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When I purchase an appliance, or when my children were smaller and I purchased a gift, such as a bicycle, I dreaded the words, “Some assembly required.” For one thing, I am not the most patient of people and I just want to plug in the dryer, or put a bow on the gift, and let my child take the bike for a ride. Two, I did not inherit my father’s “know-how” when it comes to either tools or simple mechanics. I therefore lack confidence to “put it all together.” Three, too often the instructions were written in another country by someone unfamiliar with English. Figuring out what they are trying to explain can be as complicated as understanding how A can possibly be connected to B. Finally, usually the picture in the instructions is a far cry from reality. At the end of the task, I am often left wondering why I have two extra screws and three extraneous washers. More than once, I have sent a daughter off on her bike a bit fearful that it might fall apart. And so it can be when it comes to congregational exercise of church discipline. Assembly is required, and this can be daunting.

Recently, my wife watched a mini-series—Death Comes to Pemberly—based on characters from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I only saw a small portion of it, but it proved to be apropos. A recent murder had taken place and an arrest made that caused a stir in Pemberly. The following Sunday, the local parish church was filled to overflowing. The minister knew that the crowd had come expecting to hear a sermon filled with details about the scandal. He therefore began, tongue-in-cheek, commending them for their obvious piety evidenced by gathering in such a large number on the Lord’s Day. Many began to bow their heads in shame while one ditsy young lady whispered to the person sitting next to her, “I don’t think he knows what has happened.” At least she was honest. She wanted to hear some juicy details, not to hear God’s word. Church discipline can have a similar effect. Sometimes an announcement such as, “A family matter needs to be addressed at the Table tonight” can draw the merely curious, and yet assembly is required (see 1 Corinthians 5:4–5).

As we’ve seen these past few weeks, the Lord Jesus Christ has entrusted, equipped, and empowered the congregation to carry out its responsibility of church discipline. When there is unrepentance, then, at some point, the congregation must be informed for the sake of accountability, for assistance, including the prayers of fellow church members. But when the congregation refuses to gather, this failure to assemble weakens the congregational impact in helping to restore the sinning member.

It is lamentable that our quarterly members meetings are rarely attended by more than 65% of covenanted church members, which means that about 100 members are somewhat in the dark about important matters concerning their spiritual family. The percentage is sometimes worse on “regular” Sunday evenings. But if the church will function as God intends, assembly is required.

Like me and appliances, sometimes church members are impatient with the process of meaningful church life, and they simply want to “get on with” the worship and the ministries and the fellowship. But we dare not ignore God’s instructions for the less desirable matter of church discipline. If we fail here, we will eventually wish we had paid attention and made sure we had fully assembled with all the parts. Sometimes, congregational discipline falls short of its biblical picture. But when church members more fully assemble to carry out its responsibility, the results will be closer to God’s diagram than when the burden is shouldered by a smaller portion of the membership. Though you and I might often feel inadequate to carry out such a difficult task, when the congregation assembles, the combined giftedness, joint concern, and corporate wisdom equips us to “put it all together” as God intends. Further, since God’s instructions for our responsibility are clear, we can gather with the confidence that the assembly will honour the Lord, help the church, and hopefully restore the wayward member. In other words, though the instructions of church discipline are definitely foreign and unintelligible to those outside the church, they are more than clear to the church that assembles.

Our studies in 1 Corinthians 5 (and what follows in chapter 6) are vital for the health of our church. A book could and probably should be written addressing all the issues related to church discipline from these chapters, but, for now, let me remind you that, as members of Brackenhurst Baptist Church, we have a weighty responsibility and God holds us accountable to fulfil it.

Though perhaps many do not read these articles, please use opportunities you have to spread the word that according to God’s word, when it comes to church membership, assembly is required. We cannot faithfully nor fruitfully function without doing so.

See you Sunday,