John Owen And The Third Mark Of The Church -- By: Stephen Yuille
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John Owen And The Third Mark Of The Church
Art Azurdia cautions, “Today the church faces a moral crisis within her own ranks. Her failure to take a strong stand against evil (even in her own midst), and her tendency to be more concerned about what is expedient than what is right, has robbed the church of biblical integrity and power.”1 In a similar vein, Albert Mohler warns, “The decline of church discipline is perhaps the most visible failure of the contemporary church. No longer concerned with maintaining purity of confession or lifestyle, the contemporary church sees itself as a voluntary association of autonomous members, with minimal moral accountability to God, much less to each other.”2 To put it another way, one of the church’s most urgent needs is to recapture the practice of biblical church discipline in order to fulfil its calling to convey God’s holiness to the world.3 The purpose of this article is to
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consider the practice of such discipline through the eyes of the Puritan John Owen.
The Puritans believe the Holy Spirit cultivates holiness in Christians through appointed means. By “means,” they have in view what George Swinnock calls “secret, private, and public duties.”4 Simply put, they are “conduit-pipes whereby the water of life is derived from Christ in the hearts of Christians.”5 There are many means of grace, such as praying, reading God’s Word, and receiving the Lord’s Supper. However, a particularly important means of grace for the Puritans that is often overlooked is church discipline.6 As Jonathan Edwards says, “If you strictly follow the rules of discipline instituted by Christ, you have reason to hope for his blessing; for he is wont to bless his own institutions, and to smile upon the means of grace which he hath appointed.”7
Like his fellow Puritans, Owen is convinced that the proper execution of church discipline is a means by which the Holy Spirit
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cultivates holiness in God’s people. In the context of 1 Corinthians 5:1-7, he summarizes his view as follows:
The whole of what we plead for is here exemplified; as,—(1) The cause of excommunication, which is a scan...
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