Book Review: God Redeeming His Bride, by Robert K. Cheong
Robert K. Cheong, God Redeeming His Bride: A Handbook for Church Discipline. Christian Focus, 2012. 352 pages.
Church discipline is “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.” (9)
With this definition, Robert Cheong establishes church discipline as an essential practice to the mission of the church. Cheong published this book in 2012 after serving as the Pastor for Care and Counseling at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky for over six years. Today, he continues to serve as Pastor of Care for that congregation; he also co-leads a non-profit called Gospel Care Ministries with his wife Karen.
This book is composed of two major sections. The first two-thirds is a biblical exploration of redemptive discipline. The last third of the book is an excellent, extensive appendix where Cheong provides numerous pastoral resources.
One of the key strengths of this work is its placement of Christian accountability and church discipline within the biblical arc of redemptive history.
In the first three chapters, Cheong sets forth the splendor of a triune God who responds to human brokenness and sinfulness with a heart of compassion, mercy, and grace. Chapters 4 and 5 apply these gospel realities to the practice of church discipline, and Chapters 6 through 12 detail how gospel community (the church) manifests the heart of Christ in pursuing the restoration of the sinner, as well as caring for those wounded by their sin.
Cheong demonstrates that discipline is an exercise of gospel love that is essential to the identity and mission of Christ's bride.
A second strength is the wealth of practical instruction on how members are to approach, love, and hold fellow members accountable.
In the opening chapters, Cheong introduces the fictional example of John and Kathy. They are both struggling in their marriage, and it comes to light that John is in an adulterous relationship. With each chapter, Cheong returns to the plight of this couple to offer practical biblical instruction on how to lovingly confront, disciple and counsel, pursue the unrepentant in love, support the injured parties in community, and seek restoration for the repentant. Each of his chapters provide sound strategies and thoughtful steps that both leaders and laypersons need to know when navigating the hard path of biblical discipline.
A third strength is the wealth of material in the appendices. There are resources for congregational instruction, an example of a redemptive plan, practical considerations for elders as they escalate redemptive efforts, sample warning letters for the unrepentant, a sample manuscript for “telling it to the church,” instructions for community behavior after removal, and some strong material on the nature of true repentance and restoration.
It is clear that this compendium of resources has been developed and tested by leadership that had to walk through the difficulty of church discipline many times.
As I conclude my review of Cheong's work, I would offer only two minor critiques. Surprisingly, Cheong gives little space to exploring the scriptural texts that are central to the practice of discipline. He gives a brief summary of the discipline passages, including Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5, in about a page and a half in the middle of his fifth chapter. He references these passages in numerous places, and his application of scriptural principles is both thorough and wise, but he makes no effort to give the reader any exposition of these critical texts. I believe his minimalist approach to exploring these Scriptures is directly related to my second critique.
His book is indeed a “handbook” for church discipline but be aware that he is writing for churches that have already laid the groundwork necessary to undertaking the practice of discipline. He effectively presumes his audience is mature churches that are already well-versed in the scriptural instructions and warnings, and that the church community (though inexperienced) is already convinced of the necessity of biblical accountability. He also assumes that healthy fellowship and membership practices are mostly in place and that church leadership is seasoned and already committed to following the biblical practice. In other words, it is a manual for how to climb the mountain that assumes you have already gathered all the necessary equipment and traveled to the base of the mountain.
These critiques are truly minor. Cheong's book is an excellent work. God Redeeming His Bride is a resource I have commended to numerous pastors who want to grow in their understanding of church discipline and who are seeking a biblical resource they can use to train their leaders and congregants.
I have the privilege of knowing Robert Cheong; he and I were fellow students at Southern Seminary during the same time period. He is a wise and faithful pastor that has spent the last two decades of his life teaching Christians how to embody the gospel and love one another redemptively. This work reflects his heart for the Bride of Christ.