Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Why has church discipline become neglected in the contemporary church?

Writing in the seventeenth-century the puritan Richard Baxter highlights two timeless factors that tempt the pastor to neglect this duty—laziness and our desire to avoid the displeasure of ‘the wicked.’ As Jay Adams points out, discipline ‘is not easy to do correctly or even to do at all.’

There are also factors specific to our culture that make this responsibility challenging. Commenting on American evangelicalism Mohler suggests that the church of the twentieth-century acquiesced to a culture of moral relativism. A fondness for this ‘moral relativism’ is seen in some sections of the ‘emerging church.’ For example, Tony Jones shows his disdain for ‘statements of faith’ when he states that they ‘are about drawing borders, which means you have to load you weapons and place soldiers at those borders … It becomes an obsession—guarding the borders.’ While congregations should allow for disagreement on peripheral matters of faith and debatable issues of practice, if there is not an agreed set of core beliefs then there will obviously be no scope to enact church discipline.

Another cultural factor that negates against the practice of church discipline is the reluctance of people in western society to place themselves under governance. As Leeman points out, the ‘campaign that Western culture has been waging for several centuries for the individual has been a campaign waged against all forms of authority.’ Dever suggests that our age is one of ‘commitment-phobia.’ While Beasley-Murray states that ‘Commitment to Christ involves commitment to his church,’ Brian McLaren, in A Generous Orthodoxy, seems to have no problem with those who want to follow Jesus without identifying themselves as a Christian.
Not only is there a weakened connection in people’s minds between their faith and the church, their connection to the churches that they are involved in has become weakened. As Leeman points out, people today, ‘join churches lightly and they exit lightly.’

So while pastors, and congregations, may run from enacting church discipline for fear of being unpopular they also have to contend with the fact that some may not recognise the standards they seek to maintain or may simply leave the church when anyone challenges their behaviour.


Brian McFarland said...

Enjoyed this article and appreciate the 'problem' of discipline today - but it is vital for a strong church

To whom it may concern said...

I totally agree!