Proverbs 12:1 – "Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid."
I remember it well; my very first Presbytery meeting—not because it was my first—but because a pastor was under discipline and in the process of being stripped of his credentials due to grievous sin. There is nothing quite like that experience: aspiring to an office where someone is presently being held accountable for holding that very same office lightly and with contempt. It was enough to “scare me straight”. Not that I was walking in unconfessed sin; but after witnessing another being disciplined, I was not about to start!
I trust this personal experience anecdotally explains one of the many benefits of church discipline: deterring others from like offenses. It is after all, as Paul told Timothy in 1 Tim. 5:20, when he said of those, "who persist in sin, [to] rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear”. On my first Presbytery meeting, I stood fearing! But it was a good fear; a clarifying fear; a fear which leads to greater watchfulness and holiness.
And yet, who among us likes fear, even such a beneficial fear? Do we enjoy discipline; even when such discipline is being performed upon another? Unless perhaps the other is an avowed enemy, I would suspect everyone of us would answer “no”. God himself says the same in Hebrews 12:11, that discipline for the moment is unpleasant and painful. We should not ask for it, nor should we want it! But godly discipline is not an end in and of itself; it has a goal: “later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
All of us who have raised children know this reality. None of our kids delight in being disciplined, but when they are walking in obedience, there are a few of those moments where they are willing to acknowledge discipline’s benefits. Maybe those moments are too few, but they do exist.
Discipline is good. It is a mercy given to the people of God to be yet another means of God’s grace, further encouraging us to walk in holiness. As James Bannerman put it in his exhaustive treatment of The Church of Christ, church discipline has been entrusted to the elders, “to promote and secure both the obedience and the edification of the members".1 Discipline instructs us in what we should refrain from, and, how we ought to be walking. Additionally, it is always restorative and purifying.2 If the one walking in sin will not be restored and purified through repentance and faith, even still, those remaining will be through the process.
Think of how properly carried-out discipline is restorative and purifying to the rest of the body of Christ. For those tempted toward the same sin as the offending party, the discipline calls us back—it effectively admonishes us from any wayward path we are beginning down. And it is purifying, for it calls us to be ever-more vigilant in walking in obedience to God’s word. Discipline not only calls the one sinning to holiness, it calls all of us sinners together to holiness. Church discipline is beneficial to all parties involved, when performed faithfully and with a Christ-like care.
So then, here is the intended take-away: while we are not under discipline, when we find ourselves standing firm and walking well, let us be thankful for the grace of church discipline. That way, if we should ever find ourselves needing such correction at a later time, for whatever reason, we may gladly endure the God-given process for our blessing and benefit.
After all, this is why membership in the RPCNA requires the oath: “In case you should need correction in doctrine or life, do you promise to respect the authority and discipline of the church?” We take this vow while we are in good standing, and Lord willing, it will remain that way all of our days. But should we err in our theology or practice, let us be thankful for such a vow!
And if you presently find yourself being disciplined by faithful elders in a godly church, then do not chafe; do not receive it as something bad; or something that needs to be avoided at all costs, save personal repentance. Instead, receive it as a gift, as a blessing calling you back and pursuing your purification, as Christ has appointed.
Like the child who has walked faithfully, grown up, moved out, and is no longer under their parents’ discipline, they can look back and be thankful for the instruction and correction they have received along the way. While they stand firm, they can say that they have “loved discipline”. May we do the same as we all find ourselves under the fatherly authority of the Church of our gracious Lord Jesus.
- Bannerman, James. The Church of Christ. Edinburgh, Scotland; Carlisle,
Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 2015, 704.