In addition to Christ being the head of the church and the make-up of the church including people who have repented and believe in Jesus as Lord, the Reformers noted that there are three distinct marks of a biblical church: 1) The gospel is preached; 2) The gospel ordinances (baptism and Lord’s supper) are administered; 3) Church discipline is practiced. While the first two are often practiced, the last one is often missing in many evangelical churches. For our church to be biblical and healthy, we must practice church discipline. But before we talk about the what and the why of church discipline, we must reflect on what kind of gospel we believe in, because depending on the kind of gospel we believe in, there may or may not be room for church discipline.
Which “gospel” do you believe in?
Gospel 1: God is holy. We have all sinned, separating us from God. But God sent his Son to die on the cross and rise again so that we might be forgiven. Everyone who believes in Jesus can have eternal life. We are not justified by works. We are justified by faith alone. The gospel therefore calls all people to “just believe!” An unconditional loving God will take you as you are.
Gospel 2: God is holy. We have all sinned, separating us from God. But God sent his Son to die on the cross and rise again so that we might be forgiven and begin to follow the Son as King and Lord. Anyone who repents and believes can have eternal life, a life which begins today and stretches into eternity. We are not justified by works. We are justified by faith alone, but the faith which works is never alone. The gospel therefore calls all people to repent and believe. A loving God will take you contrary to what you deserve, and then enable you by the power of the Spirit to become holy and obedient like his Son. By reconciling you to himself, God also reconciles you to his family, the church, and enables you as his people to represent together his own holy character and triune glory.
The first version of the gospel emphasizes Christ as Saviour; the second one emphasizes Christ as Saviour and Lord. The first version points to Christ’s new covenant work of forgiveness; the second one includes both forgiveness and the Spirit’s work of regeneration. The first version points to a Christian’s reconciliation with Christ; the second one points to a Christian’s reconciliation with Christ and Christ’s people. Everything affirmed in the first version is true, but there is more to say. Left to itself it tends to yield a belief in cheap grace. The second version is a more robust account of the biblical gospel and is more likely to lead to an understanding of the kind of grace that calls Christians to take up their crosses and follow Jesus in a holy mission by the power of the Holy Spirit. If your understanding of the gospel stops with the first version, you will not have much use or room for the topic of church discipline; if you, however, embrace the second one, then there is a longer conversation to have.
What is church discipline? In broad terms, church discipline is one part of the discipleship process–the part where we correct sin and point the disciple toward the better path. To be discipled is, among other things, to be disciplined. A Christian is disciplined through instruction (formative discipline) and correction (corrective discipline): 1) Formative discipline helps to form the disciple through instruction; 2) Corrective discipline helps to correct the disciple through correcting sin. In more specific and formal terms, church discipline is the act of removing an individual from membership in the church and participation in the Lord’s supper. It is the church’s public statement that it can no longer affirm the person’s profession of faith by calling him or her a Christian.
elps to correct the disciple through correcting sin. In more specific and formal terms, church discipline is the act of removing an individual from membership in the church and participation in the Lord’s supper. It is the church’s public statement that it can no longer affirm the person’s profession of faith by calling him or her a Christian.
Why should we practice church discipline? Love is the primary motivation of all of church’s discipline: 1) Love for the individual—that he or she might be warned and brought to repentance; 2) Love for the church—that weaker sheep might be protected; 3) Love for the watching world—that it might see Christ’s transforming power; 4) Love for Christ—that churches might uphold His holy name and obey Him.
May we grow together as mature disciples of Jesus Christ who preach the gospel and speak the truth in love, including practicing both formative and corrective discipline for the sake of the glory of God, the good of God’s people and the lost world.
* Adapted from Church Discipline by Jonathan Leeman.
This Week’s Bible Reading Schedule:
|☐||Monday: Ezekiel 22||☐||Thursday: Ezekiel 25|
|☐||Tuesday: Ezekiel 23||☐||Friday: Ezekiel 26|
|☐||Wednesday: Ezekiel 24||☐||Saturday: Ezekiel 27|