That We May Share His Holiness – Book Review

Posted on October 24, 2010 by

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South, Tommy. That We May Share His Holiness: A Fresh Approach to Church Discipline. Abilene, TX: Bible Guides, 1997. ISBN 0-9623723-1-0. 159 pages. Paperback.

With the recommendation from a friend and fellow grad-student, I purchased a copy of Tommy South’s work, That We May Share His Holiness: A Fresh Approach to Church Discipline. I was completely unaware of South’s work, and as I was reading and researching for a paper on church discipline I took it upon myself to give South’s work a “fresh” look. To my astonishment, I nearly read through the book in one night. That We May Share His Holiness should be read by every member in the church.

Before we highlight some points from the book, let us consider a little information about the author. A minister for some thirty years, Tommy South is currently a minister at the Glen Allen church of Christ, and has served in that capacity since its inception in 1995 in Glen Allen, VA. South holds a Ph.D. (University of Virginia) in the New Testament and Early Christianity. South not only serves as an Adjunct Professor of Religious Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, but also frequently contributes to the Gospel Advocate.

THE CONTENT OF THE BOOK

That We May Share His Holiness has been in circulation for some time. However, it is a publication that is worth describing here for study and contemplation. Because we believe there are very few negative matters to discuss, we shall only describe the work and its benefits.

The book has 15 chapters, and its outline appears to have a Bible class setting in mind. The discussion questions that follow each chapter will surely lend themselves to small group studies or congregational settings.

The content is written in a popular style —avoiding technical language— yet the author demonstrates himself to be very adept to the technical matters that arise in the discussion of church discipline.[1] Reading South’s work is a breath of fresh air as it reads so smoothly, and yet it avoids theological shallowness by providing adequate analysis and exegetical insights, and by challenging the reading to spiritual deliberate over critical issues regarding church discipline.

Furthermore, the material on holiness, individual responsibility to self-purity, and the duty we share as Christians to assist others to retain their self-purity are perennial discussions.

South’s work demonstrates how God places emphasis upon personal holiness as the basis for church discipline:

All discipline is the outgrowth of God’s desire for us to share his holiness. […] It also includes disciplining ourselves. This is where “striving after holiness” comes in. […] Congregational discipline is likewise an extension of God’s desire for our holiness. Just as God expects and requires us to discipline ourselves, he calls on us to discipline each other when necessary, not arbitrarily or angrily or vengefully, but as an outgrowth of his love and of his demand for holiness among his people. (16)

South moves from this biblical basis (Heb. 12.10), and develops many themes in this rich survey of every significant New Testament context dealing with church discipline.

Another important discussion South develops is that fellowship is to precede discipline. “Apart from fellowship, discipline is not only meaningless, it is abusive. To discipline someone with whom we have not enjoyed real fellowship is much like spanking a stranger’s child” (31). South advocates an attempt “to create an environment of love and fellowship” in the congregation so that church discipline can do exactly what God intends for it to accomplish—restoration (34).

When restoration of fellowship is obtained, forgiveness is to occur by the individual specifically offended, and by the community of the church (102). The discipline was to be “effective but not vindictive” and after restoration, steps to communal restoration are forgiveness, comfort, and confirmation of love (103-05).

Discipline and restoration are connected at the proverbial hip, and to this point South cautions:

The church is never at liberty to think that we’ve “done our duty” by disciplining the erring when we are unwilling to perform the equal “duty” of forgiveness. (106, emphasis mine)

Placing the full responsibility of reconciliation upon the disciplined is a completely untenable theological conclusion. Both have responsibilities: the disciplined is to repent and show those fruits, and the church has the responsibility to forgive and strengthen.

A STRONG RECOMMENDATION

For its size and scope, it is an outstanding discussion of a critical topic. Page per page, it is rich in research which gave the book its birth, clear in the development of the central message of the Scriptures on the subject, and set forth in a spirit of genuine spirituality and Christian honesty.

This book is a must read. It will tremendously bless all those who give it attention and a healthy judicious study, with the necessary application. It will not take long for a congregation of the Lord’s people that fails to discipline, to lose its identity as the church. It is therefore time to give attention to this important biblical theme.

Sources:

[1] South points to the technical discussions in his work, Disciplinary Practices in Pauline Texts (Lewiston, NY: Mellen, 1992).

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