God Redeeming His Bride
A Handbook for Church Discipline
Robert K Cheong
Christian Focus; 309 pages (including appendices)
To say that Cheong has written one of the greatest modern books regarding church discipline can be simultaneously overwhelming and underwhelming. The superlatives seem impressive, but with few churches practicing discipline, and even fewer people wanting to hear about it, it’s not exactly a competitive field. However, don’t allow what appears to be limited demand diminish this book’s great supply.
Dr. Cheong has written a thorough and careful book, including many notes (footnotes!) with Scripture references, book citations and explanations. He does not simply dive into the “how to’s” of church discipline, but doesn’t shy away from practical advise either. In his appendices (which I usually don’t include in my page count, but felt I needed to because of their length, but also quality of content), he provides examples, further points of discussion, and even thoughts on legality. I can’t imagine a pastor or church not being helped by this book.
But Pastor Cheong’s book is hardly a formulaic “how to” guide. It’s the work of a pastor. Cheong begins the book by examining the nature of a redeeming God. Redemption is God’s work. By seeking to incorporate his understanding of church discipline from the whole Bible, and not just a couple select passages in the New Testament, Cheong produces the following definition of church discipline:
God’s ongoing, redeeming work through His living Word and people as they fight the fight of faith together to exalt Christ and protect the purity of His bride.
This perspective on God’s redeeming work, and the church’s loving participation with one another helps protect church discipline from becoming a “procedure.” Cheong warns of thinking of “entering church discipline” or even the labels “informal” and “formal” church discipline. Rather, we should see that the Lord is constantly in the process of disciplining those whom He loves. Therefore, as we apply Matthew 18 (which Cheong in no way endorses evading) our focus is not upon a procedure (and “getting it right”) but upon God–the One who works for the redemption of His bride. Cheong instructs in each chapter but also brings along a couple–John and Kathy–for illustrative purposes…allowing us to observe potential application.
Pastor Cheong is part of the Sojourn Community Church…the “mother church” of the Sojourn Network. Our church is also a part of the Sojourn Network. While I was not given the book, nor was I asked to review it, I recognize that my “objectivity” is probably clouded some by my affiliation. Yet, I couldn’t help but rejoice as I saw how Cheong unites being “missional” with the concept of “church discipline.”
The word “missional” is a buzzword that has quite possibly lost all meaning. Many people focus the word on social engagement only or just on professions of conversion. Everything from feeding the homeless, to buying toys for single parent children, to giving away prizes at church so the place is packed to hear a gospel presentation gets dubbed as “missional.” But such a view of mission, in isolation, is short-sighted.
If God’s mission is the redemption of His people, and if that redemption includes not only their coming to salvation, but also their growth in holiness, then the church should have the same mission. To simply “get people saved” is not all that God intends in His mission. The purity is of the church is directly proportional to the power of her mission. The salt should be potent. The light must shine brightly.
This does not mean a church advocates a hardened, self-righteous view encourages harsh methods. Nothing could be further from the truth. The gospel must fuel our methods and be the focus of our hearts. Cheong establishes a careful, loving, thorough approach to church discipline that flows from the redemptive heart of our Lord. Cheong’s book does not create an overly introspective view–where the church only worries about her own–but calls the church to recognize her ability to call out into the world only comes from being distinct from the world.
If your church has redefined Matthew 18 in fear that it would hinder your ability to be missional, you will be challenged by this book. If you have been turned off to church discipline because you’ve seen overly harsh and distorted examples in the past, this book will provide a greater alternative than simply abandoning the practice. If you’ve been through the pain and sorrow of church discipline, this book will encourage you to keep on God’s path for redemption.