Three strikes and you’re out! Even if you are not a baseball fan you know what it means. No more chances. Now you must face the consequences. As a boy, I heard this phrase often. After all, I grew up in Atlanta listening to the Braves during the Seventies. If you followed the Braves in the Nineties, you remember the rousing sounds of a packed Braves’ stadium, thundering with the tomahawk chant and chop. But in the Seventies, there were no crowds, no chants, and very few sightings of Chief Noc-A-Homa (let the reader understand).
There were a few bright spots. Men like “Hammering” Hank Aaron and Phil Niekro labored for what must have felt like a lifetime with other legendary cellar-dwelling Braves. But for diehard fans like my mother, there was little to celebrate. In those days the Braves could hardly give tickets away. My mother and I attended many games on 25 cent “knot hole” tickets. The schools also gave away scores of tickets to students with good grades.
But my mother never gave up on her beloved Braves. Summer evenings were spent sitting on our carport listening on the transistor radio to Ernie Johnson, Pete Van Wieren, and Skip Caray call the “balls and [mostly] strikes.” She was a die-hard fan, ever optimistic. You had to be to be a Braves’ fan. I always regretted that she did not live to see the Braves in the World Series.
Three strikes and you’re out. No more chances. While this is the rule in baseball, it is not the rule of grace and life together in the church. The community of grace, the body of Christ, the Church is characterized not by three strikes, but three marks. The faithful preaching of the Word, faithful administration of the sacraments, and faithful exercise of discipline. Three marks which are interrelated and indispensable. These are means of grace, given so we might grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and in love, service and devotion to one another.
Many churches boast faithful preaching and teaching. Some carefully observe the sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. But how many practice discipline? Discipline is hard. Hard for those who receive it. And as our fathers assured us, hard for the ones administering it. As in parenting, discipline is often messy and inconvenient. It is easier to let things slide. Easier to ignore problems, hoping everything will “just work out.” But it never does. Because we assume discipline only leads to division and departure, we avoid it like the plague. But peace, purity, and prosperity in a family, especially a church family, never comes by neglecting discipline. Quite the contrary.
This is the message to the churches in Pergamum and Thyatira in Revelation 2. Both churches are highly praised. The church in Pergamum held fast against intense persecution. Pergamum was the epicenter of a hostile, Satanic culture, yet the believers there had not wavered – even in the face of martyrdom. And the Christians of Thyatira were praised not only for their love, faith, service and patient endurance, but for growth in each of these areas. Unlike the Ephesians, their latter works exceed the first.
At first glance, these churches appeared solid and impregnable. But as is often the case, the greatest threat to a church is not from the outside, but from within. False teachers were promoting compromise with the gods of culture and commerce. “Go along to get along” was their theme. And the churches tolerated it. Disguised as ‘seeker sensitivity’ and ‘cultural awareness,’ this false teaching continued unchallenged. And the false teachers continued undisciplined.
For all their merits, their lack of discipline was a serious demerit. So serious that Jesus threatened to “war against them with the sword of his mouth” and “throw [false teachers] onto a sick bed and those who commit adultery with [them] … into tribulation.” And even to strike some dead so that all the churches would know that he is the one “who searches mind and heart.” This was the most severe threat issued yet to the Seven Churches.
Failure to discipline is deadly. Deadly to a church and deadly to its members. We might think it more loving to avoid it. But discipline is a mark of real love. Jesus takes discipline seriously. Do we? Join us this week as we examine Revelation 2:12-29 and consider why the Church struggles to practice discipline but why we must.
We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm at The Arkansas DreamCenter at 1116 Daisy L Gatson Bates Drive in Little Rock for worship. Get directions here or contact us for more info. You can also join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP or on YouTube.