At my ordination as a priest 37 years ago the Bishop asked me this question in Sheffield Cathedral: 'Will you give your faithful diligence … to minister the Doctrine and Sacraments, and the Discipline of Christ, as the Lord hath commanded?'
I replied with the others: 'I will so do, by the help of the Lord'.
This commitment came back to me the other week as I looked through the Sunday readings from Ezekiel Chapter 33 reminding the prophet of his watchman role which connected with the gospel from Matthew 18 with instruction about fraternal correction in the Church.
The reformed Christian tradition of which the Church of England is part emphasizes discipline alongside word and sacrament as foundational to church life. At their ordination therefore priests and bishops commit themselves to teach, lead worship and pastor the flocks committed to them.
Among other words from the ordination service that stick with me – I read them every year - are these: 'Have always… printed in your remembrance how great a treasure is committed to your charge. For they are the sheep of Christ, which he bought with his death, and for whom he shed his blood. The Church and Congregation whom you must serve is his Spouse, and his Body. And if it shall happen the same Church, or any Member thereof, to take any hurt or hindrance by reason of your negligence, ye know the greatness of the fault, and also the horrible punishment that will ensue'.
Neglect of Christ’s flock purchased at the price of his own blood is as serious a thing as you can imagine. It has made me a priest more concerned to feed the sheep than entertain the goats. Not that it’s easy to do so, to teach Christianity, let alone to minister the discipline of Christ.
What is the discipline of Christ? How do I teach it?
Pray every day.
Read your Bible.
Attend eucharist every Sunday.
Confess your sins.
Give your money to God’s work.
These five Christian duties are the basic disciplines Christians are under which I announce to my people at intervals.
We need these disciplines. They’re paralleled by our Muslim sisters and brothers whose Five Pillars consist of knowing their creed, praying five times each day, giving to the poor and needy, fasting during the month of Ramadan and making pilgrimage to Mecca.
Christianity has a big aim - the glory of God and salvation of the world - and it has tight focus comparable to the pillars of Islam.
At times I need as pastor to call my people back to this tight focus, reminding them of the basic Christian precepts.
Where spiritual fervour can be found - and it's growing at St Giles - Christians are united in accepting a mutual discipline of prayer, devotion to God’s word, attendance at the eucharist, mutual forgiveness and sacrificial giving the Holy Spirit can come in power among them.
We have a big aim - God grant us fuller obedience to the spiritual disciplines that serve our focus upon it!