Which “gospel” do you believe in?
Your answer to that question will have a direct bearing on what you think about church discipline. Therefore, it’s worth making sure we are talking about the same gospel before we talk about anything else.
Here are two subtly different versions of the gospel. The first one will probably shut down any talk about church discipline. The second one will start the conversation.
Gospel 1: God is holy. We have all sinned, separating us from God. But God sent his Son to die on the cross and rise again so that we might be forgiven. Everyone who believes in Jesus can have eternal life. We’re not justified by works. We’re justified by faith alone. The gospel therefore calls all people to “just believe!” An unconditionally loving God will take you as you are.
Gospel 2: God is holy. We have all sinned, separating us from God. But God sent his Son to die on the cross and rise again so that we might be forgiven and begin to follow the Son as King and Lord. Anyone who repents and believes can have eternal life, a life which begins today and stretches into eternity. We’re not justified by works. We’re justified by faith alone, but the faith which works is never alone. The gospel therefore calls all people to “repent and believe.” A contraconditionally loving God will take you contrary to what you deserve, and then enable you by the power of the Spirit to become holy and obedient like his Son. By reconciling you to himself, God also reconciles you to his family, the church, and enables you as his people to represent together his own holy character and triune glory.
So what do you think? Which of these two gospels better characterizes what you believe the Bible teaches?
The first version emphasizes Christ as Savior. The second version emphasizes Christ as Savior and Lord.
The first version points to Christ’s new covenant work of forgiveness. The second version includes both this and the Spirit’s new covenant work of regeneration.
The first version points to the new status that Christians have as children of God. The second version includes both the new status and the new job description that Christians are given as citizens of Christ’s kingdom.
The first version points to a Christian’s reconciliation with Christ. The second version points to a Christian’s reconciliation with Christ and Christ’s people.
If your understanding of the gospel stops with the first version, you will not have much use for the topic of church discipline, or for this book. But if you embrace the second one, then there is a longer conversation to have. Aside from being an explicit biblical mandate, church discipline is an implication of the second version.
Everything affirmed in the first version is true, but there’s more to say. Left to itself it tends to yield a belief in cheap grace. The second version, I believe, is a more robust account of the biblical gospel, and is more likely to lead to an understanding of the kind of grace that calls Christians to take up their crosses and follow Jesus in holy mission.
—Jonathan Leeman, Church Discipline: How the Church Protects the Name of Jesus (Crossway, 2012), 11-13.
So what do you think? Please leave a comment.