CK 2:19 Christianity Explored

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Rico Tice is Associate Minister of Evangelism at All Souls Church, Langham Place, London. He is also Founder of Christianity Explored, the evangelistic introductory course to Christianity. This week on the Connected Kingdom podcast, Rico talks about the impact of John Stott upon his life and ministry, how his previous singleness made Christianity Explored possible, and how he keeps his own evangelistic fervor alive. US listeners can find Christianity Explored resources here.

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Practice church discipline

Yesterday we discussed how to prepare for church discipline. Today’s let’s take a closer look at the practice of church discipline, not so much at the procedures and rules, but the attitude and spirit with which we should go about this.

We need great love
Notice that the context for the church discipline passage in Matthew 18:15-19 is of caring for Christ’s little ones (vv. 1-10), and of the shepherd pursuing the lost sheep (vv. 11-14). We need a loving motive (to win back the brother or sister to Christ), and a loving manner – saying the right words in the right place at the right time.  If at any time we find ourselves lacking a loving motive and manner, it is time to pause and go no further as without love we will do a lot of damage. Remember, Christ says that if we offend one of His little ones, it would have been better for us to have a large millstone hung around our necks and we be cast into the sea (Matthew 18:6; c.f. v. 10).

We need great carefulness
Again I want to emphasize the need for extreme care in following the three-step biblical process (Matthew 18:15-19) and however our particular church has understood this in its own particular circumstances. The person making the complaint should first approach the offender. If that fails to result in repentance or adequate explanation, then the concerned person should ask an elder, the pastor, or a mature Christian to come with them to speak to the person. If that fails to produce the desired response, then the matter should be brought before the “church” (either the elders or the members, depending on the government of the church). [edited]

The benefits of this three-step process are that the offended person is made to ask themselves, “Is this serious enough to warrant the next step?” The accused person is made to realize the increasing gravity of the matter. And witnesses to the earlier steps are able to testify to the church courts at the later stages if required. But perhaps the greatest benefit is that it stops frivolous matters being brought before the elders, especially by those who lack the Christian love and courage to approach fellow Christians first before going public.

Of course, if the sin is public knowledge then the Matthew 18 instructions about private offenses does not necessarily apply. However, as some people whose sins are well known will still try to use non-compliance with Matthew 18 to criticize their pastor or church, it is often wise to at least try a private approach first.

We need great courage
I don’t know anyone who looks forward to church discipline. Surely most, if not all of us, have an aversion to the mental, emotional, and spiritual demands of dealing with sin in someone’s life. Most of us draw back. Some will do anything rather than deal with these situations. And often the motive is not love for the person, but fear of them, or of their family, or of the consequences in the congregation.

We need the Lord to give us courage to face sin, do something about sin, do it in the right way, persevere through the stress, effect appropriate sanctions (admonish, rebuke, censure, suspension, excommunication, etc.), and to take appropriate actions.

We need great humility
If we could be humble enough to realize that we ourselves could fall into the worst sin (Gal. 6:1), it would give a much more loving flavor to all our attitudes and actions.

We need great wisdom
I’ve never been involved in a straightforward church discipline case. They have always involved complicating factors like counter-accusations, denials, excuses, lack of evidence, etc. We need so much wisdom to know how to proceed, what questions to ask, where the truth lies, etc. How much we should be praying for the wisdom that God has promised to His perplexed people (James 1:5). Which brings us on to our next point.

We need great prayer
We often quote Matthew 18:19 about the Lord’s promised presence where two or three are gathered in His name. However, we often fail to realize that the immediate context is that of church discipline. It’s not people met in a weekly prayer meeting or worship service, but people met to exercise church discipline, and they do so with prayer and the promised presence of God’s Spirit.

We of course pray for prevention, but also for love, courage, carefulness, humility, and wisdom in all that we say and do. We need help to be perfectly and consistently just, showing neither favoritism nor prejudice.  And of course we pray for a successful outcome, where sin will be confessed and repented of, and the sinner will be encouraged and helped to a more holy and useful life again.

Prepare for Church Discipline

Prevention is better than cure, especially in the sphere of church discipline. As discipline cases can very easily consume a pastor’s time and energy, and even consume the pastor and his congregation, the prevention of church discipline should be a high pastoral priority.

And how do we do that?

We do it, first, by preaching, by regularly setting forth clear standards of Christian confession, character, and conduct in our regular preaching ministry. Our flock needs to know where the fences are, where the no-go areas are, and what to expect if they cross them.

Second, we prevent church discipline by pastoral visitation. We need to keep in close and regular contact with the sheep to gauge where they are in their walk with God. In those one-to-one situations we may detect small changes in belief, attitude, spirit or character that can be addressed before they become big and irreversible problems.

However, no matter how well we preach and pastor, no matter how much we try to prevent it, church discipline problems are going to arise. It’s therefore best to prepare the congregation, and especially the officebearers, before it arises.

Early in a a pastor’s ministry (not the first sermon, of course, but certainly within a few months) he should preach a sermon on church discipline, before he has to deal with any cases. That keeps the subject objective and avoids personalizing it. Points to make may include:

The necessity of church discipline
One Church order book puts it like this: “Any institution or society which is to function effectively must be well-ordered: it must have recognised means of correcting aberrations which threaten its integrity. This is true pre-eminently of the Church of Jesus Christ, whose witness in the world depends so intimately on the godly behavior of its members.”

