Feb 4, 2008

Church Discipline & Love

I've been thinking about the conversation I had at the leadership retreat in Hereford regarding church discipline and loving individuals.

One of the people had a difficult time reconciling discipline and accountability with loving the individual. And of particular struggle for this person in drawing boundaries and consequences was her understanding of the parable of the lost sheep - the shepherd left the 99 to go after the one.

As I've been reflecting on this, I've come to a couple of conclusions.

First, the parable of the lost sheep refers to lost people - people who are outside of the body of Christ, people who are not Christ-followers.

Second, the reason why I think the lost in the parable refers to non-Christians is because when we look at other teachings regarding the church in the New Testament we see that those inside the body are held to a higher standard of accountability. Let me give some examples.
  • Ephesians 5:3-8 says, "But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person--such a man is an idolater--has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
    Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.
  • 2 Timothy 3:1-5 says, "But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God--having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.
  • Regarding the man who was having sexual relations with his father's wife, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 5:5 "Hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord."

We are to go after the lost, and for those who are within the body, we are to hold them accountable. When we are not accountable to one another and to God for our actions and speech, it undermines the witness of the entire community.

This is a sensitive topic and there are no easy answers. However, one of the reasons why the modern day church is so impotent and irrelevant is because we have not been applying Biblical discipline. We will not be perfect. Only God can apply perfect discipline. However, when there is a situation where there is clear violation of scriptural norms, we must have discpline and hold ourselves accountable.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. I don't have all the answers. I'd love to learn about how we can be both loving without sacrificing God's call for us to be holy.

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