Thursday, 10 February 2011

Who is responsible for discipline in the church?

The following is a bit boring.  It is raw material for an essay I am doing.
The Manuel of Laws of the Methodist Church in Ireland identify the Church Council as being the court for members. Special provision is made for local preachers and ministers. Discipline for Local Preachers by-passes the church council and begins with the Circuit Executive, followed by the District Disciplinary Committee, the District Synod and the Conference. For ministers the courts begin with the District Disciplinary Committee, and are followed by the District Synod and Conference. Due to the fact that members are under the discipline of the Methodist Church it can be presumed that a member can appeal to the Connexional courts if they want to contest the decisions of their Church Council.
There seems to be a number of weaknesses with this structure.
Firstly, these laws do not mention what Adams refers to as the ‘informal’ stages of discipline; for example, in the procedure for discipline outlined in Matthew 18:15-20 discipline begins with a one-to-one encounter and then proceeds including one or two others. Those with a teaching responsibility in the church should highlight the responsibility to deal with private offences in a private matter before bringing them into a more public sphere.
Some offences begin with more public awareness and are of such a serious nature (e.g. 1 Cor. 5:1) that discipline begins with what Adams refers to as ‘formal’ discipline. This is the point at which the Manuel of Laws begins. But whereas the Manuel of Laws jumps from the Church Council to a district committee there is an emphasis in Scripture on the responsibility of the congregation (Matthew 18:17; 1 Cor. 5:2, cf. 2 Cor. 2:6). Robinson points out, that ekklesia (Matthew 18:17) mostly designates a local congregation and was never used in a collective way (e.g. of a denomination). It might be argued that the Church Council is representative of the congregation, but it would seem that it would be preferred that major issues of discipline were dealt with at a congregational meeting. Again those with teaching responsibility in the church should highlight that a commitment to church discipline is the responsibility for all the members.

Thirdly, there is a weakness in the fact that neither ministers nor local preachers are seen to be accountable to the local church. For the local preacher the courts of discipline begin with the Circuit Executive and for the minister they begin with a district committee. 1 Timothy 5:19-20 deals with accusations brought against an ‘elder.’ This passage is consistent with other New Testament passages dealing with discipline (e.g. Matthew 18:16 and 2 Cor. 13:1) in requiring more than one witness. The Apostle Paul’s concern is to ensure that elders are not exposed to unsubstantiated accusations and that if they are found guilty they are publically rebuked. As Wilson explains, they ‘must be publically rebuked so that other believers (‘the rest’) may fear to follow their good example.’ However, nothing in the apostle’s instruction to Timothy anticipates by-passing the local congregation in the disciplining of certain leaders. Although Methodist ministers do not formally hold their membership with the local congregation they should surely be seen as a full part of the congregation with which they serve. It does not seem correct that some should be exempt from the procedures outlined in Matthew 18:15-20


Virtual Methodist said...

It's not boring at all... I would argue that its emphasis is wrong, but it is not boring... I nearly placed a comment when you raised the issue of discipline last week, but I had neither the time nor the energy... What I was going to say that discipline needs to be understood within the context of pastoral care and "disciple-ing" and should NEVER be seen as a separate issue. Indeed in the United Methodist Church that is the explicit context of disciplinary procedures... You rightly point out that MCI's disciplinary legislation makes no reference to the informal process in Matt 18... Which is why your last sentence is incorrect. Ministers are no more exempt from Matt 18: 15-20 than anyone else is... But then Matt 18 is not (unless it is read in isolation from the rest of the gospels) primarily a model for church "discipline" in the sense of punishment, because what is the sanction recommended? To treat the "Offender" as a "pagan or tax-collector"... And how does Jesus treat pagans and tax-collectors? He doesn't operate according to the prevailing rules and boundaries (with its self-appointed border guards) of his day... but with grace... Those who talk about public rebuke as a way of instilling fear have more of the spirit of the pharisees in them than the grace of Christ... And it was the pharisees with their protective hedges around the law that Jesus railed against, not pagans, tax-collectors or even the disciples who betrayed, denied and deserted him...

To whom it may concern said...

Thanks for the comment Vm, really appreciate it. Carson disagrees that the referance to treating those on the receiving end of discipline as tax collectors etc means to treat them graciously, but as non authentic. This certainly would fit with Paul's expulsion of 1 Cor 5. Do you have any recommended reading on the Matthew passage?