Disciplining Church Discipline

Disciplining Church Discipline March 6, 2012

As people defend Mars Hill’s policy on church discipline and consider those similar policies of other churches, there is a big assumption being made. The common refrain is often that Mars Hill and churches like them are simply being “biblical” in their approach. This seems to be the home base that they and their supporters tag every time there is a challenge to their methodology.

The assumption that I propose, is that the very existence of not only Mars Hill but every other church that boasts a literal interpretation of the Bible is actually non-biblical.

It appears that self proclaimed biblical churches take great care in the literal parsing of scripture when it comes to sin & discipline or other pet topics that figure prominently in that church’s culture. However, great liberality is then applied to upon the interpretation of what actually constitutes a biblical church in its structure, practices and the role of its leaders. There seems to be an odd comfort taken in the precise threading of the needle’s eye of orthodoxy while at the same time casually strolling the broad path of orthopraxy.

Now much of what is taken literally on many defining topics are fundamentally derived from the writings of Paul. This brings us to the long standing debate of the influence of Paul in ecclesiology from where we inevitably arrive at the question of the authority and role of the Bible in Christendom.  The question often ignored or simply dismissed is whether the narrated events provided in the Bible are descriptions by which to gain wisdom or strict, literal prescriptions?  Is this really the purpose of the widely diverse stories, prayers, poems and letters that we call sacred scripture? After all, from a Jesus perspective, wasn’t the last thing that the New Covenant was supposed to become was the old law? Why are we so joyously ardent in defending the posture of our policies when our actions are founded on the backhand of Paul’s 1 Corinthians, only to grow somberly timid at the gentle caress of Paul’s forehand in the love letter to the church known as 2 Corinthians?  The truth is that it’s just plain easier to follow the rules than to be forced to wrestle with the messy reality of living out ones faith in the culture to which we were born. Not to forget, that it’s also easier for our lives to appear obediently in control as well as to control the lives of others.

My point is this, the old adage of speaking where the Bible speaks and remaining silent where the Bible is silent is taken to a convenient degree when it comes to preserving our quite modern and comfortable assumptions in deciding what makes a “biblical” church. The problem I see is in assuming that our current day church systems with their denominations, doctrines, authority structures, seminaries, buildings & worship services reflect what God intended the gathering of believers to become. Is what we label as “church” – that thing that Jesus called his followers to be and what it has become, God’s true intention for humanity? So the real issue isn’t that churches claim to be biblical, I just don’t think they aren’t biblical enough!

Take it from this fallen pastor, when your ministry lives by the sword of the bible, it may well die by that same sword.

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  • It’s good reading your thoughts John.
    Keep up the writing!

  • Jesus said all that is required of us is to love Him and to love one another. The delicate thing in church discipline is to apply the love of Christ to someone who has engaged in unloving behavior, who may or may not be repentant, all the while bearing in mind what is loving towards the Body of Christ, both locally and at large. Lord help us!

    • I wrote in haste, and forgot to include a loving consideration for the most important ones in a church discipline situation – the one or ones who have been hurt. Where is the justice for them when a fellow believer acts in an unloving manner and wounds them?

  • Unloving and unrepentant…In the liberal mainline, it is almost impossible to “discipline” someone in any official way. Most of the pastors don’t have this kind of authority even if the canons of the denomination allow for it. The way that church actually happens is interpersonally and not institutionally. Pastoral authority is interpersonal. Lay authority is interpersonal (Interestingly, the only institutional authority I have witnessed is lay authority aimed at the pastor.). Thus, any discipline is about the relationships between people and not about doctrine. Orthopraexis is relational. Orthodoxy is…something else though influencing and influenced by the relational.

    I appreciate this post…and I wonder where the interpersonal relationships begin and end in more literalist traditions.