Monday, June 1, 2015

Church Discipline

I am all for accountability within the human aspects of the Church (C as in universal, c as in local body). 

We often forget that the Church is flawed because people are flawed. There is no perfect Church in the current state of the already (the power of the kingdom manifest in the work and life of Christ actively present in His people through the Church in the power of the Holy Spirit) and the not yet (the bitter reality that sin still plagues creation and His people even though we are to be living in the constraint of grace). This problem is a universal problem. There is no perfection possible until Christ's return, yet we strive without ceasing for this glimpse of the kingdom of God. 

Try as we might, we are failures, and that is okay. Really, it's okay. Even Paul talks of being torn with the things he longs to do while still doing the things he hates. Find me any Christian who doesn't have this problem and I will eat my words and then call them a liar. 

The truth is that we long to do our best under the constraint of grace, while seeking the wisdom of the Lord in prayer and submission to the Word of God found in the Bible. 

Is the interpretation of the Bible easy? No. It's actually quite complicated. And this is my point. 

Ministers, pastors, teachers, professors, and theologians in general, all wrestle with how the text is to be applied in practical ways in the there and then, and the here and now. 

A basic understanding of languages (Hebrew, Greek) is incredibly helpful, as is the study of textual criticism, history, philosphy, and basic psychology. This means in every sense of the word that privilege is very much a part of leadership. It assumes that one has the ability to go to school, college, seminary, or training, that is accessible and affordable through work, loans, grants, or scholarship. This does often mean that it separates a social class from another in terms of education. This is an important topic for discussion that I will address at some point in the future. I am aware of this privilege and how it can, and does, affect the church and views of white, male privilege, especially in the West. 
Knowing this as a presupposition, allows me to continue this discussion in what follows. 

Churches create documents and covenants with a theological understanding and interpretation of the text that best guides and navigates the streams of the already and not yet. Are these doctrinal statements, covenants, and practicing of them perfect? No. And this too, is okay. 

The problem lies in people who have no formal understanding of all of the moving parts of theological formation making claims of misogyny, abuse, and doctrinal social clubs for men without ever knowing the basic premise for why these ideas are in place to begin with. 

Some say it's all about Jesus and how he was on the side of the marginalized. True. But even Jesus was firm in his statements of the kingdom of God, submission to the Father, and statements of sinning no more. People want a friendly Jesus, not a King Jesus. 

What does Jesus as King have to do with Church discipline? Everything. 

We submit to Jesus as he submits to the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit. I trust that the doctrines in place for practical use of the church are in place not for use of power and authority of an elite few (although, some have strayed and do manipulate this), but more often then not, they are made through the efforts of good, holy (as much as a sinner can be) and Godly men and women in each local context all the way to definitive denominational statements.

I am troubled that many people are more interested in bringing down churches through cynicism and deconstruction than actively participating in bringing out the good in the church even though they would say that bringing this things out is good for the Church. What is interesting though, is the amount of complaints and accusations without any practical support, ideas, or participation in fixing something. 

The larger a church becomes the harder it is to practice certain aspects of polity and the more general, and even defining, a covenant or doctrinal idea becomes. I believe that these ideas are necessary for the greater reality of the Church. That discipline under the church leadership is Biblical (read 1 Cor for Pete's sake) and that deconstructing these basic principles of institution can be more harmful than good. 

If abuse is happening, it should be addressed, but I would say that abuse is not the norm despite what many bloggers and progressives will tell you. 

We cannot throw the baby out with the bath water. Perhaps when complainers realize that they become fundamentalists in the way they address the things that they fundamentally oppose, I will take them more seriously. Until then, I will submit to the Church and church authority with the trust that they know what they are doing through the constraint of costly grace and the power of the Holy Spirit. 

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