I am in the process of studying for an upcoming sermon series on the topic of church discipline. As I do for any sort of topical series, I try to read as much as I can on the subject. One of the first books I came across in my research that I wanted to read is In Pursuit of Prodigals by Stephen Davey.
One of the reasons I chose this book first is because of its length. This is a very short book that could be read in a few hours. The subtitle of the book is "A Primer on Church Discipline and Reconciliation." And that is what this is. It is a small introductory book on this subject. As I have read a lot on the subject before, there isn't a whole lot of new, revelatory information. But it is summarized very well. For that, I am grateful.
Another reason I chose this book to read first in my study of this subject is because of the title. In Pursuit of Prodigals. I love the imagery the title brings to my mind. Even with this imagery, it took Davey over half way through the book until he gave a definition and explanation of the concept of church discipline that corresponds with this title. He says,
"Discipline is the action of love as a church or individual attempts to awaken the sinning believer who is being mesmerized by the pleasures of sin. It is the loving, firm, caring, and passionate attempt to awaken and rescue the prodigal from danger" (52).
My guess is that whenever anyone in the church thinks of prodigals, they think of the prodigal son in Luke 15. And so I guess I was a bit surprised to find that he never talked about that parable or others that build off of that (parable of lost sheep, lost coin). I loved the imagery and wished that he would have used it more in the writing of the book.
But in the end, this book is a great summary of this topic. He does a good job of bullet-pointing the main ideas and concepts of church discipline and reconciliation. If you are looking for a place to start on this subject, this might be a helpful resource for you as he quotes Scripture after Scripture. There is little dialogue or explanation of them, but he does show you how the main thoughts come out of the Scriptures.
In the last chapter, Davey shares the benefits of church discipline. The second benefit he describes is that, if practiced, the integrity of the church is preserved. And then he says what I feel I have been saying and feeling for years now.
"American culture today views the Church as simply one more club to join . . . one more place where you go to be seen . . . one more location to pass out business cards . . . one more voting bloc in the next election. The Church has simply lost its reputation as a distinctive community of people that was once viewed with a mixture of fear and awe--a holy people who represent a righteous God" (67-68).
I agree. I just wonder if the church has become such an easy place for people to play the Christian game because church discipline is rarely practiced. Maybe this is one key to God purifying His church, not in a negative way. But only as we pursue the prodigal who is running away from God.