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The Need for Discipline
VirtueOnline-News ^ | 6/01/2006 | The Rev. Oliver R. Vietor

Posted on 06/02/2006 7:29:49 PM PDT by sionnsar

"We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ." 2 Corinthians 10:5

by Oliver R. Vietor
June 1, 2006


This paper is for biblically faithful Christians within the Episcopal Church. It is intended to clarify the issues at stake as we approach General Convention and to strengthen our resolve. The argument centers on the need for us to exercise discipline in accordance with the biblical requirement. The conclusion is that we should plan to separate from the Episcopal Church after General Convention this summer unless the Primates make a determination that the Episcopal Church has repented of its false teaching.

After stating the premise that the Episcopal Church's false teaching requires our response, the paper considers the biblical teaching on the exercise of discipline and the reasons why discipline is necessary in this case. Then the paper addresses the process of discipline that is already begun and the next step in this process, which is separation from the Episcopal Church. Finally, the paper weighs the decision that we must make and encourages us to follow Jesus Christ.


We believe in the Lordship of Jesus Christ and in the authority of his word, and so we believe that in holy scripture he teaches us the truth about human sexuality. This truth is under attack in the Episcopal Church, and so Christ's authority and his Lordship are also under attack. If one rejects his teaching on sexuality, then one rejects his authority, and if one rejects his authority, then one rejects his Lordship. On the other hand, if one accepts his Lordship, then one accepts his authority and consequently his teaching on sexuality as well. This is why we must respond to the Episcopal Church's false teaching.

Does the Lord teach us how to respond to such attacks? Yes, he does. Once again, therefore, if we accept his Lordship, then we must also accept his teaching on the exercise of discipline. The difficulty is that we do not fully agree on what this teaching is and what it requires of us. Presumably, if we did agree, then we would accept this teaching and act upon it. We are, therefore, seeking the mind of Christ about how to respond to the Episcopal Church's false teaching.

The Biblical Teaching on the Exercise of Discipline

Let us consider the following passages of holy scripture. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus teaches on the exercise of discipline within the church.

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17)

Jesus teaches, first, that we are to confront our brother who sins, and second, that we are to confront him privately, and if he does not listen, publicly, and third, that if he will not listen, even after repeated warnings, then finally he is to be excommunicated from the church. This discipline is necessary not only for the sake of the individual, but also for the sake of the entire body, as the following makes clear.

If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. (Matthew 5:29-30; cf. Matthew 18:8-9)

The salvation of the body of the church requires the excommunication of unrepentant members. We see the same urgency, and the same requirement of separation from those who persist in sinning, throughout Paul's letters.

I appeal to you, brethren, to take note of those who create dissensions and difficulties, in opposition to the doctrine which you have been taught; avoid them. (Romans 16:17)

I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber - not even to eat with such a one. (1 Cor. 5:11)

We command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. (2 Thess. 3:6)

If any one refuses to obey what we say in this letter, note that man, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. (2 Thessalonians 3:14)

As for a man who is factious, after admonishing him once or twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is perverted and sinful; he is self-condemned. (Titus 3:10-11)

This same requirement is maintained in John's letters as well.

If we say we have fellowship with [God] while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:6-7)

If any one comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into the house or give him any greeting; for he who greets him shares his wicked work. (2 John 10-11) [Compare 3 John 5, 8: Beloved, it is a loyal thing you do when you render any service to the brethren....we ought to support such men, that we may be fellow workers in the truth.]

These passages demonstrate that we are required to exercise discipline. Therefore, failure to exercise discipline is just as much an act of disobedience as the act that called for discipline in the first place. Indeed, failure to exercise discipline is participation in that same act of disobedience.

Discipline consists in confronting the brother who sins, warning him clearly, and then, if he does not repent, separating from him. Discipline is necessary for the sake of the brother, in order to impress on him the gravity of the situation and so lead him to repentance. It is also necessary for the sake of the body, in order to protect it from the corrosive example of the individual member and from participation in his sinful behavior. Finally, discipline is necessary for the sake of the world, in order to maintain the integrity and clarity of the church's witness to the world.

