"But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil."
Credit: Public Domain
Here is how I came to realize the seriousness of the church discipline crisis and how church discipline is being terribly misapplied in 21st century Christendom. About a month before we started TWW, I heard a pastor say in person that if the members of his church failed to join a community group and actively participate, then those members would be subject to church discipline. I was absolutely stunned! Months before, this pastor had preached through the entire book of Galatians, explaining very eloquently how on this side of the cross Christians have freedom in Christ, not bondage — liberty, not legalism — grace, not law.
That was a defining moment for me. For several years Dee and I had contemplated starting a blog, and the threat of applying church discipline to someone who doesn't attend a community group was the impetus I needed to take a leap of faith into what I deemed the great unknown – the blogosphere. It has been an incredible journey thus far…
A commenter who goes by the moniker "sad observer" expressed our concerns regarding church discipline succinctly by stating:
"What we are arguing over is NOT “should church discipline ever exist when it is needed, or should it be ignored?” That’s what M(ars) H(ill) and other places THINK we are arguing, but it’s because they aren’t listening to us. (Or don’t want to).
What we are arguing is “What is an appropriate definition of ‘church discipline,’ and what is an appropriate USE of church discipline?” Our complaint is that they are using manipulation practices and calling it “church discipline” when it really isn’t.
I’m not sure where the strange, authoritarian notions of church discipline are coming from in the Calvinista circles….is it growing out of their understanding of authority? Of sin? It’s really hard to say. In any case, I wish they’d examine it more closely."
Well, we here at TWW have decided to examine it more closely. We absolutely affirm that there can be circumstances within the body of Christ where church discipline is necessary because "God desires his people to be pure. He calls us to live holy lives, set apart for his glory. 1 Peter 1:16 restates Leviticus 11:44: "Be holy, because I am holy." (NIV) If we ignore blatant sinfulness within the body of Christ, then we fail to honor the Lord's call to be holy and live for his glory." (link) In 1 Corinthians, we see one such situation. A man was committing adultery with his step-mother and flaunting it in the community and damaging the church's witness, claiming that he was not sinning because he had freedom in Christ. Here is how the Apostle Paul addressed this very grave matter:
"It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.
Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people — not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.
What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”
I am quoting from the New International Version because it, more than any other translation, spells out in graphic detail the horrible sin that was being tolerated among the Corinthian believers — "a man is sleeping with his father's wife" (1 Corinthians 5:1).
Let me spell it out again for those who haven't gotten the message:
WE ARE NOT AGAINST CHURCH DISCIPLINE!
Church discipline is absolutely necessary with regard to horrendous sin because God calls us to reflect His holiness to a lost world. We are to be set apart so that others can see His glory. Paul identifies specific sins that must be dealt with through church discipline — sexual immorality, blatant greed, idolatry, slander, drunkenness, and theft.
What is incredibly disturbing is in the three years we have been writing this blog, we have been utterly shocked at how church discipline has been severely misapplied.
Just five weeks after we started blogging, we featured what continues to be one of our all-time favorite posts — 71-Year-Old-Grandma Perp-Walked Out of Church — Say It Ain't So!!! — which we read about in the Wall Street Journal. We received a whopping TWO comments on the post, and we were thrilled! Since most of you haven't read it, here it is.
The following is a transcript of a 911 call made by a pastor from his pulpit on a Sunday morning. This is NOT a joke!
11:01 am, June 17
911 Operator: Hello. Thanks for calling 911.
Pastor: Hello? Hello?
911 Operator: This is 911. Can I help you?
Pastor: Yeah. I’ve got somebody trespassing at the Allen Baptist Church. You need to send an officer out immediately.
911 Operator: What the address sir?
Pastor: 4215 North Eden Road
911 Operator: OK. Is it someone that’s been warned to stay out or what’s going on exactly?
Pastor: Uh, they’re no longer a member at this church, and uh they’ve been told to leave and uh they’re not welcome here and they refuse to leave.
911 Operator: And you name?
Pastor: Pastor Jason Burrick
911 Operator: And what’s the number of your cell phone you’re calling on sir?
Pastor: 23_ – _ _ _ _
911 Operator: And what’s their name?
Pastor: Karolyn Caskey
911 Operator: OK. And she’s just refusing to leave then?
911 Operator: OK. Is she on the grounds or inside the church?
Pastor: She’s in the building and she’s been confronted and um she refused to go, and we need to uh have her out ASAP.
911 Operator: OK. Well, I need to get the basics so I can send an officer. What’s the nearest crossroad?
Pastor: Route 12 and 49. We’re right on the corner.
911 Operator: OK. All right. We’ll have someone there as quickly as we can. If anything should change or it should turn into a real confrontation, give me a call back.
Pastor: All right. We’ll have someone at the back door waiting for him, so just send him right in.
911 Operator: All right. Very good.
This emergency phone call should serve as a WAKE-UP CALL for all Christians. What’s going on here? According to The Wall Street Journal article “Banned from Church” in the January 18, 2008 issue, the pastor at Allen Baptist Church in southwestern Michigan placed a 911 call from the pulpit when he spotted Karolyn Caskey in a church pew.
Just who is Karolyn Caskey? According to the WSJ article, she’s a 71-year-old mother and grandmother of three who has been a church member for close to 50 years. Mrs. Caskey has served her church as a Sunday school teacher and has been a regular contributor, donating 10% of her pension. According to friends and family, she’s a very generous lady who loves her church. When funds were low and the church couldn’t pay the electric bill, she sacrificed and gave money to meet these expenses. She even mowed the church’s lawn on occasion, and contributed $1,200 to the church when she sold her van. Mrs. Caskey plans to have an engraved image of Allen Baptist Church on her tombstone.
Imagine the scene. . . This elderly grandmother (who has two artificial knees and a double-hip replacement) is perp-walked out of Allen Baptist Church by a state trooper and a county sheriff’s officer. One of the officers handcuffs her, and the other carries her purse and Bible as she is removed from the sanctuary. Listen to the 911 call in the WSJ article.
While Mrs. Caskey was taken to jail under the charge of trespassing, her real crime (in her pastor’s view) was questioning his authority. She and an older married couple had insisted that the pastor follow the church constitution, which specified that a board of deacons be appointed to help govern the church. Pastor Burrick claimed the congregation was too small to warrant deacons. After much conflict, she and the couple were expelled from the church. In August 2006 Pastor Burrick sent a letter to the congregation informing them that Mrs. Caskey and Patsy and Emmit Church (the older married couple) had taken “action against the church and your preacher”, and they had been dismembered (it probably felt that way to them).
The WSJ article includes several other accounts similar to the situation at Allen Baptist Church. These stories provide a glimpse into a growing movement that is occurring in conservative Protestant churches. This sort of “church discipline” (or might we say “abuse”) is on the rise and may be coming to your church soon.
How does this newfangled church discipline work? Suspected sinners are privately confronted (Matthew 18) and if they refuse to repent, they are publicly castigated and excommunicated from the church. While church discipline seems perfectly reasonable when church members commit adultery or child abuse, for example, it is sometimes being exercised for legitimate questioning (which is now called ”gossip”), skipping a church service, and not participating in a “community/care group” (such as a small group Bible study).
We are still amazed that from the very beginning of this blog, we grasped the seriousness of what was occurring in conservative corners of Christendom. In the three years that have followed, we have heard testimony after testimony of Christians who have been disciplined / excommunicated because they merely asked questions or challenged church leadership in some way. Paul Petry and Bent Meyer immediately come to mind. Is this behavior what the Apostle Paul was referring to with regard to church discipline / excommunication in 1 Corinthians 5? ABSOLUTELY NOT!
What follows is my personal commentary
I believe what we are witnessing in many churches is a power play disguised as church discipline. When pastors are challenged by those who belong to the priesthood of the believers, these pastors attempt to gain the upper hand by putting members under "discipline". As stated earlier in the post, the Apostle Paul addressed the Corinthian believers, explaining to them how a congregation is to live holy lives in order to be set apart for God's glory.
Of course, that doesn't mean we are to be without sin, for that is impossible for us mere mortals. That being said, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 serves as a mandate for identifying egregious sin in the body of Christ and addressing it. Here are a few examples of behaviors that have been erroneously labeled as SIN.
Questioning church leadership, wanting to know the pastor's salary, not consistently attending a care/community group, leaving the church to join another congregation, not keeping your wife "in line" at church, challenging methods of infant feeding (Ezzo) and child training, having a child who decides to sin in some outward manner, etc.
These are just some of the circumstances where church discipline has been threatened and/or administered. Did you notice that none of these show up in Paul's list of sins in 1 Corinthians 5? Please feel free to add to the list through a comment.
Sophia has chimed in with her list of actions that some pastors wrongly label as sin:
-Refusing to submit to a Community Group Leader’s requests for meetings
-Refusing to be berated and subjected to an entire group of people questioning you
-Refusing to allow a church you are not a member of “send you out joyfully”
-Disagreeing on secondary issues like complementarianism, spiritual gifts, etc.
-Being female and knowing the Word and having the courage to challenge when someone wrongly divides it, even if it is a man
Administering church discipline where it is not warranted in Scripture is becoming a chronic problem, especially in Calvinista churches. And it is spreading like a terrible disease! Membership covenants and by-laws are being rewritten in MANY churches.
In our upcoming post, we will examine the process of church discipline at an actual church. We predict that this process will be shocking to some of you, as it was to us.
Lydia's Corner: Jeremiah 2:31-4:18 Colossians 1:1-17 Psalm 76:1-12 Proverbs 24:21-22