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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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The root meaning of ‘discipline’ is ‘instruction,’ but in course of time it came to be used for ‘moral training,’ ‘chastening,’ ‘punishment.’ The subject naturally divides itself into two parts: (1) the spiritual discipline of the soul; (2) the ecclesiastical discipline of offenders.

1. The training necessary for the discipline of the soul.-This may be under the guidance of another or under one’s own direction.-(a) In order to develop and perfect man’s moral nature, God deals with him as a wise father with a child. The benefit of such treatment is pointed out in Hebrews 12:1-13 (cf. Matthew 5:10-12). Its final efficacy depends upon the spirit in which it is received. The motive for its endurance must be right, and the end in view must be clearly perceived. The Heavenly Father does more than simply teach His children; He disciplines them with more (cf. Proverbs 3:11, Job 5:17) or less severity (cf. Proverbs 1:2; Proverbs 1:8; Proverbs 4:1). If the Author of Salvation was made perfect through sufferings (Hebrews 2:10; cf. Hebrews 5:8 f; Hebrews 7:28, Luke 13:32), it is clear that the ‘many sons’ must pass through the same process and experience as the ‘well-beloved Son.’ In their case the need is the more urgent, for latent powers must be developed, lack of symmetry corrected, the stains of sin removed, evil tendencies eradicated. Errors in doctrine and action must be transformed into truth and righteousness (1 Corinthians 11:27 ff., 2 John 1:10 f., 2 Timothy 2:16 f.; cf. Titus 3:10, 1 Corinthians 5:9-13, 2 Thessalonians 3:6). Body and mind can move towards perfection only under the guiding hand of the Holy Father. Pain and sorrow, frustrated hopes, long delays, loneliness, changed circumstances, persecution, the death of loved ones, and other ‘dispensations of Providence,’ are designed to chasten and ennoble the soul. Character, not creed, is the final aim. Having begun a good work in His children, God will ‘perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ’ (Philippians 1:6).

(b) The Christian must also discipline himself. Through the crucifixion of his lower nature he rises into newness of life. St. Paul describes (Titus 2:12) the negative side as ‘denying ungodliness and worldly lusts,’ and the positive as to ‘live soberly, and righteously, and godly in this present world’ (‘sobrie erga nos; juste erga proximum; pie erga Deum’ [St. Bernard, Sermon xi., Paris, 1667-90]); see Romans 12:9, Titus 2:12; cf. 2 Timothy 2:16, 1 Peter 4:2, 1 John 2:16; also Luke 1:75, Acts 17:30; Acts 24:25. The Christian must put away anger, bitterness, clamour, covetousness, envy, evil-speaking, falsehood, fornication, guile, hypocrisy, malice, railing, shameful speaking, uncleanness, wrath (Ephesians 4:17-32, Colossians 3:8-11; cf. James 1:21, 1 Peter 2:1). Then he must acquire and mature positive virtues. This involves at every stage self-discipline (see Romans 6:19; Romans 8:13, 1 Corinthians 9:25 ff., Colossians 3:5; cf. Matthew 5:29; Matthew 18:9, Mark 9:47, Galatians 5:24).

