Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Corrective Church Discipline

Formative church discipline focuses on positive instruction in both right belief (orthodoxy) and right living (orthopraxy). It happens in relationships, sometimes formal (such as with a mentor) and sometimes less formal (discussions and observations between friends). It should be intentional. It should move each of us closer to Christlike living, for that is what it means to be a "Christian", to live like Christ.

What happens when formative discipline fails? What do you do when a fellow believer strays from the path of truth (doctrinal error) or falls into sinful conduct? This is where corrective discipline comes into play. If the problem is a private one-not publicly or widely known-Jesus said to handle it privately if at all possible. The detailed instructions are given in Matthew 18:15-20. Go privately first to the one who has offended you and attempt to be reconciled without the matter going any further. If that fails, then take one or two as witnesses of your efforts and help in persuasion, and attempt again to be reconciled. Only if that fails should the matter then be taken to the whole congregation for help. All should be done in a spirit of love and humility and with the goal of restoration and reconciliation (Gal 6: 1).

What do you do, though, if there is a case of open, flagrant sin or doctrinal error? What do you do if everybody already knows about it? Paul encountered such a case in the city of Corinth. A young man had taken up cohabitation with his step-mother in a clear case of incest. Rather than dealing with the young man the church at Corinth had taken pride in how "loving" they were in accepting this relationship which Paul said would not even have been tolerated by the pagans in the city. Paul instructed the church, in 1 Corinthians 5, to move quickly and decisively to put this young man out of the church-to exclude him from the rights of membership until he repented (that he did repent is indicated in 2 Cor 2: 6-8).

Corrective church discipline serves the function of believers aiding one another in progress toward greater sanctification and perseverance. It serves as a check on our residual sinful tendencies that continue to war against the spirit. It also reminds us that, as a church is supposed to be a company of redeemed souls, so there should be evidence in each life that redemption has come to each member through a life-changing experience with Christ.

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