Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Church Discipline by Jonathan Leeman

Over the past few years, I have come to appreciate 9Marks Ministry. I have grown personally and professionally through their understanding of the local church and the practical implications of being involved in a church. And so when I was studying to teach on church discipline last Sunday, I wanted to read at least one thing from them on the issue. That is when I picked up Jonathan Leeman's book, Church Discipline: How the Church Protects the Name of Jesus. I found it to be a very simply, yet helpful treatment of the subject. It is the second book as part of their Healthy Church series (I have already reviewed Leeman's book on Church Membership, which is the first book in the series). As with the book on Membership, this book on Discipline is easy to read, well-written, and very practical.

Leeman tackles the subject of church discipline in three ways. He begins by giving the biblical precedent for discipline. Even though he takes time to walk through the different steps of the process, he is not trying to give a final defense that it should happen. In fact, he says at the beginning of the book that "The main purpose of this book is not to persuade you about church discipline. It's to help the already-persuaded know how and when to practice it" (17). In this section, he walks through the purpose of restoration and how the gospel is seen in the process. The most helpful section for me was his explanation of when discipline is necessary. He says,
"Formal church discipline should occur with sins that are outward, serious, and unrepentant. First, a sin must have an outward manifestation. Churches should not throw the red flag of rejection every time they suspect greed or pride in someone's heart. It must be something that can be seen with the eyes or heard with the ears. Second, a sin must be serious. A church and its leaders should not pursue every sin to the utmost. There needs to be some place in a church's life for love to 'cover a multitude of sins' (1 Pet. 4:8). Thankfully, God doe snot perceptibly discipline us every time we sin. Finally, a sin must be unrepented of. The person involved has been confronted with God's commands in Scripture, but he or she refuses to let go of the sin. From all appearances, the person prizes the sin more than Jesus. More or less, all three of these factors should be present before a church moves toward excommunication" (54-55).
Leeman then moves onto his second section of the book, a series of case studies to show how different sins and responses to sin might be worked out in the life of a church. These are helpful as he looks at everything from the adulterer to the nonattending member. There are nine short chapters of how to deal with different types of people.

And lastly, he gives some pastoral insight into how to approach the subject of discipline at your church. These last several chapters are extremely important and some of the most valuable in the book.

If you are thinking about the issue of church discipline, I would recommend this book. It is short enough that you can make it through in a day or so. But it is detailed enough that you will find many of the answers to your questions.

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