It is 6:00 AM, the bugle blasts reveille over the PA system. It is wake up and get up time for the soldiers attached to the Army base. When breakfast is served in the mess hall at 7:00 AM no one is present but the cooks. When the inspection assembly is called at 8:00 AM no one but the drill sergeant is present. Where are the soldiers who volunteered to serve their country? Some are still in their bunks; a few are checking their cell phones; others are in the shower, etc. Would you say this is a very well trained and disciplined company of soldiers? How do you think they will perform if called on to see combat duty?
Former Sergeant Major of the Army, William G. Bainbridge said: “The core of a soldier is moral discipline. It is intertwined with the discipline of physical and mental achievement. Total discipline overcomes adversity, and physical stamina draws on an inner strength that says ‘drive on.’” General George Patton said, “Discipline can only be obtained when all the officers are imbued with the sense of their awful obligation to their men and to their country that they cannot tolerate negligence.”
What is discipline? As a noun, Webster gives an extensive definition: “discipline: training that develops self-control, character or orderliness and efficiency; strict control to enforce obedience; the results of such training or control; acceptance of or submission to authority; a system of rules, as for a church; treatment that corrects or punishes.” For this study we will look briefly at three applications of discipline. First, self-discipline; second, discipline of others, and third, church discipline.
Just as all leadership begins with self-leadership, the exercise of discipline begins with self-discipline. From the cradle to the grave each person is challenged by the discipline of self. The training started with our parents, teachers, and coaches. It is under our control. As Christians we have volunteered to discipline ourselves as followers of Christ.
It may come as a surprise to some that Christians are in the Lord’s army; each Christian is a soldier of Christ. Just as soldiers are required to be disciplined in a literal army, soldiers in God’s spiritual army must be spiritually disciplined too, so wrote the apostle Paul: “You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier” (2 Timothy 2:3, 4). Self-control is a “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:23).
Self-discipline begins by volunteering to deny self and follow Christ (cf. Matthew 16:24). It is a commitment to a covenant relationship that requires faithfulness to death (Revelation 2:10). In referring to the discipline required to win the spiritual race and fight, Paul gave these words as the keys to his success: “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).
There are numerous spiritual practices that are dependent on self-discipline. Some of these are: faithful church attendance, stewardship, Bible study, prayer, involvement, caring, teaching, morals, ethics, etc. Spiritual self-discipline requires perpetual exercise: “But reject profane and old wives fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come” (1 Timothy 4:7, 8).
Relative to disciplining others, I will briefly discuss it with application to children. There is an amazing controversy today over the discipline of Children. The evidence of a lack of parental discipline is seen in the home, class room, on the streets, in the media, and even in churches. In addressing this issue, Laura Clark, an educational correspondent for the Dailymail.co.uk.(2-27-2012), wrote: “Parents who fail to discipline their offspring properly are creating a generation of angry children who lash out in the classroom, a study has found.”
School-age children expert, Katherine Lee wrote: “Contrary to what some parents may mistakenly believe children who are not regularly disciplined are not happy. In fact, failure to discipline children often results in kids who are unhappy, angry, and even resentful. To those around him, a child who is not disciplined will be unpleasant company, and a child without discipline may find it difficult to make friends” (http://childparenting.about.com).
God has given us sage advice on disciplining children. In Proverbs 19:18 we read: “Chasten your son while there is hope, and do not set your heart on his destruction.” And in Proverbs 13:24 we read: “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly.” In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul wrote advice to both children and parents. He made it clear that fathers are responsible for the discipline of their children: “And you fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Whatever happened to the discipline of children?
The final observation I will make in this article is related church discipline. Whatever happened to church discipline? When was the last time you heard a sermon or series of lessons on church discipline? When was the last time you witnessed the church practicing discipline? I know this is wading into scalding water because of the controversy and lack of practicing discipline in congregations today. It was more than 50 years ago when I witnessed an elder stand before the congregation and read a letter stating the church was withdrawing from his son who was committing adultery. In my early years of ministry the biblical discipline of members was a common, undisputed practice. But since the law suit by a member of a congregation in Collinsville, Oklahoma in the ‘70s, a quick retreat has occurred for fear of being sued. Oh we have talked and preached about church discipline, conducted many lectures, but the actual practice has been lost and the commands to practice discipline have become lost and admired antiques of a past era in the church.
The guilty verdict in the Collinsville case was overturned by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. However, that hasn’t stopped the fear of being sued as a reason for not practicing church discipline. There are many additional reasons why it isn’t being practiced today. First, it isn’t being taught from a Bible perspective (i.e. studying each verse in its context). Second, there has been an abuse of how it has been conducted. Third, there is a lack of conviction relative to the seriousness of discipline. Fourth, is doesn’t work as God intended because a disciplined member will go to another congregation and be accepted. Fifth, a lax attitude toward the seriousness of sin in a Christian’s life.
When one member of the congregation observes a problem, misconduct or sin in a brother or sister, Jesus, in Matthew 18:15-17, gave the initial procedure for correcting it; thus preventing church discipline. There are three steps: First, go to the person with a one-on-one confrontation in love, encouraging repentance and renewal of the relationship. Second, go to the person with two or three others, saying the same thing as in step one. Third, if there is no repentance and renewal, saying the same thing as in the previous two meetings, take it to the congregation. This is God’s way to practice the commands related to church discipline.
While the remarks on these three areas of discipline have been brief, prayerfully they have opened the door to deeper study, as we answer: Whatever happened to discipline?