As always, if you are just joining the discussion then please check out the foreword, intro, and chapter one. You can catch up pretty easily. If you have yet to buy the book I would suggest buying it for a paltry 9 bucks, here.
Chapter 5 covers the issue of church discipline. Few things are more neglected, abused, and misunderstood as the issue of church discipline. This chapter (along with a few books) needs to be circulated throughout all churches. I had read this chapter previously but after reading it again I was blown away by something I had missed the first time: building a foundation.
Dever begins this chapter by showing the difference between formative and corrective discipline. Formative discipline is like exercise; it is what you do to keep healthy. Such things as Bible study, prayer, small groups, worship, are in place to help followers of Jesus to grow. Corrective discipline is like surgery; it is what you do to regain health. This can be as “simple” as a loving rebuke or admonishment or as trying as public church discipline. Both forms of discipline are necessary for a healthy church.
“…before discipline can be productive, there must be a context of both meaningful spiritual relationships and structurally sound leadership.” This is the part that I missed reading this chapter the first time. I think my view of discipline was so transformed that I desired us to return to a biblical view of church discipline. But as Dever says, “loving engagement in each other’s spiritual lives must be normalized in a positive and formative way before corrective discipline can be sustained.” Furthermore, there should be a solid structure of leadership in place; otherwise it looks like only the pastor is pushing for discipline. Such a thing prevents an “us v. him” mentality.
We are also given a couple tips to assist us in the process of corrective church discipline. Dever suggests forming a “care list”. He suggests presenting such a list verbally at a congregational meeting. The “care list” does not necessarily mean that you are involved in sin, it only means you need prayer. Making a person’s name available to the congregation helps in the process. In such instances we ought to make it open for members to “privately air questions”.
Another helpful thing is to teach beforehand what excommunication means. Remind the congregation what it means to remove someone from the membership rolls. What does it mean to treat someone like an unbeliever? It does not mean that they are not allowed to come to church. It just means that we cannot have biblical fellowship with them. And certainly we would not allow known unbelievers to serve in church positions.
Dever then closes up not only this chapter but the entire section by again reminding us to patiently teach and preach the Word of God. Be patient! And trust in the fact that Jesus is building His church.
“Neglecting corrective discipline can be deadly for a church. No one likes the prospects of going under the knife. But sometimes it is the knife that saves your life.” (68)
“Sin needs darkness to grow—it needs isolation disguised as ‘privacy,’ and prideful self-sufficiency disguised as ‘strength.’ Once these conditions prevail, sin is watered with the acid of shame, which then makes darkness appear more attractive to the sinner than light. But when we walk in the light by confessing our sins, we realize that we are not alone in our struggles, and we open ourselves to the protective rebukes and loving corrections that function as pesticides to curb the destructive and enslaving potential of habitual sin.” (68-69)
“Healthy member relationships must be recovered before corrective discipline can be carried out realistically.” (69)
“Without [a] context of deeply interpenetrating spiritual relationships, corrective discipline will be like walking up to a child whom you see only once a month and spanking him in the street.” (69)
- What does your church do to create an atmosphere of discipline? What types of things do you do for formative discipline? What does your church do for corrective discipline?
- Dever suggests reading Matthew 18:17; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15; and Titus 3:9-11, then answering this question: How should we treat disciplined members?
- What do you think of Dever’s suggestion of a “care list”?
- Do you have any appropriate stories that you would like to share about church discipline?
- What are your thoughts on this chapter?