves "How did Jesus do it?". Here's a note from E. G. White:

    The lost piece of silver is designed to represent the erring, straying sinner. The carefulness of the woman to find the lost silver is to teach the followers of Christ a lesson in regard to their duty to the erring ones who are straying from the path of right. The woman lighted the candle to increase her light, and then swept the house, and sought diligently till she found it. Here is clearly defined the duty of Christians toward those who need help because of their straying from God. The erring ones are not to be left in darkness and error, but every available means is to be used to bring them again to the light. The candle is lighted; and, with earnest prayer for heavenly light to meet the cases of those enshrouded in darkness and unbelief, the word of God is searched for clear points of truth, that Christians may be so fortified with arguments from the word of God, with its reproofs, threatenings, and encouragements, that the erring ones may be reached. Indifference or neglect will meet the frown of God. —Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3, pp. 99, 100.

  4. What about the example of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. Discipline and restoration in perfect love and she never left the side of Jesus.

    • Annie, what is your question concerning the incident of John 8:1-11? This passage is often brought up in discussions of church discipline, though it is very often misunderstood.

      The event John records is not a church discipline issue, but rather, shows the wrong way to go about it. Jesus restores the woman by leading her to repentance. (See DA 460-462)

      In not condemning the woman Jesus upheld the law since He was neither an eye-witness or her husband who alone could bring her to the law. This lack of condemnation did not clear her of her guilt which was real, but forgiveness was received by her when she confessed and repented of her sin. We could consider this "step 1" of the 3 steps outlined in Matt 18:15-20. No further steps are needed when the erring repent. So it is vital that this opportunity be given in the correct spirit at every step required.

  5. "As we already have seen, the New Testament maintains the importance of preserving the purity of biblical teaching in the wake of apostasy and false teaching, particularly at the end of time."

    Is preserving purity of biblical teaching the same as preserving purity of Adventist teaching?

    If so, how do we explain the following comment by Ellen White made during the latter part of her life (this summary is true to the context of the entire article titled Treasure Hidden).

    "Christ had many truths to give to his disciples, of which he could not speak, because they did not advance with the light that was flashed upon Levitical laws and the sacrificial offerings. They did not accept the light, advance with the light, and follow on to still greater brightness as Providence should lead the way. And for the same reason, Christ's disciples of 1898 do not comprehend important matters of truth. So dull has been the comprehension even of those who teach the truth to others, that many things can not be opened to them until they reach heaven. This ought not to be. But as men's minds become narrow, they think they know all, when they have only a glimpse of truth. They close their minds, as if there were no more for them to learn; and should the Lord attempt to lead them on, they would not accept the increased light. They cling to the spot where they see light, when that which they see is only a glimmer of the bright beams they might enjoy. They know very little of what it means to follow in the footsteps of Christ....And in closely investigating every jot and tittle which we think is established truth, in comparing scripture with scripture, we may discover errors in our interpretation of Scripture. Christ would have the searcher of his word sink the shaft deeper into the mines of truth. If the search is properly conducted, jewels of inestimable value will be found. The word of God is the mine of the unsearchable riches of Christ." (Review and Herald, July 12 1898).

    • We have searched the scriptures and found the precious gems of truth. Now what do we do? We will study ways to reach souls. We will be found where there are souls in need of a Savior. “The Lord has more and still more grace and love to give to those who preach the gospel to sinners. A work is to be done in and for the churches. They are not merely to be preached to; they are to be educated to receive Christ as their Saviour. The hearts of the members are to be so softened and humble that they will receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save their souls.” (Review and Harold, July 19, 1898).

  6. I see the counsel of Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17 as applying to the "Offended" brother and how he or she is to deal with him or her: there are three steps that he or she is to follow, 1. one on one with the offender 2. one or two witnesses with the offender and 3. Church business meeting. But then there is the counsel of Jesus to the "Offender" of which this WEDNESDAY part leaves out in Matthew 5:23,24.

  7. We all sin and fall short of the Glory of God. But All sin or shortcomings don't necessitate church discipline. What guidance is given to the church as to what makes discipline necessary?

    • Good question Normaforde.

      I will provide a start, and others can add further.

