Online Articles the Church Theology

Lets Not Tear Ourselves Apart – Evangelicals Now

This months Evangelicals Now Article 

LET’S NOT TEAR OURSELVES APART

As the evangelical church in the West seems to be tearing itself apart over a number of scandals, the thought came to mind that there is a fairly simple (but not simplistic) solution. What if we returned to the Biblical practice of church discipline?

In our individualistic society, where individual autonomy and ‘rights’ trump everything, the notion of church discipline is not one that is popular, even in the church. The term brings to mind associations with authoritarianism, legalism, pettiness and bullying. A misuse of discipline can lead to those abuses, but you don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. I would suggest that if we returned to a Biblical understanding of church discipline then we would have a far better framework for dealing with many of our current problems. Of course, that also means that we need a better understanding of what the church actually is – confusion about ecclesiology is wreaking havoc amongst us.

Crucial for church well-being

We all recognise that a football team needs discipline, as does an army, a school or a business. Yet many of us seem to think that it is at best an optional extra for the church – at worst an unnecessary interference in our private ‘walk with the Lord’. Our forefathers thought differently. They regarded discipline as being crucial to the well-being of the church. Take, for example, the Belgic Confession, Chapter 29 – ‘The true church can be recognised if it has the following marks: the church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel; it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them; it practices church discipline for correcting faults. In short, it governs itself according to the pure Word of God, rejecting all things contrary to it and holding Jesus Christ as the only Head. By these marks one can be assured of recognising the true church – and no one ought to be separated from it.’

The Biblical teaching about church discipline is not too difficult to grasp. It starts with self-discipline (one of the fruits of the Spirit). From there we have personal admonition with brotherly (or sisterly) correction. The wounds of a friend are faithful (Prov. 27:6). Following the pattern of Matthew 18:15-18, if this does not work you take along two or three witnesses. If that does not work, then you report it to the church. The church in this instance does not surely mean that we stand up in front of the whole body of believers on a Sunday and tell of our disputes. No, we go to those who have been appointed as the spiritual rulers in this regard – the elders (or whatever term your church uses to describe those described in 1 Timothy 3).

And if the one being disciplined will not listen to the church, then you treat them as you would a ‘pagan or a tax collector’. This means that they are ‘handed over to Satan’ and removed from the spiritual protection of the church (1 Cor. 5:5). The purpose is ultimately restoration, not destruction (2 Cor. 2:5-11). In other words, discipline is loving, not abusive or power politics. And, in my experience, and that of many others, it works!

There is due process. We are all equal before the Law of God. Other safeguards are also put in. For example, we are not to entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. Likewise, leadership in the New Testament church is plural and limited. Christ is the Head – no man, or woman. As the Chief Shepherd he works through the undershepherds, who are ministers and servants, not masters and lords.

And we are cautioned against getting involved in something that is none of our business. ‘Like one who grabs a stray dog by the ears is someone who rushes into a quarrel not their own’ (Prov. 26:17).

Discipline is to be carried out when false doctrine is being taught (Rev.2:2) and also when those who teach true doctrine do not ‘adorn’ it by their lives. It is not our responsibility to judge those outside the church, but those within. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked person from among you’ (1 Cor. 5:12).

Of course, none of this guarantees a pure and perfect church – discipline exists precisely because the church is not that. Nor does it guarantee that we will get everything right. Sometimes the guilty will go unpunished, and even worse, the innocent will be punished. But we have this great guarantee that undergirds all – the Lord will right all wrongs on the day He has appointed, by the man He has appointed (Acts 17:31).This means that sometimes we are able to act and deal with situations, but other times we have to let things go and let the tares grow with the wheat, because we do not have the means, the evidence or the power to deal with some situations.

Not included

Note what is missing from here – campaigning, those ‘too important’ to be judged, gossip (whether on social media or by other means), ‘open’ letters, church politics, self-appointed judges, self-righteousness, going to the civil courts, using the world’s media, cancel culture, ‘independent’ reports and personality squabbles.

As evangelicals developed a ‘low’ doctrine of the church (in reaction to one that seemed to be far too ‘high’), we have ended up in a situation where networks, politics, and leadership developed around charismatic and authoritative personalities have replaced the more Biblical approach. In other words, we have adopted more worldly methods.

Unless we return to a more Biblical approach, I fear that we will end up doing the devil’s work for him. He won’t need to be a roaring lion as long as we continue to bite and devour one another (Gal. 5:15).

The PC (Post-Covid) Church – Evangelicals Now

Is Your Church Carrying Too Much Deadwood – EN

11 comments

  1. The media have revealed a gigantic problem with clerical bullies in evangelical churches. Leaders need to face church discipline!

