In the recent past it has often been said of our consistories that they threw out faithful members for nothing more than personal animosities. It is not the purpose of this article to go into the issues involved in past troubles, they are utterly closed, and should remain so, but rather, a clarification of the basic issue, Christian charity, is here-in intended.
Charity, Christian charity, has broad implications in our lives today. It involves a great deal more than the outward manifestation of Love toward one another. There are two sides to the coin of charity: One side is Love, the other obedience. One cannot be claimed with the other not given. As the church, we are united in faith and life through common love: Love toward and emanating from God to Him and to each other. In His infinite wisdom, God chose to rule his Church through men of wisdom, called to the office of Elder. To them He gave the keys of the kingdom of heaven, through them the church grows in strength and purity. When, in the course of spiritual growth, we make confession of our faith, we pledge before God and His church to submit to church government and discipline. Before God, we must obey our consistories as long as we are of like faith as they. If we cannot be of like faith we must separate ourselves from them before becoming cause for discipline. Quite simply, to say we are of like faith with those God has placed over us and then to disobey is not only sin, it is patently ridiculous.
Yet, Christian charity requires us to love our brethren in Christ. With all this love (and discipline is a form of love, Hebrews 12:6) why is there continual church infighting and split?
Often, charity is forgotten by both parties in a dispute. Each side is so sure of being right, that they forget to love each other. Many a dispute could be easily settled if the people involved would all be forgiving. Even when one person or group is clearly at fault, forgiveness on both sides is required. However, when the matter is passed into the jurisdiction of the consistory, things change. When a person refuses to obey the rule of God through the consistory, the sin becomes disobedience. No person is excommunicated for a specific sin alone, for all of us sin constantly, but people are properly separated for obduracy. The concern of the Church in general must be the members’ hardness of heart; the issue involved is not the concern of the members in general. We are all bound to obedience in love.
Still, discipline is a painful thing, when it is done in love particularly. It hurts when there is discord within the church, just as illness is painful to the body. Why then, does God cause the church to suffer?
As in bodily sickness, disease must either be cured or cut out. If disease is left unchecked with whole body will perish. So it is with the church, the body of Christ. Often the churches with the most outward manifestation of live and unity are the churches who have nothing more than just that: outward unity. They hang together for social appearances, from a psychological need, for any reason but the real one: a desire to maintain the truth. Buffet them with any storm of doctrine and these churches fall, rotted from within.
The unique strength of the Church of God is not to be found in outward unity, but in inward cohesiveness. To outward appearances the Church seems really good at only one thing: In-fighting. Reality, though, is far different. It is very true that much of the arguing within the Church is personality clash. Any group of sinners so closely bound are going to have differences of opinion. This is not where the real problems occur. Often when disagreements reach the stage of consistorial admonition, the real fight begins. Discipline is a two-edged sword; it brings the erring brother home, while cutting a diseased “member” from the church.
Thus the church remains healthy through disciplines’ cure, even though it hurts. A member who is so sure he is right over against God’s appointed consistory, so sure that he will sever himself from the body of the Church, is a diseased member, and does not belong with the Church until he is whole, if that can be.
The purpose of discipline in charity is not to hurt the individual, but to keep the Church pure: it is not to punish, but to restore. It hurts, oh how it hurts! It embarrasses, it cuts down pride, it separates families. Many tears have been shed over the two-edged sword of discipline. It hurts.
It hurts, but oh how wonderful it is! The active sword of discipline is a sign of the true Church. It cleanses, it heals, it keeps us truly whole. For remember, the other side of the sword of discipline is love, love no more wonderfully shown than when a brother is admonished. “For whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth,” Heb. 12:6. Throughout the ages the love-sword of discipline has held us intact, and this because it is two-edged. Discipline is ever an act of love.
Originally Published in:
Vol. 31 No. 8 December 1971