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Chapter 6 Practicing the Rule of Christ John Howard Yoder Editor's Introduction We suggested in Chapter 2 that two of the practices constitutive of the church are discernment and discipling. (We used the term discipling for alliteration; Yoder refers to this practice as "binding and loosing.") In this chapter, Yoder argues that these two practices are inseparable and that above all else the prac­ tice of binding and loosing is definitive of the church. We might say that it is the sine qua non for maintaining the bonds of community. Discernment is the means by which the church finds guidance for its development and adaptation to new circumstances. The practice of binding and loosing is based on Jesus' instructions (rules) in Matthew 18 to follow a series of steps in seeking reconciliation with a brother or sister who has sinned: first, go in private to talk; second, if that fails, take a few others along; finally, as a last resort bring the matter before the congregation. Yoder emphasizes that the purpose of the practice (the internal good at which it aims) is to bring about reconciliation (not, for instance, to vent frustration). The justification for the practice comes from the Christian story. "The readi­ ness not only to forgive but to make forgiveness the instrument and standard of all church experience is of a piece with the broader theme of suffering servant­ hood, the theme that stretches from Hosea and Isaiah 42, 49, 52-53 through Christ himself to the cross bearing of his disciples." The process is sensitive to the life stories of the participants. It requires that the one accused have the op­ portunity to explain extenuating circumstances, and is "concerned to see the fellow believer grow freely i n the integrity with which he or she lives out the meaning of a freely made commitment to Christ." Yoder emphasizes that the virtue of meekness is necessary if the practice is to avoid legalism and have a chance of attaining its true end. We can mention as a second virtue what Macintyre refers to as the virtue of having an adequate sense of the tradition to which one belongs (After Virtue, 223). Yoder expresses this as follows: "There must be, if a decision is to be faithful, a way of informing it with full access to the biblical and theological heritage of Christian insight." Yoder mentions briefly that "gifts" contribute to the Spirit-led decision pro1 32 Practicing the Rule of Christ 1 3 3 cess. An important area that needs development in a virtue ethic for Christians is the relation between virtues and gifts of the Spirit or grace. Yoder makes a number of valuable remarks about the relation between the practice of binding and loosing and other practices we have mentioned as consti­ tutive of the church. First, he argues on biblical grounds that binding and loosing is the defining feature of the church - Jesus uses the word church only in con­ nection with this practice. Thus, as McClendon pointed out in Chapter 4, it is at the very center of the more encompassing practice of community formation. Second, binding and loosing always involves discernment, and discernment always involves some degree of reconciliation, since matters of correct practice, doctrine, and morality cannot be settled in abstraction from the personal stakes of the participants in decision making. Discernment and a history of attempts to apply the instructions of Matthew 1 8 in particular cases together contribute to the ongoing development of the church's standards. Third, the interpretation of Scripture cannot be understood apart from the practices of binding and loosing and discernment, since the Bible is for teaching, reproof, correction, and instruction in right behavior. So to attempt to under­ stand the Bible apart from the specific questions of the people reading it is to do violence to the very purpose for which the Scriptures have been given (see chapter 5 above). Fourth, personal reconciliation is a prerequisite for worship. Fifth, the quality of personal relations within the church is a very powerful witness to the outsider. Thus, we see that this pair of practices, discipling and discernment, is intrin­ sically related to two others we have characterized as essential to the identity of the church: witness and worship. It would be possible to show, for instance, by means of an account of Quaker life, that discernment and discipling are also essential for guiding the works of the church. NANCEY MURPHY 1 . Binding and Loosing...


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