Book Review: Discipline with Care, by Steven McQuoid

Review
03.02.2010

On the whole, the genre of contemporary books on church discipline seem to have been written by nice guys. Which is good. You don’t want to take your cues on church discipline from someone who sounds like they work for the Gestapo.

Stephen McQuoid, principal of Tilsley College in Glasgow, fits the nice-guy profile well. Just notice the book’s title—it tells us to Discipline with Care.

Not surprisingly, then, there’s almost as much in the book about “with care” as there is about “discipline.” Church leaders, we’re told, need to be “realistic” about life in the fallen world. They should be “flexible.” They should look for solutions that yield “the least amount of damage.” They should talk about the topic by borrowing metaphors from a realm that people today understand and appreciate, namely, the athletic realm. So talk about “disciplined athletes” or “life coaching” (interestingly, the book doesn’t follow its own advice on this score).

McQuoid stands in the centuries-old tradition of dividing the topic of church discipline between “preventative” and “corrective.” Preventative discipline includes teaching, pastoral care, discipleship, and community life. He says about teaching, “Unless people within our churches know what God expects of them, they will not be in a position to live it out” (33-34). Very true.

THE MOST BRITISH BOOK ON DISCIPLINE

In all, I would say that Discipline with Care, like its author, is the most British of the books I’ve read on church discipline. Where Jay Adams’ book might feel a little strident to a British reader (click here for a review), and Mark Lauterbach’s a tad mawkish (click here for a review), Stephen McQuoid might seem a touch squishy to American readers. Americans usually want their preachers to illustrate in black and white. McQuoid’s not afraid to pull out the grays.

In general, I expect that Adams’ book on discipline will better appeal to straight-talking American readers, while McQuoid’s might play better among more deferential, communally-minded, non-American readers.

McQuoid certainly knows that much is at stake with church discipline: principally, the honor of God; but also the reputation of the church, the health of the body, the unity of the Spirit, the spiritual life of the individual, and church’s witness to the spiritual realm. And he doesn’t have much patience for the mealy-mouthed pastor who won’t confront sin because he doesn’t want “to make waves.” He also explicitly warns against false compassion and turning a blind eye to sin.

A FEW ISSUES

I do wish McQuoid was more explicit in showing how church discipline is an implication of the gospel. He does a biblical theology of discipline, which is helpful, but his emphasis falls primarily, if not exclusively, on the continuities between the Old Testament and New. For instance, he’s excellent on the theme of God calling the church to be a holy witness to the nations (a point of continuity). But you’ll have to turn to Lauterbach’s book to hear more about the hope Christians can have in a Holy Spirit who regenerates, indwells, and really changes people into the image of Christ, partly through the church’s disciplinary work (a point of discontinuity).

Then again, McQuoid’s book is considerably shorter than Lauterbach’s and does not attempt to do as much. It’s more like Adams’ book in scope.

Biblically, I also disagree with McQuoid when he says that church discipline is “ultimately” the responsibility of the church leaders (54). Don’t Jesus and Paul say otherwise (e.g. Matt. 18:15-20; 2 Cor. 2:6; Gal. 1)? Still, McQuoid is rightly adamant that the congregation must be involved in the processes of discipline (67-68). And his instruction to churches to respect the universal church by not quickly receiving into membership a disciplined member from another congregation is excellent (80).

HAPPY TO RECOMMEND IT

My bottom line: Discipline with Care is a good book on church discipline that will strengthen churches by promoting their holy witness. I’m grateful McQuoid has written it, and I’m happy to recommend it. It’s considerably shorter than Lauterbach’s and lacks the strange quirks of Adams’. Then again, it’s not as straight-talking as Adams’ or as gospel-enriched as Lauterbach’s

By:
Jonathan Leeman

Jonathan Leeman is the Editorial Director of 9Marks, and an elder at Cheverly Baptist Church in Cheverly, Maryland. You can find him on Twitter at @JonathanLeeman.