Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Leeman on the Five Purposes of Church Discipline

Sunday I continue my exposition of Matthew's gospel and find myself in chapter 18 verses 15-20. This is the classic passage where Christ lays out the role and responsibility of the church to discipline its members. Because this is such a controversial issue and so few churches practical it today, to our own shame, I am having to some extra study on the subject.

I have begun by surveying much smaller books on the subject to get a grasp of the issue and then will get to more theological and exegetical works. I began with the book Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus by Jonathan Leeman. In this short book, Leeman offers a chapter on the subject. Regarding the purpose of discipline, Leeman offers five.

First, discipline aims to expose. Sin, like cancer, loves to hide. Discipline exposes the cancer so that it might be cut out quickly (see 1 Cor. 5:2)

Second, discipline aims to warn. A church does not enact God's judgment through discipline. Rather, it stages a small play that pictures the great judgment to come (1 Cor. 5:5).

Third, it aims to save. Churches pursue discipline when they see a member taking the path toward death, and none of their pleading and arm waving causes the person to turn around. It's the device of last resort (1 Cor. 5:5).

Fourth, discipline aims to protect. Just as cancer spreads from one cell to another, so sin quickly spreads from one person to another (1 Cor. 5:6).

Fifth, it aims to present a good witness for Jesus. Church discipline, strange to say, is actually good for non-Christians, because it helps to preserve the attractive distinctiveness of God's people (see 1 Cor. 5:1). Churches, remember, are to be salt and light. "But if the salt loses its saltiness," Jesus said, "it is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot" (Matt. 5:13). . . . 

The underlying purpose in every act of discipline, of course, must be love: love for the individual, love for the church, love for the watching world, love for Christ. (110-111)

No comments: