August 10, 2012

Train Up Children as They Should Go

Like most, many United Methodists have a love/hate relationship with discipline. But for us, UM's, we tend to take a broader view. For us, discipline is not simply "training," "living according to rules," "being kept in line," or even the pain of reproof or punishment. Rather, discipline is our way of doing Church. Even our book of Church doctrine and polity is called The Book of Disciple or simply The Discipline.

Russ Richey, Ken Rowe, and Jean Miller Schmidt tell us in their book, The Methodist Experience in American: A History, the first Discipline, even by its title, pointed to John Wesley's power and authority to convene, pose questions, answer those questions, keep record, and structure the Methodist people as he would. But recourse to Wesley's rule was quickly rethought and overturned as new leaders shaped and adapted the Church to its new context in America and elsewhere.

Still, we Methodists have ambivalence toward discipline, even our Church's official, codified version of it. But as all parents know, discipline is necessary. And while sometimes unpleasant, discipline consistently done with kindness, love, and empathy will help our children grow into responsible, caring adults.

The same is also true with maturing Christians (meaning all of us) as we walk on that road to perfection that Wesley talked about. We need to pay consistent, close, measured, and thoughtful attention to faith as we practice it daily. For us, though, practice does not mean perfect, but being increasingly transparent to God's love.

So when someone strays from our common pilgrim road, we need to pursue them as a good shepherd. Our first impulse should not be to yank them back in line but to gently coax, so it can be their true choice. But also as parents, we all know that there are times when yanking has to happen, but more about that another time.

As for our own practicing, how is your daily Bible study? How faithful are your acts of mercy? Do you tithe? Fast? How is it with your soul? How is it with the soul of your congregation? What fruit has your work of discipline produced? More justice? More equality? Less bigotry?

Just remember the goal is not discipline itself. That only leads to legalism. The goal is what discipline yields--as our Communion ritual reminds us--a whole person who is freed for joyful obedience.

Grace, Kathy

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