Saturday, April 6, 2013

Church discipline part 3

Not all are convinced that this distinction between formal and informal church discipline is helpful or biblical, however. Cheong challenges the notion of separating discipline into formal and informal aspects by pointing out there really is no such thing as informal gospel missions, informal redemption, or informal ministry of the word. He states, “when we shift to using language like ‘informal church discipline,’ we suggest we are doing something beyond God’s purposeful and on-going ministry of the Word as the means for redemption. In other words, the term ‘church discipline’ implies more of the exception rather than the norm when considering our radical life of gospel mission.”[1] Cheong also points out that the one-another passages in the Bible (i.e. Col. 3:9; Eph. 4:15) cannot be divided into the categories of informal and formal church discipline, for they encompass both.[2] Rather than using the terms “informal” and “formal” church discipline and thus focusing on the process of the discipline, it would be better to focus on the person, and to remember that “God views their unbelief and lack of repentance as a personal rebellion from the very start.”[3] Regardless of where church leadership ends up on their position between distinguishing the two, they should agree that every aspect of church reconciliation is important. A personal conversation between two individuals is no less important than telling the matter to the church. Church leadership therefore, needs to equip the church so that the church can be faithful in putting out candles before they become forest fires, metaphorically speaking.
Typically, churches see church reconciliation beginning with Matt. 18:15, which says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” In actuality, there is a step that needs to be taken before this. This step is that of self-examination, as found in Matt. 7:1-6, Luke 6:37-42, 1 Cor. 11:31-32, and Gal. 6:1. Here, those who has been sinned against or are aware of a sin that needs addressed in someone else’s life must first look at their own life, and make sure that they have confessed any sin or personal fault towards the other person in the conflict, and that they are not tolerating the same sin their own life. The picture that Christ uses is that of a speck and a log (plank), and Jesus makes it clear that a person must remove any logs from his or her own eyes before correcting others. Leon Morris observes in relationship to this passage in Matthew that Jesus, “pictures a person who fixes his gaze on something quite unimportant in someone else and who does not notice what is much more significant in himself…The meaning is not that in every case the person passing judgment is a worse sinner than the one he criticizes. It is rather that what he finds wrong in his brother is a very small matter compared with the sin God sees with him.”[4] Church leadership needs to equip church members carry out self-examination before a hasty confrontation, so that when people do address others about their sins, they are doing so with the right motives and heart. Once the person has addressed these issues in their life, they still need to consider other matters before going to confront the other person about their sin. They must have the purpose of reconciliation (exchanging enmity for friendship) and not retaliation or embarrassment (Matt. 18:15). They must keep in mind that they are sinners who have been forgiven an unpayable debt, and that they are to relate to others in a manner that reflects the gospel and the gratitude of being forgiven (cf. Matt. 18:21-35). Secondly, they need to consider if this is a matter that can be covered in love (Prov. 10:12; 1 Pet. 4:8) or if it is significant and should be addressed. Sins that should be addressed include those that are dishonoring to God, damaging to relationships, hurting others, or hurting the offender.[5] Any sin that would fall under Gal. 5:19-21 should be confronted as well. There are additional considerations if the offender is not a Christian, which will be addressed later. 

[1]See Cheong, God Redeeming His Bride, 66-7.

[2]Ibid., 68.  

[3]Cheong, God Redeeming His Bride, 72.

[4]Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 166.

[5]See Ken Sande, The Peace Maker (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 150-4.

1 comment:

  1. Great points. I especially like the self-examination aspect. One of my favorite sayings regarding confrontation of sin is: If you're really looking forward to doing it, then you're probably not the right person to do it. If you're going into it with humility and a reluctant determination, then you're probably the right person.