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Discipline is necessary for healthy and vibrant growth. This assertion is true in both spiritual and natural contexts. A proof for this assertion calls for the invitation of people to investigate the fruits of people who live in undisciplined lives. Lack of discipline leads to a loss of integrity and responsibility. According to Zuidema, true discipline emanates from the need to establish good relationships and/or promote accountability.1 God designed man to behave in certain ways. He also created room for correction to be advocated when the limits of behavior are surpassed. The case of the Garden of Eden perhaps substantiates these situations.
God provided appropriate standards within which Adam and Eve were to live in the Garden of Eden. He also imposed a regulation not to eat the fruits from the tree of knowledge that appeared in the middle of the garden. However, Adam and Eve broke the limits by transgressing God’s commands, thus prompting a disciplinary action to be taken against them. Hence, the believers of Jesus Christ have limits that guide their actions. To what extent should the limits apply in Christian contemporary settings? What is the value of restoration for Christians who have broken the limits that are necessary for productive Christian lifestyles? This paper borrows from scholarly writings and the Bible as the main primary sources to reflect on the issues that affect the contemporary church.
Church members require disciplining when they sin. However, the disciplining should not be done in a manner that threatens the prosperity of their spiritual life. Who should discipline them? Is it God, priest, bishop, or fellow members? Well responding to this query requires one to infer from what the Holy Scriptures teach about discipline and discipline. God the Father has all the rights to disciplining His people. Disciplining them means that they are His children (Heb.12:1-13, NJB).2 Therefore, according to Vermigli, as Christians, recognizing that all people are God’s children calls upon them to submit and appreciate His disciplining.3
Disciplining is acceptable based on the teachings of Hebrews Chapter 12. What kind of discipline is appropriate for a Christian? Ballor reveals various types of disciplines that are necessary for a Christian, although all categories have the same objective of shaping people’s hearts and lives to take after Christ.4 In Colossians 1:28-29, the Bible underlines the necessity of teaching about Jesus Christ. Ballor asserts that the Bible differentiates two types of discipline, namely corrective and positive restraint.5
Positive discipline refers to the shaping of people’s hearts to reflect and/or glorify Jesus Christ in their doings. This process may be accomplished through rebuking, prayer, issuing of warnings, personal ministry, discipleship, and training on righteousness among other approaches. Punitive discipline entails shaping people’s lives through exercising governmental authority together with facing the consequences of one’s indiscipline. This category translates into exercising punitive measures with the objective of asserting Jesus Christ’s authority.
The outcomes include losing one’s followership in Church, taking corporate actions, or direct public reproach among others. Irrespective of the type of discipline, it is clear that the primary goal of disciplining entails ensuring that a Christian takes the responsibility of his or her disorderliness. This claim implies not only accepting disciplinary measures but also accepting wrongdoing, including considering forgiveness. Can a Christian who has gone beyond the limits of Christianity live a normal life that matches how he or she used to live before sinning? The above question introduces the role of restoration in Christian life.
Restoration: Is it necessary in the Modern Church?
Restoration is the process of bringing a believer who has engaged in a known sin back to the true service to God. The cotemporary Church faces challenges that require an interpretation of the purpose and role of restoration. According to Gregory, such challenges have led to the accidental and undesired reform that is witnessed in many contemporary Churches.6
To exemplify this case, consider a theoretical example of a story of a committed Church member being involved in immorality with another man’s wife who is part of the same congregation. The immoral man divorces his wife while the other man’s wife divorces her husband. The two divorcees later marry openly in the congregation in which the man fellowships. The congregation turns out in large numbers with ululations giving their blessing wishes for the newly wedded couple.
Although it appears tragic, the example depicts one of the practical challenges that the modern American church (and hence the global church) is facing. It shows how professing Christians tolerate people who fall into known sins. The mentality here is the acceptance of sinning by unrepentant people in the church. Indeed, according to Ballor, Sytsma, and Zuidema, the modern Church faces challenges that require true divine intervention to restore it to the true teachings of Jesus Christ.7 For instance, people are torn between the promulgation of human rights and the need to comply with Biblical teachings. This dilemma has led to the emergence of issues such as the need to address the appropriateness of homosexuality.
From 2001, some nations, among them the US, Argentina, Canada, Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Belgium, and South Africa among others, began to authenticate gay marriages. Following this legalization, proponents of same-sex marriages have advocated legislative changes to the existing marriage laws. According to the American Psychological Association, the proponents’ argument is that permitting gay marriages is one of the mechanisms for enhancing the practical applicability of constitutional provisions of equality and respect for individual rights and choices.8
The Church has an international obligation to respect human rights, including homosexuality rights. The article notes that nations such as the US, Netherlands, Norway, and the EU mainly drive this debate. For instance, the case of the EU’s pressure on Nigeria to embrace gay rights by reminding it about the obligations under international law to respect human rights is a good illustration of the above claim.
Donor nations have come out conspicuously to campaign for the rights of lesbians and gays by imposing diplomatic threats to nations, which discriminate against people along their sexual orientations. The Church is one of the institutions that support the necessity to observe human rights. Should it support its believers to engage in divorce and/or comply with the calls for embracing open sins such as homosexuality as advocated by human rights promulgations? Responding to this question is necessary for the discussion of contemporary issues that influence the current church. The response requires the discussion of the process of restoration in conjunction with the Christian discipline.
