Essay On Discipline Is Not A Dirty Word


Discipline Is Not A Dirty Word

by Geoffrey Smith


    Biblical church discipline has confessional status in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (cf WCF XXX, Of Church Censures). Yet in many American churches discipline is either suffering from neglect or, worse, actively resisted. As a result, problems are compounded and spin out of control, leaving far more damage than there otherwise might have been had discipline been implemented at the outset.

How shall we, as Presbyterians, respond to this general church scene? By answering the objections being raised against the use of discipline, and by demonstrating that it has a vital role to play in promoting life and health in the church.

Some Christians in the modern world consider the very idea of ecclesiastical discipline to be repugnant. A word like "excommunication" conjures up the image of people being cast away into hell at a papal whim. Other folk may recall Protestant bishops conspiring with the civil authorities to consign a fellow Christian to the stake over a disagreement about baptism.

However, a corruption of a doctrine does not nullify the doctrine itself. Those who are repulsed by past abuses should not turn away from discipline, they should turn to the Scriptures. The careful study of the Biblical teaching will unearth the true nature of church discipline and establish its proper use.

Other Christians may be reacting to experiences where discipline was properly understood in principle, but poorly carried out. At issue here is the character of the leaders in the church. Some may "dish out" discipline in a cold and sterile fashion, others out of a vindictive spirit, still others as a way to promote their own positions of (at times, absolute) power in the local church. These examples share one thing in common: the absence of any glimmer of Christian compassion.

To correct this, we should promote Biblical leadership in Christ's church, which is characterized by humility and a desire to serve. When cause for discipline arises, an elder is in a place of tension. He may need to be (seemingly) harsh, yet he must also be gentle (the offender is not to be treated as an enemy, but as a brother [2 Thess. 3: 15]). Like Moses, he is standing in the middle, with one hand upon the Lord, jealous for his holy name, and the other hand upon the erring member. With the latter he pleads on Christ's behalf: be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5: 20).

Unlike the civil courts, where jurists should be impartial and detached during legal proceedings, those who preside in the church courts must balance their objectivity with the right sort of emotional involve-ment. They must strive and pray for one "verdict" over another: the restoration of the offender. Correct judicial procedure stands side by side with a willingness to consider the individual and his unique situation. Elders should be prepared to invest of themselves in order to assist the offender in his recovery (Ez.. 34: 4).

Still, there will always be occasions when elders act irresponsibly, when the care of precious souls is just one more item of business on the docket.

This attitude serves to reinforce the most common objection against church discipline: it is unloving and inconsistent with the gracious nature of the gospel.


Our Lord Jesus Christ declares that the very opposite is true (Rev. 3: 19)! Discipline, far from being contrary to grace, is actually a means of grace for the sanctification of the Lord's people.

Consider the most extreme form of discipline: denying the Lord's Supper (i. e. excommunication) to an impenitent church member. The reason most often provided is to prevent the Lord's Supper from being profaned. However, excommunication also ensures that the sacrament is not given falsely. In other words, if an individual's credible profession of faith is no longer so, it would be the height of cruelty to extend to him the sign and seal of the covenant. The unloving thing to do would be to pretend the benefits of Christ's atoning work were his; he must be warned, not comforted. This is why Jonathan Edwards called excommu-nication "an act of benevolence."

Here we are only saying what Scripture says: good works and heavenly affections are God's "fingerprints" on a person, the evidence of his divine workmanship (Jer. 31: 31-34; Ez. 36: 25-27; I Jn. 2: 3-5). Therefore, the absence of what the Bible calls "good fruit" makes any confession of Christ's Lordship hollow and false (Mat. 7: 15-23). In such a case, the church must warn the individual that he remains in the state of spiritual peril and is liable to experience God's wrath. To continue the charade that he is safely in God's favor would be another perversion of the gospel ministry.

