Thinking Biblically about Church Membership and Discipline
In this episode, Drs. Darrell L. Bock and Jeremy Kimble discuss ecclesiology, focusing on church membership and church discipline.
- Kimble’s theological and pastoral background
- What is church membership?
- Why is church membership important?
- The responsibility of church membership
- What is church discipline?
- The responsibility of church discipline
- How to practice church discipline
- The transformative nature of ecclesiology
Dr. Darrell Bock: Welcome to The Table where we discuss issues of God and culture. I'm Darrell Bock, Executive Director of Cultural Engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary and the Hendricks Center. And my guest is Jeremy Kimble who is Associate Professor of Theological Studies at Cedarville, and author of the book, 40 Questions About Membership and Church Discipline. So we're gonna be talking about the church, and ecclesiology. Welcome to the show, Jeremy.
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: Thanks. Pleasure to be here, Darrell.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Yeah. And so let's just get started simply. Tell us a little bit about your theological background, and how you managed to end up writing on the topic of church membership and church discipline.
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: Yeah. Well, I served as a pastor for about eight years in a few different contexts, and was able to, after college, be involved in a variety of settings where I saw pastoral ministry being done day by day. And when I went to do PhD studies, I knew I wanted to do something in the area of ecclesiology, doctrine of the church. But I didn't know what, honestly. So, I was at Southern Seminary at the time, and I had a lunch with Greg Allison, professor there. And he was firing away with ideas for dissertation work, and we were talking through a variety of topics. And he finally said, "What about church discipline?" And I thought, "That's kind of a morbid topic to think about and study." But the more we talked about it, the more intrigued I became, and especially because of pastoral days and seeing that process being done, both well and poorly, I thought, "It'd be interesting to do some theological study in terms of the undergirding theology behind discipline and why it's done. So that led to PhD work that then culminated some years later in this book on both membership and discipline. So coming from the fruits of that labor.
Dr. Darrell Bock: So were your pastorates in the Ohio area, or were they in different parts of the country?
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: Yeah. I was a youth pastor right away out of college in northeast Ohio. I then pastored, a lead pastor, at a church plant in Wisconsin. And then, after some time there, a great church, came back to Akron, Ohio, and was an associate pastor there, as well. So, there was education and ministry intermingled throughout my journey there. But those three contexts were about eight years of my life.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Okay. And then your training was at Southern Seminary, and then at Southeastern?
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: Yeah. Southeastern was PhD work under John Hammett in ecclesiology, that's right.
Dr. Darrell Bock: So you not only have some church experience, but you've seen different parts of the country, as well.
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: Yes. And I tell you, I'm from New York originally, so when I married my wife from Indiana, we always joked there was a culture clash of the Midwest and the Northeast. We're still working through some of those things. No, it's very good. But it's interesting to see, even from the Northeast to the Midwest, the churched culture of the Midwest compared to the Northeast, and then go into Wisconsin and again go into a more unchurched, more private, in terms of individuals' demeanor, in terms of how you do church, as well. So different contexts absolutely shaped the way we approached things.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Yeah. And I think sometimes in ministry, although we have one context, if we come from a different context with a different experience, that actually is an adjustment. It's part of what you have to take into consideration about how you go about doing certain things.
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: It absolutely is. Wisconsin's probably the biggest culture shock for us in that, for one thing, it's winter for so long. And part of the culture there is just everyone skis, snowmobiles. Everyone's ice fishing, doing all these things, and you realize if you want to be part of that culture and minister to those people, you're gonna have to join in on the life they've lived for a lot of years already.
Dr. Darrell Bock: I won't talk about the challenge or what would happen if you ever come to Texas. We'll save that for another time. But it is actually an interesting feature of ministry that I think some people don't initially come to grips with, and can be part of the equation in terms of sometimes doing or saying or responding to the things in ways which work in one culture, but may not work in another.
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: It's true. And even [Inaudible comment] _____ [0:04:51] ministry, they way people respond to what's being said, you may be hitting a home run, but you look at the audience, and there's more of a stoic demeanor, and you think, "I'm not connecting." Or, as well with this topic, you think about membership or discipline, if it hasn't been a part of the culture of the church, they may think, "Why would we welcome that in? Why would we do things that way, as opposed to this kind of a way?" So, there are a number of challenges, for sure.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Interesting. Well, let's turn our attention to the topics that we said we'd discuss, and I think it's probably appropriate to discuss membership before we discuss discipline. Does that make sense?
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: Absolutely, yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock: And so, let's talk a little bit about church membership. You said, "What do you do in a context where people are not used to church membership?" So, let's think back to what actually generates a question like that. What are the possibilities that someone faces? And I take it that part of what you must be talking about is, how do you establish the nature of the way church membership works and should work in a church, perhaps even in a context in which people are just used to attending and that's the end of it?
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: Yeah. Absolutely. So, I'm not sure about your context, Darrell, but I teach at a university. And so I get college students asking all the time in my theology classes, "Is church membership really that important? Where is it in the Bible? I don't see a verse about that." And so we talk about this all the time. And I think what I often go back to, if I'm trying to think back with people, a church context and say, "Well why is this an important thing?" I try to go back to the big picture of the Bible with the covenantal structure especially. So thinking through, the way in which God has made covenants with His people, and thinking through how does the, for example, Mosaic Covenant differ from a New Covenant context, thinking through the people of God. So, I want to go back to that and say, if we think about the Mosaic Covenant and Israel, which is a big topic, obviously, there is to say if this is a mixed people, meaning there are both regenerate and unregenerate people in that community, is that the nature of the New Covenant as well? We go to Jeremiah 31, we discuss … and I want to show them, well, theologically it seems here they will, all of them, know the Lord, from the least of them to the greatest.
So it seems to be a shift covenantally from a mixed community to a regenerate community. And so then we want to say, okay, how do we then decide and decipher and discern who's a part of this community of the church? Well, it's people that are regenerate. We can formalize that in various kinds of ways, but a way to say this is to say, we recognize saved, regenerate people are part of this community. So that's one theological level. Then it gets more practical beyond that. But I think I'll pause to see if you want to follow up.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Yeah, I actually do, because churches are made up … well, we need to distinguish them between the people who attend a church, and the people who are making a decision to consciously associate themselves with that particular community.
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: Yeah. It's a voluntary association. I like to try to say … Jonathon Leeman talks of this a lot. Voluntary commitment, a covenant if you will, to oversee and be overseen in your discipleship. So with that in mind, now I'm thinking through, an attendee is coming. They're singing songs. They're receiving from the preaching of the word. Maybe they're giving to the church, as well. Membership is trying to say, okay, the next step we're trying to say is that you're going to have a covenant with this community of people so that you can oversee others in their discipleship, and you're going to be overseen in your discipleship with that particular people, such that I'm accountable. I recognize that I'm going to be encouraged, prayed for, all these one another commands done in that context.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Okay. So it's a conscious stepping in. I can see very simple ways to do it. Some people might say, "Well, you just say, 'I want to join,' and that's the end of it." And then I know other people who have new member classes, and that kind of thing, to orient people to the kind of community that they're going to have. So, where are you on that spectrum?
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: It's a good question. I think it is, to some degree, contextual. I think that if you're in Iran, for example, church membership may look different than Dallas, Texas. But the key component I think is, how can we, if that covenant structure is true, how can we insure, as we bring someone into membership, whatever the process is, this person, as far as we're able to tell … we're not God … but as far as we can tell via a testimony of faith, fruit, those kind of things, this is a regenerate person.
Now, that could look different. If someone's in a persecuted context, oh man, they could come … just by their coming to your service and coming to fellowship with those people, they are risking their lives. By being baptized, they put a target on their back to say, "I'm with this people and not with that people." I don't need them to sign a document, per se. They're going to great lengths to demonstrate their commitment to Jesus. Whereas, in the States, it could be helpful when there's been, perhaps, church hopping that's occurred over time to say, "Let's solidify that commitment in some more formal kind of way.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Okay. So I'm just walking down the path here of this, 'cause part of the assumption of church discipline is a mutual understanding about the oversight. Is that fair to say?
