Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Transforming Community by Mark Lauterbach

I have started a five week sermon series on the topic of church discipline at our church. In the process, I have taken the time to read several books on the topic. The Transforming Community by Mark Lauterbach is one of my favorites. I think it is one of my favorites because it is the only book I have read on this topic that seeks to directly apply the gospel to church discipline.

Don't get me wrong, many others talk about how the gospel is meant to change us to be holy, therefore we need to hold one another accountable in church discipline. But this is the only book I have read that repeatedly and consistently shows how the gospel brings us into a new community, but then shows how the gospel is still needed for the Christian in that community. It takes the gospel and then applies it to the concept of church discipline. I loved that.

There is a bunch written on the gospel these days. But there wasn't nearly as much written about it ten years ago when this book was published. In many ways, I wonder if Lauterbach is a pioneer in showing how the gospel is needed to bring together a community of people, but then also needed to keep that community together, striving towards holiness. He says,
"Church discipline is not something we 'do' to someone in sin. Church discipline is the constant activity of a church where holiness and love are pursued. We should always be watching over each other, encouraging each other daily against the possibility of a hardened heart, stimulating each other toward love and good works. We should always be facing sin head on in the Gospel. Such a pattern was the function of the apostolic church were people came from similarly messed up lives as we face today. God used them. We must be realistic about the mess and hopeful because of Christ" (20).
One of the strengths of this book is how he calls for Christians to be real with each other. Good pursuit towards holiness only happens when we have others in our life, challenging us to walk with Jesus Christ. In several places throughout the book, he calls on the Christian to be real with other Christians in their church. He strongly encourages relationships within the church as the key to church discipline.
"I am fairly convinced that the primary barrier to real fellowship (where the members of a local church experience the work of the Spirit in their lives, building them up in Christ) is pride. We do not want to walk in the light with each other because it will ruin our image. It is scary to let people into our lives and allow them to expose our faults. If we do not, we shall not be the church. We shall be a club" (41).
He continues . . .
"Churches cannot be glitzy, well-oiled places and be real at the same time. Either we are sinners needing the Gospel, or we are self-righteous" (74).
And finally . . .
"Over the years, I have observed that the worst cases of sin in the church have always been in believers who lived a life isolated from the intimacy of sharing the things of God with their brothers. No one knows them. They have no spiritual friends" (83).
Throughout the book, Lauterbach offers example after example of how he has handled situations in his church. Some of them are good examples, but he is not afraid to share the negatives either. The best way I can describe this book is that He describes Church Discipline in a way that is attractive and drawing. After reading this book, I wanted what he described!

One last thought that impacted me on how he describes the relationship between the gospel and church discipline. He says,
"The church must be a place where people can grow, can begin as immature, and come to maturity . . . Every day believers need the Gospel. The new community is not a place where people are perfect. It is a place where people are honest about their sin. It is a place of perfection, but of humility and the cross" (80)
Amen! If you are a pastor and are looking for a book on how to do church discipline, I would highly recommend this book. If you are a layman and are interested in how this subject should play out in the life of the church, read this book. I'm grateful I did.

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