The Third Mark is Gone, Too – Some Choruses, a Pep-talk, and an Offering, part 17 of 20

We spoke of the “three marks” last time. It is time to comment on the disappearance of the third and why such a discussion belongs in a series on worship. The third mark the 16th century reformers used to distinguish the true from the false church was the practice of church discipline; the true church practices church discipline, the false one does not.

What is meant by church discipline? In short, it is pastoral shepherding that loves the sheep (and the goats) within the flock enough to confront un-confessed sin. The unbeliever’s chief sin is his unbelief; the believer’s is particular sin he holds to with clenched fist. Zeal for God’s glory as well as love for the sinner motivates the confrontation.

Generally speaking; when confronted, sheep confess and goats do not. The church, desirous of being what its name means (God’s “called out ones”), understands that it must discipline. After all, as the Apostle Peter says: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him Who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).

Why so little of it then, today? There are multiple reasons; some of them being it’s hard, not fun, and can be messy, too. But Sunday morning has also created a dynamic that makes it difficult—the worship as well as the relationship with the church has become so casual. “I came, I worshiped, and I leave to live my life.” As easy as it was to come to church (even join it); the same ease is enjoyed when leaving it.

The church as a “buffet line” developed to attract worshiper’s, but has sadly become the means to insulate them instead. That probably needs some explanation. The church template of today is to come and “take what you want”; as the consumer, the parishioner decides based on his needs and his family’s and the church’s ability (generally through its programs) to meet them. And when those needs change or the church no longer satisfies those needs, he simply moves on.

He may find another church right away but generally does so only when his “needs” demand it; or maybe he just moves in with his girlfriend and enjoys that for awhile, instead. He probably doesn’t get a call from one of the pastors or elders because people entering the front door replace people leaving the back door all the time. Because of the church’s size, many times, those in charge of shepherding don’t even know the name of the guy who just left. And he leaves thinking it is no big deal; but it is a big deal.

This gets us back to the discussion of the third mark of the church. Writing on the subject, Mark Dever comments: “Trying to lead a church without discipline is just as unworkable as trying to parent children without correcting them. An undisciplined church confuses sinners, discourages saints, and dishonors God.”

Nobody wants to do that but that’s what happens. Dever continues: “For our own sake as well as for the sake of others, for our churches’ and for God’s own name’s sake, let us not disregard God’s clear commands to discipline His Church” (Modern Reformation, July/August 2002, p. 51).

Here is a pastor’s fear: That someone sits in a pew and believes that by doing so all is now well between God and him. His life says otherwise yet no one from the church says so. He flits in and out of church, living life as he pleases; before one day finding himself before God. And as he is hauled to the left with the rest of the goats, if permitted to speak, he turns and says to his observing pastor: “Why didn’t you ever tell me?” And that pastor won’t have a good answer in reply.

Do we need to revisit church discipline? This series has attempted to persuade that there are several things we need to revisit about Sunday morning.

Pastor Rich Hamlin
February 24, 2011

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