From Pastor Mark
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Galatians 6:1
Talking about church discipline is hard. It’s hard because discipline inherently means pain. As the author of Hebrews says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful” (Hebrews 12:11). The only thing harder than talking about church discipline is practicing healthy church discipline.
It’s hard because when you love someone you can’t stand to see them in pain. And the thought of causing pain to someone I love is arguably as painful. When I was a kid I never understood it when I heard adults say that disciplining a child caused more pain in them than it did to the child. But now that I am a parent myself, I know exactly what they mean.
So what should we do? I want to share three options.
One option we have as a church family is to simply not hold each other accountable. Rather than confront sin in our lives, we just ignore the sin and pray hard that God would somehow bring healing to our hearts. Broadly speaking, this is the position of most evangelical churches in America. Our culture has become so individualized that we have bought into the subtle and not so subtle mentality that, “how I live is my business and not yours.”
The problem is, this position flies against the heart of the biblical teaching. Jesus calls us a family (Mark 3:34-35). Paul describes the church as a body made up of interdependent parts (1 Corinthians 12). And Peter calls us “living stones” of a spiritual house built on the cornerstone of Jesus (1 Peter 2:4-10). It is impossible to read the NT and come away thinking we as Christians can live morally autonomous lives.
But, the sad reality is that we do it anyway. This has played a huge role in nominal Christianity. It’s why so many people call themselves Christians but show no interest in actually following Christ. This moral individualism is one of the main reasons why our culture is so confused about what it means to be a Christian.
Another option we have is to discipline one another out of law and no grace. This is what some churches have chosen to do. I can’t tell you the number of people I have met who were wounded by a pastor or church who disciplined in order to punish and destroy, rather than to heal and restore. When discipline is all about law, it makes us into Pharisees who go around keeping track of every fault and failure. This would lead to a church culture where everyone walks on eggshells and pretends that everything is okay. Because the fear is that someone would find out what we are really struggling with making the public guilt and shame worse than the private guilt and shame.
If we judge only by the law, we will end of destroying each other “for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6). The law makes demands of us, but it cannot empower those demands. Churches that function this way tend to feel cold, sterile, and unloving. There is a sense that the Bible is primarily about what we must do for God rather than what God has done for us.
There is a better way. The gospel teaches us that we are sinful, but we are also loved. When someone embraces the gospel of Jesus Christ, something changes inside of us. We are made a new creation and are given a new heart. We become part of a family that is declared holy already through faith in Jesus. And yet are called to grow in holiness through faith in Jesus.
Only Jesus Christ can empower us to do what God has commanded us to do. And that’s what makes the gospel such good news. And now, through humility and love, we can come alongside one another in our sin and suffering. Now, because we voluntary commit to each other as members of a church family, we have the privilege of helping one another fight sin and fight for joy.
And as we help one another grow in our relationship with Christ (i.e. discipleship), we actually show the world that being a Christian means something. We show that Christ changes us and continues to change us. As we speak the truth in love, we can build each other up into greater maturity (Ephesians 4:15). The truth might hurt. But, the love that accompanies the truth should lead to gentleness and grace. All of this is meant to show a commitment to helping each other strive for holiness. And the goal of discipline for one another will always be restoration. This will only happen when you are convinced that you are your brother’s keeper.