      1. To be fair, the media has played an important part in the John Smyth QC and Rev Jonathan Fletcher abuse situations. Not to mention the Ravi Zacharias abuse scandal. There is a huge problem of power abuse in the evangelical world. But it’s not confined to the evangelical world and it is not about theology.

      2. I’m not quite sure what role the media has played in either of these situations. Power abuse is real. The solution to it is not gossip or trial by social media. The article offers a more biblical approach. I prefer that to what currently masquerades as ‘justice’ online or elsewhere.

      3. Does the Evangelical Church have a Systemic Sin Problem? (theweefleaFebruary 26, 2020)

  2. “We all recognise that a football team needs discipline, as does an army, a school or a business.”

    Being ex-military and an ex-athlete David, that is music to my ears. There seems a common thread here between what you are saying and Jordan Petersons twelve rules with it subtitle about being a way out of chaos.

    The truth is that there is nothing new about divisions in evangelicalism. In the he 1966 Evangelical Alliance Conference Martin Lloyd-Jones argued that there was a schism among evangelicals over ecumenicalism and, it being sinful and for all to be united with the view he had in opposition to be ecumenical and to come out of differing denominations wiht John Stott arguing that biblically there was remnant in Israel’s history and for an evangelical to stay within their beloved denomination, the Church of England say.

    So, nothing new in principle under the sun here.

    The truth is that there is an appropriate balance to be had with creative environments often being chaotic and there being need for structure in order to be able to function as a community.

    So in this world of individual freedom with rights and responsibilities (and rights not infrequently preferred over responsibility for many) I agree in principle with your argument for greater discipline. With that in mind, how do we ensure that this doesn’t cross the line into tyranny?

    Evangelicalism is not the answer or any other denomination. The answer is in Christ and being evangelical sharing the good news of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ whether that comes about through evangelicalism or any other “ism”.

  3. Might I suggest the ACNA catechism “To Be A Christian” on what the Church is and its characteristics. I believe the evangelical view is missing a few characteristics, which is why maybe there is such a splintering of non-denominational/one-off communities. I believe this is the most biblical and traditional understanding of the Church from the time of the apostles (which we see in the scriptures below) and to the present day.

    95. What are the “marks” or characteristics of the Church?
    The Nicene Creed expands upon the Apostles’ Creed to list four
    characteristics of the Church: it is “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.” (see Articles of Religion, 8)

    96. In what sense is the Church “one”?
    The Church is one because all its members form the one Body of
    Christ, having “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and
    Father of all” (Ephesians 4:5–6). The Church is called to embody
    this unity in all relationships between believers. (Psalm 133; John
    17:11, 20–23; Ephesians 2:11–22; 4:2–6)

    97. Why is the Church called “holy”?
    The Church is holy because the Holy Spirit dwells in it and sanctifies its members, setting them apart to God in Christ and calling them to moral and spiritual holiness of life. (Exodus 19:3–6;
    Leviticus 19:1–2; 20:22–26; Psalm 15; John 17:17–19; Acts 26:16–18;
    1 Corinthians 3:16–17; Colossians 3:12–15)

    98. Why is the Church called “catholic”?
    The Church is called “catholic” (“according to the whole”) because
    it keeps the whole faith it has received from the Lord, in continuity
    with the whole Church, in all times and places. (Micah 4:1–4; Acts
    2:1–11; 1 Corinthians 15:1–8; 2 Timothy 1:13–14; Jude 3; Revelation 5:9–10)

    99. Why is the Church called “apostolic”?
    An apostle is one who is sent. The Church is called “apostolic” because it holds the faith of the first apostles sent by Christ. In continuity with them, the Church is likewise sent by Christ to proclaim the
    Gospel and to make disciples throughout the whole world. (Matthew
    10:1–4, 40–42; 28:18–20; Acts 2:42; 13:1–4; Ephesians 2:19–21)

  4. Apologies. I don’t really know where to share this. It relates to the sale of Princess Diana’s bicycle named the “shame bike” and a buyer from USA as a symbol of white imperialist, slavery oppression.
    The story is here:
    https://road.cc/content/news/diana-shame-bike-highlight-royal-racist-roots-283065

    In that light Harry should renounce his roots and be dethroned from cultural prominence and Megan from marriage that by its covenant nature shares its heritage, be shunned and deplatformed and made to pay back all financial benefits gained?

    And no, for the avoidance of doubt, I’m not advocating for that to happen.

  5. May I ask what is the purpose of discipline if anybody being disciplined can just go off and join another ‘Church’ or even set up one of their own? Such a ‘discipline’ can never impose any kind of uniformity, whether of doctrine or anything else.

Leave a Reply to Geoff Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: