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(5 posts)

Healthy Church Discipline

Each local church has a responsibility to judge the life and teaching of its leaders and members, particularly when either compromises the church’s witness to the gospel (see Acts 17; 1 Corinthians 5; 1 Timothy 3; James 3:1; 2 Peter 3; 2 John). Biblical church discipline is simply obedience to God and a confession that we need help. Can you imagine a world in which God never uses our fellow human beings to enact his judgment, one in which parents never disciplined their children, the state never punished lawbreakers, and churches never reproved members? We would all arrive at judgment day never having felt the lash of earthly judgment and so been forewarned of the greater judgment then upon us. How merciful of God to teach us now about the irrevocable justice to come with these temporary chastisements (see Luke 12:4–5). Here are five positive reasons for practicing corrective church discipline: the good of the disciplined individual; other Christians as they see the danger of sin;the health of the church a whole; the corporate witness of the church and, therefore, non-Christians in the community; and the glory of God. Our holiness should reflect God’s holiness. It should mean something to be a member of the church, not for our pride’s sake, but for God’s name sake. Biblical church discipline is another important mark of a healthy church. —Mark Dever, What Is a Healthy Church? (Crossway, 2007), 106.

The Idolatry of Love

The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love by Jonathan Leeman has so far proven to be a challenge. Not that it is difficult reading—it definitely is not. It is challenging in that it forces thought, and not just passive “that’s interesting” thought, but thought that necessarily draws conclusions—conclusions with which the reader may or may not be comfortable; conclusions that will incite passion in one way or another. This is a book not to just read, but to study and meditate upon. Read this book; put copies in the hands of your pastors (which I did, and am now reading it myself at his recommendation). I’ve decided to take a different approach to blogging this book than I have with others. The chapters are long and dense, and deserve more attention than just a few comments on a pithy excerpt. So I’ve taken notes on Chapter One and present them here, under Leeman’s own headings, as my summary. The headings are as you would find them in the book; the body text is my summary. Anything in quotation marks is, as you might guess, a direct quote. The length is ridiculous for a blog post, I know, but I think I did well to condense thirty-five pages into about 2,000 words. Chapter One The Idolatry of Love Main Question: How do our common cultural conceptions of love today hinder our acceptance of church membership and discipline? Main Answer: We have made love into an idol that serves us and so have redefined love into something that never imposes judgments, conditions, or binding attachments. Step 1: Doing a doctrine of the church requires us to consider our cultural baggage. The Risky Business of Ecclesiology Leeman explains why building an ecclesiology for the church is more hazardous than codifying other doctrines. Discussions of ecclesiology, more than any other, can bring to the surface our personal ambitions and vain conceit. Ecclesiology involves such volatile decisions as who will receive baptism and be allowed at the Lord’s Table. Ecclesiology is especially vulnerable to attachment to our cultural baggage. We are prone to applying our civic politics and business ethics to our view of the church. A Culturally Counterintuitive Proposal Our ideas about love are more idolatrous than we realize. Western culture instinctively resists structures, boundaries, and exclusivism. Romantic notions of love tell us that conditions and borders are unloving. Leeman writes, “The one boundary most people agree upon these days is the boundary keeping boundary makers out!” Step 2: Individualism has left us detached, which sends us searching for a love that makes us feel complete. We want churches to do the same. Individualism Western heroes, historical and fictional (e.g., Benjamin Franklin, Indiana Jones), all fit the individualist mold. Every Attachment Is Negotiable “We are all free agents, and every relationship and life station is a contract that can be renegotiated or canceled, [including our relationship to] the local church.” Choices are predominantly subject to the obligation to self, personal happiness and advantage. “When in the course of human events it becomes necessary to dissolve the bands which have connected me to others, I dissolve them.” Individualism and Love The growth of individualism has caused a shift in our definition of love. Whereas love was once thought of primarily as compassion, individualism has emphasized romantic love, or simple passion. Romantic Love Versus Biblical Love Romantic love is not entirely unbiblical (see Song of Songs). But the romance of the Bible differs from that which grew out of eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in that the modern romantic lover’s “absolute moral reference was an exclusive fidelity to the love relationship and its maximization. . . . the romantic lover finds his or her souls completion in the other. In love!” This finding what can only be found in God is what makes love idolatrous. And when love is all about self-fulfillment, it must also become undiscerning and nonjudgmental. “So Americans tend to describe churches as ’loving’ when those churches make us feel relaxed and comfortable, not judged.” Self-Expressive Love in Churches With this individualistic, self-fulfilling view of love comes an individualistic, self-expressive view of worship. So “song lyrics do not so much present an opportunity to meditate on God’s love for sinners . . . but on repeated expressions of the sinner’s love for God. Sunday school classes and other church groups will divide into homogeneous units with shared life experience, rather than the old seeking to disciple the young, and the young valuing and desiring discipleship from the old. Preaching becomes group counseling on the felt needs of the congregation. The gospel becomes therapy. Step 3: Consumerism has caused us to focus on the desirability of the object of love, rather than the process of loving. We view churches as products which satisfy us or not. Consumerism This section examines “three aspects of individualism: consumerism, a fear of commitment, and a skepticism toward all dogma.” Consumerism assumes exchange. That, in itself is not a problem; salvation is an exchange: our sin for Christ’s righteousness. The problem with consumerism is that it secularizes the exchange. “It’s about exchanging something in this world for something else in this world. We seek our peace and rest and shalom and joy in this world or in this age.” In a secularized, consumeristic exchange, what is lost is the knowledge that the heart is the first thing that must be exchanged—a heart of stone for a heart of flesh. A consumeristic mindset does not examine whether appetites are directed toward right desires. Consumerism and Love When we make material, financial exchanges, we can hardly claim to be motivated by love for the buyer/seller with whom we are dealing. We simply try to make the most advantageous exchange we can for ourselves. When consumerism steps into the territory of love, the focus shifts from love itself to the object of love, and the value of the exchange in the love relationship. “We are more concerned about who loves us than we are about loving.” It is all about getting, not giving. Consumeristic Love in Churches “When pastors fail to teach Christians that the problem of love begins with the faculty to love rather than with the various objects of love, the critical faculties that Christians develop in the shopping mall transfer to their church lives.” They judge the music, the preaching, the people around them, etc., according to how well they are served by them. “They judge the church rather than letting God’s word judge them. In all this they utterly fail to recognize that they are not loving their neighbor as themselves.” Rather than correct such sinful attitudes, savvy church leaders learn to exploit them to yield the desired statistics. “Virtues like holiness, self-sacrifice, and faith can’t be counted, so never mind. As Mark Dever has said, statistical figures are worshipped more than carved ones.” Step 4: Commitment phobia takes commitment out of love and love becomes about what’s advantageous to me. The idea of commitment is removed from our view of churches. Commitment Phobia “The drive to pursue happiness in the negotiations and renegotiations of our various contracts means making sure that no contract is too binding.” Americans no longer join clubs, associations, and civic groups as they have in the past. Rather than join organizations that ask for hand-on involvement, they prefer to support groups that require nothing more than payment of a membership fee. Marriage is down, cohabitation and divorce are up. Commitment Phobia and Love Lack of commitment turns love relationships into present-only exchanges. As long as the benefits and advantages measure up to expectations, the relationship continues. The future remains to be seen. Commitment-less Love in Churches “When the idea of a binding commitment is removed from the definition of love, churches become places where personal sacrifices are seldom made, so the gospel is seldom pictured.” Christians move from one church to another lightly, with no thoughts about the consequences to others. After all, there is no responsibility involved, is there? Sadly, many of these church-hoppers are only following the examples of many pastors who come, stay a few years, and leave. If the shepherd makes no long-term commitment to the flock, why should individual sheep feel any obligation? This weakens the connection between doctrine and practice. While professing to believe the gospel, commitments made—or rather, not made—do anything but demonstrate the gospel. “Their symbolic burial and resurrection from the waters of baptism indicate that they mean to take up their cross and follow their Lord, but the very ethic of their commitment-less love does not provide them with the opportunity to fulfill these professions with their actions.” Step 5: Skepticism removes all judgment from love, causing us to expect unconditional acceptance from churches. Pragmatism also results. Skepticism Another outgrowth of individualism is a skepticism toward doctrine, an especially any absolute truth claims. Doctrines are retained or discarded based upon their utilitarian value to the goals of the individual. Skepticism and Love When love is separated from truth, love is defined as unconditional acceptance. The opposite of love, then is judgmentalism., intolerance, and exclusivism. Love requires you to “accept me as I am, and tolerate whatever I say or think without condemning it . . . and affirming my lifestyle decisions as legitimate and good.” Unconditional Acceptance in Churches The evangelical call today, in the name of love, is to emphasize orthopraxy over orthodoxy. This results in a religion of emotion; intellectual objectivity has been banished. The objective What has God said? is replaced with the subjective What is God saying to you? The Inevitability of Pragmatism Pragmatism is the inevitable result when doctrine and boundaries are tossed out. Superficial measurable results become the test practice. The legitimacy of methods is measured by that which can be seen, rather than being faithful to the Word and trusting God to produce true spiritual fruit, which is largely unseen. Ironically, pragmatism may be accompanied by a pseudo-spirituality, an emphasis on the leading of the Spirit. Sadly, following the Spirit as we know he leads through Scripture is not in view. This is all about Experiencing God-style subjectivity. Connecting the Dots The connection between all these cultural values and an unwillingness to commit and submit to a local congregation should be obvious. We are self-serving, independent individuals, whose real and fictional heroes are rugged, self-sufficient individuals (e.g., Indiana Jones. In a culture in which love is inseparable from freedom, commitment and submission just don’t compute. Step 6: But what is individualism really? It’s a hatred of authority. And behind the hatred of authority is a diminished God. The Root Problem After all that has been said about individualism, Leeman admits that many opponents of the institutional church are committed communitarians who are “committed not to free agency but to a relational concept of the human being. The believe that human peace, meaningfulness, and joy can be found only in community.” Communitarianism “. . . the postmodern and communitarian reaction against modernistic individualism remains derivative of that individualism . . . The postmodern self may be socially constituted and delimited . . . but within his limitations no authority exists to stay his hand or say to him, ’What have you done?’ He can come and go as he pleases, invoking this or that group membership according to whim.” Anti-Authority-ism Communitarianism is not the antidote to individualism, because the real problem is not individualism; the real problem is anti-authority-ism. “The solution . . . is to reintroduce the conception of submission to God’s revealed will as it’s located in the local church.” Authority in Churches That authority is unpopular in the church is plainly seen in the debates over everything from the role of women in the church and home to the sovereignty of God over history and salvation. “The ideas of love and authority remain almost wholly at odds.” Evidence of this is found in the preponderance of therapeutic preaching rather than expositional preaching, which demonstrates a recognition of “God’s intention to employ authoritative pronouncements through human mediators in our life and growth as Christians [and] that Christ enters the Christian’s life with the authority of a king who commands repentance and obedience. So the church gathers to hear what the king has authoritatively said in his Word.” Rather than expound the Scriptures, and risk running into anything demanding, shepherds scratch the sheep where they itch. Secularizing the Idea of Disobedience By “secularizing,” Leeman means replacing sin with inoffensive euphemisms, e.g., insecurity=fear of man, consumerism=greed. “We shouldn’t address insecurity by pointing to its opposite—self-confidence; we should talk about the fear of God.” We should address consumerism by talking “about the things that have supplanted God as an object of worship.” Individualism is the secular euphemism for hatred of authority. It is not, as some say, a failure or fear of relationship. It is, rather, a rejection of a particular kind of relationship, one that requires obedience. A Diminished God The communitarian emphasis on relationship and ambivalence toward authority leaves us with a diminished God. “The wages of sin is death not just because our sin breaks our relationship with God, [but] because it offends against his glorious, beautiful, holy, resplendent majesty! . . . because God’s glory is weighty and infinite, and we have fallen short of it.” Step 7: Church membership, then, begins with repentance. Repentance “If the root problem in our culture and in our churches is anti-authority-ism and the despising of God’s glory, then the solution is not simply joining community and making relationships; the solution is repentance. It’s a changing of heart and direction. This repentance includes . . . joining a particular kind of community where self is no longer sovereign and where one is called to obedience to others as an expression of obedience to God. It’s the joining of a community where worship of God is supreme in everything. . . . submitting to a local church and becoming a member is an external enactment of what it means to submit to Christ and become a member of his body. It’s keeping the imperative of what Christ has accomplished in the indicative. Submitting to a local church on earth, in the language of Christian ethics, is a becoming of what we are in heaven.” Conclusion The spirit of the age rebels against boundaries and limits, so God and his love have been redefined so that there are none. “This idol called love” commands us to live and let live, without expectations, limits, or judgment.

The Idolatry of Love: My Thoughts

Last week, I posted my summary of the first chapter of The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love by Jonathan Leeman. Today, I offer something of lesser value: my own impressions. And unlike my summary, I’ll keep this short. Leeman nails American Christians—and any others who share American ideals—right where it hurts: in our independent, self-sufficient, self-serving selves. Dragging our American ideals into the church, we have polluted our faith. If Leeman’s analysis is correct, American churches and Christians have a lot of repenting to do. And we have a lot to learn about who God is, what biblical love is, what the church is, and what it means to be a part of it. The attitude of many in confessing evangelical churches toward the church indicates that they don’t love the Lord with all their hearts, or their neighbors as themselves. It indicates that there are probably a lot more tares among the wheat than even a cynic like me suspects. Therefore, a correct doctrine and practice of church membership and discipline is far from secondary. It is absolutely essential to the purity of the church and to the gospel itself.

Grief and Joy

The big news today is that the Acts 29 semi-pseudo-non-denomination has, after enabling Mark Driscoll in his very public sin for years, given him and Mars Hill Church the boot. As one might expect, admonitions are being issued scolding anyone who might be rejoicing in Driscoll's demise. We should only be sober and sad, they say. Half of that is correct. We should be sad. We should be sad for Driscoll's spiritual condition. We should pray for his repentance and restoration—although to what, I don't know, as I have no knowledge of a time when he was not (as Phil Johnson points out) well known for ungodly behavior. (And let me remind you: he got his ordination in the self-service aisle.) However, there is also cause for joy. Scripture does not leave us scratching our heads, wondering what to do with the Mark Driscolls in the church. If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. —Matthew 18:15–18 The incorrigible are to be, if necessary, removed. This is done for their own sake, in hope of bringing them to repentance, but it is also—and I would argue moreso—for the sake of the purity of Christ's church. It glorifies God when a sinner is brought to repentance, and it glorifies God when the unrepentant are removed from his church. If it is not so, then wherefore the above passage? Yes, I grieve for Mark Driscoll, as I do for anyone in his ignoble and dangerous condition; but I rejoice for the church, as I see his reputation—and therefore, influence—waning. The church and Driscoll are at odds. For which should I care most? Addendum: This post by Aaron Armstrong, which I had not read prior to posting my own (and is the kind of mature, humble confession that, coming from Acts 29 (among many other influential enablers), would make a good start towards restoring their credibility), provides a good example of the kind of rejoicing in which we cannot engage. Had I read it, I might have included words to that effect. On the other hand, while I do not consider Driscoll to be my enemy, I believe his ungodly behavior, and much moreso, some of his wildly unbiblical doctrine and horrific ecclesiology, do make him an enemy of the gospel.

Disciplining an Emperor

Following his “conversion” in 312, Emperor Constantine decreed the legal toleration of all religions. He also reckoned himself to be the head of the church, “bishop of all bishops” and the “thirteenth apostle.” Thus, the distinction between church and state was compromised. Enter Ambrose of Milan (ca. 339–397), who dared insist that Christ was the sole head of the church, and furthermore, that all Christians were under that authority, including those that happened to be Emperors—namely, Theodosius I, successor to Constantine. In the year 390, a Thessalonian mob murdered the governor of Illyria. In vain, Ambrose urged Theodosius to exercise restraint. The emperor sent an army “to massacre the Thessalonians.” When his anger cooled, he tried to recall his army, but seven thousand Thessalonians had already been slaughtered. Bishop Ambrose courageously reacted in faithful pastoral fashion. Ambrose respected Theodosius because the emperor was a Nicene Christian who had called the Council of Constantinople (381), which decisively rejected Arianism. Nevertheless, when Ambrose heard of the slaughter in Thessalonica, he wrote a bold letter, calling the emperor to repentance. He wrote: I cannot deny that you are zealous for the faith and that you fear God. But you have a naturally passionate spirit; and while you easily yield to love when that spirit is subdued, yet when it is stirred up you become a raging beast. I would gladly have left you to the workings of your own heart, but I dare not remain silent or gloss over your sin. No-one in all human history has ever before heard of such a bloody scene as the one at Thessalonica! I warned you against it, I pleaded with you; you yourself realized its horror and tried to cancel your decree. And now I call you to repent. This letter was a harbinger of the confrontation that would follow. Theodosius came to church, pretending that he had not received the letter. But Ambrose courageously barred his entrance to the church. When the emperor claimed he had repented, Ambrose responded that mere words were not enough—his contrition of heart must be demonstrated publicly before he could receive the Lord’s Supper. Ambrose challenged the emperor with these words: “How will you lift up in prayer the hands still dripping with the blood of the murdered? How will you receive with such hands the most holy body of the Lord? How will you bring to your mouth His precious blood? Go away, and dare not to heap crime upon crime.” In response, Theodosius pointed out that King David had been guilty of murder, but that he had been forgiven. Without hesitation, the bishop answered, “Well, if you have imitated David in sin, imitate him also in repentance.” The emperor humbled himself, demonstrating the genuineness of his repentance by walking through the streets of Milan while confessing his sin. Ambrose nevertheless banned Theodosius from attending church for the next eight months. When the probation period was complete, the emperor was required to kneel before the congregation and publicly ask for God’s forgiveness. Theodosius complied. This was the first time a bishop had used his spiritual authority with an emperor. As Ambrose asserted: “The Church belongs to God, therefore it cannot be assigned to Caesar. The emperor is within the Church, not above it.” The point was clear. No emperor, no king, no president is the ruler of the church—Christ is. Like all believers, even the highest civil authority, in matters pertaining to the church, is subject to the Lord Jesus Christ. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 199–200.


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