"Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent." Revelation 3.19
From a Protestant perspective, what constitutes an authentic church is one in which the Gospel is preached, the sacraments are administered and there is discipline. Most Christians would have no problem with the first two so-called "marks of the Church". But discipline: why is that so important? And, in a liberal society, talk of discipline smacks of authoritarianism - which many would regard as a form of abuse.
The Bible culminates in the Book of Revelation, in which the apostle John shares a vision he received from Jesus, with a message for contemporary churches around Asia Minor which has an eternal reverberation for all of us. Of the 7 churches mentioned in chapters 2 and 3, only two escape censure from the Lord: Philadelphia and Smyrna. The rest are admonished for one thing or another and told to repent or face the consequences.
Each case is different but the principal concern is over the impact of false teaching and mis-behaviour. Their seriousness is due to the way they play on human weakness and susceptibility to temptation and distraction. Before we know it, we have been seduced into heeding a different voice to the one who first called us and we lose that "first love" we had for Him. Not only does that compromise our own faithfulness but it exerts a destructive influence on our communities.
Lack of discipline continues to blunt the impact of churches today, causing splits and undermining the "ministry of reconciliation" that we were called to express, both in our words and in our actions. If we cannot hold it together ourselves, why wouldn't those we are trying to reach consider us as hypocrites and our message as ridiculous?
The answer? There is no quick-fix for such a serious and entrenched problem. But there is s place where we can start and that is immersion in the Book of Revelation. May God speak to us as he has to generations before us and is no doubt doing still in many churches around the world. And may he give us ears to "hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches" (Revelation 2.29)...