Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence, Part 10: Church Discipline: One Essential of a Healthy Church, Part A
Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence is a series of articles by faculty of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary that seeks to offer some definitions of what constitutes a GCR, why we believe the SBC is in need of such a movement, and what such a movement might look like in SBC life. The series will address biblical, theological, historical and practical issues related to a GCR with the hope that God will use our finite and flawed efforts for His glory and the good of the people called Southern Baptist.
Church Discipline: One Essential of a Healthy Church, Part A
The New Testament has a great deal to say about Church Discipline. Jesus addresses it in Matthew 18:15-20, and Paul does so repeatedly in Romans 16:17-18; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11; 13:1-3; Galatians 6:1-2; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12; and Titus 3:9-15. This fact alone makes it all the more remarkable that no aspect of church life in our day is more neglected than this one. Indeed the contemporary church’s disregard for this clear teaching of Holy Scripture is perhaps its greatest visible act of disobedience to our Lord. This rebellion is not without significant consequences. John L. Dagg cogently noted, “when discipline leaves a church, Christ goes with it.” Without Christ at the center, there will be no Great Commission.
For Baptist this neglect is striking when you consider that we have historically viewed Church Discipline as an essential mark, “the third mark,” of the church, right alongside 1) the Word rightly preached and 2) the Ordinances properly administered. And yet, none of our most recent confessions, The Baptist Faith and Message 1925, 1963, and 2000, has a statement on this biblical teaching!
How did we get here? How did we get to a place where the “people of the Book” exercise such a blatant act of disobedience to a clear command of Christ and a crucial component of Church life? Certainly there have been abuses of the practice, though even the memory of this is so far removed from our own day that I seriously doubt one of us can point to a single example. No, we have been infected by a far more deadly disease.
I believe the genesis of the disease is 4-fold: 1) a loss of theological nerve, 2) a compromised morality, 3) biblical illiteracy and 4) practical expediency. In each of these instances the problem finds its origin at the top, with the leadership, with the pastors.
First, we have lost our theological nerve, the courage to confront as well as comfort, to admonish as well as exhort. Out of fear of offending, we have slinked away into the false security of silence.
Second, we have been overcome by moral compromise. Our churches look and act so much like the world we would hardly know where to begin if we did restore Church Discipline.
Third, we are simply and sadly biblically illiterate. Lay this deficiency at the feet of preachers who have jettisoned an expository model of preaching that allows us to avoid and neglect the hard doctrines of Scripture like Church Discipline.
Fourth, practical expediency and, I might add, personal ambition, has played an all too important role. A bigger membership means greater bragging rights. It affords a more attractive platform to make the move to a larger and more influential pulpit or denominational post. I wish I did not believe that there was any merit to this particular observation. However, too many conversations with too many ministers makes the case unavoidable. Furthermore, Southern Baptist’s fascination and fixation on numbers naturally enslaves us to this kind of mindset. It is all but hardwired into our DNA, embedded in the hard drive of our internal logic. Now, I do not wish to be misunderstood. Numbers and an “accurate accounting (!)” of those numbers is important. It is a matter of accountability and integrity. It is biblical (see Acts 2:41). However, their inflation and exaggeration, and our infatuation with them, dishonor Christ, robs us of our integrity, and calls into question our credibility.
Where then do we turn for an answer, a solution, a cure to this critical condition in which we find Christ’s Church? The answer of course is Scripture, and in two following articles I will direct us to the one source we should consult and then obey in this matter, as in all others as well.
Suffice it to say that strange as it may sound to some ears, a restoration of Church Discipline to its proper place in the life of the church is an essential component of a Great Commission Resurgence. Rightly practiced, it promotes health and holiness in the body of Christ. It goes hand in hand with a regenerate church and magnifies the glory of the gospel in transformed lives. It is not optional. It is an essential for a New Testament Church. It is necessary if we are to experience a Great Commission Resurgence.