Sparing the Rod and Ruining the Parishioner

9780825444456There are few people who enjoy talking about church discipline. Sure, there is the occasional pastor or elder, who probably talks quite a bit about how things used to be, that will speak up when a church member should be brought under the guidance of 1 Corinthians 5. And most will likely shake their head, and move on in the conversation as though nothing had been said. But as Jeremy M. Kimble is quick to point out, that would be a mistake.

Dr. Kimble is a professor of Cedarville University, and he is the author of 40 Questions About Church Membership and Discipline from Kregel Academic. And he takes both issues of Christian living seriously (he even wrote his dissertation on church discipline). This passion for an historically droll topic translates into a fairly engaging book that sets a practicable and faithful standard for understanding membership in the local church, and the discipline which is a part of that. With that said, go ahead a get the book. It is worth your time.

As for the details, the book is part of a series from Kregel called 40 Questions About (I reviewed their entry on the Historical Jesus topic as well as the volume looking at the creation debate a while back). Series like this are written for generalists, not specialists, and they aim to present information in a simple, digestible format that is as thorough as it can be. I think this is important to understand up front, because otherwise a review of such a work can easily fall into nitpicking at details which most likely belong in a systematic or extended treatment. If you are a pastor researching the legality of church discipline, this is only a starting point. Such a project will require a different resource. Likewise, if a church member is looking for an exposition on baptism as a requirement for membership, you would do best to look elsewhere. But remember, this book is not meant to be those things.

Consider Kimble’s treatment of 1 Corinthians 5, which only occupies 5 pages of the book. Someone expecting a detailed exegetical study will be sorely disappointed with the simple approach that Kimble takes. But that is why they should begin with the Pillar Commentary or the Baker Exegetical Commentary to get such a linguistic breakdown. Kimble’s take is not flawed, but it is narrow. “What does 1 Corinthians 5 say about church discipline?” In a nutshell, “that this is a non-negotiable matter” and that it is an act of love to “root out unrepentant sin” so that the individual  “will awaken . . . from their sinful propensities” and renew their call to holiness (159).

Such issues are not explored ad infinitum in this work, nor should they be. 40 Questions About Church Membership and Discipline does exactly what it should: it hits the high points of debate, and offers a snapshot answer which ought to provoke the inquisitive to further reading on the matter. As such, Kimble’s work is a welcome entry on a topic that receives far too little attention in the modern church, and I whole-heartedly recommend it to pastors and laymen alike.

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Radical in the Truest Sense

Much has been said of David Platt over the last few years. Pastors have preached his message from Radical, and his follow up book Radical Together has generated a bit of a stir in the professional pastor world. As if that wasn’t enough for a mild-mannered expositor from Alabama, he recently launched the Multiply Movement which combines the efforts of Francis Chan’s Crazy Love with Platt’s message.

Since both Platt and Chan have received quite a bit of attention I don’t care to linger too long on the story of how Platt came to discover the radical idea, and how it has affected his church community (my favorite is when Christian bloggers accuse them of promoting a “works based” faith despite James admonition “Without actions, faith is useless. By itself, it’s as good as dead.”). Instead, I just want to say a few words about Multnomah’s The Radical Question and A Radical Idea.

Not a new book of any sense, this “two-books-in-one” item is roughly 100 pages of simple yet challenging stuff. The main themes of both of Platt’s larger works have been boiled down into a concise message. “Is Jesus worth your radical devotion?” Platt’s question lingers throughout the first 50 pages as he recounts stories that both embarrass and glorify the Christian Church, all the while consulting the Word of God in his analysis of the average American Christian. The second section of the book ponders that mystical concept of “a priesthood of believers.” He stakes his claim that all Christians should make disciples, and challenges the professionals (like pastors and church administrators) to equip the average person sitting in the stadium seating (or the pew, you get the idea) to be a part of God’s purposes in the places where they work and live and play.

Let me tell you a little about the word radical. It comes from the late 14th century and typically meant “of or having roots,” which was derived from the Latin word radix or “root.” By the 1650’s the meaning had shifted to incorporate the idea of “going to the origin, or essentials.” It was not until the 1920s that the meaning of “unconventional” arose, and this eventually transformed into the 1970s surfer slang meaning “at the limits of control,” (you can double check me here). In particular, I like how Noah Webster defined the word: “Pertaining to the root or origin; original; fundamental; as a radical truth or error; a radical evil; a radical difference of opinions or systems.”

