A spineless body has trouble standing up for anything.

I was a sophomore in high school and going out for the football team. I will never forget the apprehension and excitement I felt as I walked into the room where everyone was going to meet. There was the smell of liniment and sweat, the sound of metal lockers slamming shut, the hiss of showers, and the sight of those gigantic seniors.

The varsity head coach had been a drill instructor in the Marine Corps. He had a thick neck and a crew cut. His voice was graveled from all the shouting he had done. He was a very successful coach.

All of us had been sitting in the room for a few minutes, doing all the things a bunch of nervous adolescents do when they are alone: laughing extra loud, trying to look cool, concealing our terror of the man who was about to walk into the room. In he came, followed by an entourage of assistants, trainers, and managers. He slammed his clipboard down on the table, scowled at all of us, and announced that he was going to talk to us about the "three D's" of winning football: Desire, Dedication, and Discipline.

There was absolute silence as he took each of these words and told us what they must mean to us if we expected to play football on his team. When he got to the last D, he told us what had happened to the team the first year he coached. Football had been a failure up until then. But a number of very talented seniors were on the squad. When they heard his speech about the three D's, he could tell they all thought it a bit amusing, especially the part about discipline. Discipline for him included no late nights during the week and no drinking alcoholic beverages.

The team was three games into the season and undefeated when he learned that all the seniors had gone to a party and gotten drunk after the game. He kicked every one of them off the team and moved sophomores and juniors into the starting line-up. They proceeded to lose every one of the remaining games that year. But the next year he had a team with discipline and experience. They finished second in the league. And from that year on, they were the team to beat.

When he finished his speech, at least one young man in that room knew he meant business and believed in the three D's of winning football, especially the third. I still do.

What impressed me then, and still does, was the fact that discipline has its reasons. Up until that point, I had always regarded discipline as the rather masochistic exercise of giving up something. What I never understood was that what you give up, you give up for something. Discipline is positive, not just negative. You deny this in order to have that, which is of greater value. Or, as Richard Foster once put it, discipline is simply taking the necessary measures to get the necessary done.

Discipline in the church has its reasons too, most of which have become dangerously unclear to Christians today. Church discipline is on the wane in most circles, if not ignored outright, because of confusion concerning the nature of the church. This is not the only reason, but it is the chief reason.

The New Testament uses many metaphors to illumine the nature of the church, all of which are appropriate to the subject of discipline. But the most helpful of these is the kingdom of God. We all belong to one of two realms: the kingdom of the world or the kingdom of God. The kingdom of the world is ruled by the power of sin and the Devil. The kingdom of God is ruled by God. There can be no such thing as individual freedom, since every human being is bound to one or another of these groups. In the words of the song by Bob Dylan, no matter who you are, "You gotta serve somebody." It may be the Devil, or it may be the Lord, but you're still going to have to serve somebody.

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Winter
Winter 1983: Church Health  | Posted
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