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We Need Gospel Community, not a Behavior Modification Program

It is dangerous and tempting to change behavior without also changing heart and mind. Behavior modification has to do with “religion,” not with Christianity, and it leads to judgmentalism. Confession and repentance will not happen in a judgmental community. Gospel community calls people out of their bondage, out of their lies, and out of their mess, but gospel community members are willing to walk with their brothers and sisters through their exodus rather than simply being cheerleaders across the Jordan, hoping they make it to the promised land.

This means that when someone confesses sin, they are loved. The Bible tells of this being the kind of love God has for us: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom.5:6–8).

Here is where our thinking can high-center, and we can get stuck from truly making disciples. We run to the love of God because it creates a safe place for sinners to confess and repent, and God is quick to forgive those who come broken. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps. 51:17). God is also quick to discipline his children, that we may experience righteousness through its training:

For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Heb. 12:6–11)

As these verses relate to community, there is the call for a delicate balance between creating a safe relational place for confession and repentance to happen, and being the loving relational place where discipline happens. It allows community to be an environment in which we image God and behold God imaged one to another. The key component permeating this environment is love.

God’s love as shown in Hebrews 12:6–11 disciplines. In a gospel community, disciples call one another up to the high calling of Christ, which is to image God. Community is not merely about being the people of God, but it is about being a people of God who image their God. The God of the Bible is an eternal, triune community, loving each other and living in worshipful, belonging relationships.

There are many disciples who feel that they are good Christians because they go to a good church, and others who think they are good Christians because they know many Christians who are less committed than they are. Neither mindset catches the spirit of gospel community, whereas both reflect the spirit of consumerism. The first “consumes” a right standing by hitchhiking onto the work, gifts or obedience of others. The second “consumes” a right standing by having a better rèsumè than others’. This comparative thinking serves only to advance the kind of self- righteous spirit that Peter blurted out when he said, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death” (v. 33).

Jesus calls each of us to community, but the way to experience and express community is through worship, belonging, and witness, calling one another to the hope resident within Jesus’s call to follow him.

Modified from Disciple: Getting Your Identity from Jesus by Bill Clem

Related Posts:

Video: What Does the Bible Say The Church Should be Like?

How is our experience as Christians supposed to be lived out in a local congregation? Mark Dever suggests that there are nine marks that church leaders and members can cultivate to make their church more healthy. Learn more about Nine Marks of a Healthy Church or download a sample chapter.

Check out the video interview below from Mark Dever:

“9 Marks of a Healthy Church,” Mark Dever from 9Marks on Vimeo.

September 28, 2010 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Book News,Books,Church Discipline,News & Announcements,Video,Video | Author: Crossway Staff @ 8:00 am | 1 Comment »

Church Membership and Discipline: An Interview with Jonathan Leeman

Original post from TGC Reviews at The Gospel Coalition

Editor’s Note
: The following Q&A is with Jonathan Leeman. Leeman is Director of Communications at 9Marks Ministries and author of The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love: Reintroducing the Doctrines of Church Membership and Discipline. (Crossway, 2010. 384 pages.)

1.  Your subtitle is Reintroducing the Doctrines of Church Membership and Discipline. Why do these doctrines need to be “reintroduced”?

You noticed the “re”! I wondered if anyone would. That was my way of suggesting that many evangelical churches have either stopped practicing membership and discipline or, if they do practice it, they’re doing it by inertia, without a developed theological understanding of why–hence, I also refer to these practices as doctrines.

2.  Who did you write this book for? What sort of audience did you have in mind while writing?

Principally, I was thinking of church leaders and seminarians. That said, it’s a bit long for busy pastors because I had a couple of larger academic conversations in mind as well. Many of the shorter practical books for church leaders being written these days, especially some of the popular ones, rest on deeper theological/philosophical assumptions that, I believe, are problematic. For that reason, I didn’t feel able to simply write a shorter work (which would have been more readable) without discussing some of those back ground assumptions. Then again, maybe I’m just long winded.

3.  Did you write this in response to a particular view of membership and discipline, or just because there is a neglect of the topic?

Yes and yes. There is neglect, and there are many wrong views. Wrong view # 1: membership as country club membership (come and go as you please; enjoy the benefits). Wrong view # 2: centered-set ideas of belonging before believing.  Wrong view # 3: membership in the local church is unnecessary because membership in the universal church is what counts. Wrong view # 4: you must obey your leaders at all costs. There are probably more, but that gives you the gist.

