What About the Sheep?

I got an email from a friend recently, who will currently remain nameless, as he does not typically like to draw attention to himself. He said some things in it that were very important. I will paraphrase a bit, and add some thoughts of my own.

The work of church discipline can be divided into the “easy” part and the “hard” part. In the FV controversy, the easy part was passing the study committee report in 2007. Why was it easy? Because it was comfortably hypothetical, and mostly anonymous. Sure, there were names mentioned, but since the report did not have judicial teeth (except insofar as “due weight” was to be given to it, something that all the FV-friendly Presbyteries have ignored), it was something easy to pass.

The hard part comes when individuals are singled out for the judicial process, whether by their own initiative, as in Leithart’s case, or by some other way. Now kicks in the “brotherhood” problem, and this is what makes everything so much more difficult. It is very hard for teaching elders in particular (and this underscores the essential role that ruling elders play in any disciplinary proceedings) to be a part of disciplinary procedures that involve friends of theirs. In fact, it is very easy to play the coward in this regard. The consequences of discipline are oftentimes loss of friendship (because the person undergoing discipline tends to take everything personally), and friction among the other brothers. For teaching elders in the PCA, whose membership is not in the local church, but in the Presbytery, the Presbytery IS their church.

In all of this, who gets forgotten? The sheep! If there is false doctrine being promulgated in one of our churches, it is the sheep who are getting poisoned. If we would remember the sheep in cases of doctrinal discipline of teaching elders, we would be much less likely to take things personally, and we would be much more diligent about following through, because of the terrible consequences of allowing sheep to be poisoned. Instead, people who are concerned about the sheep tend to get lectured about how they’re not being charitable towards the teaching elders. This really ought to stop. We could turn the whole thing around and ask the question: what about charity towards those who are concerned about the sheep? What about not jumping on the 9th commandment as a knee-jerk reaction to cases of doctrinal commitment? How about assuming that such people are trying to ensure that the sheep aren’t getting poisoned?