Archive for the ‘christian discipline’ Tag

Don’t Go Over the Fence   Leave a comment

I used to love it when my dad would watch us when we were little because he was pretty much of a pushover. He let us get away with a lot of things. We’d spend all day pretty much making messes and then he’d clean up just before Mom got home.

Dad didn’t have a lot of rules. The big one was “I give you a big yard. Don’t go over the fence.” Dad took that one very seriously. Inside the fence, there weren’t a lot of rules and they mostly involved not hurting others. Don’t kick the dog, don’t drink drain cleaner, don’t climb on two chairs and break into a locked box to get to the home defense gun, don’t touch the stove without adult supervision. Even if your playmate says it’s okay, don’t hit one another. Otherwise, we could climb trees, bang pots, and slide down the stair bannister into a mattress we pulled off a bed.

Dad gave us a lot of liberty and the rules inside the fence made sense, but Tommy used to chafe at the fence. How dare Dad limit our freedom to just our back yard! Dad had reasons — years later the guy behind us was sent to prison for sexually molesting children. I suspect Dad sensed what was going on. There was traffic in the street. There were moose wandering the neighborhood and an occasional dog running through. But we kids didn’t know that. We were just having fun … until we got to the fence and then Tommy would whisper that we were being denied our due. Other children were allowed to play in the street, to go to other yards. Why was Dad being mean?

Tommy eventually decided to test Dad’s resolve and go over the fence. He spent all day sitting in a corner with a spanked bottom while the rest of us had fun. He muttered that Dad was mean. It seemed so. After all, nothing bad had happened to Tommy except what Dad had done to discipline him.

Then the neighbor kid, who was allowed to go to other yards, got hit by a car. He ended up with a broken arm and we came to understand why Dad said “Don’t go over the fence.” It wasn’t that Dad was mean. It was that he was trying to keep us safe in a world that isn’t really safe.

Eventually, I grew and left the fence with my dad’s full blessing, but there is a part of me that misses that Dad-created circle of safety … of having almost limited liberty within definable bounds.

There are a lot of things in this world that are unsafe. Some of those risks we humans are not aware of. God, having a Big Picture view of the world, is. He gives Christians a few rules inside a big yard and tells us to obey those few rules and not go over the fence. Within that context, we have incredible freedom to truly enjoy life as it is meant to be. There are occasional risks within the bounds of God’s liberty, but those are definable and discoverable — could you hurt someone with this activity? Even if they say it’s okay, don’t do it. As long as we stay in the yard, we may never know the harm we are missing. But when we decide to test the limits of His liberty, then we expose ourselves to many risks. We may be having so much fun exploring forbidden territory that we don’t even realize what danger we’re in. It could be that we’re incapable of recognizing the danger, but God knows and He tells us to get back inside the fence — not to be mean, but because He loves us more than we love ourselves.

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Objections to Church Discipline   6 comments

The Bible is quite clear on the obligation of Christ’s churches to practice discipline upon unrepentant members. Still there are those who will argue against the responsibility, who will even assert that withdrawal of fellowship is a violation of New Testament principles.  Some common arguments offered are:

“No one is worthy to disfellowship another.”

No one is perfect, so no one really has the right to initiate discipline against another is how this argument goes. John 8:7 will commonly be cited as a proof-text for this idea: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” That’s a woeful misuse of this passage.

First, the Jews had brought a woman to Christ whom they claimed to have taken in the very act of adultery. They wanted the Lord to sanction her death. It was a trick to get Him in difficulty with the Roman authorities, but it also violated the Old Testament, which clearly required that both parties in an adulterous union be executed. By bringing only the woman, the Jews ignored the very law they pretended to honor.

Jesus knew that, by the way!

Christ’s statement designed to highlight this inconsistency. To employ it as an out-of-context proof-text goes against many plain commands obligating the church to discipline the wayward members.

Secondly, Paul was not “without sin,” and yet withdrew himself from evil brethren (1 Timothy 1:19, 20) and from Peter when he sinned in Antioch. One does not have to be sinless in order to honor the Bible teaching on this vital theme.

“Leave the tares for God.”

I posted recently about the weeds in the wheat in the kingdom of God. Called “tares” in the King James, we are instructed to leave these weeds alone as God will exercise his own discipline (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43) at the judgment.

