Redemptive Church Discipline
At the beginning of my counseling ministry, I was in the front row watching one of the ugliest church discipline situations I have ever encountered. My client, a pastor from a nearby local church, was being disciplined for failing to be honest about the poor condition of his marriage and family prior to accepting the call to serve his church. The discipline process was brutal, the outcome tragic, and the impact on me profoundly life altering. I determined that one day I would write a book on gracious, loving, and redemptive church discipline. With Robert Cheong’s excellent contribution in God Redeeming His Bride, I can now delete “write a book on church discipline” from my “To Do List.”
Robert is an experienced pastor who has personally walked the painful path of providing discipline in the church context. Out of his experience and research, Robert provides a compelling book that not only offers practical assistance to those seeking guidance for how to provide discipline, but shows how our gospel mission to love God and love others is lived out, in part, through redemptive church discipline. Robert defines church discipline as:
God’s ongoing, redeeming work through His living Word and people as they fight the good fight of faith together to exalt Christ and protect the purity of His Bride.
This book is divided into three sections: 1) Our Redeeming God and His Bride, 2) The Bride’s Rebellion and God’s Discipline, and 3) God’s Call to Carry Out His Redemptive Discipline. Throughout these three sections, Robert weaves a devotional tapestry that not only magnifies God but also illuminates the gospel, the church, and the relationship between the church and the triune God. Robert writes:
Why is it important to understand this concept called the church? The answer is simple: When we fail to see ourselves as the church we will get everything wrong.
Desiring to help the church cease getting it wrong when it comes to church discipline, Robert offers simple and timeless truths. Page after page, the reader has a “Smithsonian experience” in which they race on to the next dramatic exhibit of truth only to come to a screeching halt to drink in and reflect on its significance. Robert is an artist when it comes to sharing biblical principles.
Helpful, Practical, and Wise
Following his theologically rich reflection in his first three sections of the book, Robert provides numerous Appendices full of helpful, practical, and wise instruction that are immediately useful for those who find themselves confronted with the need to provide loving discipline in their own church context. While the first three sections of the book help shape the attitudes and motives of the church leader, the wisdom and comprehensiveness of the Appendices help provide the confidence that church leaders desperately need when ministering discipline to erring congregants.
Robert sensitively discusses areas where church discipline, in practice, often causes people unnecessary pain. In particular, he emphasizes the importance of remembering and caring for the family members of those receiving discipline. The spiritual and emotional needs of family members require a concerted effort for loving care on the part of church leaders:
For family members, the removal of a loved one from the church can represent the climax of a painful journey marked by great heartache coupled with shattered hopes and dreams. Grief and mourning have ebbed and flowed during the countless times they have prayed for and pleaded with the one being removed, but to no avail… The family needs the love and support from their gospel community more than ever after the removal of their loved one.
A lack of communication before, during, and following a disciplinary process causes more hurt and conflict than any other reality. Paying attention to Robert’s comprehensive instructions will go a long way in reducing the risk of injury to erring members and their families and friends through poor, inadequate, or missing communications on the part of church leaders. While church members can be badly hurt through a disciplinary process, church leaders can also be significantly wounded. In an era when churches and their leaders are harshly attacked by their own members, especially in the realm of blogging and Internet posts, the one area of hurt and conflict only lightly touched on in God Redeeming His Bride that deserves more attention is the hurt caused the church through sinful blogging. Social media has created a complexity that directly impacts policies and procedures for churches that practice church discipline.
Mandatory for Seminary Curriculum
I highly recommend God Redeeming His Bride to pastors, elders, and other church leaders regardless of the type of polity adhered to by the church. I especially recommend this book to church leaders who do not wish to re-invent the wheel when facing a discipline need. Robert provides sample letters and manuscripts ready for editing and use that are reminiscent of a gospel-rich rendition of a Book of Church Order. I believe that this text should be mandatory for the seminary curriculum since church discipline gone bad frequently contributes to church leaders exiting active gospel-ministry.