Church Discipline

I’m going to apologize in advance for the long post today, Constant Reader. If that offends you, finish reading right here and jump on over to Michelle’s PotterPost. If you’ve got twenty minutes or so, read on, intrepid friend.

Christianity Today is on Day Two of a series on church discipline.

Church discipline. I have a dual reaction to this phrase: the kind of creep-out feeling I got watching War of the Worlds, and a strange sort of longing. I don’t want to spoil War of the Worlds for you (and no, I’m not talking about the general creep-out I get from Mr. Tom Cruise of TomKat fame (be sure to see Bird Jenkinson Spearman’s fantastic post on TomKat, here), so I’ll get to the longing part.

So church discipline. I read this article about the subject at CT. And the thing that really got me about it was this statement:

With most evangelical churches today, the membership is fairly meaningless. And it would be weird to have two deacons turn up on your front doorstep to confront you about adultery or gossip, because there’s been no natural conversation about your spiritual life. Not only should we be talking about football and the weather after worship, but also about our own self-denial or lack thereof, our response to the Word just preached, the way we choked up at that older member’s testimony, how we’ve cared for a distressed family, about our concern to evangelize Muslims in the area, and so on.

When it’s natural to have serious conversations about real life with each other, that’s when you can start practicing corrective discipline. And once you start doing these other things, once you see the culture of the congregation changed where it really is the shape of your discipleship and the center of your life, church discipline is as natural as can be.

I hardly know where to begin with this, but it’s weighing on me. I promise not to make every post so serious!

Meaningless membership. The two times I’ve formally joined a church, it was a pretty lackluster affair. In the first, I expressed interest, the pastor’s eyes lit up at the thought of his swelling weekly, monthly, and annual reports (in one case), and after a “ceremony” that involved consent of the congregation. I’m not sure anyone cared about my commitment to Christian discipleship. I could have been O.J. Simpson, carrying the bloody glove in my suitcoat pocket, for all anyone in the church knew. Kristi and I could have been brainwashed terrorist plants, our plastic smiles concealing anarchistic tendencies involving Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jim Jones, and purple kool-aid loyalty tests.

The second was a little bit more involved, primarily because the church itself was more liturgical. It involved lots of stuff about renouncing sin and lots of other language that made me think of the end of The Godfather. It was a covenant, the pastor said, between the member and the church. But in practice, not much more involved than the first.

But I want a church to require more of me. I want the church to deserve it. That’s selfish, I know, but that’s how I feel. Couldn’t a church be so awesome that I would fall over myself to be involved in any way I could?

The pastor of that second church was in that category, so stupendous and inspirational that I would take any opportunity to learn from him. But that church is far away.

I harbor a secret (not anymore) admiration for the Orthodox Church. They take membership seriously! If you’re interested, check out Frederica Mathews-Green’s article about the Orthodox church’s worship, here.

Anybody get it? Feel the same? Think I’m nuts? Is membership meaningless in your church? Do you care?


One thought on “Church Discipline”

  1. We’ve had similar discussions about this, so I can say I do understand where you’re coming from. I have been a “member” of two churches as well…one that I grew up in and my family joined, and one that Paul and I chose to join after we were married. Neither required a strenuous process, neither had any great commitment requirements (other than attendance and expected tithing), and neither made me want to rush to get involved. In fact, I think we only joined that second church because it felt like the “right” thing to do. Our parents expected it, so we did it.

    I think the best model of a great members-church relationship is my Mom’s church in Charlotte (Steel Creek Church of Charlotte). I regularly sing the praises of this church, because, while it’s not perfect, they seem to be doing an awful lot of things right. I’ve never heard them pushing for membership per se, but they do have expectations for the regular attendees – you’re expected to go through their three Discipleship classes, to join a Home Fellowship group in your area, to regularly participate in an area or areas of church ministry, and to periodically participate in a local or international outreach.

    I don’t know if any of this is, like, on their website or anything, but it’s been very clear all of the times I’ve ever visited.

    The great thing about that model is that it’s completely balanced as to how much they expect you to give and how much they give you (they give discipleship and home fellowship, you give support to the church and outreach involement). If the church is truly meeting your needs, why wouldn’t you want to help meet theirs?

    Of course, that brings up the question…is the church you’re attending meeting your needs? That’s definitely a different discussion!

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