21 January 2014

the discipline of church

Next month, it will have been a year since my wife and I completed the second half of our interim pastor training.  We were presented with many topics, but one particularly interesting session dealt with a document that was approved by the General Assembly of the PCUSA in 1998, “Life Together in the Community of Faith: Standards of Ethical Conduct.”  There are three sections to it: standards for members, for employees and volunteers, and for ordained officers.

There is a bit of overlap among the three sections, so maybe looking at the first section, the part about standards among members, will suffice.  Here’s a little taste:

* Treat all persons with equal respect and concern as beloved children of God.
* Bear witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ with courage, speaking the truth in love.
* Honor the sacred trust of relationships within the covenant community, and observe appropriate boundaries.
* Respect the privacy of individuals and not divulge information obtained in confidence without express permission, unless an individual is a danger to self or others.
* Accept the discipline of the church.

That last one I cited might sound outdated, even medieval.  Accepting the “discipline of the church” is not about being flogged or burned at the stake.  In the section of our Book of Order called “The Rules of Discipline,” there is nothing quite so drastic!

Accepting the discipline of the church can be seen in a more basic way.  With 1 Corinthians, which provides the lectionary epistle readings in February, Paul gives what might be considered a manifesto of church discipline.  He deals with many issues in Corinth, such as splitting into factions and being disruptive in worship.  Church itself requires discipline—it requires the discipline of love.  And love requires that we discipline ourselves!

As the apostle says in chapter 13, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful” (vv. 4-5). 

The discipline of “church,” if done well, gradually turns us into loving and kind persons.  If we abandon that discipline, or approach it in an unhealthy fashion, we become ungrateful and cause injury.  So let’s help each other in our discipline, and affirm with the apostle Paul that our “God is a God, not of disorder, but of peace” (14:33).

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