Rediscovering the Doctrines of Church Membership and Discipline is about discovering exactly WHAT the love of God is all in the context of why it is important to be a part of a church fellowship. His primary thesis is that we (the world and many Christians) have made love into an idol that serves us and so redefined love into something that never imposes judgments, conditions or binding attachments. Such a love is NOT the love which God shows and gives. God’s love brings BOTH salvation and judgment. In other words, God’s love creates and affirms us, but it’s purpose is so that we can glorify God. And t is this model which we MUST take into our Church structures.
Leeman expresses it brilliantly on pg122. He writes:
God’s love is a boomerang that natural man loves and despises. We love the embrace of the boomerang as it flies outward; we despise the demand of the boomerang as it calls us back to loving him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. We also despise the suggestion that his love will cause him to judge…. God’s gospel is a boomerang that natural man loves and despises. We love the announcement of forgiveness and love through no merit of our own; e despise the call to repent, forsake everything and follow Jesus….God’s church is a boomerang that natural man loves and despises. We love the idea of a warm fellowship that will embrace us; we despise the fellowship’s requirement that we abandon the familiar blandishments of family and friends and submit to its oversight and disciplines.
Leeman goes on to argue (correctly in my opinion) that the purpose of God’s love for us, is that we might glorify and worship God.
This also should have an effect on HOW we meet. Leeman takes great pains to tell us that the ‘how we meet together’ is not a periphery issue but a main one. He argues on pg 226 that Churches need boundaries and structures and authority. It is the church’s responsibility to discipline those who deviate form the gospel. For to do so is LOVING! Writing on 1 Corinthians 5, Leeman says:
Paul calls on the Corinthian Church members to protect the gospel by no longer identifying themselves with the man committing a sin that even non-christians would question…[the church] is responsible on Jesus’ behalf to ensure that this man is not allowed to publicly identify himself with Jesus…. They should exclude him…. Paul cannot know for certain that this man is not a christian but the church needs to speak for Jesus. Since the man is unrepentantly acting like a non-christian, Paul, in love, exhorts them to treat him like one by removing him.
This will be a difficult book to read for many. It blows the idea of the exclusive, non-confrontational love which has become the hallmark of our culture (as well as many Christian denominations) out of the water. What Leeman expounds here is not a harsh love, but an incredible powerful love which transforms, changes and leads to intimacy with God.
And it is this ‘love’ that should be reflected in our church membership and in our church discipline. Which is why it is important for us an believers to be a part of the Church. The Church itself in its structure and outworking should demonstrate the love of God. This can be seen clearly in the nine reasons why, for Leeman, we should submit to a local church:
1. Identifies us with Christ
2. Distinguishes us from the world
3. Guides us into the righteousness of Christ by presenting a standard of personal and corporate righteousness
4. Acts as a witness to non-christians
5. Glorifies God and enables us to enjoy his glory
6. Identifies us with Christ’s people
7. Assists us in living the christian life through the accountability of brothers and sisters in the faith
8. Makes us responsible for specific believers
9. Protects us from the world, the flesh, and the devil
This book is not exhaustive in its study. But it is a great framework and it highlights how badly we need to have a theology, a doctrine of Church Membership and discipline which is rooted in the Doctrine of God.
I highly recommend this book.