Friday, May 9, 2014
Whatever Happened to Discipline?
I love children which should not be a surprise since we had four of them. Now I love grandchildren! However, the other day when I was out shopping, I witnessed a mother with several children running wild in the grocery store. Yes, mine did too at one time, but these children were being destructive. One child (unseen by the check out girl) picked up a lollipop and put it in his mouth. The mother said, "Don't do that!" and the child placed the gooey sucker back on the shelf. YUCK! Why didn't the mother pay for the lollipop? Why did she allow her children to run around pulling things off shelves, open items up, and totally ignore them? There was absolutely no instruction being given to these children or discipline for that matter.
As I said, our children would get carried away too, but we always dealt with the issue of disobedience. We tried our best to discipline in love so they would grow up to respect others, their property and to behave with kindness and courtesy. Certainly, we were not perfect parents, but today, it seems as if many folks do not even attempt to train their children. This is often seen not only in grocery stores but doctor's offices as well. A "No, no, Johnny" will not do when a child is being destructive or hurting another. Unfortunately, lack of discipline is not only happening in families but it is also absent in many churches today.
There was a time when church discipline was taken seriously and those caught in unrepentant sin were admonished in order to bring them back into fellowship with the Lord and also to protect the congregation. Today, we see very little correction taking place when conflict arises or a sin is committed. Jesus laid out a process for us to follow when someone has committed a sin. It is found in Matthew 18: 15-17: "15 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have regained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you, so that at the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be established. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector." As noted in these instructions, Jesus encourages the person who has been sinned against to go to his brother privately so that the matter does not inflame the entire congregation. Then, if the brother does not listen, we are told to bring two to three others to serve as witnesses and again, we try to address the issue. If this fails, we finally bring the matter to the church as a whole and remove the offending party if he will not repent. The entire goal here is to reclaim the person who has fallen into sin and to restore relationships with others and with God. However, if the individual chooses to remain in his sin and all attempts have failed, then, for his good and the good of the church, he must be removed from fellowship.
Certainly church discipline, like family discipline in the home, is not to be done for every little infraction. If that were the case, it would seem unloving and lose its effectiveness. Dr. John MacArthur writes: "Church discipline is not merely to punish the offender, or to shun him completely, but to remove him as a detrimental influence from the fellowship of the church, and then to regard him as an evangelistic prospect rather than as a brother" (The MacArthur Bible Commentary, pg. 1,158). John Calvin in "The Institutes of the Christian Religion" Chapter 12:1 comments this way on church discipline: "For what will happen if each is allowed to do what he pleases? Yet that would happen, if to the preaching of doctrine there were not added private admonitions, corrections, and other aids of the sort that sustain doctrine and do not let it remain idle. Therefore, discipline is like a bridle to restrain and tame those who rage against the doctrine of Christ; or like a spur to arouse those of little inclination; and also sometimes like a father's rod to chastise mildly and with the gentleness of Christ's Spirit those who have more seriously lapsed. " The entire purpose, then, of applying discipline is to reclaim a person for whom Christ died not to shame them.
When a church does nothing to correct errant members from serious sins, it serves to say to other members that their actions are okay within the context of fellowship. This is no different then what happens in family relationships when one child is allowed to get away with things that violate the family rules. Our rule of faith in the church is the Bible and our purpose is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Therefore, it falls upon church leaders to keep careful watch over the flock to protect them and also to bring discipline when necessary.
I remember my husband saying to our children when they needed discipline that it brought him no joy to have to correct them. However, he loved them so much that he needed to make certain they were obedient not just to us but to God. Let us pray for our churches across this nation that they may take seriously the importance of church discipline. Without it, the sheep will go astray and the Lord will not be glorified. Selah!