One of the most telling areas where the modern church not only fails to act like the early church but actually rejects outright a major tenant to New Testament life is in the area of Church Discipline.
As Scripture makes clear in 1 Corinthians 5, wayward church members, like the man in Corinth who was having sex with his stepmother, were disciplined with expulsion from the body—with an expectation that repentance and restoration would follow. In fact, that is exactly what happened to the fellow mentioned above.
Real love, Agape love, New testament love… kicked a sinner out of the church, leaving him open to satanic attack—until he repented. In doing so, the man was actually healed instead of petted… his sin actually exposed, instead of excused… his heart and soul actually transformed, rather than deformed…!
In the early Methodist Movement, behavior like heavy drinking, missing a Class Meeting (Life Group) too often, or failing to attend to Sunday Worship and the Sacraments was met with similar love—disciplining love—that called people to holiness rather than showiness…! The early Methodists kicked out many—and saw a nation moved by the revival, even as most of the removed came back repentant and healed!
Our modern American Church is all about show, with little depth of character or faith and absolutely no taste for calling people to accountability. The result? Lots of people sitting in churches who are trapped in life-destroying sins while the church pretends everyone is good.
Why can’t we pull off discipline anymore? Here are at least a few reasons.
1) We live in a consumer culture where there are dozens of church “choices.” If one congregation dares to call a member to accountability or discipline, they simply choose to go elsewhere, badmouthing their former church all the way. Do they get healed? Almost never. But most churches are more than willing to welcome “that poor lady who was so mistreated down at …”
2) Churches that attempt to employ church discipline are often called “cults” and belittled as legalistic. Was Corinth legalistic? Was Paul legalistic? Were the early Methodists legalistic? No. They just loved people enough to want them to be free in the Spirit rather than free to keep on sinning.
3) Power-hungry pastors and legalistic, cultic churches HAVE arisen—and given a bad name to any form of discipline and accountability. It is a shame, but the bad ones—usually “non-denominational” and therefore under no headship outside themselves—have really made it hard on the rest of us.
4) Finally, it is easier to look the other way… to ignore bad behavior even when we see it destroying a person or a family, rather than to confront, in love, with discipline. That is exactly what the Corinthian Church was doing until God through Paul commanded them to quit playing around with sin.
For all these reasons and a few others, I have never been able as Pastor to pull off much in the way of meaningful discipline. I have been laughed at, called legalistic, and a few other names. I have been ignored, as if being Pastor means nothing to a person or Class or wayward “life group” that wants to do…whatever they darn well want to do…
We in the American Church, like Corinth, have mistaken grace for license and will doggedly refuse to be corrected—even in the gentlest terms—if it makes us uncomfortable or embarrassed. It is truly a shame—and millions of American Christians are in bondage because of it.
So are we doing something new or different here? No. This is one area where I honestly don’t know how to buck the prevailing trends. But trust me in this: I love you enough to call you out if you are doing something stupid that I am aware of. You and I both trust my Pastor (the D.S.) and Bishop to do the same for me…
Awakening will look like many things, but this is a hallmark: When the Church can discipline in love and its members receive with love said discipline, then a true move of God is happening!