Thursday, September 18, 2014

Church Discipline and Knuckleheaded Christians

Some comments on some statements in Tom Schreiner’s chapter, “The Biblical Basis for Church Discipline,” in Those Who Must Give Account: A Study of Church Membership and Church Discipline (Nashville: B&H, 2012).
“Treating the person disciplined as a Gentile or tax collector means that he is no longer considered to be a member of the church of Jesus Christ. He is no longer a part of the fellowship of believers. He is not considered to be a brother.”
1. I agree with this. But at the same time, it betrays the incoherence of something else that Baptists like to say on a separate occasion. I’m thinking of those Baptists who argue that people who have been baptized only in infancy should not be admitted as church members unless they first get baptized the right way, whose reasoning for this strict stance is that a paedobaptist’s admission into membership would have to be immediately followed by church discipline, since the paedobaptist is living in disobedience to Christ’s command to be baptized. They bar such people from membership and view it as a sort of preemptive church discipline. Excommunication applied in advance.

But in Scripture, church discipline is carried out only when the offense is of such a nature that sustained impenitence inevitably leads to the conclusion that the offender is actually not a true believer. “Let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matt. 18:15-17). And yet this is not the way that Baptists typically view paedobaptists. John Piper and Mark Dever, for example, have great respect for Ligon Duncan and Kevin DeYoung. They’re all brothers in Christ. They speak at conferences together. They recommend each other’s ministries.

So how does a Baptist withhold membership from paedobaptists in the name of preemptive church discipline, when Baptists by and large believe that paedobaptist convictions do not preclude someone from being a genuine and godly believer? Exercising church discipline on someone whose profession of faith you have no reason to doubt is incoherent.

2. Schreiner shoots himself in the foot later in the chapter by reading 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 as an instance of church discipline, even though in that passage Paul speaks of the troublemaker as a brother: “Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother” (3:15). My own view is that this passage is not an instance of church discipline or excommunication, but simply Paul’s instructions for how to deal with knuckleheaded Christians in the church. Sometimes even fellow believers can behave in ways that make their fellowship unprofitable. “Take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed” (3:14).

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