That is not to say the church is in position to pronounce God's final verdict. As Calvin wrote,

"It is, therefore, not our task to erase from the number of the elect those who have been expelled from the church, or to despair as if they were already lost. It is lawful to regard them as estranged from the church, and thus, from Christ, but only for such time as they remain separated. However, if they also display more stubbornness than gentleness, we should still commend them to the Lord's judgment, hoping for better things of them in the future than we see in the present." (Institutes IV, xii, 9)

The above objections not withstanding, the fundamental issue for those who neglect church discipline is unbelief. Simply put, the church which will not discipline sinning members is rejecting the word of God and thereby frustrating Christ's rule in his church (Mat. 18: 15-20; esp. vss. 19,20; 1 Cor 5; esp. v. 4). We must be firm and clear: such a church arrogantly declares that it is wiser and more loving than Christ. In reality, this same church blocks off wayward members from the gracious means Christ appointed to preserve them. As Calvin warned, 'Those who trust that without this bond of discipline the church can long stand are, I say, mistaken: unless, perhaps, we can with impunity go without that aid which the Lord foresaw would be necessary for us." (Op. cit., IV, xii, 4) In conclusion, we must declare that discipline is not a dirty word. The right and proper use of discipline in the church is the obedient response of the Lord's people to this rule, and will provide benefits for them both in this life and in the life to come. It is a loving and merciful means to this end: that Christian disciples may learn to obey everything Christ has commanded, and ultimately, be presented perfect in him (see Mat. 28: 20 and Col. 1: 28).

Geoffrey Smith

Discipline Isn’t a Dirty Word

Posted by Gail | Filed under Life Lessons

If you accept that money isn’t the be-all and end-all of how we measure success – and it’s not – then the next question that often pops to mind is what makes it possible for some people to become “more.” Over and over we hear stories of people who come from not-a-lot-of-money who manage to make a huge difference in the world. What is it that sets them on the road to greatness? What do they have that allows them to look past their histories, past their current circumstances, to see the potential of their future?

Everyone lives their lives making choices. Some people make choices that lead them towards their goals, towards achieving more. Some people make choices that seem very satisfying in the moment but carry very little momentum to move forward.  Very often the difference between these two camps is the love of discipline.

Who could possibly love discipline? Most people hear the word and immediately bridle at the imposition it connotes. Hang on now? What gave discipline such a bad name? Could it be how we’ve chosen to use the word — as a synonym for punishment — has infused the word with a meaning that leaves us cold?

Disciplined does not mean you never get to have any fun. Nor does it mean you’re uptight. Discipline isn’t about denial. Discipline is really about managing the conflicting desires we all have so that we’re working towards what we really, really want.

Imagine how much happier you would be if instead of walking into a quagmire of temptation, you found ways to avoid desires that conflict with your big picture. It’s easy to spend money in a mall when that’s where you spend your lunch hour every day. It’s less easy to spend money if you turn your lunch hour into a brisk walk to get some exercise and fresh air. And if what you really, really want is to save the downpayment for a home, travel to Asia or have a baby? Imposing some discipline to get you to your dream would be a good thing.

Being disciplined means avoiding situations where you have to keep denying short-term pleasures for long-term goals. Since self-control is an exhaustible resource, having to constantly impose self-control can wear you down. Keep walking through that mall, and no matter how strong your resolve, one day you’ll come upon the thing that makes you deviate from your savings goal. Take a walk to the local park and you save yourself the daily battle for self-control.

Walk past the bakery every day and you’ll salivate automatically. It’s human nature. And then you’ll have to beat back the desire to have just one cookie, one brownie, one cupcake. Take a different route to avoid the bakery and you won’t have to waste your exhaustible pool of self-control on fighting the salivation and temptation.

One of the reasons why I don’t go off half-cocked every time I get a big, fat cheque for a speaking gig or book sales is because I’ve disciplined myself to live on a specific amount of money every month. Sure, there are months when I get far more than I need. I could easily go and buy myself anything my heart desired in that moment. But I don’t. Instead the money goes into the bank for the drier months, including those that will come when I stop getting those cheques completely.

Learning discipline starts early in life. An allowance, with a specific amount set aside each week for savings, is the beginning of financial discipline. Using a spending journal to track where the money is going is discipline. Making the bed each day, never leaving dirty dishes in the sink, heading out for a run in the morning before work, always shopping with a list, doing the laundry every weekend, are all ways to create routine to replace decision-making. Different people value different forms of discipline, but the most successful know how important discipline is and embrace it.

Discipline has big payoffs. It is discipline that will keep you on track even after the rush of enthusiasm has faded. It is discipline that will help you overcome the temptation to procrastinate. Discipline is the antithesis of impulse, so it keeps you from acting rashly. And discipline helps you move steadily towards the things you consider to be most important.

Discipline is the harnessing of your personal power to achieve.

So how disciplined are you? What could you add to your routine to start building your discipline muscles?

Comments (22) | July 11th, 2014

0 comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *