God redeeming his bride
Robert K. Cheong
Christian Focus Publications
336 pages, £11.99
Star rating : 4
This is a book about church discipline, elaborating how churches have a responsibility to remove the impenitent from their midst (e.g. Matthew 18:15-20). It grew out of the author’s experience pastoring a young church in the USA, where he was forced to work out biblical teaching on this subject.
That experience led him to consult over 30 ministers from a variety of denominations, networks and countries (including Scotland and England) about how they handled this aspect of ministry. The result is a sensitive exploration of the subject, a work not written from an ivory tower, but from the trenches.
The book is arranged in three parts. The first two are doctrinal, locating the practice of church discipline within the larger context of God redeeming his church. Discipline is not seen to be something that suddenly and arbitrarily kicks in when a church member has crossed a certain line. Rather, discipline is at the heart of every Christian’s experience of church life. Indeed, God sanctifies us through brothers and sisters applying the Word of God to our lives.
The third part is more practical, exploring the more formal process of discipline in the case of impenitence.
Each chapter begins with the story of a couple, the husband being on the receiving end of some form of discipline. The story keeps you reading, and I won’t spoil the ending for you! The book also includes substantial appendices (27 of them!) which are worth a look, ranging from sample letters to legal advice.
The book’s strength is its pastoral realism. Cheong is clearly a seasoned pastor. He acknowledges that offenders often react negatively to church discipline, but gently points out the numerous ways God uses this practice to bless the church and reclaim sinners.
Insightful details of how to talk about the situation in public and how to offer pastoral care to others in the church who have been affected (e.g. family members, small group members) are also included.
It’s encouraging to see a church think through this issue carefully. Ever since the sixteenth century, Reformed churches have considered discipline important to church life.
If you’re suspicious of this practice and struggle to see how it connects with the gospel, I’d commend this book to you. If you’re already persuaded of its importance, you might pick up some useful advice. But for those with real interest in the subject, your time would be better spent jumping straight into Calvin’s Institutes, Book IV.