Friday, May 19, 2006
Church Discipline and Congregationalism
I have appreciated many of Baptist Press' first person editorials lately. They have been willing to tackle controversial and difficult issues, and to do it well. Another example was posted yesterday: "Warnings on the road to discipline" by Douglas Baker. He shows the need for both church discipline and congregationalism. Here is how it begins:
As a growing topic of discussion among all evangelicals, church discipline has found renewed purpose in significant congregations across the nation. The advocates of church discipline are finding their voices heard in new ways by new publics. There is, of course, strong support for strengthening the moral fiber of the local church, and many believe church discipline is the biblical answer to what has become the sagging and insipid American church experience.
Congregations serious about church discipline maintain that membership matters so much that simply asking for it does not necessarily require that the church grant it. Gone are the days when simply joining a church meant walking the aisle during the invitation hymn, showing up at Christmas and/or Easter and contributing a bit of money during the year.
Hearty agreement across the spectrum of evangelicalism can be seen from divergent points of view. It matters not if the person holds to traditional Reformed theology or to flaming Pentecostalism -- all agree that the way people are received into a local congregation is but the start of a journey toward heightened personal transparency, total involvement in the life and ministry of the congregation, and an expectation that no area of life remains totally private any longer once a person joins a church. The very idea of personal anonymity is dissolved as individuals and families covenant together to live their lives together “congregationalized.”
This fast-growing practice has but one hitch, which is also attracting attention by advocates and opponents alike. In some congregations what is touted as church discipline actually is spiritual tyranny. The result is that membership accompanies a tacit agreement that honest dissent is frowned upon. With congregational autonomy as the baseline of the discussion, the requirement of total agreement with church leadership often results in fear by the members to raise questions out of intimidation.