Reflection: Psalm 141:5; Proverbs 9:8-9; 22:6; Hebrews 12: 4-13;
The religion of the Bible is explicit in its claims on the condition of man; that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, that our hearts are exceedingly deceitful, and we are guilty of not seeking after God. Given these foundational Divine perspectives, is it any wonder that our Lord makes provisions for accountability and discipline in this world in order to safeguard the freedom and power he has given us as his people. In reality, the deeper our understanding of the doctrinal basis for our own corruptibility and perverseness, the stronger our commitment will be to these Divine precautions within his Body. The whole purpose is towards our progressive growth in obedience, humility, and holiness as testimonials to transformed lives.
The system of checks and balances are highlighted all over Scripture (Prov 13:24; Rom 15:14; Eph 6:4; Col 3:16; 1 Tim 5:19-25; Jam 5:16; 1 John 1:5-10; 3 John 9-10) relating to spiritual leaders right down to ordinary believers, and children. None are exempt. King David in Psalm 141 articulates succinctly the attitude of humility and wisdom as he welcomed correction, “Let the godly strike me! It will be kindness! If they correct me, it is soothing medicine. Don’t let me refuse it.’ And Proverbs 9 endorses the wise person’s handling of constructive criticism, “ So don’t bother correcting mockers, they will only hate you. But correct the wise, and they will love you. Instruct the wise, and they will be even wiser. Teach the righteous, and they will learn even more.”
However, most of us are defensive and overly sensitive when it comes to criticism, especially when its delivery and tone are adversarial, but every Tom, Dick, and Harry can benefit from it when it is given wisely and taken humbly. Actually, if God fails to admonish us when we sin, it would demonstrate not his love but his cowardice and selfishness. But because he does, and often through those around us, we are no longer orphans or illegitimate children, but have been adopted as sons and daughters in community. Without accountability and correction, discipleship becomes a misnomer, and the church’s testament in the world is jeopardized.
As members committed to a community, we are under the discipline of church leadership, and as we attend weekly we further submit to the authority of the preached Word. Genuine accountability and discipline is dependent on a formal structure of collective leadership or peer relationships, without which personal fatal flaws and radical views can often wreck our fellowship together. Paul’s reminder to Timothy was to appropriately model correction for leaders to establish a precedent for members (1 Timothy 5: 17-25). Furthermore, in any church discipline, God is ultimately to be glorified, through restoration and protection for the sinner, healing of relationships and the inculcation of honorable conduct (1 Peter 2:12).
At the primary level, confession of sins to each other is encouraged (James 5:16), and is still practiced in some circles. In the church that we attend, a congregational Prayer of Confession or an Act of Penitence is repeated early in the service during communion Sundays, as members reflect on their personal sins and confess them to the Lord within a short silent interlude provided. I found this act of contrition to be restorative as the pastor concludes the session with our Father’s assurance of pardon and a benediction that carries us afresh through the week.
We are accountable to more than just ourselves, as we learn from King David, who fully understood the willfulness and destructiveness of his own heart, as he learnt to handle criticisms no matter how it was originally intended: Don’t reject it, deem it a kindness, and keep quiet – don’t retaliate. Take time in reflecting over it with the Lord, making it productive rather than destructive.