The warrant for church discipline
This is not something thought up by legalistic control-freaks. Rather, it has divine warrant (Matthew 18:15-19). So important did the Reformers see church discipline that they included it as one of the marks of the church along with preaching and the sacraments.

The benefits of good church discipline
Listen to this comprehensive list of benefits from a Scottish book of Church order: “Church discipline and censures are of great use and necessity in the Church, that the name of God, by reason of ungodly and wicked persons living in the Church, be not blasphemed, nor his wrath provoked against his people; that the godly be not leavened with but preserved from the contagion, and stricken with fear; and that sinners who are to be censured may be ashamed, to the destruction of the flesh and saving of the spirit in the day of the Lord Jesus.”

The procedure for church discipline
The roolz! Don’t we just love ‘em!! Well, whether we love them or not we’d better get to know them, and get to know them fast. I know it is far more edifying and enjoyable to read the latest books from Reformation Heritage Books, but knowing the intricacies of the church’s discipline procedures could save a pastor’s ministry, and even save a soul.

As so many of the problems associated with church discipline arise from a lack of procedure, a failure to follow it, or an abuse of it, we must familiarize ourselves with the principles and the practice. If your church does not have any formal procedures, then find one that does, get their protocols, and copy or adapt their methods. Train the elders in this and also communicate to the congregation what they can expect, so that they are not taken by surprise or think that they are being unfairly treated.

Whatever we do, we must not abuse, shortcut or override the stated procedures, however tempted we are to do so. When some people are accused of sins, they train their sights on the procedures rather than their sin, and can easily turn the focus away from themselves, away from what they have done, and to what we have done or not done in the process.

The consequences of failed church discipline
If church discipline is not practiced, or if it is inconsistently or poorly practised, it can destroy a ministry, a congregation, or even a denomination. Paul says that failure to discipline can result in congregational sickness and even death (1 Corinthians 11:29-32). Jesus warns the church in Thyatira that his frown is upon them because of their failure to discipline a false teacher in their midst (Rev. 2:20-23).

The positive aim of church discipline
The ultimate aim of church discipline is not punishment but restoration (Gal. 6:1). Robert Murray McCheyne describes how he came to see the value of church discipline despite his initial reluctance to practice it.

When I first entered upon the work of the ministry among you, I was exceedingly ignorant of the vast importance of church discipline. I thought that my great and almost only work was to pray and preach. I saw your souls to be so precious, and the time so short, that I devoted all my time, and care, and strength, to labor in word and doctrine. When cases of discipline were brought before me and the elders, I regarded them with something like abhorrence. It was a duty I shrank from; and I may truly say it nearly drove me from the work of the ministry among you altogether. But it pleased God, who teaches His servants in another way than man teaches, to bless some of the cases of discipline to the manifest and undeniable conversion of the souls of those under our care; and from that hour a new light broke in upon my mind, and I saw that if preaching be an ordinance of Christ, so is church discipline. I now feel very deeply persuaded that both are of God – that two keys are committed to us by Christ: the one the key of doctrine, by means of which we unlock the treasures of the Bible; the other the key of discipline, by which we open or shut the way to the sealing ordinances of the faith. Both are Christ’s gift, and neither is to be resigned without sin.

Having prepared for Church discipline, we must also practice it, and we’ll look at that tomorrow.

Children’s Bible Reading Plan (50)

Here’s this week’s morning and evening reading plan in Word and pdf.

Here’s this week’s single reading plan for morning or evening in Word and pdf.

And for those who want to start at the beginning, here’s six months of the morning and evening in pdf, and here’s six months of the single reading plan in pdf.

Here’s a brief explanation of the plan.

Want to learn faster? Try the iBrain

This is so fascinating. Oxford University scientists studying how to repair learning circuits in stroke victims have discovered that the same techniques when applied to healthy people can significantly improve learning speed.

brainThe technique? Well it’s a bit Frankenstein-ish, but it involves being fitted with a “trans-cranial current stimulation” device, in which two electrodes are placed in a specific position on the head. A very small current is passed between the electrodes in an arc through the brain and, depending on the direction of that current, either increased or decreased the activity of that part of the brain.

The BBC reports that, “The experiments have explicitly shown that stimulating the motor cortex of the brain can increase the speed of learning motor skills. It is the hope of the researchers that the same method may be applied to other parts of the brain to improve educational learning, simply by positioning the electrodes in different locations so the current is focussed on the correct area.”

And before you think, “Well great science, but completely impractical,” the report concludes: “The relative simplicity, low price (around £2,000 per unit), and portability of the technology may mean that, following further research, a device could be designed to be automated for use at home.”

Sounds like Apple’s next product, doesn’t it: the iBrain.

But, more seriously, this research helps us much better understand why sometimes the brain can go awry. If electricity can improve our learning and processing skills, then electrical shortage or malfunction in the brain can obviously have a serious detrimental effect on our thinking, and hence feeling too.  I’m guessing maybe this is why ECT can sometimes jolt someone out of deep and serious depression.

At any rate, it’s wonderful to see the way that God is leading scientists into a better understanding of our inner “universe,” as some neurologists are increasingly describing the brain.

I hope and pray that Christian counselors will allow such research to help them better understand the interaction of the physical, the mental, the emotional, and the spiritual, and adjust their presuppostions accordingly.