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Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Anon (you'll see why!)

I had trouble recently when a member of our church came to me seeking my approval of her ongoing adultery. Her conscience dulled by desire she thought I was judgemental when I asked if this was contrary to her faith in Christ. Church discipline had to be applied - but it was through tears, not arrogance.

On the other hand I like church discipline because it has helped me to stay faithful. At times when I have wanted to wander off track, the enforcement of 'the rules' has kept me behaving well even when my heart has fallen into sin. It has not reduced my sinfulness, but minimised the harm caused to others.

A generation ago the church was so caught up in legalism that it equated salvation with rule-keeping and asssumed that outer respectability implied inner regeneration. We've now swung to the other extreme where we are unwilling to apply Biblical standards to ourselves, let alone to the people in our spiritual care.

The Bible is unremitingly critical of the kind of legalism which seeks to impress God or gain His favour through mere rules. It never, though, condemns humble people who seriously seek God for the right way to live. We constantly confuse these two strands to our detriment.

I hope I never have to apply church discipline again - it's heartbreaking; and repentance will always lead to restoration. But adultery and fellowship in God's people will always be in conflict.



An excellent post - once again. My experience is slightly different to that of anon (I do see why). We try to operate with a centred set mentality at our church, as yet we have had no real church discipline issues to speak of. What we have discovered is that seekers whose lifestyles we may not approve of (unmarried couples living together, people struggling with sexuality and personal identity issues) have found a place where it is safe for them to seek. At least one of those couples are now saved and are getting married this summer.

A centres set in our experiece then allows people to genuinely journey toward Jesus without being dissuaded by external rules. Now there is an issue that once they decide to walk with Him discipleship can be challenging. But overall we have found these people to be referechingly open to changing their lifestyle choices. They realise that something has changed, and that they must make choices accordingly. It is simply our job to walk with them in the midst of those changes.

This still doesn't answer your question though!

Stuart Blythe

Hi Brodie.

For me one of the most dynamically paradoxical (stunningly brilliant) bible events is when Jesus calls Levi and then goes and has a meal with a variety of tax collectors and sinners earning himself some criticism. Bad Jesus! In this biblical event we have held together - the radical demands of discipleship (with concrete lifestyle changes demanded) with an openess and a hospitality to others. I personally find that narrative both more helpful and challenging and dynamic than the 'centred' and 'bounded' sets thing although think that there are similarities in ideas. This passage was formative for others and in time me in trying to develop an ethos of committed at the core, and open at the edges in church life. It does seem to me that at the core you do need a community - a covenanting group of discipleship and accountablity. You need a core in fact to allow the openess of hospitality to happen. Such a core will have shared things that are considered important - perhaps nothing more or less than a clear committment to live under the rule of Christ (oh old baptist that I am) - and as such place themselves under mutual voluntary accountability. At the core discipline is part of belonging. Beyond the core - welcome and acceptance is offered, not demanding of others that which is expected of those who are placing themselves at the core. So for me there will be some 'core' values the voluntary acceptance of which mark a level of committment and covenant that are neither expected of others, nor the rejection of which will stop them getting welcome and friendship. Such a dynamic tension is I think dangersously brilliant and so Jesus. In practice for me the issue would be - where does the young person see themself in relation to Jesus - if close, then I would speak about the responsibilities of closeness and discipleship if distant, I would emphasise welcome. Inconsistent - NO at all - biblical, paradoxical, pastoral theology!


The farm illustration is an thought-provoking one, but it feels faulty. Sure, if you have a large enough attraction and no local distractions, the animals won't stray. But, not every farm benefits from having the next farm (and watering hole) hundreds of miles away.



Great to see a post on this topic - it's been a bit part of my thinking again recently, as I've been given the task of re-writing our church values/vision statement. Here's some reflections. The challenge we face is that in trying to move from a bounded (soft at the centre, hard at the edges) set to a centered (soft at the edges, hard at the centre) set mentality, we fall between the two stools and end up with the fuzzy set (soft at the edges but also soft in the centre). [This is starting to sound like those old Dime Bar adverts "Armadillos!"].

What we end up with then is basically 1950s liberalism, some kind of open parish system with no discernable centre. The key part is to make the centre certain, which means reinforcing that "core" through teaching/practise/discipline (I guess this applies as much to discipline/practise as it does to belief).

I was chatting to a lecturer friend of ours the other day and he used the anaology of a family meal table. The invitation is open to all to sit at the table and join the meal, and there are no prerequisites to this invitation - anyone can sit down - but to properly enjoy the meal and experience the benefits of the family, you are expected to demonstrate the right table manners. Not sure how far that analogy can be pushed, but I've found it helpful.

There's an important dynamic element here too - the question being not "where is this person in relation to the core?" but "what is there direction/speed towards it?" The core becomes like a centre of gravity, pulling people towards itself (Himself, if I'm allowed to show my own true baptist colours!). Those close to it but heading away are probably more of a concern as those who are a long way off but heading 'in'. Which of course means we have to know where someone is coming from and how quickly, and not just where they've got to. There - those are my thoughts for what they're worth.


Anon - thanks for your comment. It's never nice to be in such a situation and I pray that you will know God's on going wisdom.


Glen - thanks for your contribution and hey it's fine that you've not answered my question.

Sounds like you've a lot of good and exciting things going on in your community.


Stuart - I sometimes wish that the gospel writers told us more of some of Jesus' meetings. Yet I think that there are good reason why they don't tell us more.


Fern - I think that the issue you highlight is of reflecting on what might be potentially positive models and then assessing their contextual appropriateness.


Jamie - good to see that you are working through these issues.

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