Some Excellent Reflections on Church Discipline

In the absence of finding time to write the posts I keep promising to write (more systematic reflections both on women’s ordination and on the “rules of engagement” for thoughtful, charitable, but principled theologial debate), I’ll keep stalling by pointing you to good things other people have written.  Thankfully, I don’t have to look far to find some.

My friend Joseph Minich, with whom I’ve had a number of very fruitful conversations on these questions in recent months, has just posted (on his brand-new blog), a set of excellent reflections on church discipline and church authority.  In essence, he tries to demystify the whole concept (which a lot of recent writing on “recovering high ecclesiology” among Reformed Presbyterian types has worked hard to re-mystify) with good old-fashioned Reformation Protestantism.  If the authority of the minister (and the elders) is only the Word, then a sentence of discipline has no spiritual ramifications unless it is a true application of the Word to the individual’s spiritual state.  And, as a corollary, the application of the Word by any old fellow congregant, who sees the need to all his brother to account, is of equal weight.  Ministers do have a particular authority, but it is a non-conscience-binding prudential authority over prudential matters of polity, as well as the informal moral authority of wisdom and vocation.  

Joe addresses ecclesiology, contending, “the visible church is just the totality of the baptized in the world. The church is just the people of God called out of the world. They exist prior to their institutional expression,” and then also gets into questions of what the term “the Church” really means when we get down to brass tacks and talk about concrete ecclesial communities:

Am I “more obligated” to members of my local church than to members of another local church? Am I “more” of a spiritual family with my local church than with other believers throughout the world? Should I submit my resources and my calling “more” to the local church than to other churches, believers, or unbelievers? If the institutional church is just the natural political expression of the baptized community, then the answer to all these questions is very simple: It depends – and it depends on precisely the same sorts of “neighbor loving” or “group” considerations that obtain in any other institution.”

Read the whole post here.

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