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: I totally agree, yes.
Dr. Darrell Bock: You're not gonna even think about disciplining someone who hasn't stepped forward and said, "I want to be a part of this community."
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: Absolutely yes. That's right.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Okay. So let's go back to the question you posed earlier, which was a student walks up to you in class and says, "Why is church membership important?" 'Cause I think you've laid the groundwork now, or at least the beginning groundwork for answering that question. Let's fill it out. Why is church membership important?
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: Every semester I get this. Yes. I think it's a few things. Number one, we mentioned before, the one another commandments. So there's lots of these in the New Testament. Pray for one another, encourage one another, be devoted to one another, bear with one another, all these things, Romans 12, Colossians 3, Ephesians 4 and 5. Who do you do that with? I don't do that with a Christian in Japan, or in California. I don't even do it with a Christian in Dayton, though it's nearby my hometown here. I do it with my particular local church that I'm part of. I do those one another commands with those people in that place.
I think also, when you read verses like Hebrews 13:17, where it says, "Obey your leaders, and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls as those who will have to give an account, let them do it as a joy, not of groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you," those leaders, just really practically, have to know, "Well, who's that? Who am I overseeing? Who am I accountable for to God? To say, "Okay, those people. That's who you're accountable for."
Dr. Darrell Bock: So, part of what you're saying is, when people say, "Well, the Bible … I don't see a membership card on any of the pages of the Bible, or a picture of a membership card. I don't even see a visitor's card, for that matter. What you're saying is is that there are assumptions about the nature of community and the acknowledgment that I'm part of a community in the language that tells you something's going on here. Something intentional is going on here.
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: Yeah. We can call that an inference, from what we can deduce from the data that's there. But yes, I'd say Acts, especially seems to indicate there's this kind of assumption of joining in that kind of manner.
Dr. Darrell Bock: So, you have a specific recommendation about what membership is for, and how you prepare for it. But it sounds like you're much more open about how a particular community actually does their membership.
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: Yeah. I think there's wisdom. We call it a wisdom issue, in terms of a new member's class. For example, I'll just share my church's context, I serve as an elder at my church here in Cedarville. And we are … our process is that we … someone goes to a pastor at our church and says, "Hey. I want to join as a member." They would do, actually an application. Very short, but application of a testimony of faith, where they would serve in ministry, they foresee that service aspect as well. Some other question beyond that. They would then interview with a couple of the elders. They just ask them questions about what is the gospel? Share your testimony of faith and how you'd like to serve. Those main kinds of questions. Maybe some others. And then we … we're congregational in nature, in terms of our polity. We say the church votes on certain things. So, we have videos of church members joining, giving their testimony in that way. And the church hears those, and affirms those when they recognize the affirmation of the gospel in those videos. That doesn't have to be the way it is wholesale. There could be an extended class you offer. There could be, I'm coming down an aisle to talk to a pastor to want to join. There's a brief interview there, an ascertaining of a good testimony of faith, and to say, "Hey, church. This person wants to join the church." So there is a variety of ways that could be done.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Okay. Now, I imagine you also talked about the privileges, benefits, and responsibilities of membership, to some degree. So, let's sort our way through those. Let's talk about privileges and benefits, and then we'll talk about responsibilities, secondly. So, what does a person gain by being a member? Obviously they get a community with which they identify, and a group of people with whom I say, "I'm going to journey in my walk with Christ with these people." What else do you think they gain by membership?
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: Well, I would just reiterate that, Darrell, too, because I think … and I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on this, too … I think community is such an important facet of life that people were so connected via technology, and even you and I right now are connected in this kind of … it's a wonderful thing. But, real, genuine community, where I am really known and really loved.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Doing life together.