I think it is in this Websterian sense (and that of the oldest uses of the word) that Platt is using the word. If his ideas are “unconventional” to Christians, it is only because they have bought into the wrong conventions (which is of course the occasion of the work).

Platt’s works are a necessary thing right now for American Christianity. While I would typically advocate for reading his longer, more comprehensive works, this little gem is a wonderful introduction. Maybe you’re not sure you buy into all this “leaving everything for Jesus” thing? This is a good place to start. Perhaps you think Christianity is archaic and too stuck in the culture? Platt has an answer for that in his tiny tome. In truth, this is an ideal primer for anyone who thinks their faith is lacking, or knows someone who may need that extra push to get off the bench of God’s purposes and into the game.

Give it a look, or give it to a friend. It will be money well spent.

Are You A Good Christ?

This is an article that you can read here. I don’t typically repost entire articles like this, but I thought Chan’s musing were worth the read.

ARE YOU A GOOD CHRIST?

By Francis Chan

I think it’s time we stop asking ourselves the question: “Am I a good Christian?” We live in a time when the term “Christian” has been so diluted that millions of immoral but nice people genuinely consider themselves “good Christians.” We have reduced the idea of a good Christian to someone who believes in Jesus, loves his or her family, and attends church regularly. Others will label you a good Christian even though your life has no semblance to the way Christ spent His days on earth. Perhaps we should start asking the question: “Am I a good Christ?” In other words, do I look anything like Jesus? This question never even entered my mind until a friend of mine made a passing comment to me one day.

Dan is a long time friend of mine. In fact, he’s the pastor who performed my wedding. He was talking to me about a pastor named Von. Von has been working with youth in the San Diego area for decades. Many of his students have gone on to become amazing missionaries and powerful servants of God. Dan described a trip to Tijuana, Mexico with Pastor Von. (Von has been ministering to the poor in the dumps of Tijuana for years). Dan didn’t speak of the awful living conditions of those who made their homes amidst the rubbish. What impacted Dan the most was the relationship he saw between Von and the people of this community. He spoke of the compassion, sacrifice, and love that he witnessed in Von’s words and actions as he held these malnourished and un-bathed children. Then he made the statement that sent me reeling:

“The day I spent with Von was the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to walking with Jesus.”

Dan explained that the whole experience was so eerie because he kept thinking to himself: “If Jesus were still walking on earth in the flesh, this is what it would feel like to walk alongside of Him!” After that discussion, I kept wondering if anyone had ever said that about me-“The day I spent with Francis was the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to walking with Jesus.” The answer was an obvious “no.” Would any honest person say that about you?

What bothered me was not that I hadn’t “arrived,” but that I wasn’t even heading in the right direction. I hadn’t made it my goal to resemble Christ. I wasn’t striving to become the kind of person who could be mistaken for Jesus Christ. Isn’t it ironic that a man can be known as a successful pastor, speaker, and CHRISTian even if his life doesn’t resemble Christ’s?

1 John 2:6 “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.”

When John made that statement, he wasn’t speaking about how to be a church leader or even how to be a “good” Christian. He merely stated that anyone who calls himself Christian must live like Jesus did. So how did Jesus live? You could make a list of character traits to compare yourself to, but it would be far more beneficial to simply read through one of the Gospels. After you get a bird’s-eye view of the life of Christ, do the same with your own. Are you comfortable with the similarities and differences?

It’s easy to get caught up in the pursuit of “success” as American church-goers define it. The thought of being well-known and respected is alluring. There have been times when I’ve been caught up in the fun of popularity. I’ve even mistaken it for success. Biblically, however, success is when our lives parallel Christ’s. Truth is, there are many good Christs that you’ll never read about in a magazine. They are walking as Jesus walked, but they are too focused and humble to pursue their own recognition.

We make it our goal to someday have someone say of us: “The day/hour/15 minutes I spent with ______ was the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to walking with Jesus.”

As Christians in America, we often complain about how antagonistic people are toward Christ. Personally, I’m not sure that Americans are really rejecting Christ. They just haven’t seen Him.

