Objects of Discipline
Henry Palmieri, New York, USA
Its Consideration and Interpretation. As the writer looks over the condition of assemblies of God's people today, he believes that many have not yet apprehended the true place and character of the assembly according to the Word of God. We hear and read much about discipline, yet it appears to be but little understood; when occasions arise in which it should be exercised, we are at a loss as to what, where and how it should be done. Discipline is necessary, and it is not to be passed over with the often-repeated expression, "The Lord will deal with the situation". One able teacher has said, "There are generally found in an assembly those who oppose any disciplinary measure. Some take what may seem to them to be a very spiritual attitude and protest that we should leave all discipline to the Lord, but that will not do. For us to leave to Him that for which He has made us responsible is presumption". No doubt in His sovereignty God will have His dealings with His people, but when God's will is made known to us definitely and precisely in His Word, that will must rule and certainly not the will of some would-be assembly rulers. There can be no place in the assembly for human will.
Following after the blessed cross and resurrection of Christ, the Church is the greatest thing that He has wrought, and is near and dear to His heart. If this were realized, we should see the important position that this subject of assembly discipline occupies in the Word of God and the necessity of carrying it out in the local assembly.
The meaning of "discipline" should be made clear. The word itself does not occur in the New Testament, but we would suggest that by discipline is implied the measures adopted to maintain godly order and government in the assembly of God according to His Word.
Its Intentions or Objectives. These are fourfold:
Godward. "God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him", Psa. 89. 7. "Holiness becometh thine house, O Lord, for ever", Psa. 93. 5. "O ye Corinthians ... ye are the temple of the living God", 2 Cor. 6. 11,16. "In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit", Eph. 2. 22. These New Testament verses tell us what the church of God really is, and a company of believers gathering in the Name of the Lord Jesus in a given locality is the temple of the living God in that place. We should therefore be careful lest anything mars this temple and hinders the manifestation of God among His blood-bought people. Hence discipline's primary objective is to keep the assembly unspotted because it is God's habitation. Because of the presence of the Lord in the tabernacle and temple, worship was conditioned by obedience to the Word of God, and it is the same today. His dwelling place must be consistent with His own character] "Be ye holy; for I am holy", 1 Pet. 1. 16. If discipline is not exercised when occasion demands, we can no longer recognize His presence in our midst, a fact that will surely be evidenced. May the Lord help us to realize that the assembly is the house of God, and as He is holy so it should also be holy. Disobedience in the house can but reflect dishonour upon the Head of the house. Let us therefore flee all worldliness and everything that would dishonour that precious Name. God grant us to live so as to glorify His Name as we travel heavenwards.
Worldward. This objective has to do with the justification of the assembly before the world. Some assemblies have fallen down here, when offenders have brought grave reproach upon His testimony and nothing is ever done about it. But we have a testimony to maintain in this world and should have a good report of them that are without. "Let your light so shine before men, that they may sec your good works". Matt. 5. 16. There is more than a mere profession here; our lives and not only our lips should preach for God. Our lights shine when we live Christ-like before the world. Seeing our good works, the world realizes our reality. Moreover, this principle must apply collectively as well as individually. Hence when the conduct of a believer becomes dishonouring, then it is necessary to justify the assembly before the world in dealing with the one who thus brings reproach upon the assembly. To any holding a responsible place in the assembly, let us add that their lives should be blameless before the world, and when by words or deeds they cause reproach upon the assembly, then they should no longer have any responsibility connected with it. When men in the world point to the dishonourable conduct of any in the assembly, then the assembly is justified when they can reply that the conduct has been dealt with.
Offenderzoard. This object is important in that the offender has to be taught the hard way instead of having learned by heeding God's precious Word. We are to assimilate this Word and make it our own. Only as we meditate can we proclaim, "Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee", Psa. 119. 11. But if we do not hide this Word in our hearts, thereby falling into sin, then we must learn by discipline what we should have learned from the Word of God. In 2 Timothy 3. 16-17, the Word is profitable for four things:
1. Doctrine - this is indoctrination. The Bible is the only authoritative book of divine teaching,
2. Reproof- this is reprobation. It shows us when and where we are wrong in our lives and thoughts.
3. Correction - this is reparation, showing us how to get right.
4. Instruction in righteousness - this is explanation. When I turn to the path of righteousness, then the Scripture explains what His will is for me.
Assembly-ward. Lastly, we have restoration to assembly fellowship. This object should always be kept before the mind of the assembly. Even in this matter of discipline, God Himself is our Example, as we read in Hebrews 12. 6-10. He has ever in view the restoration of His child, and this should be our attitude too. May the Lord enable us to carry out the principles of discipline in the fear of God, and in so doing our spirituality will increase and God will be pleased to bless. (To be followed by Subjects of Discipline)