Discipline and Restoration
Challenges that the modern Church is facing such as homosexuality, adultery, and any other sins require the Church to take its position that is consistent with Biblical teachings of discipline and restoration of a Christian who engages in known sin. In dealing with issues that influence the contemporary Church, Perry addresses the importance of understanding that moral purity encompasses one of the most important marks of any true believer.9 Such people strive to behave in a manner that portrays their integrity to ensure that they live holy lives. Indeed, Apostle Paul called upon Corinthians to live holy.
Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians Chapter 7 verse 1 quotes says, “Beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” God commands people to live holy. Psalms 119 verse 140 declares God’s word pure and hence the reason why His servants love it. John 10:15 asserts that the Holy Scripture should not be broken. Hence, Christians have an obligation to respect God’s word, as it is written in the Holy Scriptures. Consequently, the church has the responsibility of instilling discipline in believers who stray from God’s limits as provided in the scriptures.
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Although holiness is anticipated for every Christian, it does not encompass a reality that all people who profess Christ as their Lord fulfill. This situation puts Church leadership under the responsibility of ensuring that Christians live in accordance with God’s precepts. In this context, based on the manner in which the Church deploys Biblical principles in enjoining people to its membership, Barringer asserts that the same principle should also apply to govern the membership, including the removal of unrepentant Christians from membership, where appropriate.10
Indeed, Jesus Christ, who is the founder of the Church, laid out a mechanism for ensuring compliance with Church discipline and restoration. In Mathew Chapter 18 verses 15-17, He called upon Christians to take not only responsibility for one another’s behavior bur also incorporate the appropriate disciplinary measures. However, the Church should not dismiss a Christian who has engaged in a known sin. It needs to make efforts to restore the believer. How should such strategies look like?
Jesus Christ laid a process for restoring Christians as set out in Mathew 18:15-20. The first step entails confronting a fellow Christian who has sinned. In case the sinner acknowledges his or her wrongdoing to the level of repenting, then the sinner will have been restored. The disciplinary action may begin. The second step involves inviting two or three believers to confront the unrepentant believer.
In the company of these other believers, the witnesses confirm the confrontation and the decision of the sinner to repent or not. The witnesses gather and confirm the facts of the sin. Where the sinner fails to repent after the second confrontation, the sin is publicly told to the Church congregation through the Church leadership. Consequently, all members of the Church are called upon to plead with the sinning believer to repent. Further refusal to repent attracts excommunication. However, other members of the congregation have a responsibility to notify him or her about the consequences of his or her sin. Based on this 4-step approach, restoration only occurs after repentance.
In case a Christian strays from God’s standards, the Church has an obligation of ensuring that such a Christian is restored through processes that involve various disciplinary actions. The Church’s discipline/restoration process not only guarantees obedience to God’s commandments and/or what He instructs people to do but also ensures compliance with Church governance. Its aim is to restore Christians who have violated God’s ways. Besides validating Christians’ obligation to honor Christ and the principles He advocates, the Church prevents people from sinning further.
American Psychological Association. Resolution on Appropriate Affirmative Responses to Sexual Orientation Distress and Change. New York: American Psychological Association, 2013.
Ballor, Jordan, David Sytsma, and Jason Zuidema. Church and School in Early Modern Protestantism: Studies in Honor of Richard A. Muller on the Maturation of a Theological Tradition. Leiden: Brill, 2013.
Ballor, Jordan. “Church discipline and excommunication: Peter Martyr Vermigli among the disciplinarians and the magistraticals.” Reformation and Renaissance Review 15, no. 1(2014): 99-110.
Barringer, Sarah. “The First Disestablishment: Limits on Church Power and Property before the Civil War.” University of Pennsylvania Law Review 162, no. 2(2014): 309-311.
Gregory, Brad. The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society. Cambridge, MA: Belknap for Harvard University Press, 2012.
Perry, Jeffrey. “Courts of conscience: local law, the Baptists and church Schism in Kentucky.” Church History 18.1 (2015): 124-158.
Vermigli, Peter. Commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Kirksville, MO: Truman State University Press, 2006.
Zuidema, Jason. Word and Spirit in the Piety of Peter Martyr Vermigli as Seen in His Commentary on 1Corinthians. Leiden: Brill, 2013.
- Jason Zuidema, Word and Spirit in the Piety of Peter Martyr Vermigli as Seen in His Commentary on 1Corinthians (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 215.
- NJB (New York: Doubleday, 1985).
- Peter Vermigli, Commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (Kirksville, MO: Truman State University Press, 2006), 41.
- Jordan Ballor, “Church discipline and ex-communication: Peter Martyr Vermigli among the disciplinarians and the magistraticals,” Reformation and Renaissance Review 15, no. 1(April 2014): 99.
- Ballor, “Church discipline and ex-communication”, 99.
- Brad Gregory, The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society (Cambridge, MA: Belknap for Harvard University Press, 2012), 87.
- Jordan Ballor, David Sytsma, and Jason Zuidema, Church and School in Early Modern Protestantism: Studies in Honor of Richard A. Muller on the Maturation of a Theological Tradition (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 37.
- American Psychological Association, Resolution on Appropriate Affirmative Responses to Sexual Orientation Distress and Change (New York: American Psychological Association, 2013), 22.
- Jeffrey Perry, “Courts of conscience: local law, the Baptists and church Schism in Kentucky,” Church History 18.1 (Mar. 2015): 127.
- Sarah Barringer, “The First Disestablishment: Limits on Church Power and Property before the Civil War,” University of Pennsylvania Law Review 162, no. 2(Mar. 2014): 310.