Many elements enter into this discipline of self. Amongst others the following deserve special mention: prayer, ‘the hallowing of desire, by carrying it up to the fountain of holiness’ (J. Morison, Com. on St. Matthew5, 1885 p. 89); see Romans 12:12; cf. Acts 1:14, Ephesians 6:13, Colossians 4:2-4, 1 Peter 4:7; cf. Matthew 26:41, Luke 18:1; Luke 21:36. Fasting is frequently associated with prayer: e.g. Acts 13:3; Acts 14:23, Did. vii. 4, viii. 1, and many other passages. Ramsay (St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, London, 1895, p. 122) speaks of the solemn prayer and fast which accompanied the appointment of the elders, and says that ‘this meeting and rite of fasting, which Paul celebrated in each city on his return journey, is to be taken as the form that was to be permanently observed.’ Sobriety in thought and action is commended (Romans 12:3; cf. 1 Peter 4:7 [Gr.], 1 Thessalonians 5:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:8, 1 Timothy 2:9; 1 Timothy 2:15; cf. Sirach 18:30 [Gr.]); watchfulness (Acts 24:15, Romans 8:19; Romans 8:23, 1 Corinthians 1:7; 1 Corinthians 16:13, 2 Corinthians 4:18, Ephesians 6:18, Colossians 4:2, Titus 2:13, Hebrews 13:17, 1 Peter 4:7, 2 Peter 3:12; cf. Matthew 24:42; Matthew 26:41, Mark 13:33, Luke 21:36); obedience (Romans 13:1-7, 2 Corinthians 2:9; 2 Corinthians 7:15; 2 Corinthians 10:6, 1 Timothy 2:1-3, Titus 3:1, 1 Peter 2:13-14; 1 Peter 3:1, 1 John 2:3; 1 John 3:22); patience (Romans 5:3; Romans 8:25; Romans 15:4, 1 Thessalonians 1:3, 2 Thessalonians 1:3-5; 2 Thessalonians 3:5, Hebrews 10:36, James 1:3; cf. Matthew 10:22; Matthew 24:13, Luke 21:19); conflict against error and evil forces and on behalf of the truth (Ephesians 6:11-18, 1 Timothy 1:18-20; 1 Timothy 6:12, 2 Timothy 2:3; 2 Timothy 4:7 f., Philemon 1:2, Judges 1:3); work (Acts 18:3, Ephesians 4:28, 1 Thessalonians 4:11, 2 Thessalonians 3:8-12); almsgiving (Acts 24:17, Romans 12:13; Romans 15:25-26, 1 Corinthians 16:1-4, 2 Corinthians 9:6-7, Galatians 6:10, 1 Timothy 6:17-19, Hebrews 13:16, James 2:15-16, 1 John 3:17; cf. Matthew 6:19-20, Tobit 4:7-11); temperance (Acts 24:25, 1 Corinthians 9:25, Galatians 5:23; cf. Sirach 18:30 [Gr.], Titus 1:8, 2 Peter 1:6); chastity (Romans 13:14, Galatians 5:24, 1 Peter 2:11, 1 John 2:16; cf. Sirach 18:30); meekness (Romans 12:10, Ephesians 4:2; Ephesians 5:2, Philippians 2:3, Colossians 3:12, 1 Timothy 6:11, 1 Peter 5:5-6).

In Philippians 4:8 and 2 Peter 1:4-8 there are inspiring directions for this same self-discipline. ‘If there be any virtue, and if there be any praise,’ the brethren are to ‘think on,’ or ‘take account of,’ ‘whatsoever things are true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, of good report.’ If men are to become partakers of the Divine nature, and to escape the corruption that is in the world by lust, they must heed the injunction: ‘For this very cause adding on your part all diligence, in your faith supply virtue; and in your virtue knowledge; and in your knowledge temperance; and in your temperance patience; and in your patience godliness; and in your godliness love of the brethren; and in your love of the brethren love’ (see also 1 Corinthians 13 and 1 John 4:16). This will save from idleness and unfruitfulness. They will give the more diligence to make their calling and election sure.

No doubt the expectation in the Apostolic Age of the cataclysmic and immediate coming of Christ led to rigour and austerity of life, which were afterwards relaxed in many places. The moral necessity of discipline is always the same, even though the power of belief in the second coming of Christ in spectacular fashion wanes or departs. After the close of the 1st cent. the development of asceticism and penance became pronounced. The NT gives little or no countenance to the extreme forms that these disciplinary systems assumed.

2. Ecclesiastical discipline.-For self-protection and self-assertion the early Church had to exercise a strict discipline. Its well-being and very life depended upon the suppression of abuses and the expulsion of persistent and gross offenders. In some cases toleration would have meant unfaithfulness to Christ and degradation to the community. The duty of maintaining an adequate discipline was one of the most difficult and most important tasks that confronted the primitive Ecclesia. Jesus Himself gave to the apostles (Matthew 16:18-19, John 20:22-23) and to the Church (Matthew 18:15-18) a disciplinary charter. The Church followed the main lines of guidance therein contained. Only public sins were dealt with in the ecclesiastical courts. Private offences were to be confessed to each other (James 5:18), that prayer might be offered for forgiveness (James 5:15, 1 John 5:16), and also confessed to God (1 John 1:9). Further, Christians were discouraged from carrying disputes to the civil courts (1 Corinthians 6:1; cf. 1 Corinthians 5:12; 1 Corinthians 6:4). ‘Let not those who have disputes go to law before the civil powers, but let them by all means be reconciled by the leaders of the Church, and let them rightly yield to their decision’ (see Clem. Ep. ad Jacob., 10). The object of ecclesiastical discipline was to prevent scandal and to restore the offender. When private rebuke and remonstrance failed (Matthew 18:15; cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:14), the wrong-doer was censured by the whole community (cf. 1 Timothy 5:20, Galatians 2:11). This sentence might be pronounced by some person in authority, or by the community as community. If the accused person still remained obdurate, and in the case of heinous sin, the Church proceeded to expulsion and excommunication (Romans 16:17, 1 Corinthians 5:2; 1 Corinthians 5:11; 1 Corinthians 5:13, 2 John 1:10). The offender was thrust out from religious gatherings and debarred from social intercourse. To such excommunication might be added the further penalty of physical punishment (Acts 5:1-10; Acts 8:24, 1 Corinthians 5:5, 1 Timothy 5:20) or an anathema (ἀνάθεμα, 1 Corinthians 16:22, Galatians 1:8). Knowing the great influence of the mind over the body, one can readily understand that disease, and even death, might follow such sentences. It was fully believed that the culprit was exposed, without defence, to the attacks of Satan (1 Corinthians 5:5).

The whole Church exercised this power of discipline. St. Paul addresses the community in 1 Cor., which is our earliest guide on the subject. Laymen on occasion could teach, preach, and exercise disciplinary powers. In the case of excommunication it was not necessary that there should be unanimity. A majority vote was sufficient (2 Corinthians 2:6). It was believed that Christ was actually present (Matthew 18:20) to confirm the sentence, which was pronounced in His name (1 Corinthians 5:4, 2 Corinthians 2:10).

No doubt the procedure followed in the main that of the synagogue, where expulsion was of three types-simple putting forth, excommunication with a curse, and a final anathema sentence. Discipline was designed to be reformatory and not simply punitive or retaliatory. There must be, if possible, ‘rectification’ (see 2 Timothy 3:16, where ἐπανόρθωσις is significantly joined with παιδεία). Repentance is to be followed by forgiveness (2 Corinthians 2:5-10, Galatians 6:1, Judges 1:22). The penitent was probably received into the Church again by the imposition of hands (cf. 1 Timothy 5:22).

Owing to persecution, the discipline of the Church became more and more simply moral influence. The demand for it was more urgent than aver; but, while some communities remained faithful to this duty, others grew more lax (e.g. the practice of obtaining libelli).

See also Admonition, Anathema, Chastisement, and Excommunication.

Literature.-J. H. Kurtz, Church History, Eng. translation , i.2, London, 1891; F. J. A. Hort, The Christian Ecclesia, do. 1897; C. v. Weizsäcker, Apostolic Age, Eng. translation , i.2, do. 1897, ii., 1895; P. Schaff, History of the Apostolic Age, Edinburgh, 1886; E. Hatch, Organization of the Early Christian Churches, London, 1880; A. C. McGiffert, Christianity in the Apostolic Age, Edinburgh, 1897; J. B. Lightfoot. Dissertations on the Apostolic Age, London, 1892; H. H. Henson, Apostolic Christianity, do, 1898; article ‘Discipline (Christian)’ in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics .

H. Cariss J. Sidnell.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Discipline'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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