How do we deal appropriately with a sister denomination about which we have concerns (see “Don’t Turn Away,” p. 46)?
As I write this, someone is committing mayhem on my roof, beating it back into a condition that will prevent rainwater from leaking into an upstairs bedroom.
The craftsman up there knows how to discipline wood. He saws it, smacks it into place, hammers it down, and perforates it with nails to attach the shingles. The din of screeching, banging, and clattering testifies to the fact that bending wood to our will is an act of sheer physical violence. And that’s as it should be.
There are people who quote Scripture to argue that we should discipline kids in a similar way (for example, Prov. 23:13-14)—though, to be fair, they advocate a lighter touch, minus power tools.
But I doubt that, apart from a pre-emptive rap on the knuckles when little hands grasp at a sizzling pan, physical violence is never the best way to discipline children. We should disciple kids by loving them unconditionally, correcting them firmly but gently, and leading them as much as possible by setting a good example. We are not to treat them harshly even when we have to deny them the car keys. We are to mold their will to God’s, not break it forcibly.
So how do we discipline brothers and sisters in Christ? Should we punish them for bad behavior like Peter punished Ananias and Sapphira for lying (Acts 5:1-11)? Should we “hand them over to Satan” (1 Cor. 5:5), as Paul commanded the Corinthians concerning an immoral congregation member? And what exactly did that entail?
Such exceptions are as rare as they are extreme. Mostly we’re told to humbly and respectfully speak the truth in love with firm but gentle persistence (Gal. 6:1) so that the dear one can be freed from sin’s entanglement. Forget the choke collar. Smother the sinner with acceptance, encouragement, and love as you “name the demon” and offer Christ’s correction, forgiveness, absolution, and restoration.
So back to where we started: How do we discipline an entire denomination? Treat them like wood? Like children? Like erring fellow congregants? Or should we move with even greater diplomacy, consideration, humility, and care?
Let’s heed Rev. van der Spoel’s brotherly philippic. Granted, some in his church (like some in ours) don’t live out the Reformed confessions our two denominations share. Granted, sometimes the governing bodies in his church have not exercised Christian discipline as faithfully as they should have. (Have ours?) But is trash-talking the Protestant Church in the Netherlands and holding it at a distance by continuing to restrict our ecclesiastical relationship with it the best way to set that straight?
In my mind that’s like saying to my supposedly straying brother that he’s really not my brother until he smartens up. I could never hold him at arm’s length like that. I would do everything in my power to get close to him, to presume upon the best part of our longstanding relationship so that I could convince him to follow Jesus better.
Let’s stop this ham-fisted, “protect our own holiness” approach that Jesus so railed against (Matt. 23:13, 23-24). Let’s again invite PCN visitors to our pulpits and to the Lord’s Table. Let’s presume heavily on our fraternal relationship with each other so that we will actually pick up honest dialogue again. And let’s leave the power tools to the roofers.
“‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord” (Zech. 4:6). ¦