I am currently reading a rare and out of print 1993 book that was kindly given to me by a retired pastor and I have reached the interesting section on ‘church discipline’. Indeed my coffee cup is filled to the brim and I am sprawling on a tiny chair as I indulge in savory words of virtue and wisdom. Okay lets back track a bit -church discipline -this of course is a delicate issue facing any congregation of Christians:
On one hand, believers are sensitive to the claims of truth on the conscience. They are further aware that truth is for the purpose of promoting godliness. Consequently, sin is to be taken seriously, and discipline when necessary, is to be administered according to the gravity of the offense in question. ‘If your brother sins,’ says our Lord, ‘correct him.’ (Matt 18:15).
On the other hand, Christians are aware that the truth has not been entrusted to the church in abstraction from the welfare of the people who are recipients of that truth.
If sin is exposed and corrected, it is only to the end that Christ may be glorified by the recovery and restoration of his errant sheep (cf James 5:19-20). The problem of church discipline, accordingly resides in the BALANCE of the truth and love of people…(the Corinthian church for example) refused to do anything about the incestuous person in their ranks, whose sin was unprecedented even among the pagans (1 Cor 5:1-5). Yet, once discipline was applied the same church swung to the opposite extreme, so that the man was in danger of being swallowed up by grief (2 Cor 2:6-7).
The potential endangerment of the well being of the church, then, is that of excess in one direction or the other: either an over-tolerance of sin or an over kill of severity in rectifying sin…
If our goal is the recovery of Christian brothers and sisters and resumption of their walk in godliness, then nothing can be more paramount than the ‘spiritual’ pursuit of that ambition. Oour aim is not for the sake of self-aggrandisement i.e boasting on account of our supposed superiority to our neighbour. It is rather, for the sake of winning our brother (Matt 18:15).
If we may hear Calvin:
Just as ambition is a particularly poisonous evil, so also great harm is done under the noble name of zeal but frequently springs from pride and from dislike and contempt of the brethren. For very many harass their brethren violently and cruelly, as if their faults were something to taunt them with.
Paul admonishes the Galatian church to pursue correction in a spirit of gentleness. What does this mean? Well, I am still reading and enjoying the book.
Reading: Our Baptist Heritage -Issues facing Reformed Baptists today by Paul Clarke et al.