When the world speaks of “love,” it often means unconditional acceptance. Many churches have adopted this mindset in their practice of membership and discipline—if they have not done away with such structures entirely. “Yet God’s love and God’s Gospel are different than what the world expects,” writes Jonathan Leeman. They are centered in his character, which draws a clear boundary between what is holy and what is not. It’s this line that the local church should represent in its membership practices, because the careful exercise of such authority “is God’s means for guarding the Gospel, marking off a people, and thereby defining his love for the world.”
So how should churches receive and dismiss members? How should Christians view their submission to the church? Are there dangers in such submission? Leeman answers these questions and offers biblical, theological, and practical guidance from both corporate and individual perspectives. This is a resource that will help pastors and their congregations upend worldly conceptions and recover a biblical understanding and practices of church membership and discipline.
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“We assume not that God is love but that love is God. In other words, we don’t go before the real creator of the universe and say to him, ‘Please tell us what you are like and therefore how you define love.’ Rather, we begin with our own self-defined concept of love and allow this self-defined concept to play god. When I say it ‘plays god,’ I mean that we let it define right and wrong, good and bad, glory-worthy and glory-less, even though such valuations belong to God alone. Love becomes the ultimate idol.” (Page 24)
“If a church understands love to be a matter of self-expression and self-fulfillment, Sunday school classes, small groups, and other ministries will divide demographically because Christians become more intent on finding people who share their life experiences rather than on finding older people to learn from and younger people to disciple.” (Page 49)
“The solution to individualism is not community. The solution—one fears to say it without pages of qualifications—is to reintroduce a conception of submission to God’s revealed will as it’s located in the local church.” (Pages 64–65)
“My main argument in this chapter is that our ideas about love are more idolatrous than we realize.” (Page 41)
“Church membership is (1) a covenant of union between a particular church and a Christian, a covenant that consists of (2) the church’s affirmation of the Christian’s gospel profession, (3) the church’s promise to give oversight to the Christian, and (4) the Christian’s promise to gather with the church and submit to its oversight.” (Page 217)
What happens when you bring together one of the most misunderstood subjects (love) and one of the most ignored practices (church membership and discipline) in the church today? A book like this one. Unlike the generation raised on Mr. Spock’s child-rearing advice, the Good Shepherd cares for his flock by loving discipline. There is a lot of talk these days about radical discipleship, but what we need more today is a lot more ordinary discipleship, where we realize not only in theory, but in practice, what it means to be conformed to Christ’s image. This is the best book I’ve seen on this subject in a long time.
—Michael Horton, J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics, Westminster Seminary California
It has been a frustrating reality that there are so few resources on church discipline. This book is not only timely, but definitive. I highly recommend it to those who seek to learn about and desire to practice biblical church discipline.
—Darrin Patrick, pastor, The Journey, St. Louis, Missouri