My first reaction is that the title of this blog is an oxymoron. As I’ve been reading through 1 Corinthians I see Paul attempting to implement discipline in the church through a letter. He is totally dependent on the members of the church to perform the actions he recommends. Unfortunately, this situation has gotten worse. In spite of immediate communication and frequent face to face interaction most congregations I’ve been in are undisciplined.
I think there a several reasons for this. The first is that we’ve been convinced that we need to have a personal relationship with Jesus. For many, this means that their relationship with Jesus is defined by them and is no one else’s business. As long as I feel that Jesus and me are good I do not need input from anyone else. The result is a group of people heading every which direction with little spiritual growth.
The second reason is that many church leaders are more concerned about attendance and finances than they are about the spiritual growth of their church members. I am uncomfortable with conflict. My normal approach to conflict is to avoid it if at all possible. Unfortunately, I’m not alone. The result is that when we as leaders see a spiritual issue in someone’s life we quickly rationalize that it is not as bad as it looks. To reassure ourselves we compare the person’s life with the lives of people in the surrounding culture and quickly discover that they look good by comparison. Of course, we are doing this in our own lives so it is easy to apply this same comparison principle to others. Paul had a different comparative method. He compared his life and the life of every believer to the standard of conformance to the character of Jesus. Anything less than perfect conformance meant there was opportunity for growth and this meant some form of discipline.
The third reason may be the most significant and the most difficult to deal with. It is a variation on the first reason. We do not value our relationship with the other members of our fellowship highly enough. In the first century there was only one church in town. It may have met in various homes throughout the city, but when believers began to think of themselves as separate groups they were quickly corrected. As persecution increased, the value of the relationships within the church body also increased. A believer might be dependent on other believers for the basic necessities of life. It was also not uncommon to be alienated from non-believers in the community. Real fellowship was not a potluck after the morning service. Real fellowship was lives shared and dependent on one another.
We can’t imagine this today. With so many gatherings of believers to be a part of it is simple to leave one and go to another if things are not going the way I want them to.
Church discipline can only happen when believers are willing to submit to the correction of their brothers and sisters, including their leaders. For this to happen it must be clear that the leaders are in total submission to Jesus and acting on his behalf. This is not just true for the church. In any relationship I can only grow if I am willing to accept feedback and discipline from the person I have relationship with.
For several years I struggled with depression. I knew something wasn’t right, but I was stuck. I was not willing to hear my wife’s voice and things were not going well. It took a letter from my daughter to my doctor to get my attention. I’m not well, but I’m far better than I would be if all the people who loved me had given up and let me go my own way.
We all need discipline, correction, and feedback. Don’t ignore it. Seek it out.
For my grandchildren: When your are corrected, say thank you.