Sunday, 9 February 2014

Church Discipline: The Road to Unity?

Recently my brother shared with me the following cartoon that he saw in The Economist. It not only rekindled all the media-frenzy junk from the clergy sexual abuse cases that have plagued the Roman Catholic Church lately, but it also made me think about how Christians often deal with each other when it comes to disputes.

I find it strangely ironic that we are often quick to say, "Do not judge" (Matthew 7:1), and yet we're often the first in line to file a law suit against a brother or sister who we feel has somehow wronged us. Are we really that naive as to think that bringing our dirty laundry out into the open before secular courts is any less a judgement on our part? Has the church really become that incompetent that she can no longer deal with her own affairs? Whatever happened to church discipline?

"And how dare you take each other to court! When you think you have been wronged, does it make any sense to go before a court that knows nothing of God's ways instead of a family of Christians? The day is coming when the world is going to stand before a jury made up of Christians. If someday you're going to rule on the world's fate, wouldn't it be a good idea to practise on some of these smaller cases? Why, we're even going to judge angels! So why not these everyday affairs? As these disagreements and wrongs surface, why would you ever entrust them to the judgement of people you don't trust in any other way?

"I say this as bluntly as I can to wake you up to the stupidity of what you're doing. Is it possible that there isn't one levelheaded person among you who can make fair decisions when disagreements and disputes come up? I don't believe it. And here you are taking each other to court before people who don't even believe in God! How can they render justice if they don't believe in the God of justice?

"These court cases are an ugly blot on your community. Wouldn't it be far better just to take it, to let yourself be wronged and forget it? All you're doing is providing fuel for more wrong, more injustice, bringing more hurt to the people of your own spiritual family." (1 Corinthians 6: 1-8; The Message)


What ever happened to church discipline? Somewhere along the line we've relinquished it to the state. Somewhere along the line, perhaps because of our ineptitude to properly (and biblically) deal with our own dirty laundry, the state has stepped in and taken control. We see this in other areas of church life as well, from property taxes on church buildings to charitable donation receipts, from church charters and boards to licensing pastors to legally officiate at weddings of even her own church members. Have we given over control of the church to the state?

Have we become so scared to judge one another that everything suddenly has become permissible? Perhaps that is one of the results of our "dissensions and factions" (Galatians 5:20); if we don't like what the local church says, we can always go to the church (the faction) across the street. Paul's "expel the wicked man from among you" (1 Corinthians 5:13) is rather difficult when there is such a diverse plethora of religious institutions, factions and sects, all competing for the new adherent.

Could it be that, since we cannot seem to get our own faith-house in order, we have inadvertently allowed the state to impose their version of "church" upon us? Could it be that the "We're the Authority" in the political cartoon above, while perhaps historically correct, remains the "Custer's Last Stand" of a dying institution? If so, haven't we done it to ourselves through our disunity? I wonder.


At the forefront of all true church discipline is reconciliation. Paul never intended that the expelled brother remain out of fellowship forever, but that the discipline imposed by the church would cause him to so yearn for the missing fellowship that he repents and is restored to the fellowship. Discipline is never vindictive; it must always be done in love. It always has restoration in mind. This is something that the state can never do. Only the church can restore its own, and as such, all problems in the church ought to be dealt with by the church, and not by the state.

Is there some Christian brother or sister that we've found ourselves at odds with? Has fellowship become severed? If so, then so has our worship. Ouch!

So important is this that Jesus said to "leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. Settle matters quickly with your adversary" (Matthew 5:24-25), if possible even before you get to court.

"Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive" (C.S. Lewis).

Something to think about.

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