Tag Archives: gospel

What Do You Think About Church Discipline?

Country_Church       What do you think when you hear the phrase “church discipline?” For some of you it brings to mind a scene from The Scarlet Letter or you picture some kind of New England witch hunt where self-righteous religious types are shaming anyone who does something wrong. Some of you have been confused by a church who tried to practice it and things didn’t go so well. Others of you are walking with Jesus more freely today because God used the love of church discipline to awaken you from your sin and lead you to refreshing repentance.

       Church discipline is a theme that runs through out the New Testament. Jesus (Matthew 18:15-35; Luke 17:3-4), Paul (1 Corinthians 5:1-13; Galatians 6:1-2; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15; Titus 3:10-11), James (James 5:19-20), and the author of Hebrews (Hebrews 12:5-11) all speak about it plainly.

       Despite its prevalence in the Bible, church discipline was something I’d never really studied until just a few years ago. I say this to my shame because the more I learned about the church, the more I saw how important this subject really is. Jesus died and rose for sinners. That is the good news of the Gospel. Jesus gathers those sinners together in His church worship Him, but also to protect and proclaim the Gospel so more people might come to know Him.

       The problem is that if a church that is supposed to be displaying and proclaiming the Gospel sends a different message through hypocrisy, eventually the Gospel will be confused or even lost. A church that seeks to honor God in how it lives is important because the Gospel is important and the Gospel is important because it tells about Jesus. It’s all connected.

       If you’ve never given much thought to the subject, I would like to commend to you two books written by Jonathan Leeman that serve as good introductions to the subject: Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus and Church Discipline: How the Church Protects the Name of Jesus. The second book is all about church discipline, but the first book sets the stage in a helpful way. Both these books are super short and easy to read. If you have a hesitancy toward this subject or are even tempted to dismiss it as unnecessarily divisive, I would encourage you to give the subject further study.

       I leave you with these words from Robert Murray M’Cheyne, a godly pastor from Scotland in the 1800’s: “When I first entered upon the work of the ministry among you, I was exceeding ignorant of the vast importance of church discipline.  I thought that my great and almost only work was to pray and preach.  I saw your souls to be so precious, and the time so short, that I devoted all my time, and care, and strength, to labour in word and doctrine.  When cases of discipline were brought before me and the elders, I regarded them with something like abhorrence.  It was a duty I shrank from and I may truly say it nearly drove me from the work of the ministry among you altogether.  But it pleased God, who teaches his servants in another way than man teaches, to bless some of the cases of discipline to the manifest and undeniable conversion of the souls under our care; and from that hour a new light broke in upon my mind, and I saw that if preaching be an ordinance of Christ, so is church discipline.  I now feel very deeply persuaded that both are of God—that two keys are committed to us by Christ, the one the key of doctrine, by means of which we unlock the treasures of the Bible, the other the key of discipline, by which we open or shut the way to the sealing ordinances of the faith.  Both are Christ’s gift, and neither is to be resigned without sin.” 

Robert Murray M’Cheyne Andrew Bonar, Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1844) pp. 87-88.


The Toughest Conversation I’m Glad I Had

grandmom and granddad

    We weren’t sure when Grandpa woke up, but we knew it was long before the sun did. My earliest memories of him revolve around a small kitchen table where he sat each morning drinking coffee and reading the newspaper. The walls of his basement were decorated with World War II honors and pictures of his hunting victories. Locked gun cases held treasures we were only allowed to behold when Grandpa opened them for us.

     I learned my first curse words from my grandfather, who was sure to drop some colorful language in at least every other sentence. He could be an intimidating man, but his smile and belly laugh calmed our trepidation. His love for my grandmother was marked by service and tenderness I’ve rarely seen rivaled. He stood when she came into the room and attended to her every need.

      Granddad was an occasional churchman. His faith would have best been described as private. As our family’s patriarch he always prayed before meals, when  he’d take the opportunity to thank God for our country and blast whomever might be president at the time. I never saw him open a Bible and never heard him speak of Jesus, except when interjecting his name as an expletive.

 Weighty Awareness

      In 2011, my wife and I planned a trip to Wilmington, North Carolina, as part of our family’s summer vacation. We chose this spot because we love the beach, but mostly because my grandparents lived there, and we wanted them to meet our newborn son. Our family was buzzing as the days drew closer, but along with the anticipation, a weighty awareness rested on my heart. The Lord was calling me to share the gospel with Granddad.

      Though burdened for his salvation for years, I hadn’t enjoyed many in-person opportunities for that kind of conversation. Granddad was now in his 80s and, though not in bad health, I sensed the Lord had set apart this time for me to initiate an eternally important conversation with him.

      I guess I’m like anybody else when it comes to sharing the gospel. I believe the good news with all my heart, but whether it be fear of man or feelings of inadequacy, I still get anxious whenever I proclaim Christ’s name. The pending conversation with Granddad took my fear to another level, for several reasons.

      First, it was Grandpa. He was a man of steel, and I was scared to death to speak truth to someone who’d lived nearly four times as long as I had. He’d forgotten more than I’ll ever learn, and the thought of calling him to repent and believe in King Jesus made me so anxious I was nearly nauseous over it.