Again, that argues agains the clear Bible instruction given elsewhere. The parable of the tares is simply designed to inoculate against violent and premature attempts to completely purify the church on Earth. It has nothing to do with the genuine practice of brotherly discipline.

“Judge not!”

Wow, what an overused statement used to undermine the churches at every turn! Some contend that church discipline would be a form of judging, a practice which the Bible condemns. The plain truth is, not all judging is wrong!

Jesus declared: “Judge not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24). In Paul’s rebuke of the Corinthians, he clearly stated that he had “judged” already the incestuous brother (1 Corinthians 5:3). He then subsequently asked these brethren, “Don’t you judge those within the church?” (5:12). Church discipline does involve a form of judging, but it is not the unjustified, hypocritical judgment that is censured by Christ in Matthew 7:1-5.

“Where is the love?” Doesn’t love win?

There are some who argue that if the church withdraws fellowship from the erring, it is demonstrating a lack of love. That is an incredibly superficial view regarding love these days that speaks glaringly of vast Biblical ignorance.

Discipline does not repudiate love, it reflects it.  “Those whom the Lord loves, he disciplines” (Hebrews 12:6). When ancient Israel went astray, Jehovah withdrew His presence from them for 70 years (the Babylonian captivity). Was this an indication of an unloving disposition?

If you are a member of a congregation which practices church discipline, you ought to thank Almighty God that you have the privilege of belonging to such a loving family!

“What about the other guy?”

I know lots of people who resist church discipline because there are others they deem just as bad or worse and, they will point out insistently, they haven’t been disciplined. The therapists call that “rationalization” and blame-shifting.

Yeah, the churches as a whole have been remiss in their duty to provide discipline for decades. Some churches are inconsistent in providing it. That does not mean that changes for the better cannot be made. No sane person would argue: “We were wrong in the past; let us therefore always be wrong.”

Second, whom and when church discipline should be administered will frequently be a matter of leadership judgment. Some brethren may not know all the facts behind decisions concerning withdrawal or other forms of discipline. There may be extenuating circumstances that are not general information.

The fact is that church history speaks here. Loving discipline was as much a trait of the primitive church as correct worship and organization. Given that, we ought to be asking ourselves if a church that utterly refuses to practice discipline truly be a New Testament church?

Ignoring Conviction   3 comments

Our unmarried adult friends were having sex with one another and they wanted Brad and I to give them the Good Housekeeping stamp of approval. They wanted to know why they didn’t feel convicted by the Holy Spirit for their behavior but that they felt judged by others, except for some reason, Brad and I, who had been unaware of their affair prior to it coming up during the salad course at our dining room table. Since sex is not usually a spectator activity, we figured others were as uninformed as we were and that the “judgment” they felt was conviction by God, but that they didn’t want to admit it because then they would have to do something about it.

First, Brad and I are borderline anarchists who don’t think a marriage license makes a couple “married”. We don’t particularly care if you have a state-issued piece of paper in a file that says you’re “married”. We do care that a man has covenanted with God and a woman has covenanted with God to form a godly marriage and that they have contracted with one another before a congregation of like-minded believers to marry for life.

In our friends’ circumstance, neither of their former partners were Christians and both of them had been dumped by their former spouses, so they were free to marry according to New Testament standards. They were delaying the ceremony for “financial reasons,” living in separate homes and having sex.

God often speaks to us through the witness of the church. If there were really people judging Matt and Molly (not their real names), it might have been because God was speaking to them through the “judgers”. Matt and Molly had asked Brad and I for our opinion and we gave it freely.

Generally, when we do something that is outside of God’s will and we feel that people are judging us because they “just know” what we’ve been doing, that’s really our own consciences prodding us. That they brought it up to us — Christians with reputations for being ideosyncretic and brutally honest — suggested (to us) that they were looking for approval. We didn’t give it. Instead, we spoke for God and from His word.

Matt, Molly (we said), if you’re really in love, get married. Have a ceremony in the church. Get a license if you want. Marriage is a common rule of Christian community. Just because lots of people break the rules doesn’t mean they don’t still exist. Money issues are not an excuse for violating God’s will. In fact, chances are good that if you combined households (as part of marriage), you’d have more money to settle your debts. Money troubles are not a reason to delay Christian marriage.

Brad and I thought the problem ran more deeply than financial considerations.

More on that topic in my next post.that.

 

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