      1 Cor 5:
      * a church member was involved in behaviour that even non-churched noticed and recognised to be inappropriate
      * the church member was proud and arrogant about their behaviour
      * left unaddressed, there was actual risk that other church members would join in/copy this behaviour and proud/arrogant attitude
      * Paul then lists example behaviours that needed to be addressed at a church level: sexual immorality that was openly displayed; covetousness/greed; idolatry; reviling (verbally abuse: ie, critical and judgmental treatment of another designed to demoralise the other into submission); alcoholic/drunkard; extortioner.

      While these behaviours are listed as ones which need to be addressed, how they are addressed depends upon the attitude and subsequent 'track-record' of those exhibiting these behaviours.

      In 1 Cor 5, Paul is specifically addressing the case where the person is unremorseful and unrepentant and is advocating an approach that is appropriate to these people. Where people with these same behaviours exhibit GENUINE remorse and repentance AND commit to being held accountable to recovery including establishment of a trustworthy track-record over an extended period of time, a different approach would be adopted under the application of a 'discipline' process.

      All discipline is firstly aimed at being restorative - to the degree that restoration is possible. 'Containment' to protect against further harm is also a necessary guiding principle that needs to be integrated with the focus on restoration.

    • Perhaps any word or action that would lead even one soul deeper into sin and further from salvation. The church is called to be the "Light of the world", the "Salt of the earth", the Lord's Witnesses. Any deviation from this sacred calling would become a stumbling block and a snare. Those who claim fellowship with Christ will have a greater condemnation for willful misrepresentation.

      For example, a victim at the beach drowns when other swimmers were near enough to help, and while the life guard was flirting with one of the sunbathers, ignoring the cries for help. Who would be judged with greater severity?

      As the appointed life guards for perishing sinners, our congregations must preserve their unity and effectiveness with great jealousy for God's glory and for saving the lost.

      Keep in mind that discipline is for keeping each other encouraged to remain faithful to our high calling in Christ.

  8. Along with the two passages cited concerning discipline, we have also the instructions by the Spirit through Paul in Titus 3:10,11. It is easy to understand why this is important, and due do the lack of following our instructions we have become fragmented as a church. From our pulpits false ideas are presented as truth and few, if any, will speak out. What must Jesus think of those who profess His name while such things continue? Would the Good Shepherd clear those who allow the wolves to dwell among His sheep?

    Matthew 7 and Galatians 6 help us to know how to treat the erring, yet the counsel to not judge is as an individual, since the church is commanded to preserve the unity of truth and practice among it's members. We cannot use one scripture to cancel out another, and need the wisdom from above to know and obey the will of God in all things, both in what we do and how we do it. See also 1 Cor 6:1-5.

    It is not the place of the church to punish, but to discipline. God is our example through Christ, and if His clear instructions are followed in the spirit of meekness, only good can come from it regardless of the final outcome.

  9. This sounds like a commentary on news from home. Someone made a useful observation. We ,SDA's, are part of the protestant reformation, and as such, only occupy a very small segment. To keep this in mind is essential, when expressing an opinion. That opinion being, we have all the facts. Because we have all facts, don't bother me with trivia of others. Problems within our leadership often seek a political solution. Especially when answers to prayer are seemingly unanswered. It appears that a political solution, is near the top of the list.

    • We may be small Paul but we have been described by Jesus as the "salt of the earth". And if you think about it, salt is pretty influential. On my recent trip into northern Australia, I fainted in church and was carted off to hospital in an ambulance. After a cardiogram, blood tests, and a CT scan the medical team assigned to me concluded that I was low in electrolytes (salt) because I had been perspiring a lot in the heat (+105F every day). I came away from the experience convinced that salt was important, even in small amounts. As Seventh-day Adventist Christians we may be small but, like salt, we should make a difference.

  10. Maurice thank the Good Lord for your recovery. That is about as scary as it gets. I remember many years ago when my dad was younger that he suffered from leg cramps. The fix was salt. He wasn't getting enough. Io5 degrees is way beyond my tolerance level. I bet you spend seashore time. I try to make a difference for the right reasons. Blessings, Paul


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