Dissension, Discipline, and Discipleship

Back in 2009/10 the Session of the St. Andrews Presbyterian Church adopted a statement similar to this:

“The Session of the St. Andrews Presbyterian Church of Sanford, NC hereby declares it belief:

  • That Jesus Christ alone is Lord of all and the way of salvation.
  • That Holy Scripture is the triune God’s revealed Word, the Church’s only infallible rule of faith and life.
  • That God’s people are called to holiness in all aspects of life. This includes honoring the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, the only relationship within which sexual activity is appropriate.

We therefore renew our personal commitment to the three historic confessions of faith and life stated above;

As a Session we affirm these confessions and to declare that we will not ordain, install or employ in program areas of the church any person who will not affirm them;

We urge the 2001 General Assembly to instruct the General Assembly Council to require that all program personnel make written commitments to uphold these three confessions and ensure that the confessions are reflected in all programs and policies of the church; and

We pray that the Presbyterian Church (USA) will return to a full faith in Jesus Christ, who gives her life.”

More recently we have been engaged in discussions regarding what constitutes a “leadership position” and whether or not this statement and our divergent beliefs about the nature of sin and repentance constitute a prohibition from serving in leadership positions.

Does oversight of children, teaching, service on boards, or even organ playing, singing in the choir, and other such participation constitute “leadership.”  Certainly ordination and Installation as Deacons, Elders, and Pastors does in most peoples’ minds.  But the other positions are more of a volunteer and of a less directive or authoritative position.  The above statement does not establish policy for positions which are not ordained, installed, or employed.

These are the matters that often times lead to disagreement within leadership circles.

One thing I have noted in every congregation I have served is the hesitancy to use any disciplinary process on members of the congregation.  Fortunately, most of the issues requiring discipline are handled personally, quietly, and respectfully.  I have yet to come across a member which wasn’t willing, when their particular “sin” was pointed out to them, to step back in order to avoid conflict in the church.

But still there is always the matter of discussing whether or not discipline should be administered.  I strongly fear that creeping political correctness, which we see in the public arena, has found its way into the church. The question of “who are we to judge?” has hindered proper use of church discipline in far too many cases.  A failure to act in such matters may easily be deemed by those which should be disciplined as tacit approval.

Scripture directs us to speak the truth in love. It affirms its own use  to teach, rebuke, correct and train in righteousness. And the church, through its leadership is commended to maintain, the peace, unity and purity of the church.

The church is not a social club open to anyone who wants to be a part of it.  The church is to represent and to exhibit the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.  The Kingdom of Heaven is one free of sin, free of pain, free of dissension…a monumental task to be sure.

In fact the long-standing and widely accepted “Great End of the Church” are: the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ for the salvation of humankind; the shelter, nurture and spiritual fellowship of the children of God; the maintenance of Divine worship; the preservation of the truth; the promotion of Social Righteousness; and the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.

I firmly believe that when we fully embrace our role as described in the Great Ends of the Church, issues such as the proper role of discipline in the church and the broader question of who belongs in the church or who rightly is a part of the church will become mute points.

Solo Deo Gloria!