I love the monthly devotional from Ligonier Ministries called Tabletalk. In this month’s magazine, Joel Beeke, president and professor of systematic theology and homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, and a pastor of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan, brings an important issue to light: The discipline of God as a mark of being a Christian. He links the discipline of God to the Christian and the church. For the Christian, in Hebrews 12 we learn that the Lord disciplines those whom He loves. That means that while God is not an ogre in the sky, holding a mallet over the heads of his children, he does discipline his children that they might reflect his holiness. Suffering and sin are not always connected, however.
Though all suffering derives from the fall, there is not always a direct correlation between personal sin and personal suffering, as accounts of Job and the man born blind (John 9:3) plainly teach. In their cases, God’s chastening hand was motivated primarily by the furthering of His own glory. We cannot always link suffering to specific sin.
A second point brought out by Beeke is that the discipline of the Lord comes through the vehicle of the church. This should not be a mystery, for we see clearly in passages like Matthew 16, 18 and Galatians 6 that the church was responsible for its purity, empowered by Jesus to regulate membership and conduct. Beeke points out both positive and negative aspects to discipline. The negative aspects are familiar to most of us who have studied the aforementioned passages, but the positive elements are too seldom discussed.
The church is every believer’s educator, trainer, and nourisher, as the Spirit acts through the preached Word, the sacraments, and church discipline. Negatively, discipline involves corrective actions for members, from rebuke to excommunication (Matthew 18:15-17).
This means that discipline comes through community. We need each other be holy. This concept is foreign, since we tend to live out a peculiar, Christian bumper sticker individualism with God as our co-pilot. But, as Beeke rightly asserts, “piety grows best in the context of the church.”
By cultivating private disciplines such as Bible reading and meditation, praying, devotional reading, and journaling, Christians usually grow in godliness. But godliness also results from public church discipline, which should seek to encourage Christians to repentance and to live lives of holy, responsive, gratuitous obedience to God.
My earnest prayer is that Heartland Baptist Church will be the kind of place where Christians are indeed encouraged to repent and live lives of holy, responsive, gratuitous obedience to God.