Monday, August 6, 2012

Church Discipline: How the Church Protects the Name of Jesus, by Jonathan Leeman


A straightforward and practical defense of and guidebook for church discipline.  Leeman sets out the scriptural basis for church discipline, as viewed through the lens of the gospel.  Church discipline, according to Leeman, has nothing to do with vindictiveness, revenge, or even punishment.  It is, rather, action taken from a position of genuine love and affection, in the hope that it will be a catalyst for repentance in the life of a loved one--and it is action taken to protect the name of Christ from those who would, by their unrepentant sin, drag that name in the mud and by their actions speak lies about a holy God.

Once he has established the importance of church discipline, he offers guidance for church leaders and pastors who wish to implement church discipline but aren't really sure how.  He includes a collection of case studies--sanitized examples of disciplinary issues that have come up in his church or others, as well as a discussion of how the leaders proceeded in each case and how they reached that decision.  These examples range from the straightforward (adultery and abandonment of spouse) to complex (divisiveness by a faithfully attending non-member), and Leeman offers excellent insights into each situation. 

Finally, he closes with an admonition that leaders of churches without a history of discipline not jump in hastily with both feet.  Before church discipline can be implemented, extensive groundwork must be laid. The importance of holiness and repentance must be stressed.  The congregation must be educated on the biblical foundation for--and requirement of--church discipline.  And in many cases, the church's governing documents must be examined and modified to allow for disciplinary action by the church.  This is not something you spring on a congregation out of nowhere, nor is it something you inflict upon members without giving them fair notice that such an action is possible.

There is also an extremely helpful index in the back of the book, listing the top 22 mistakes pastors make in implementing church discipline.

The book is by no means a masterpiece of prose; it is a straightforward and unadorned explanation of church discipline.  Leeman writes capably, if not beautifully, and he makes his points clearly and concisely.  He steadfastly focuses not on retribution, legalism, and judgment, but on loving our neighbors, protecting the name of Christ, caring for the church His bride, and commending the gospel well in our local body of believers.  He does not take sin lightly, nor does he compromise the need to address serious sin with serious action, but the whole of his argument is premised on love of God and love of neighbor.

Definitely worth a read if you have questions about church discipline, in theory or in practice.  At 140 pages, this is no treatise, but it's a good introduction into the biblical argument for church discipline.

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