Community Disciplines: Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, Part 12

The practice of discipline in the community of faith begins with friends who are close to one another. Words of admonition and reproach must be risked when a lapse from God’s Word in doctrine or life endangers a community that lives together, and with it the whole community of faith. Nothing can be more cruel than that leniency which abandons others to their sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than that severe reprimand which calls another Christian in one’s community back from the path of sin.

(p. 105). Church discipline is a tough, tough subject because it’s so often done so very poorly. And yet the Bible addresses the topic frequently.

True discipline begins in love, and only those who love the person disciplined can honor the commands to rebuke — because only a rebuke from someone who loves me will change me. It’s too easy to rationalize and reject the counsel of a stranger.

And while we resist and argue against the need for discipline, the reality is that sin poisons the soul and can ultimately lead to misery and even damnation. To refuse to loving rebuke the sin of a friend is an act of cowardice and indifference, not love.

The more we learn to allow the other to speak the Word to us, to accept humbly and gratefully even severe reproaches and admonitions, the more free and to the point we ourselves will be in speaking.

(p. 105). Of course, humility is also part of the social contract of Christian community. It’s hard to hear rebuke from anyone, and especially hard to hear it from someone who cannot himself accept it. But when the rebuker has himself suffered rebuke, then you have to listen and accept the rebuke in the spirit in which it’s intended.

The great danger of rebuking a friend is the risk of losing a friend. Not everyone accepts criticism as a mature Christian should. It’s easy to be defensive, even to attack the person who challenges you to change.

But when the rebuke comes from someone who loves you, the risk is so great that the rebuke itself proves how desperate the sin is and how urgent repentance is. When someone who loves you greatly risks the friendship to confront a sin, the message is powerful and often effective to bring change.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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2 Responses to Community Disciplines: Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, Part 12

  1. Jerry says:

    This has been up five hours, and no comments yet? And on a subject as sensitive as church discipline?

    Much of our attitude toward (and fear of) church discipline stems from the incident where a congregation was sued (and lost) because of their exercise of church discipline. However, the unloving way in which that disciplining occurred was more to blame for their loss of the case than the fact of the discipline.

    In instances that I have personally observed, at least a perception of lack of love in the actions taken contributed to poor results. This refers to actual withdrawal of fellowship.

    However, I suspect that the vast majority of instances of “church discipline” never reach the public knowledge of the congregations. More people, when rebuked privately, will either (a) repent or (b) quietly leave the congregation without most people even knowing why.

    While there is a general neglect of church discipline (e.g., couples living together sans marriage, general bad attitudes, and rampant selfish behavior), it may be that more is accomplished quietly than most people realize. Then, in a burst of “zeal for the Lord” someone wants to come along and impose strict discipline on a church with a result that is disastrous. This serves mostly to give “church discipline” a bad name with consequent increased reluctance to take even the first steps.

  2. Larry Cheek says:

    There can be in the small churches with no Elders an action that is called a disfellowship by the church. When in reality was only an action orchestrated by a preacher that did not want to be exposed by a member that had proved that his teaching was in error in such a way that he could not refute, but instead of going public with the information the member had followed the guidelines of communicating with the one that had taught error. Preacher had clout, would not accept being shown up by anybody, therefore gather members together and ejects troublesome brother and sends messages to nearby congregations to attempt to contain the message that exposes him. I see that I must forgive him for my own health as a Christian, but I do not believe that he will ever see his sin.

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