Protestant discipline was a theory of immense importance la the
Scottish, English and European, reformations of the sixteenth century.
Later confusion and disparagement, should not blind .modern scholarship
to the high value set on the "third mark" by the reformers, Behind the
tensions of late sixteenth century Scotland we have glimpsed a great
unitive theory of discipline which never quite reached agreement and
practice, but yet may offer the modern church a clue and precedent to
enable her to rise above the bias and restrictions of fixed ecclesiastical
polities and ceremonies.
Discipline was important, but always highly controversial.
Questions about the relative importance and nature of discipline were
never universally agreed upon by the protestant reformers. This
wag disastrous because, lacking clear and accepted definition, it was
inevitable that the new churches would develop divergent and conflicting
theories and practices.
Why was not a clear and universal definition reached? I do not
believe this can be answered until two more major studies in discipline
have bees, made--studies of the disciplinary theories of Martin Bucer
and John Calvin. There are evidences of much strain and lack of
clarity in the Frankfort experiences and the Scottish documents. I
conjecture that this mirrors an insecurity caused by Calvin's retreat
from the broad, bold theory of Martin Bucer and, perhaps, from Calvin's
own earlier position. I am convinced from Calvin's treatment of discipline
in the 1559 Institutes that he had become hesitant about the value of the
contemporary practice of discipline in many reformed areas. I have
suggested that this may have been for theological reasons (the possible
tyranny of an external aid over the Word and sacraments) or for a very practical reason--the fear of losing England to the reformation. Certainly the
net result was to lead Calvin to reduce discipline to a system of judicial
censure omitting it as a necessary mark of the true church