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).
A Steady Advance
Throughout history God’s kingdom, that is the restoration of His rule on earth—particularly under the New Covenant—has sometimes surged forward, grown in revival, persevered in faithful labouring, plodded, seemingly retreated, but over-all has been advancing like that mustard seed growing into a tree (Mk 4:30–34).
But like a soldier caught in the thick of the life and missional battle to which we’ve been called, it can be difficult sensing the greater plan and knowing our place in it. What are we to do!
This week was St. David’s Day, the patron saint of Wales. Wales is a beautiful country dear to my family’s heart from our many explorations there (we enjoyed some Welsh cakes to celebrate). David was some sort of protégé of the great evangelist Patrick who ministered in Ireland leading to that islands conversion from Paganism. David sought to do the same in Wales.
A Welsh maxim says, “do the little things in life” (i.e. when you don’t know exactly what to do, begin by doing what needs to be done). This is from David who said, ‘Be joyful, keep the faith, and do the little things that you have heard and seen me do.’ (an echo of Paul in Phil 4:8–9). As a result of his little things much of Wales became Christian. The Lord uses us to do much when we are faithful in the little things He has commanded His Church to be about (e.g. worship, prayer, Bible study, holy living, evangelism, charity).
This sentiment was also shared by James Culross over a century ago. In writing a biography of John Ryland Jr., he said:
“unlike those most useless persons in Christian circles who are always waiting for great things to do, and who neglect the opportunities which lie to their hand, young Ryland always did the little which lay to his hand, and found that by doing the ‘next thing’ life became rich in opportunities of usefulness.”
This was certainly true of the early Church for while it enjoyed seasons of rapid advance (think the day of Pentecost) its first centuries have been characterized by the phrase, “a long obedience in the same direction.”
Regardless of what season we find ourselves in as Ontarian Christians today, the call to readiness (Titus) and to be faithful in little to be made faithful in much apply today (Lk 16:10).
What Ontario needs today are not super-Christian who are trying to do great things but ordinary Christians who will faithfully serve Christ in a steady advance—doing the little things today, tomorrow and the day after that in service to their Lord. That is how Christ’s kingdom will come, through a steady advance. Even so we pray, come Lord Jesus come.
*For more see listen to the Extraordinary Ordinary that is being encouraged as we approach our post-Covid world.
 James Culross, The Three Rylands (1897), 73.
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