Try to be COMPLETELY honest with yourself right now. Is the following true of you?

You passionately love Jesus, but you don’t really want to be like Him. You admire His humility, but you don’t want to be THAT humble. You think it’s beautiful that He washed the feet of the disciples, but that’s not exactly the direction your life is headed. You’re thankful He was spit upon and abused, but you would never let that happen to you. You praise Him for loving you enough to suffer during His whole time on earth, but you’re going to do everything within your power to make sure you enjoy your time down here.

In short: You think He’s a great Savior, but not a great role model.

The American church has abandoned the most simple and obvious truth of what it means to follow Jesus: You actually follow His pattern of life. I pray for those who read this article- that we don’t become cynical or negative toward the church. Instead, let’s make a personal decision to stop talking so much and begin living like Jesus. Then we can say as the apostle Paul, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). My guess is that you’ve never had someone say that to you, and you’ve never said it to anyone else. Why Not?

What is the goal?

I’m taking this discipleship class through Liberty University, and so far greatly disliking it. That comes as a surprise to me because I desire to know more about being a disciple of Jesus and how to teach others to be His disciples as well. Every time I think about Jesus’ new command, that we “love one another,” I am moved more to know this Ruler of God’s Kingdom. Surely, in Him is life.

Part of my discontent is a disagreement of purpose. It can summarized in simple terms: there are those who think disciples are a select few of Jesus’ followers, and I am not one of them. I can’t really distinguish discipleship from knowing Jesus, which in mind means all Christians are called to discipleship. Not just the ones who have time. Not just the ones who are eager. Everyone. I think the Great Commission is clear about that (and there are other places that I think support this, but for brevity sake I’ll just say I write about this more here).

This disagreement leads into the next one: the ultimate goal of life. How do we define the goal of life? I think most Christians define it in one of two ways:

Method A (Conservative Theology)

1. The goal is the final bliss of heaven, away from this life of space, time, and matter.
2. This goal is achieved for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus, which we cling to by faith.
3. Christian living in the present consists of anticipating the disembodied, “eternal” state through the practice of a detached spirituality and the avoidance of “worldly” contamination.

If you read that and say, “that’s not how I think at all,” then you probably fall into the second one:

Method B (Liberal Theology)

1. The goal is to establish God’s kingdom on earth by our own hard work.
2. This goal is demonstrated by Jesus in his public career, starting off the process and showing us how to do it.
3. Christian living in the present consists of anticipating the final kingdom-on-earth by working and campaigning for justice, peace, and the alleviation of poverty and distress.

Whether you actively think about these kinds of things, the chances are that one of the two methods of discerning the goal of human life influences how you live day in and day out. Examine how you interact with people, how you use your money, what you think when you see corruption and brokenness in real life. Somewhere in that, what you believe is betrayed in your response.

Both of these ideas have good points, but neither of them are complete. People smarter than I have written about this in great detail (and even provided the presented format above). What I am becoming more and more convinced of is that there is another method of how to live.

What if the goal of this life was to be something greater? Not something heroic, but rather something subservient? What if we could see in the Bible a description of what our role was always supposed to be? And what if that role was made possible again through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection? I think, if this other method were true, then how we live is vitally important. And our responsibility to other Christians is not to provide fire insurance or propose an easier path, but rather to teach Christ’s commands, and with our brothers and sisters in Christ, to pick our crosses daily and follow Him.

This isn’t something new. And many churches around this world would say they partake in this very thing.

To this, I have two questions:

1. If this is how churches really act in this present age, what will Jesus say about the manner in which we sow the seeds of His Gospel? Will we be the good and faithful servants? Or will our weaknesses and self-seeking purposes be exposed?

And, 2. what would the world look like if every Christian was truly a disciple of Jesus Christ? Such a world would be a wondrous place indeed.

Lord, I am not of strong character. And yet, You have promised me a hope that does not disappoint, a character that is more like Yours. Mold me into the image of God that I was always intended to be. Season my words with grace, that those words may be holy and belong to You. Teach me your ways, that I may forgive as You have forgiven me, that I may sacrifice as You sacrificed for me, and that I may love as You have loved me. Your mind is far above, and Your heart knows no limits. Bring Your justice to this world, Lord, be it through us, or be it not. And in all things, may we give You glory. Amen.