Drippings from the Honeycomb
More to be desired are [the rules of the Lord] than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. (Psalm 19:10)
Why We Practice Church Discipline
As a church we believe in and practice church discipline (henceforth CD) (Handbook 10.0). This is because we are a believers’ church comprised of members who have made and continue to make a credible profession of faith (Statement of Faith-The Church; Church Covenant; Handbook 7.0). We not only believe in the Gospel but a Gospel order, which includes CD. These are flip sides of the same coin.
[Corrective] Discipline, in a worldly sense, may simply be defined as “the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behaviour, using punishment to correct disobedience” (Oxford). Biblically, the word discipline (paideia) means to train a child to reach maturity.
In Christian theology and ethics all precepts ultimately flow from principles and these from the person of God. A study of CD at the level of precept (especially in our culture) can lead to an emotional knee jerk reactions (intolerance, unaccepting, etc) but understanding the heart of what CD flows from reinforces our understanding and informs our practice.
Person: The Character of God
God is both a God of mercy and justice, grace/love and truth (e.g. Ex 34:6–7; Jn 1:17; 1 Jn 4:12).
It may be said that His discipline is directed against unbelievers in His wrath and wayward believers in His correction. Speaking of the latter Heb 12:7b–12 says:
“God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
God is the perfect disciplinarian.
Principles from the Bible
A Believer’s Church- A Christian is one who has believed the Gospel and been added to the church through baptism. We can see the believing nature early in Acts, such as Acts 2:41. Unlike the Old Covenant people and many systems of Christianity today that uphold a mixed nature of God’s visible people (i.e. believers and unbelievers), the New Covenant people are a believing community. While it is true false professors creep in and that the Lord knows those who are His, we have an obligation to ensure membership is based upon a credible profession.
Perseverance of the Saints- The Bible teaches that those who are truly the Lord will ultimately not fail in the faith but persevere to the end. This means that the Church holds members accountable in the Lord. Only those who give a credible profession of faith and practice may be counted as part of it. If assurance is persistently and unrepentantly removed, the assurance of membership must likewise be withdrawn.
The church is a believing community that is given shape through regenerate membership (baptism and discipline).
Precepts: What the Bible says.
There are a number of related Bible verses/passages that speak to the subject of Church discipline. Some of the most noteworthy are:
I.The Correct Spirit: The Lost Sheep precedes Mt 18; Gal 6:1; Lk 17:3
II.As A General Command: 1 Cor 5:9–13; 2 Thes 3:6
III.A Typical Threefold Process: Mt 18:15–20; Tit 3:10
IV.The Authority to Bind (bring into membership) and Loose (exclude from membership): Mt 16:16; Mt 18:19
V.The Example of the Man Excluded and then Restored because of Incest, 1 Cor 5:1 ; 2 Cor 2:5–11
VI.The Example of the Judgement of Ananias and Sapphira: Acts 5:1–11
Those professing believers who persist in unrepentant sin, whether in faith or practice, must be excluded.
Ultimately CD is for the glory of God (doing what God has said); the purity of the church (ensuring it remains a believers’ church); the good of the sinner (not allowing them to walk in false assurance) and the fear of the church (a renewed call for us to confirm our calling and election). (See Five Minute Moment, June 13, 2021, here).
“Today, many professing Christians see church discipline as unloving, and many church leaders are afraid to practice it for fear of appearing merciless. Yet refusing to apply church discipline in careful obedience to Scripture is the most unloving and merciless thing the church can do. When the church does not call out impenitent people, it gives them false assurance that they are in a state of salvation.” - Ligioner
A Short Survey of Church Discipline from Church History
The church has tended to oscillate in this area [CD] between extreme severity (disciplining members for the most trivial offences) and extreme laxity (exercising no discipline at all, even for serious offences). John Stott, "The Message of Acts," p. 112.
 There is also formative discipline (e.g. training in godliness) and restorative discipline (reconciliation).
Saints and Sinners
Are Christians still sinners or are they completely saints or are they somehow both?
In his commentary on Romans, Martin Luther said that Christians are “both righteous [saints—holy or just ones] and sinners, at the same time.”
Like many areas of theology there exist apparent contradictions that may be reconciled in understanding through closer study and the appreciation of nuance (like forgiveness). What shall we make of the apparent contradiction?
Take Paul for example.
One the one hand throughout Paul’s letters he could write of “the saints.” In Phil 1:1 he greeted “all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.” In Eph 2:19 he says of those who have been justified (declared right or just) through faith in Jesus, “are no longer aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” Saint is a common word in the New Testament used to speak—not of exemplary Christians—but of everyday believers.
Yet, the same Paul as a saint “could also say, “Christ Jesus came to save sinners, of whom I am foremost (1 Ti 1:15, emphasis added). Describing, not the old self but the present life of the Christian, Paul said emphatically, though lamentably, “wretched man that I am” (Ro 7:24, emphasis added).
Clearly Luther’s summary is Biblically confirmed, we are saints and sinners.
But what shall we make of this? How should we understand this? The best way to think about this apparent tension is to differentiate between positional and practical righteousness (sometimes known as imputed and imparted righteousness).
Positional righteousness is the declarative righteousness that we have in God’s eye’s because we have trusted in Jesus and have been clothed in His righteousness. Our status before God is one of righteousness. You might visualize it like this:
 Luther, Commentary on Romans, ch. 5.
Practical righteousness is that progressive work by the Spirit and through faith whereby we put off the flesh and pursue righteousness. Our state remains sinful though we are being made righteous. You might visualize it like this:
Verbally we might display both positional and practical righteousness this way:
Status: Sinner Status: Righteous
State: Sinner State: Saved Sinner
The Apostle Peter summarized this common Biblical line of thinking in 1 Peter chapter one. We weren’t holy, have been made holy and are called to live in line with our new identity.
But what about verses about bring a new creation or creature (2 Cor 5:17) or the new self (Eph 4:24), or even regeneration (Jn 3; Tit 3:5) or liberation from sin’s domain (Ro 6:18)? What do they add to this question?
Think back to the last image.
These passages speak not to a change in our sinful state but to our spiritual renewal that Christ has effected through the Gospel. In Christ we who once were dead sinners are now alive by the Spirit who also is at work renewing and sanctifying our souls (mind, will, affections and conscience). Even though we are still sinners we are sinners of a rather different sort. We are saved sinners and this is no small difference. We are forgiven (have positional righteousness), we have the gift of the Holy Spirit, our souls are being renewed and transformed so that our practice or state may come to reflect our status or position (e.g. Ro 1:7; 1 Cor 1:2). Progressively our lives are conforming to the identity that we have been given in Christ.
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