Title

That Their Souls May be Saved: Church Discipline as a Means to Repentance and Perseverance

Date of Award

5-2013

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Institution Granting Degree

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

Cedarville University School or Department

Biblical and Theological Studies

Keywords

Church discipline

Abstract

The thesis of this dissertation is that one purpose of church discipline is to serve as a declaration of potential eschatological judgment both to warn offenders of their need to repent, and, by implication, to exhort the church members to persevere in their faith. It argues from biblical, historical, and theological grounds that, while only God can make ultimate pronouncements concerning the salvific status of individuals, it must be acknowledged that Christ has given his church authority and, though not ultimate, it is to be used as a warning to unrepentant sinners and a means to restore them.

The opening chapter contains the introduction to the dissertation, beginning with a brief summary of pertinent background regarding church discipline. Following this background the thesis of this work will be presented, namely, that one purpose of church discipline is to serve as a declaration of potential eschatological judgment both to warn offenders of their need to repent, and, by implication, to exhort the church to persevere in its faith. Following the articulation of this thesis will be an attempt to define terms such as "church discipline," "eschatological judgment," and "perseverance of the saints."

Chapter two focuses on the biblical teaching regarding church discipline and its relationship to divine judgment and the perseverance of the saints. One can see that while there is a degree of discontinuity that one must take into consideration when approaching continuity and discontinuity between the OT and NT, there are also OT trajectories that point toward the practice of ecclesial discipline in the NT church. Three such trajectories will be analyzed: First, this study will investigate Adam and Eve's exile from Eden for their disobedience. Second, expulsion from the camp of Israel for various infractions of the Mosaic Law will be considered. Finally, this chapter will take note of Israel's continual disobedience and eventual exile to Babylon.

This OT foundation leads to a more comprehensive understanding of NT discipline. While there are a number of texts one could consider this work will focus primarily on five: Matthew 16:13–19, 18:15–20, 1 Corinthians 5:1–13, Galatians 6:1, and 2 Thessalonians 3:6–15. Each of these texts will be examined thoroughly in order to rightly understand the data concerning church discipline, while also noting the various implications for eschatological judgment and perseverance. Other relevant texts regarding ecclesial discipline will be noted throughout this work.

Chapter three contains a historical analysis of church discipline, demonstrating that specific figures from church history conceived of discipline in eschatological and soteriological terms, similar to the way in which it is described in this dissertation. The chapter will begin with a brief history of church discipline leading up to the Reformation. After this brief survey three figures will receive attention: Martin Luther, Balthasar Hubmaier, and Jonathan Edwards. These figures were chosen for specific reasons. Luther is a critical figure in that he serves in a transitional time from the medieval period to the Reformation era, asserting that church discipline, not penance, is a Scriptural practice. Hubmaier is an influential Anabaptist, a movement that was well known for its discipline, making him worthy of study for this particular work. Finally, Edwards, while not often noted for his ecclesiology or disciplinary measures, is an extremely influential theologian in America and dealt with a number of significant disciplinary cases.

Chapter four will present a theological synthesis based on the conclusions of the previous two chapters. While the connection between discipline, eschatological judgment, and the perseverance of the saints will be alluded to in previous sections, here is where the connections will be made explicit. This chapter will also take into consideration how church membership factors into this discussion, noting the responsibilities incumbent on those who become part of a covenant community to exhort one another to avoid sin and pursue righteousness (cf. Heb 3:12–13; 10:23–25). Emphasis will again rest on the fact that while church discipline is a warning of potential eschatological judgment, the main goal of discipline is to call sinners to repentance and to serve as a means of perseverance for the people of God.

The final chapter of this dissertation will conclude with the practical implications this study yields for local churches. Pastors of local congregations must understand that they are stewards of the gospel, and as such they are called to shepherd their people, and this includes a faithful practice of church discipline. A full-orbed application of ecclesial discipline requires faithful preaching and teaching, administration of regenerate church membership, and personal attention directed toward all people within the church in order to assess their spiritual vitality. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)

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