I’m a pretty firm believer in the biblical practice of church discipline. Maybe I should back that up and say that I’m a firm believer in the biblical practice of member to member accountability and consistently pursuing reconciliation, and if those means fails, I’m a firm believer in the importance of church disciple. What do I mean by this? I mean that the Scripture is pretty clear, when we have been sinned against, and when we can’t just cover it in love, then we need to pursue our offender and plead for their repentance. If they don’t repent then we need to involve others and with increasing intensity pursue their repentance. That’s what I mean, in a nutshell, by church discipline.
Church discipline has, thankfully, enjoyed a bit of a resurgence in recent days. Of course the more churches which butcher it, the less likely we are to see that resurgence continue. But it’s still a pretty hot topic within many church circles. I especially notice this with us young whippersnappers who are amped up on 9Marks material and fresh out of seminary. We are eager—sometimes a bit too eager, I think—to apply what the Scriptures say on matters of relationship and church discipline. For the most part, I’m grateful for this recovery of a very important aspect of church life.
I have noticed something, though, which gives me a bit of concern; something for which we should keep our eyes open.
We live in a culture of outrage. Everything is a really big deal. We’ve turned the volume up to 11 on every social issue. In the Christian slice of the world we’ve cranked up every theological discussion to a “danger of the fires of hell” type of issue. Nothing is a minor detail anymore. We are even at times offended by other peoples lack of being offended by our faux pas of the week. In a word, we’ve become pathetic little whiners….which I’m sure will offend someone because there is likely a more politically correct choice of words than “pathetic little whiners”. Just be glad I didn’t use a term like “nancy” or pulled a “cotton-headed ninny muggins” out of my insult bank.
I’m speaking so dogmatically, aren’t I? How dare I? I need to be firmly rebuked. And as I’ve likely offended at least someone, that moves me to my point. What happens when someone raised in the putrid land of constant outrage is transferred into a church which practices church discipline?
I imagine a scenario similar to this one. You’ve got a guy who says something off-handed about someone being a cotton-headed ninny muggins and somebody takes deep offense. Now granted we should be careful in how we choose our words and we need to be passionate about edifying one another. But certainly such an offense could have easily been covered in love. Yet, if this offended person is still poisoned by the kool-aid of constant offense, then he is going to think that this is a big deal. And when the brother who let a little cotton-headed ninny muggins slip refuses to grovel in deep repentance, this guy is going to think he needs to ratchet up the church discipline process.
It’s a ridiculous example but what I’m trying to say is that community cannot really happen in such a context. And your elders will be exhausted by all the instances of offense that they’ve got to sift through—which probably should have just been covered in love.
So, what do we do? I don’t think the answer is to give up on discipline. The answer is to actual teach things like church discipline more and to do it better. We need to teach people not only how to ratchet up the discipline but also how to slow it down. How to cover things in love. How to step out of the culture of outrage and into a culture of abundant grace. We must teach people how to differentiate between the violation of Scripture and the violation of my pathetic little whining.
Otherwise you’re going to have a church filled with constant rebuke. And that doesn’t seem to be the general tenor of the New Testament. Granted, most of the letters in the NT are there because Paul is rebuking a church. And we do have his rebuking of Peter to his face. But such a thing is in the Scriptures because it wasn’t the norm. I’m sure big-mouthed Peter said several things which should have gotten him rebuked. But I’m guessing—and that’s really all I’m doing—is that such things were often covered in love. It was only when his big-mouth and hypocritical behavior started impacting the gospel that Paul rebuked him to his face. You know, when actual Scripture was being violated. So, we have to teach people how to know the difference between the two.
Maybe the only answer to our ridiculous culture of outrage is for churches to be dripping with grace and church discipline—to model how actual offenses should be actually dealt with and how others should be covered in love.
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