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: Yes. I think we just miss the beauty of being known in that kind of way. So, for example, today I was sharing in the theology class at our school here, about ways in which we can overcome sin and temptation. Here's a benefit, I think. Ways of overcoming sin and temptation. And the students had lots of ideas. I had ideas, as well. And the last slide I show in my PowerPoint for this lecture that I give, is it's a picture. And it's a picture of my wife and myself, and four other couples, all in my church, all in my Sunday School class, who I have a deep connection to. And, even today, when I was speaking about one facet of our relationship, I choked up. Tears came to my eyes. My students see a genuine love that I have for them, they have for me. And I want to tell them, "You must have that level of community." Hebrews 3 talks about exhorting one another day after day as long as it's called today so that we're not hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. And we desperately need that. And so I think, just to reiterate your point there to say that is so crucial as a benefit.
Dr. Darrell Bock: So, there's support, and there's presence, there's doing life together. There, at least is the opportunity or potential to consciously minister together in a group, as opposed as an individual. So that would seem to me to be a benefit. If you have to go through a difficult time, or an illness, or something like that, you've got support there. You should never be alone in a church.
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: Yes. And I'm sure you've heard it, too. How many times have I heard in my life, "Man, if it wasn't for the church, I don't think I could have gotten through this time in my life." I've heard that so many times, spoken. And the hospitality, the ministry, the moments of deep grief and sorrow where the church is there. It's massive. And, to your point as well, there's ministry synergy, we could say, right?
Dr. Darrell Bock: Right.
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: We could do a lot alone, but together we can accomplish more, more rapidly.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Fair enough. So let's transition a little bit here and talk about the responsibility. So that's what I receive. And one of the difficulties, I think, of church membership, and in fact, church attendance today is, is that people tend to view the church like a consumer. So, what is it doing for me? And they think about what they get from the church. But obviously, the other half of church membership that's important from a Christian point of view, is what you give to the church, and the way you view that relationship. So how do you talk about those kinds of things?
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: Yeah. Great question. And I want to point right away to texts like 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and 1 Peter 4. Those are three that discuss spiritual gifts. All right. So, 1 Peter 4, more briefly than the other two, but says, we're good stewards of God's very grace, if we use the gifts that God has given to us in a local church context. As we do that we are good stewards of God's very grace. So a call there to live and to serve in a certain kind of a way, whether it's speaking, whether it's serving. And so doing that for one another … And 1 Corinthians 12, also gets into the fact that there's this body imagery. There's the idea of you're a foot, you're a hand, you're an eye … all that. So when this is missing in the church, if I'm missing a body part, I notice. And tomorrow morning, I wake up and my right hand is gone, I will notice. And the same way. There are things in the church you will do that only you can do, that God's made you to do.
Dr. Darrell Bock: And so the idea of … and what you're alluding to in the 1 Corinthians passage and the Romans passage is the mention of gifts that we've been equipped. And that equipment … if I can say it this way, sounds almost cold … but that equipment's designed for service, to give to the church, to participate in the church, to be active, so that again, I'm not just going to church to receive, I'm going to the church to contribute, and to contribute to the edification of others.
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: Yes. I think you're right, Darrell, to say that a consumer mentality is ever present with us in this day and age. And we need to think through, not just what I get but what I give, in terms of this church and the way in which I can minister, and not expect maybe what Hollywood or Broadway can give us, but to say, this is a simple people who are gathered for a specific purpose. And I'm leveraging that and leaning into that as best I can.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Yeah. And I'd say … another thing I like to say is that our culture trains us to be people who are entitled, which creates a passivity in our engagement. And so we assess everything through the entitlement thing that feeds the consumer mentality that we have. If I sign on to be a member, and, as you say, to oversee and be overseen, then I am signing up to be accountable for the testimony that I have on behalf of my Lord and the community to which I am connected.
