Sunday, April 19, 2009

Blogging The Deliberate Church: Part 3

I apologize for the delay in my blog posts through Mark Dever and Paul Alexander's book, The Deliberate Church. I had another reading project I had to speed through, but now that I am done with that, I am focusing once again on this book. You can read my first two posts on this book here and here.

"It is surprising how careless many Christians and even pastors have become about the spiritual security of the local church" (p. 59). This is the problem Dever and Alexander attempt to address in chapters 4-5 of The Deliberate Church. Their primary concern in chapter 4 is church membership, or, as they put it, "How do we ensure, as far as externally possible, that every person we accept into membership is truly converted?" (p. 60). The authors take a relatively small space to make a biblical case for church membership. They then give three practical suggestions for carefully accepting new members into the church. First, they advocate a mandatory new members' class, the goal of which is to communicate to prospective members the expectations they need to uphold if they become members. Second, by requiring members to sign a church covenant, the church will reinforce the expectation that all members not only subscribe to a statement of faith but also that they live it. Third, utilizing a membership interview is a good way to be sure members understand the gospel, are truly converted and baptized, and that they are not coming to your church having left their previous one on bad terms.

What lies at the heart of all this procedure is pastoral responsibility for the members of our churches. The authors admit that it is inevitable that unbelievers will still make it into the church's membership, but the fact that we cannot know a person's spiritual status perfectly give us no excuse to not be discerning.

In chapter 5 the authors deal with the difficult doctrine of church discipline. First, they differentiate between formative and corrective discipline. Formative discipline includes things like the preaching, teaching, and discipling ministries of the church. Corrective discipline deals with the rebuke, admonition, and excommunication required when there are more serious errors in the doctrine and lifestyle of church members. The authors deal mostly with the nature of corrective discipline and make the very important point that "before discipline can be productive, there must be a context of both meaningful spiritual relationships and structurally sound leadership" (p. 69). Without these things in place, "corrective discipline will be like walking up to a child whom you see only once a month and spanking him in the street. It will likely be perceived as harsh, if not abusive, rather than the tough but responsible outworking of loving concern for another's spiritual good" (p. 69). Once this context of corrective discipline is understood, the bad taste in our mouths that we get when we think of church discipline will hopefully be eliminated.

The authors conclude this chapter and 1st section of the book by giving practical ideas about how to carry out corrective church discipline. They also helpfully define excommunication as "the removal of a member from the membership rolls and, more fundamentally, the exclusion of the person from taking communion" (p. 71).

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