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TEXT: Hebrews 10:24-25
SUBJECT: Church Discipline #2: Formative Church Discipline
Today, with God's blessing, we will move on in the series we began last Sunday afternoon, on Church Discipline. The format is interactive: I'll begin with a talk of fifteen or twenty minutes, and then open it up for discussion. You're all invited to join the conversation, but please: (1) be submissive to the Word of God, (2) be courteous, (3) stay on topic, and (4) let's wrap it up by three o'clock.
Last week we spent a good deal of time defining Church Discipline, and in particular, cleaning up the reputation it has gotten over the years, sometime deservedly, sometimes not.
What is Church Discipline? It is the church's work in making believers in Christ into His disciples. Does the church do it alone? Of course not! But, we have a role to play. Other than loving God with all our hearts, souls, and minds, our first duty is to love our neighbor as ourselves. Some of our neighbors are in the church, and Discipline is one of the ways we love them.
Church Discipline falls into two categories: formative and corrective. The sermons I've heard and the books I've read lean steeply to the corrective side, but the Bible does not. The great majority of what it says about Discipline is positive and pleasant. It is an honor to discipline each other and a joy to receive the discipline.
Most of the time.
My talk today is on the happier kind. It's what I'm doing now for you, and what you did for me at lunch. It's called formative church discipline.
Formative church discipline pretty much explains itself. It seeks to form good character and habits. Vertically, it helps us to worship the Lord better, to pray more, to read the Word with understanding, to keep our consciences clear; in short, to make us more devoted to Christ than we would be on our own.
Horizontally, it promotes holier living at home, on the job, at church, and in the neighborhood. It encourages a husband to love his wife as Christ loves the church; it helps an employee honor his [boss], if he is good and gentle or even if he is harsh. It spurs us to be more hospitable to each other and to be Christ's witnesses in the world.
I would never limit God; if He wants to, He can form the most wonderful character outside of the church, and, at times, He has done that. But not very often; most of the time, believers grow in grace in the church. To some ears, 'Just me and my Bible' sounds very spiritual, but it isn't. It didn't work for the hermits sitting on poles in North Africa, and it's not likely to work for you. It was John Piper, I think, who said, Sanctification is a community project. And the community it gets done in is God's community, the local church.
This is what formative church discipline is: all of us working together for each other's holiness.
Before we get to the whys and wherefores of this work, let's take a moment to reflect on its privilege. The Lord gives you a part in my salvation and me a part in yours. Who are we to help get our friends to heaven? We're nobodies, and yet, the Lord uses nobodies to bring his people to glory.
You ought to feel the privilege and thank God for conferring it on you.
THE PASTOR'S ROLE
Whose job is it to help the church to heaven? In one way, it is the pastors' job. They do it by preaching the Gospel and by overseeing the Flock of God.
Underline the word, 'Gospel', for some men preach the Word in a way than minimizes the Good News of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. Ignoring the fools who preach folly, some scholarly and respected men are better at preaching the Law and its penalties than preaching the Gospel and its blessings. There's a word for these men, and the word is legalist. What's wrong with legalism? Philip Yancey tells us what it is-
Legalism fails miserably at the one thing it is supposed to do: encourage obedience.
Telling people what to do all the time, and telling them what will happen to them if they don't do it won't work. If Rules and Regulations made a man holy, our Savior would be the Law. But Paul says-
What the Law could not do, God did, by sending His Son in the flesh.
Pastors form good character in their people-not by telling them what to do (so much) as by telling them what God has done in Christ to free them from the slavery of their sin.
The second thing pastors do is oversee the church. To some men, this means controlling the church, telling everybody what to do, when to do it, and how. But if Legalism doesn't work in public, it also doesn't work in private. What are we supposed to do then? What is oversight? It's seeing if the Gospel is getting through to people. When it isn't, the pastor goes back to the Gospel, showing how it saves marriages, how it dispels worry, how it affects the way we spend our money, and so on.
If pastors are called by God to preach the Gospel and oversee the flock, the flock is called to hear the sermons and allow themselves to be overseen. This means you come to church as often as you can, you listen to the sermons carefully, and you're open to the pastor and willing to take his advice.
THE CHURCH'S ROLE
If the pastor does some of the teaching and overseeing in the church, most of it is done by others. Who? Everybody.
I cannot remember the exact number, but the New Testament has dozens of verses that feature the words, 'one another'. The two verses I read at the start of the sermon both have them, Hebrews 10:24, 25-
Let us consider one another.
Exhorting one another.
How do you help others on their way to heaven?
In the first place, you welcome them into the church and into your friendship. You cannot help people at a distance; you cannot encourage people you're also looking down on.
In the second place, you get to know them. Though the Gospel works for everybody, it has to be applied to persons in an appropriate way.
In the third place, you notice the good they do and thank them for it.
In the fourth place, you offer your help when they're troubled, and when there is no help for what ails them, you offer a shoulder to cry on-and cry with them.
In the fifth place, you set a good example. Suppose a man has grown up with a domineering mother and a weak father. This is all he knows about family life, and now, he and his wife are re-living it. But then the man is converted, and reading the Bible, he finds 'the husband is the head of the wife', and he begins lording himself over his wife, issuing commands, taking everything less than 'yes sir' as defiance, and so on. How do you help him? Teaching can only do so much; what he needs is modeling. He needs to see how a man wears authority lightly and how he uses it to make his wife happy. If you have a decent family life, invite people to dinner and let them see what godliness at home looks like.
Finally, you pray for them.
For reasons known only to Himself, the Lord has not willed everyone to be saved; not even everyone who professes faith will make it to heaven. But the church is not responsible for adding to the number of the Elect. What we're called to do is to help our friends on their way to glory.
With God's blessing this is what we will do, if we're faithful to practice formative church discipline. God help us all. For Christ's sake. Amen.
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