The world thinks it loves love—a love defined by unconditional acceptance and the freedom to do as it pleases. But God’s love differs from the world’s expectations. It is centered on his character and it draws clear boundaries between what is holy and what is not.
Unfortunately when it comes to membership and discipline, the church often reflects the world’s view of love. In The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love, Jonathan Leeman argues that Jesus has commissioned the local church to exercise admission, oversight, and sometimes dismissal.
This book is about something more than just membership and discipline. It’s also about love. The world thinks it understands love, just like it thinks it loves God. Yet it doesn’t. It only understands idolatrous phantoms or fabrications of them, shadows that bear some of the shape but little of the substance. The local church, therefore, is called to be a three-dimensional display of true love. And the practices of church membership and discipline are precisely what help to make the local church visible and clear. They demonstrate love’s demands. They help us to know, in the apostle John’s phrase, who are the children of God and who are the children of the Devil (see 1 John 3:10). Church membership and discipline give structure or shape to what it means to be a Christian—a person who displays God’s love. They help to mark the church off from the world, so that the world can then look and see something in but not of itself.
Can marking off something possibly be a loving thing to do, particularly to the outsiders? I will argue that it can, especially if one of the goals is to give the outsider a hope of its own inclusion into something divinely loving and divinely beautiful.