Church Discipline in a Culture of Outrage

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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Today in Blogworld 08.26.16

4 Types of People Leaders Must Not Listen To

But, boy is it hard not to.

Can the Devil Read My Mind?

Great answer.

On Being Persuasive

Helpful pointers in here for preachers, and really any speaker or one who needs to persuade.

Singing Helps Us Feel the Gospel

This is why singing in church is so important. And also why what words we sing matters too.

I’ve probably already shared this a million times, but I can’t get enough of this right now:

Dating the Future President


“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” 2 Corinthians 6:14 ESV

Growing up in church, specifically in youth groups, I got the distinct impression that this verse had a very specific application: Don’t date an unbeliever! I was repeatedly informed that evangelistic dating doesn’t work, but is that the only proper application of this passage?

I’m convinced this verse (and the following 4 verses) has wider application. For example, yoking yourself to an unbeliever in a business deal which would necessarily tie your Christian name/reputation to the unbeliever may violate this command. What if your business partner proved to be dishonest and in doing so dragged your name (and thereby Christ’s) name through the mud? That isn’t to say that all business dealings with unbelievers are wrong; we simply must consider our actions in light of the biblical command not to be joined with unbelievers.

With election season in full gear, I can’t help but wonder if there are some similarities. If this verse has bearing on the way believers ought to conduct themselves in dating and business, then it likely applies to the political arena as well. If Christians actively promote a political candidate whose fruit is not in keeping with repentance, what does that communicate? Many believers, rightly, will not support a candidate who does not hold a pro-life position. But what about dishonesty? Crass talk? Vitriol? Intentionally overlooking the failings of “our” party while castigating the unrighteousness of the other is like refusing to date an unbeliever which we find unattractive only to go to prom with a different unbeliever who just so happens to be the homecoming queen.

We must consider how our political support and activism will reflect on Christ. If we yoke our name with that of a particular candidate there will be consequences to this. If he/she is elected into office by the support and promotion of Christians what will it communicate about Christ when “our” candidate enacts policy which is the polar opposite of our Christian conviction?

2 Corinthians 6:17 goes on to say, “Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you,”. While I’m not one to claim that Christians should be utterly disinterested and uninvolved in politics, we should take these verses seriously. Perhaps if we were to practice a little biblical separation, we would notice that it does our souls some good. Perhaps it would improve the reputation of the Church and her Groom. Perhaps following Scriptural commands might just change the world. It is long past time for Christians to unyoke from the world in many spheres, may we seek God’s help in consistently applying this Scripture to our lives.

7 Dangers of Embracing Mere Therapeutic Forgiveness

I’ve been preaching the past couple weeks on forgiveness. In preparing I’ve found Chris Brauns’ work, Unpacking Forgiveness, to be immensely helpful. A position that I have held for awhile now is that forgiveness isn’t simply about us. We don’t forgive someone primarily because we release ourselves from some prison of bitterness. Though that is certainly a benefit—we forgive because God forgave us.

I’ve also held the position, for a while now, that there is a difference between the posture of forgiveness and actually living in reconciliation with someone. I can forgive you—as in, absorb the cost of your sin, not hold your sin against you, etc.. But I cannot fully forgive you—in the everything is reconciled since—until you repent. I’m convinced we have to hold this position as it relates to God’s forgiveness of us, otherwise we must embrace universalism.

Brauns does a phenomenal job of showing the difference between biblical forgiveness and what he terms therapeutic forgiveness. Therapeutic forgiveness is more the feeling of forgiving someone. Your forgive them in your heart or in your mind. It becomes “an emotion rather than a transaction or commitment between two parties”. (65) For me, I don’t believe the therapeutic forgiveness is absolutely wrong. I just believe it is incomplete. But when it becomes what we primarily mean by forgiveness then it becomes extremely unhelpful.

Brauns lists 7 problems we have when therapeutic forgiveness becomes our sole definition for forgiveness:

  1. It distorts people’s understanding of true forgiveness. To say that two offenders are equally forgiven when one repents and the other does not is to cheapen the beauty of reconciliation and true biblical forgiveness.
  2. It attempts to redefine how people understand God’s forgiveness. Forgiven people aren’t in hell, but therapeutic forgiveness would force us into that position.
  3. It suggests that some people may even need to forgive God.
  4. It results in ‘cheap grace’ and a reluctance to identify and name evil. “The church ought to identify and name evil, not declare that all must be unconditionally forgiven.
  5. It discourages healing in Christian community. Therapeutic forgiveness tends to make us “forget about relationships and move on”. The Bible calls us to something far more difficult—but far more glorious.
  6. It may make individuals feel licensed to avoid dealing with their own sin. “Working through forgiveness biblically will force us to wrestle with truth rather than only with feelings”
  7. It does not prepare us as Christians for the persecution and evil that we may face. How can you handle the real evil and speak about justice when forgiveness is merely an emotion we should grant to every offender?

We must be careful how we think through biblical forgiveness and how we counsel folks who have been sinned against. It is inevitable that we will need forgiveness and need to forgive. I’m finding that there are so few doctrines which are as grossly misunderstood. And certainly which aren’t as applied. I close with these words of JC Ryle:

Let these truths sink down deeply into our hearts. It is a melancholy fact that there are few Christian duties so little practiced as that of forgiveness. It is sad to see how much bitterness, unmercifulness, spite, harshness, and unkindness there is among men. Yet there are few duties so strongly enforced in the New Testament Scriptures as this duty is, and few the neglect of which so clearly shuts a man out of the kingdom of God.” (From here)

Let’s forgive one another as Christ forgave us—but let’s be sure when we do so we are walking in the forgiveness Scripture speaks of and not merely the forgiveness the Dr. Phil’s of our day encourage.

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