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: It's true. It's true. Yeah. I think that there's a connection here to be made between membership, the perseverance of our faith, and the reality that those are connected then means also, just by segue, thinking it through, if that doesn't occur, if there's a deviation all of a sudden from that discipleship to Jesus that's noticed, then the church says, "Okay. What do we have to do about this?" There's a definite connection there.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Okay. So there's … And the hard part of this, or a hard part of this … let's say it that way … is not just the accountability that it creates, but the accountability it creates in a culture and in a context and in a legal environment in which what the church expects is not necessarily what the culture at large expects. And the tensions that those generate, particularly with the individualism that we often have, and the idea of freedom, and sometimes even the idea of adult freedom and all those kinds of things. So, we've got a lot of things getting in the way here, if I can say it that way, in terms of how we view things. Which means that churches are left with the challenge of how they negotiate that reality when, at a legal level, the church may be doing things that if it challenged strictly in an American legal context might get the church into trouble. So, I hate to start here, but in some senses, at least at the reality of elders trying to oversee this process, that's a reality you have to cope with at the elder board level.
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: It is. And we have, and I think it's helpful. And I know at our church our elders and pastoral staff know, and we have some good lawyers in our church that are able to give us some guidance in that regard, as well, to know what kinds of documentation do we need, as you walk through all those things. It also does give rise to how you conceive of membership in this day and age. Do you say perhaps, part of the motivation for signing off certain documents is to say, here's our statement of faith, here's our church covenant, and recognizing that I am placing myself under this such that if I were to deviate from this, there could be a dismissal from the church if not repented of. So that has to be clarified. It is on our end. We know that that's a complication. And communication is paramount, definitely.
Dr. Darrell Bock: So again, we're seguing from membership to discipline. So how do you do this? Do you do this at the … as people are joining? One of the justifications for a new member's class in some context is to have this aspect of church membership and mutual accountability be as clear as possible by the time you're all done, so that a person understands membership has its privileges and its responsibilities, and one of those responsibilities is that I'm giving myself over to the oversight of a community, into whose hands I am entrusting myself. And that includes discipline within the family.
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: Yeah. I do think that, whether it's a class, or whether it's … for us, at our church, it's during our elder interview of that candidate for membership, you're right, Darrell, somewhere along the way that has to be very clearly communicated in terms of what you are signing up for, in a phrase there, when you come into this church as a member. What are you really coming into? And to be fully aware of all the realities that come with this church.
Dr. Darrell Bock: So, we've talked about this happening through a class, or through an interview or whatever. Let's talk about the other scenario, which is it doesn't happen, and you try and exercise church discipline, what might you be facing?
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: Yeah. I don't like that scenario. Makes me scared, just hearing that. Yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Yeah. Fair enough.
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: So I do know, if you went to, for example, 9Marks Ministries is one ministry. If you go to 9Marks.org and type in their search bar some legal ramifications of all this, they have great documents there to look at. I would encourage a pastor, elder board, as fast as I could. If this has not been done at your church, this needs to be done today. Because, if you're committed to membership and discipline, and you want to do those things biblically and correctly, and you get into that process, you have to be able to account for, not just church realities, but world realities.
Dr. Darrell Bock: That's right. Legal … and in come cases, legal realities.
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: It's true. It's a legality issue, so you gotta think through, again, the forms and the documents. This is a constant … it's not a one time thing, either. This is an on-goingly assessed process to insure, are we still within the guidelines of doing what we're doing in this regard? It's a process you're always going through.
Dr. Darrell Bock: So … And I make the point because a lot of people … There are a lot of communities that are very loosely structured. And by not having something like this in place, you might be automatically signing yourself into a situation where you don't exercise church discipline, because of the risks that you realize are involved in the complications of doing it. So, that produces a certain kind of community, or risks producing a certain kind of community. So I take it that one of the reasons you wrote this book was because … and you did your work in church discipline is because you regard church discipline as an important … and I'm gonna be technical … an ecclesiological responsibility, or important responsibility of the church.
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: Yes. Absolutely. Whereas church membership, I advocated before for it with some principles and some other texts, discipline is overtly textual. You can go to Matthew 18:15-20, and you go to 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, Romans 16, 2 Thessalonians 3, some others as well, where this issue is hit on. And so, I saw that, even with some trajectories in the Old Testament, to see some patterns of God and His character, and how this works, it's biblical. It is there. And to do it responsibly, to do it lovingly, which sounds …
Dr. Darrell Bock: We'll talk about that. That's actually something I want to focus on.
