Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Methods of Church Discipline

In today's BreakPoint Commentary Prison Fellowship President Mark Earley compares and contrasts two recent attempts by churches to discipline their flocks: . . . East Waynesville Baptist Church in Waynesville, North Carolina, where Rev. Chan Chandler resigned after he reportedly forced members out of his church because of who they voted for in the last presidential election, and the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, Minnesota, where Catholics wearing rainbow-colored sashes in support of homosexuality were denied Communion.

Earley writes:

Both of these attempts at church discipline are related to cultural questions. But there the similarity ends. What happened in Saint Paul is a very good example of what the Church, both Catholic and Protestant, needs to do. When the teaching of the Church is flouted, the Church has a right, indeed a duty, to discipline its members. In this regard, we evangelicals can learn something from Roman Catholics, who under Pope Benedict XVI show every sign of making Church membership mean something by holding the line on orthodox Church teachings. This is part of a pattern: Over recent months a number of priests and bishops have indicated they would not give Communion to Catholic politicians who vote on legislation in ways contrary to the moral and biblical teaching of the Church. This is an entirely appropriate way for a church to exercise discipline.

But what about the church in Waynesville? In 1986, Chuck Colson wrote a book called
Kingdoms in Conflict, arguing that it is the duty of the Church to speak out on moral issues and culture. But at the same time, he argued, a pastor must never make partisan endorsements. Reverend Chandler lost sight of this distinction and went over the line. It is one thing to call members to account for beliefs or behavior that defy the clear teaching of Scripture; it’s another thing to force them out of the congregation because of the way they vote at an election. The lesson from Waynesville is, don’t step across that line.

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