In the days in which we live, any Church which seeks to exercise ecclesiastical discipline in accordance with Scripture will be condemned by many. Even some who profess to believe in it show that they do not like it in practice. The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland has suffered many accusations over its exercise of discipline, from the beginning of her existence until today. Things like this are said:
- “You are being judgmental.” This is said to be contrary to the commandment of the Saviour: “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matt. 7:1).
- “You are being self-righteous.” No one is without sin, including the office-bearers of the Church, and therefore, it is argued, no one is in a position to take to do with other people’s sins. The Saviour’s dealings in the case of the woman caught in adultery, recorded in John 8:3-11), is claimed in support of this argument. “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:7).
- “You are being legalistic.” Christians are not under the burdensome commandments of law, but under the easy yoke of grace. Therefore, so the argument goes, they should not be brought under the heavy hand of church discipline.
- “You are being too strict.” Almost all agree that for the most serious of cases there must be discipline. But it is said that the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland is ready to discipline for the smallest of matters. It is too precise, it is said, to hold office-bearers to a literal six-day creation or to still believing that the pope is the antichrist, and therefore latitude should be allowed in these so-called less important matters. To insist on them is to be like the Pharisees, the accusation goes, who would “strain at a gnat” (Matt. 23:24).
- “You are taking away people’s rights to liberty of conscience.” This was the chief argument in 1989, when the Associated Presbyterian Churches was formed. To discipline a ruling elder for attending a papist mass, it was said, was to interfere with his liberty of conscience.
- “You are out of step with other churches.” They do not discipline people for using public transport on the Lord’s Day. They do not discipline people for dancing. They do not discipline women for having short hair or refusing to cover their heads in public worship. What makes the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland so different, they want to know, that it should discipline for these things? By doing this, you are preventing unity among the Churches.
- “You are being unrealistic.” It may have been possible to exercise church discipline in the past, in days when everything was much more authoritarian, and on the whole people accepted that way of doing things. But nowadays, it is argued, people are more independent, they think for themselves, and you cannot expect them any longer to submit to the authority involved in discipline. Today, it is said, people even within churches live by the principle “Live and let live”, so you cannot exercise discipline as you did in the past.
- “You are driving people out of the Church.” By refusing to relax and change with the times, the people of today are not going to stay in the Church. Numbers attending church are decreasing all the time, and continuing with discipline does nothing but hasten the decline.
None of these accusations should discourage any Church from maintaining proper Biblical discipline. It is the Word of God, not human criticism, that must guide the Church. Therefore, the faithful administration of Biblical discipline is the Church’s unavoidable duty.