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: Yeah. 'Cause it sounds like an oxymoron. We're gonna do this act. Our culture's gonna say that act, in and of itself, is unloving.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Yeah. And it's inherently punitive. And it's more complicated than that.
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: Yes.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Okay. So let's go there. We've said that church discipline is important. Let me make one other point before we transition out, which is the reason you engage in church discipline is to make a statement about your community's character, and the holiness that everyone is striving for in the community.
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: Yes. It's to awaken the sinner to their need for repentance, and Corinthians says to keep the community of faith pure, to not let sin spread as it could.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Now obviously, one of the dangers of a community that is accountable like this, and that holds itself accountable is it can become a pretty grim congregation. Everyone's keeping an eye on everyone to make sure that they're dotting all their i's and crossing all their t's. And there's the danger of almost a kind of legalism setting in in the atmosphere, and almost an oppressive kind of environment. And we're almost shifting here to the nature of discipline and thinking about why we do it, to the psychology of what's involved in it, and how you go about it, which I think is as important a question to think through. Once you make your commitment to do church discipline, and I've sat on elder boards where we've exercised discipline and we've made those decisions, and in most cases we take a significant amount of time to make that decision, rather than simply reacting immediately, because part of what we want to set up is, assuming that the discipline achieves its goal of restoration, which is one of the points, at some point, you are in a position to know what that looks like on the other end.
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: Yeah. Couple questions there I hear. But just one, the psychological side of things in terms of that could really produce a grim kind of a church, I think that needs to get us back to our doctrine of sin, and thinking through what sin actually is. If we conceive of sin like Jeremiah 2:12 and 13 talk about it, where it says there "Be appalled oh heavens, my people committed two evils. They've forsaken this fountain of living water, and they've hewn out for themselves broken wells or cisterns that can hold no water." So the great evil, the great atrocity of sin is, we reject what is life giving and pure and good, for what is gonna produce death and destruction. If we can get back to that doctrine of sin, we can then start saying something like, "Discipline is done for progress and joy in the faith." It's not meant to produce a, as you said, a grim, austere kind of environment. It's meant to produce joy. It's like … and it's a bad line … but it's like your parent, when they disciplined you back when you were a kid, and they say, "I'm doing this because I love you," which you always feel as a kid like, "Aw, that's not true," but it's loving in actuality, and the long game is that we want joy in Jesus.
Dr. Darrell Bock: And it's restorative. It's designed to get things back in kilter.
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: Yes. Yes. Meant to realign what we've misaligned.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Yes.
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: Bring joy and whole-ism to the church in that way. So that vision needs to be cast more often, I think, as well.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Yeah. The reason I mentioned it, there's a passage that's always struck me pretty deeply. It's in Matthew 18. There are a series of texts in which it's clear we're gonna hold people accountable for how they walk. But the last part of that chapter is about the importance of forgiveness. And so, what you get is a feel that says, "Yes, we're gonna hold each other accountable, but we're also going to be … if I can say it this way … quick to be gracious, by which I mean not paying attention, it didn't happen. Not saying that. But quick to be restorative to the person who responds to the discipline that is being set forth.
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: Yeah. Such an important point. So important. I love pointing that out, 'cause as soon as Jesus is done saying that, Peter immediately says, "Well, how many times …"
Dr. Darrell Bock: Exactly right.
