A Hot Potato

By H. L. Bruce

In order for a preacher to persuade brethren that discipline is right and proper and that it is ordained of God and should be scripturally practiced in a congregation, it should not be necessary for him to fight the members of that congregation. But many times that is exactly what, he has to do. Furthermore, when he has to fight the members, the story does not stop there. Before he gets through, a lot of times he has either been severely hurt himself or winds up being dismissed by the elders of that congregation. Why is it some brethren think that in the tense and unpleasant procedure of corrective discipline that it adds anything at all for them to put the preacher under pressure by dropping an additional hot potato in his lap?

In the twenty-two years that I have been preaching the gospel, I have tried to influence congregations where I preach, among other things to practice corrective discipline as is taught in the New Testament. During that period of time it has been our unpleasant experience to have to withdraw from over 45 unfaithful and delinquent members. It was not pleasant in any sense. But this article does not deal with the mechanics of discipline, even though that would be an interesting and profitable study.

The way that brethren act during the procedure is what disturbs me! Why the additional burdens placed on the preacher when discipline is practiced? Why the implications against the preacher when he begins to ask brethren to do what God says? Why will a congregation that has never practiced discipline, and which has a tremendous backlog of ungodly and unfaithful members, fire their preacher when he tries to get them to practice scriptural discipline?

Why is the preacher the bad guy and the gambler the good guy? What makes the preacher wrong and the reprobate right? What makes illicit sex right and the preacher a church splitter if he wants corrective discipline? Why should a preacher have to sell his house, move away, have his family subjected to a strange territory, his children change schools, leave their friends behind, and experience the emotional strain of a fresh start and multiple adjustments simply because a congregation filled with ungodliness refuses to honor what God authorized with regards to discipline?

Yet some wonder why preachers become soft and relegate their preaching on discipline to either mere lip service or passive complaints. Preachers sometimes become cowards after having their hands burned and reputation wounded by ungodly people who toss them hot potatoes when they try to influence them to do what God says. Some fear their image. Brethren sometimes will ruin them if very much is said in trying to get them to practice discipline.

I have preached on discipline dozens of time and plan to continue to do so. I have influenced brethren to practice discipline and shall continue to do so, if God permits me to live. Some have been out right rebellious. Some have started and changed horses in the middle of the stream. Then there have been those who wanted to practice discipline and would go along with the action, provided they could keep the preacher walking on hot coals along as they went. While practicing discipline, they wanted to burn the preacher some way as if he were responsible for the necessary action. Then, thank God, there are those devout, resolute, Godfearing individuals who respect the word of God, at all costs-and there is a price. They are the ones who please God. They are the ones whom I respect. May their tribe increase. And may the preachers who are cowards increase their faith in God and be courageous.

Truth Magazine, XVIII:10, p. 10-11
January 17, 1974