Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Formative Church Discipline

In most of today's Baptist churches the weakness in the cord of regenerate church membership is the strand of church discipline. Once Baptists succumbed completely to the combined pressures of (1) Jacksonian individualism, (2) revivalistic piety, and (3) urban prosperity, church discipline became an apparent problem rather than a potential solution. Numbers began to matter more than purity, and efficiency became the watchword of Baptist life in the early twentieth century. Nothing is less efficient than church discipline. And so the practice of opening each church conference with the examination of the spiritual health and unity of the church was discarded. Southern Baptists in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have reaped a bitter harvest from this careless discarding of church discipline.

Today the Southern Baptist Convention claims some 17 million adherents in the United States, but at least sixty percent are unaccounted for on any given Sunday. Why? What happened? Well, in part there was a change in evangelistic methodology that followed the revivalistic approach of Charles G. Finney, and a mere outward response in the form of "walking the aisle" or reciting a "sinner's prayer" was made to "seal the deal" between God and the sinner without further examination for proof of a genuine conversion experience. Secondly, discipline in its various forms was lost on an entire generation in the name of the right of individual soul competency and the right of private interpretation.

In recent years Southern Baptists have taken a step in the right direction and begun to focus on what is often called "formative" church discipline-discipleship training. But the nagging problem of shallow evangelism still persists in many places, and serious discipleship remains an option and not an expectation for most church members.

Formative church discipline involves the careful instruction of the new believer in both the teachings of the church and the expected life-patterns of a Christian. It is not a matter of indifference how church members live their lives. It is not merely a matter of learning what the Bible says. Christians must learn to live their lives patterned after biblical obedience to the commands of Christ as an evidence of their life-changing relationship with him. This is formative church discipline, and it requires mature Christians modeling and teaching the less mature how to live the Christian life while equipping them to pass their knowledge to the next generation of believers.

1 comment:

  1. I believe in the public flogging of church members that miss a service.