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: Seven? No, no, no. Seventy times seven. He goes through that whole parable. And, let's just say, you could easily flip the tables. This unrepentant sinner has sinned in an egregious way, ongoing way, and they've worked this process. We could just as easily sin by not allowing this person to repent, and return, and forgive them. That is just as egregious in the eyes of God as was the initial sin. That's a huge …
Dr. Darrell Bock: I like to have fun with that seventy times seven passage, 'cause I say, "Take out a yellow sheet of paper and number from 1 to 490. And when you hit 491, then you don't get to forgive anymore." Who does that? Nobody. Or another way to think about it is, in the context of Jewish tradition, three strikes and then you were out. So, you were to forgive three times. But on the fourth time, the obligation no longer existed. And in the parallel passage to that text it says, "Seven times in the day." So I'm going, "Okay. So that's six o'clock in the morning, please forgive me. Ten o'clock in the morning, please forgive me. One o'clock in the afternoon, please forgive me. Four o'clock in the afternoon, please forgive me. Six o'clock in the evening, please forgive me. Nine o'clock in the evening, please forgive me. [Yawn] Eleven fifty-nine, at the end of the day, please forgive me." And you're sitting here going, "You mean …?" Yes. You're to be quick to seek the restoration with the response.
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: Yes. And we can't know … well, maybe you know, Darrell. I don't know. You could let us know if this is the case. But in 2 Corinthians 2, there's somebody … and commentators kind of wax him.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Right. Who is it? Yeah.
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: … was that the guy in 1 Corinthians 5? Was it not? The point is, there's somebody that church is not forgiving. There's somebody they're not reconciling with where Paul said, "No, no, no. You reconcile. They've repented. Make this right." That's the … it's restorative. It's not merely punitive, as you said before. And the aim is for restoration and forgiveness.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Okay. So let's talk about the practical set of questions now that deal with being on an elder board where you have a situation, and I don't know how you all did it. When we did it, when we became aware of something that we felt like rose to that kind of level, we would discuss it, and … I've been in elder meetings … I remember very early on when I was an elder, being in an elder meeting in which detective information was being circulated among the board members because a spouse wanted to prove that the other spouse had been unfaithful, and hired a detective to do it, and sent the results to us and asked, "What are you gonna do?" And, wow. In fact, I remember commenting in the meeting that, when I was training in seminary to do church work, this was the last scenario that was in my mind when I agreed to do that. And yet, boom, there you are. So, let's talk a little bit about the elders' role … and I'm assuming an elder ruled church here of kind or another. But let's talk about the oversight aspect of this, and how it actually works itself out. What did you have to say about that dimension of this?
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: Yeah. And I come from an elder led congregational kind of a structure. Similar, but differences there, as well. But in Matthew 18, we're going to agree and see this as there's a one-on-one kind of reality that's done there to say you approach a brother or sister that's committed an offense, and it goes on to some witnesses. If they refuse that … You want them to receive it and be able to repent of that. But in our context, it was gone through a couple of those iterations of someone's approached them. They've stiff armed it. Next group, maybe some of the elders went with that person to be eye witnesses and talk to them, as well. Then, we sit. We had … when I was dealing with a discipline issue last year, even … there were 14 of us on the board, and just trying to work through and sift through the details that are there. And like you said, as well, Darrell, it was slow work. We heard from somebody “Ok, you went to them. What was said? How did that work? What was their response?” Almost all of us talked to this individual just in life, we'd see that person say, "Hey, how's this going for you? I heard this." They knew about that, and we would have conversations. There were lots of people. A few elders, though, were more concentrated, I guess, in their efforts to get at that. And eventually, after several confrontations we'd bring it and say, "This is what we're seeing. There's resistance. There's not really a movement toward repentance in this way. So, now we have to move toward this step. And that would move toward eventually telling the church, to say, "Hey. This has been going on. I want you guys, as you have ability and opportunities to approach this person and to plead with them, pray for them, ask them to turn from these things." And after a time of that, which was, again, some time, to allow it to take place, there still was no movement and no repentance. At that point we had to say, "Okay, now we had to move toward that point of what's called excommunication, removing them from membership of the church."
Dr. Darrell Bock: Yeah. And there are all kinds of things that come to mind here. The amount of time that it takes to do this, that you are deliberate and slow and sure about it. The worst thing you want to do is discipline someone who doesn't deserve it, and deal with whatever the array of factors might be that could be in play. So it's a very, very deliberative process. I think that's actually part of what the steps are in the Matthew passage, is to begin to make that point. The other thing that is hard here, and this is where contextualization makes some sense. In a big city, discipline in some senses is harder because there's always another place to go. But in a small community, where everybody knows everybody, and there might not be many church choices in town, discipline becomes a bigger deal, because there may not be any other place to go.