4.  You call ecclesiology “risky business” — even more risky than other theological debates, like divine foreknowledge or eschatology.  Why?

Because ecclesiology is “political.” That is, it affects the power structures in a local church: who picks the pastor and the color of the carpets? Where does the buck stop? Who has to give an account to whom? Debates about divine foreknowledge can get rowdy, but ecclesiology is the stuff of turf wars and lawsuits. Just ask one of my fellow elders whose law firm is presently attempting to protect the property of several conservative formerly Episcopal, now Anglican churches. (Of course these things are related, but you get the point.)

5.  You go into some complicated abstractions on the doctrine of God’s love, especially in Chapter 2 “The Nature of Love.” Why spend so much energy on this “difficult doctrine” in a book about church membership? In other words, what’s the connection between God’s love and church membership?

It’s hard to have a conversation about membership and discipline, which, I believe, are “exclusivistic” concepts in the Bible, without first addressing common conceptions about God’s love. Many people today, both inside and outside the church, tend to view God’s love as universalistic and unconditional. So any talk about church “boundaries” and discipline seems inherently unloving to us. God’s love is, in some ways, universal and unconditional (better: contra-conditional, as D. Powlison puts it), but God’s love is fundamentally holy, which means it centers on him, it makes demands, and it has an exclusive component (just as my love for my wife is exclusive). But until we understand this, we’re going to have a hard time seeing that membership boundaries and church discipline are, when exercised rightly, loving and representative of God’s love.

6.  You argue that God’s love is expressed in the Gospel and the Gospel is “tightly tied to the structure of the church’s corporate life together.” If a biblical understanding of the Gospel is diminished, what implications does it have on our understanding of the church’s  corporate life together, and if a biblical understanding of church membership is diminished, what implications does it have on our understanding of the Gospel?

Everyone would agree, I think, that the church consists of the people of the gospel. Therefore, it’s inevitable that the manner in which you define the gospel will affect who you allow to be church members. For instance, if the gospel is, “God loves everyone unconditionally,” then church membership, at most, might offer a few privileges, just like credit card membership, but in the end it’s just not that important. Church disipline, moreover, becomes utterly inexplicable. If the gospel is, “God is preparing a bride for his Son,” then church membership and discipline become something altogether different. Now let’s move in the oppositie direction: if I have a right gospel but a wrong polity, that polity will affect who belongs to the church and, eventually, it will affect the church’s conception of the gospel. In short, our gospel and our polity are not the same things, but God means for the latter to protect and display the former.

7.  You use the language of “submission” and spend a lot of time talking about authority. Can authority be abused? In what sense do Christians “submit” to churches? Are there limits?

Yes, authority can be abused–that’s one of the main points of the Old Testament. But yes, Christians should submit to their local churches for an affirmation of their profession of faith in baptism and the Lord’s Supper as well as for the course of their daily discipleship. Limits? The easy answer is, churches must not require anything beyond what Scripture requires. The more complicated answer depends on a distinction which must be made between the entire congregation’s “authority of command” and the elders’ “authority of counsel.” This is a tough conversation. Can I just say, read chapters 3, 6, and especially 7?

8.  Some might say this debate is for those who have the luxury of having it in American evangelicalism. How is this a relevant issue for missions and church-planting overseas?

The issue of membership and disipline is relevant for every place Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 6–”Come out and be separate!”–are relevant. I spend half of chapter 6 looking at what biblical teaching on membership and discipline might mean for specific congregations (i) in Muslim Central Asia, (ii) Dubai, UAE, (iii) Brazil, (iv) and Delhi, India. I conclude that there are some contextual differences between such locations, but that in every location the church needs to be a marked-off, clearly distinct, holy, and loving body of people who are a witness to Christ’s saving power through their very corporate existence.

Jonathan Leeman on The Church and the Suprising Offense of God’s Love

Is church discipline biblical? Jonathan Leeman wrote The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love to help Christians start taking their membership in their local church seriously . . . because the very nature of God’s love gives shape to this body of people. And he means for his love to be displayed to the nations through this committed, marked off, body of people.

Learn more about the cover and why perhaps you should consider reading the book here in his recent interview with Jim Hamilton.

February 5, 2010 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Book News,Church Discipline,Church Membership,News & Announcements,Video,Video | Author: Crossway Staff @ 10:22 am | 0 Comments »

The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love

97814335090561The 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.

Leeman writes:

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.

January 27, 2010 | Posted in: Books,Church Discipline,Church Membership | Author: Crossway Staff @ 12:14 pm | 0 Comments »