The Reasons Why Discipline is Necessary

The current crisis in the Episcopal Church requires the exercise of discipline for the following reasons.

1. The decisions to approve of Gene Robinson's election and of blessing same-sex relations were made by the entire church gathered together in council. These are not the errors of one bishop only but the considered position of the house of bishops.

2. These decisions were made despite the objections of the Episcopal Church's own Theology Committee, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates of the Communion, the Anglican Consultative Council, and the Lambeth Conference.

3. A bishop is consecrated for the whole church, and so Gene Robinson's consecration affects the entire church. This is not a local or indifferent matter.

4. The biblical witness is uniform, clear, and strong on the subject of sexual morality. For example, St. Paul teaches that sexual sin is particularly heinous (1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:18) and warns that those who engage in sinful sexual practices will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21).

5. The biblical teaching on sexuality is tied closely with other teachings, including human nature (Genesis 1:27; 2:24), the sinful passions of the flesh (Galatians 5:16; James 1:14; 1 Peter 1:14; 2 Peter 2:18), and the relationship of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:32). Therefore, passages dealing with sexual morality cannot be dismissed without tearing the entire fabric of scripture.

6. The vast majority of the Anglican Communion and the rest of the Christian world has responded strongly against these developments within the Episcopal Church. Indeed, these developments contradict the teaching and practice of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

7. These developments within the Episcopal Church have been in the making for at least four decades. There is a clear and determined movement away from traditional belief toward a complete revision of the faith. This movement is deeply ingrained in the life of the church, in its seminaries, and in its priesthood.

8. Other means of influence have already proved ineffective. Those who support the revisionist movement are fully committed to their cause and have not been swayed by theological debate.

9. The revisionist movement will continue in the future if left unchecked and will become more and more extreme and thoroughgoing.

For these reasons, it is clear that the strategy of reforming the Episcopal Church from within has not worked in the past and will not work in the future. We cannot change people's hearts; only God changes hearts through the work of the Holy Spirit. We need to trust God's way of doing this. He requires us to exercise discipline. Our part is to obey in faith, hope, and love.

The Process of Discipline

In fact, the process of exercising discipline has already begun. In accordance with the pattern set forth in the Gospel, the Episcopal Church has been confronted regarding the actions taken at its General Convention in 2003 and warned repeatedly that it must repent of its false teaching. For its part, the Episcopal Church has indicated that it can respond officially only through its General Convention. In charity, therefore, we are waiting until the next General Convention (June 13-21, 2006) for the Episcopal Church to make its decision either to walk with the Anglican Communion or to walk apart.

If the Episcopal Church decides to walk with the Anglican Communion, then it must demonstrate this decision with corresponding actions. In other words, for a decision to walk with the Anglican Communion to be substantive, the Episcopal Church must clearly repent in both word and deed of its false teaching. Anything less than such full and clear repentance will constitute a de facto decision to walk apart from the Anglican Communion. In our determination of the sufficiency of any actions that the Episcopal Church may take, we should be guided by the determination of the Primates. Unless the Primates make a determination that the Episcopal Church has repented, we should hold that it has not.

We should wait not more than three months after General Convention for such a determination to be made. We should wait longer only if within the three months, the Primates set a date to meet that falls after the three months have passed. In this case, we wait for the determination they make at that time. Three months allows enough time for us to consider the situation but not so much that we lose the energy to address it. This timeframe also allows for a regular stewardship cycle within a newly-constituted parish so that we may continue in mission.

If the Episcopal Church decides to walk apart from the Anglican Communion, then we will face the decision either to complete the process of discipline already begun or not. In other words, we will have to decide whether or not to separate from the Episcopal Church.

The possibility of extending the process of discipline further, thus delaying this decision, seems indistinguishable from the failed strategy of reform from within and is thus unacceptable. Delaying the decision to separate would also weaken both the resolve and the ability of the Anglican Communion to address the crisis. It is very possible that the Communion itself will fragment irreparably, as the Primates warned in October 2003, "if Gene Robinson's consecration proceeds....the future of the Communion itself will be put in jeopardy." We need to do our part in strengthening and preserving the Communion as a whole.

