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Welcome to our One Life Leadership Podcast.
Today we are going to deal with that very tricky subject – church discipline.
Church discipline handled badly can split churches; church discipline ignored can lead to compromise and confusion, which can damage churches.
Church discipline done well, brings security and stability into the life of the church. One of the foundational things that we need to develop is the skill to know when to discipline and when not to. Most things really just need to be killed by neglect. Very often leaders will major on the minors; in trying to deal with an issue they end up drawing attention to it, giving it profile and making it a proverbial storm in a teacup.
One of the big skills we need to learn is when to just let it go of something and when to handle it decisively.
There are a couple of big mistakes people make when disciplining. One of them is not understanding honour and authority. If you’re disciplining a child, involve the child’s parents. If you’re disciplining a spouse, get the other spouse involved. If you’re trying to correct someone from another church make sure their leaders are involved, otherwise you are not honouring the authority that God has delegated into those spheres.
In addition to that, handling something in a public and immediate fashion is, often, not advisable. It is better to think about it, process it and pray about it. The only exception to that is if you’re in a meeting and some heresy is brought or a damaging comment is given – you have to deal with this so you’re not seen as endorsing it.
Moses is the candidate we’re going to look at in handling discipline. He messed it up a few times and he also got it right once or twice. Moses once disciplined a crowd in his anger and he lost his inheritance. You can read that frightening account in Numbers 20, when he lost his rag and God said that he wouldn’t walk into his inheritance because of it.
There’s this remarkable incident in Exodus 4:4, where Moses has been picked as the deliverer; the leader to set God’s people free and he is at a lodging place on the way. He has his wife and kids with him. He hanging in his hammock, no doubt at an oasis somewhere and this is what it says in Exodus 4:24 “…and God was about to kill him.”
Now we know that God is not schizophrenic; he wasn’t about to change his mind about picking Moses – nothing was wrong with God – but something was desperately wrong with Moses. There were issues Moses had not dealt with and his wife knew all about them. He hadn’t circumcised his kids and so Zaporah does the job and then says to Moses, as she slaps the foreskin at his feet, “you are a bridegroom of blood to me.” She was not very happy with Moses. What’s that all about? What do the dealings of Moses with his boys have to do with discipline?
Discipline in those days was about obeying God, obeying His Word and keeping your family in line. Moses clearly hadn’t done this. What is this look like, though, in the New Testament? In Romans 2:28 – 29 we see that circumcision is not about circumcision outwardly, nor is circumcision physical. A Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart done by the Spirit and not by the letter of the law. His praise is not from man but God.
What is Paul saying? He is leaning on this Jewish custom, of circumcising men, and he was saying, “Now listen, that is no longer the mark of God’s people!” There is still a circumcision but is not in the body, it’s in the heart done by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit leaves a mark. The Holy Spirit is engaged in getting you into line and that’s circumcision.
This is a beautiful picture for us in leadership. Just like Zipporah and Moses ought to have been, we are co-labourers, co-workers with the Holy Spirit in circumcision of our hearts. Discipline is God dealing with his people, lining them up with His purposes and it’s as important as heart surgery.
We’re going to finish this discussion on discipline in our next podcast, but for now we need to know this, discipline in serious. It is as serious as heart surgery. It’s done by the Holy Spirit and if we are involved in any way, we are working with the Holy Spirit in His process of discipline.