Catechesis and Discipline

Ben Myers has written a marvelous post entitled “On catechesis and catastrophe”. He tells, in his usually brilliant and beautiful way, the story about how his mother received her driver’s licence from a charmed police officer without taking a driving test, and proceeded to wreck two cars that same week. He uses this to illustrate his concern over pastors who administer baptism on a lowest-common-denominator bases, without teaching the would-be baptized about what their faith entails. Just as the policeman should not have given Myers’ mother a licence without the usual examination, he says, so too should the church not baptize people without verifying and strengthening their faith, lest their officially approved faith rot or break from lack of support or understanding.

I find that this resonates very deeply in me, not least because I still have the Harmony resolution rattling around in my thoughts. The proponents of the resolution have outlined a set of beliefs regarding church membership that throw the doors of the church wide open, and promise inclusion and tolerance as cardinal virtues. But in addition to finding such views historically un-Anabaptist, I’ve also been very personally uncomfortable with these particular beliefs. I find it difficult to see how the church could remain strong and robust if it admits to itself members who may be at cross-purposes with the church. I do not see how such a perspective allows for the practices of church discipline outlined in the Gospels and the Epistles. When I read Jesus telling his would-be followers to count the cost of discipleship before beginning, and denying the requests of would-be disciples to say goodbye to family or bury a parent before following Jesus, I can’t help but think we’re doing a disservice to those we vacuum up into the church on the first sign of interest.

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7 comments on “Catechesis and Discipline

  1. Tony Hunt says:

    Amen. Yet as you noted on his blog, the Anglicans aren’t exactly very good at discipline in the first place.

    • Theophilus says:

      The sense I get is that mainline Protestants in general aren’t hot on church discipline, and justify this through a belief in open fellowship more often than not. Alternatively, Roman Catholics shirk discipline by burying their heads in the sand (unless it’s about abortion), and evangelicals get around discipline by being “seeker sensitive.”

      • Tony Hunt says:

        I think you’re right. I get some hope in that even 75 years ago Anglicans were far more restrictive in Eucharistic practice; so it’s not a necessarily inherent weakness in our church. Yet we still have much to learn from you Anabaptists.

  2. Zac says:

    I could be way off base here, but is the reason church discipline is rarely practiced enough simply that there is a fear that we may in fact be wrong in our disciplining? I agree in theory that discipline is necessary for the church, but I worry at the fact that, even from my own personal experience, church discipline is often used as a way to exclude from communion or membership those who are precisely challenging certain status quo practices that actually go against the gospel. And so we become the Galatians telling Paul he is the foolish one.

    I’m not saying that therefore discipline is outdated or unnecessary, but rather that in order to not be caught in a place where we as the church are disciplining wrongly, we need to, on a case by case basis (some cases are clearer than others), come to an agreement as to what the Gospel demands, pray and discern more, talk more, and then proceed with discipline if necessary. My worry is that this process is too often neglected or co-opted to serve demands that are precisely at a cross-roads with the Church.

    • Theophilus says:

      I think you’re absolutely right. I think that the grounds for discipline are also eroded by having no entrance standards – that is, offering baptism and communion to anyone who wants them without any form of discernment. After all, how can you disfellowship someone who meets the church’s entrance requirements with any kind of integrity?

  3. Kampen says:

    Many of us find the use of the ban in Anabaptism to be absolutely abhorrent. It is, of course, because of the rigorous practice of believer’s baptism that the ban made sense and was necessary. Regarding “throwing the doors open” thrust of the Harmony motion, I don’t think that is quite right. Perhaps in the written document, but when the people I have talked to (LGTBQ and their friends and family) the Harmony motion is driven by a cry of suffering. This cry calls us to listen to and address these hurts, which does not necessarily result in granting full membership to all without rigorous catechism or whatever. It’s not a “throw open the doors” move but a let’s re-discern with the Spirit because something is obviously not right when the church is hurting people. It is not outcome oriented, but Spirit oriented. We do not know whether the church will throw open the doors or not. And we need to find a way of getting past our fear of certain results so we can actually listen to each other.

    • Theophilus says:

      I agree that the intended thrust of the Harmony resolution is, as you say, driven by a cry of suffering rather than an open-the-gates impulse. But the language of the resolution implies that the problem with the current state of affairs within MC Canada is that the denomination has inadequately open fellowship. Even if that’s not actually the primary concern of the Harmony group and its supporters, framing the issue this way can have very significant consequences. I am reminded of the theotokos controversy, in which a Christological argument was fought in the realm of Mariology and thus led to the Marian cult within the Catholic and Orthodox churches. This precedent makes me uncomfortable with the Harmony resolution. Even if what it proposes to do is the right thing, it’s arguing for them with dangerous reasoning that has great potential to corrode the church’s integrity as a faithful body.

      I am much more comfortable with what I’ve seen of the “Being a Faithful Church” process for this reason. It’s grappling with the question of LGBTQ acceptance directly, without a priori undermining other beliefs and practices of the church. If it chooses to push to expand the openness of fellowship within MC Canada, it can do so directly and explicitly.

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