And then another thing that's behind this is, I like to say, the quality of your community is tested by the way in which the challenge of the possibility of discipline is viewed. That if the community functions as a community where people care about the relationships that they have, and the affirmation and the support they get from the community, then the idea of being rebuked by that community is something that gives someone pause. But if it doesn't function that way, then discipline may not matter, because the community hasn't generated the respect in response to be able to make that have a pop to it.
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: Yeah. No, I agree. It brings three things to mind real quick. Number one, I think theologically, Jesus says, "Let them be to you as a tax collector and a gentile," if they're come to the point of removal, I want to say, theologically, this person … there's not evidence, not fruit being borne that demonstrates what genuine Christianity looks like. For some they would say, "Well, I don't care what you think. I'm fine the way I am, and I'll go to this church down the road."
Point two, I would say be in communication with churches. If he is in the area, if they move out of the area, you can't be doing everything, but if you can, be communicating to say, just so you know …
Dr. Darrell Bock: Especially if it's in a category like being a predator or something like that. Then it's absolutely important that there be cross communication.
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: Yes. You have to be communicating with churches to let them know, this is what's going on. We dealt with this, just so you know. They just come, started attending there. And third, you are spot on, Darrell, I think, the idea of community, going back again to that real …
Dr. Darrell Bock: The starting point.
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: … knowing in the same community, loving you, now the loss is palpable. Now the degree which it said to us takes greater weight upon us, as opposed to just, "I'm a consumer. I'm back here doing my thing. Well, if you guys don't want me, I'll go here down the street and go to that church and consume there." It's a very different mentality.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Yeah. There are lots of elements. If the church is gonna be the church and function as the church and care for people as a church and wrap their arms around someone to help them and lift them up and support them, et cetera, be everything a church is supposed to be, supposedly the loss of that is a loss that is appreciated by the person who risks losing it.
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: Yeah. Agreed. I think if you were in the life of the church, that is a great loss.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Yeah. So, our time has rapidly slipped away from us here. Let me ask you one final question, and that's a terrible question at the end, 'cause it's so open ended. What haven't we covered?
Dr. Jeremy Kimble: Yeah. Oh, man. There's probably certain things. I just want people to be able to recognize that ecclesiology, doctrine of the church, is really crucial. Membership and discipline connect to one another, and that God has made a church for you and I to be involved in to such a degree that our lives are transformed by it, we couldn't imagine life without it, and just get a vision for the church, maybe like Bonhoeffer talked about in Life Together, thinking through, going beyond mere attendance, beyond mere singing and hearing the preaching, but to say, "We will be in one another's lives, do this for one another, and love one another in these kinds of ways." And if we do that, they will know us by our love for one another. So now the world sees a church displaying amazing sacrificial love, and that can change a lot of things.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Well thanks, Jeremy, for doing this. We really appreciate you helping us with this. And we thank you for being a part of The Table, and hope you'll be again with us soon.
About the Contributors
Dr. Bock has earned recognition as a Humboldt Scholar (Tübingen University in Germany), is the author of over 40 books, including well-regarded commentaries on Luke and Acts and studies of the historical Jesus, and work in cultural engagement as host of the seminary’s Table Podcasts. He was president of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) from 2000–2001, served as a consulting editor for Christianity Today, and serves on the boards of Wheaton College and Chosen People Ministries. His articles appear in leading publications. He is often an expert for the media on NT issues. Dr. Bock has been a New York Times best-selling author in nonfiction and is elder emeritus at Trinity Fellowship Church in Dallas. When traveling overseas, he will tune into the current game involving his favorite teams from Houston—live—even in the wee hours of the morning. Married for over 40 years to Sally, he is a proud father of two daughters and a son and is also a grandfather.