     Second, he claimed to be a Christian. He’d gone to church a billion times and heard as many sermons. He was a longstanding member of a Presbyterian church that appeared to be, to put it charitably, light on the gospel. Though Grandpa was a man of impeccable integrity and faithfulness, he didn’t display fruit that would be characterized as Christlike (Matt. 7:16; Gal. 5:22-23).

     Third, he was family. It’s always tough to share the gospel with family since they know all about you—the good, bad, and the real bad. Grandpa knew me when I was a womanizing cokehead who mocked religion and disgraced my family. Though Jesus has done a wonderful work in my life, I was still aware that Grandpa knew my past. And on this particular occasion, it haunted me.

     Before the trip, I prayed and asked others to do the same with the hope God would soften his heart and give me courage to speak truth. The Lord answered those prayers as on the last day of the trip I had a clear 30-minute gospel conversation with him. At first it was a little tough, but I believe the Lord blessed our time together.

     Though Grandpa raised numerous questions and shared some of his doubts, he expressed willingness to consider the news I’d relayed to him. Once I returned I sent him a letter addressing his questions, some selected Scriptures to consider, and a copy of my friend Mike McKinley’s excellent book Am I Really a Christian?. We had one follow-up conversation, during which he remarked, “I’ve never understood this ‘born-again’ thing, but I think I’m starting to get it.”

     Granddad died on December 17, 2012, with his wife of 55 years by his side. He’d requested to be cremated, and my grandmother fulfilled his request. I had the honor of leading a memorial service in his birthplace of Currituck, North Carolina.

Seed Sown

     In the days since Grandpa’s death, I’ve often wondered whether the seed sown upon his soul took root. I have hope that God brought about repentance and faith in my grandfather before he died, but I cannot be certain. What I can be certain of, however, is that the words of Scripture are true: “The fear of man is a snare” (Prov. 29:25).

     No matter what man we fear (even if it’s Grandpa), fear is a snare. Fear is a snare for us, and it’s a snare for those who need to hear the message that can save their souls. The gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16), and it is good news. Yet as Carl F. H. Henry observed, it is “only good news if it gets there in time.”

     I haven’t always obeyed the Lord’s call for me to share the gospel. To this day several scenes haunt my memory. I know, however, that although I’ve withheld the gospel from some, God’s mercy extends to me. His grace abounds to undeserving rebels like me.

     The conversation with my grandfather was one of the toughest I’ve ever had, but I’ve been sobered in the hindsight of his death. My fear appears quite shortsighted today, for at this moment he’s in eternity. He sees what we have only heard. Christ is more real to him now than when we sat at the kitchen table and read the Scriptures that pointed to the Lord of glory.

     I trust that on that last day when we all stand before that great judgment throne, the fear of man will be exposed for utter foolishness. The weightiness of eternity presses us into deeper dependence on Christ to do what he’s called us to do—while we still can. To be paralyzed by fear of human opinion, rather than stirred to declare the truth that can deliver from destruction, is a most saddening tradeoff.

     God has placed each of us in our families, neighborhoods, classrooms, and workplaces to be ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). We aren’t there by chance, and there is no time to waste. Pray for God to open doors for the gospel. Ask him to give you courage to speak his name.

     I’m convinced that one day, when standing before his Son, those tough conversations will be among those we’ll be eternally glad we had.

What Did St. Francis Really Say About Preaching the Gospel?

If you’ve ever talked with a Christian about evangelism, you’ve probably heard the now famous words attributed to St. Francis of Assisi that go something like this— “preach the Gospel at all times, use words if necessary.”

That’s tweetable, but did St. Francis really say that? And more importantly, is it wise advice?

This slogan is actually an apparent misquote of what Francis said in chapter 17 of his Rules of the Friar (1221). Here’s the quote in full:

Ch. 17 — Of Preachers.

“Let none of the brothers preach contrary to the form and institution of the holy Roman Church, and unless this has been conceded to him by his minister. But let the minister take care that he does not grant this leave indiscreetly to anyone. Nevertheless, let all the brothers preach by their works. And let no minister or preacher appropriate to himself the ministry of brothers or the office of preaching, but let him give up his office without any contradiction at whatever hour it may be enjoined him. Wherefore I beseech in the charity which God is all.”

What St. Francis told his friars was not to preach unless they had received proper permission to do so. And that even if they didn’t get to preach, he wanted to make sure that “all the brothers preach by their works.”

I don’t post this to defend St. Francis and his theology. To be honest, I’ve never read anything else he’s ever said (except some of his bird sermons). I do know however that somewhere along the line, someone stretched what he said into something Jesus and the Scriptures never say.

We must preach the Gospel at all times, and to do that we must use words. We can’t preach by our deeds. That’s like saying feed hungry people, use food if necessary.

The Gospel is a message that must be proclaimed with words. We can and must affirm the message of the Gospel by our deeds, but we can’t live the message clearly enough to help people know that we aren’t just moral atheists or Hindus or Muslims or Mormons. Jesus was the Word made flesh, but still used words to warn, instruct, and encourage those he ministered to.

The way people know who Christ is, what He requires of them, and why we live the way we do is to proclaim, with words, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So, preach the Gospel at all times, and since its necessary, use words.