The final step in the process of discipline is separation from the unrepentant member. What degree of separation is necessary to fulfill the biblical requirement? In the passages cited above, it is clear that both material and sacramental separation are required so that we might "have nothing to do with" the member who has walked apart. In the first place, therefore, we must not support the Episcopal Church financially. In the second place, we must not share communion with the Episcopal Church. This means that we must not be in communion with a bishop who is in communion with the Episcopal Church.

In order to separate from the Episcopal Church, we should make plans to protect our buildings and assets. We should form a relationship with a new bishop who is willing to provide oversight. Then we should meet with our bishop and tell him that we no longer recognize his authority and will not support the Episcopal Church financially. At this point, we have fulfilled the biblical requirement. If the bishop undertakes legal proceedings or any other hostile actions against us, then we decide how to respond and whether or not to file countersuits (which is a separate decision).

Some raise the objection that sacramental separation is not required because of the principle that the unworthiness of the minister does not hinder the effect of the sacraments. This principle is stated in Article 26 of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion (BCP p.873). However, as the Article itself makes plain, this principle says nothing about the requirement of exercising discipline, which remains intact. In other words, the objection misses the point. At stake is not the validity of the sacraments but the example that is set by participating in them with false teachers. Such an example serves to condone their false teaching and teaches others to do the same.

As has been shown in the passages cited above, condoning sin is participation in that same sin. If we share communion with false teachers, then we are teaching others that they may follow that false teaching, and so we become false teachers as well. We need to remember our Lord's word, given with his teaching on the exercise of discipline, that "whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea" (Matthew 18:6).

Weighing our Decision

If now we agree on our Lord's teaching on the exercise of discipline, then still we must accept it and act upon it. Do we have the will to follow his will for our lives? On the one hand, if we exercise this discipline, then our church will be changed in ways that we cannot fully predict. If we separate from the Episcopal Church, then we are answering the call to the high standard of discipleship. On the other hand, if we do not exercise this discipline, then our church will continue to be changed in the direction of the Episcopal Church. If we do not separate, then we are participating in the false teaching of the Episcopal Church.

One of the strongest factors weighing in this decision is the possibility of losing our buildings. They are the heritage of generations of faithful Christians and should be a major resource in the mission of God's people for generations to come. Certainly, none of us wants to lose our buildings and we should try to keep them. However, our focus needs to be on God and on obedience to him. Consider the following passage.

The woman said to him, "Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship." Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." (John 4:19-24)

The woman says that she and her family have always worshipped on this mountain (in this building), and so she resists Jesus' call. In response, Jesus tells her that if the building is her chief concern, then she is not worshipping God even there! God the Father seeks those who will worship him in spirit and in truth; this is worship that does not focus on a building. If we would worship God, then we must be willing to lose our buildings if necessary.

For many of us, this is a hard word to take. Never before have we stepped out this far in faith. We question if this is the right course of action. And so our will to follow is shaken. The first disciples felt the same way.

Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever." (John 6:53-58)

Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him. Jesus said to the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God." (John 6:60, 66-69)

Like St. Peter, the rock, let us follow through on what we have come to know; let us follow him whom we have known. God is faithful, and he will raise us up at the last day.


In order to fulfill the biblical requirement on the exercise of discipline within the church, we should plan to separate from the Episcopal Church after General Convention this summer unless the Primates make a determination that the Episcopal Church has repented of its false teaching.

--The Rev. Oliver R. Vietor is associate rector of Christ Church of the Ascension in Paradise Valley, Arizona

TOPICS: Mainline Protestant

1 posted on 06/02/2006 7:29:51 PM PDT by sionnsar
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To: ahadams2; meandog; gogeo; Lord Washbourne; Calabash; axegrinder; AnalogReigns; Uriah_lost; ...
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Speak the truth in love. Eph 4:15

2 posted on 06/02/2006 7:30:43 PM PDT by sionnsar (†† | Iran Azadi | SONY: 5yst3m 0wn3d - it's N0t Y0urs)
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To: sionnsar

Speak the truth in love. Eph 4:15


3 posted on 06/02/2006 8:35:31 PM PDT by Mark Koch (A stitch in time saves nine.)
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