“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.” Arthur Ashe link
Today is Memorial Day. At the end of this post, TWW would like recommend a charity that we believe is symbolic of most of us who frequent this site. But first, here is a post demonstrating the reason why we chose to commend this charity to our readers.
The Land of Dominia
Imagine that you have decided to vacation in the mythical country of Dominia. You have rented a car and, as you begin to travel on the bumpy highway, you see a sign which states:
All Traffic Laws Enforced
Coming from the United States, you assume they mean things like speeding, failure to yield, etc. In fact, you are somewhat relieved because you visited Russia link and were appalled at the lax enforcement of traffic rules. Suddenly, up ahead, you see a downed tree, which is blocking the road. So, checking for oncoming traffic, you cross the yellow line and maneuver around it. In your rearview mirror, you see two police cars rapidly approaching and find yourself being pulled over. They claim you have broken the law by crossing the yellow line and will not listen to your explanation. You are cuffed and brought before the judge who pronounces a sentence of 6 months in jail.
You protest and they show you a book of traffic rules which includes a rule to not cross the yellow line. There are no exceptions. You ask to see what the recommended punishment is for such a violation and they say they have no such book. They decide on a case by case basis. Basically, you are hosed.
You made a big mistake. You assumed that you knew what they meant by "traffic rules." You assumed that they had laws that would be understandable and reasonable. You assumed that they would be like the United States, following legal precedent, etc.
The land of church discipline
Now, instead of traffic rules, insert the words "church discipline." The Apostle Paul highlights a grievous sin, one that gets the guy kicked out of the church. Most of us have no problem with this.
1 Corinthians 5:1-5 NIV Bible Gateway Link.
1. 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.
2 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?
3 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.
4 So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 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.
Look carefully again at the explanation given by 9 Marks about church discipline that we posted last week here.
1. Should a member become guilty of sin that the church deems scandalous, the church may excommunicate him immediately and without prior implementation of less drastic means of discipline, such as private expostulation or public rebuke. 1 Corinthians 5 records the command to immediately withdraw fellowship from a man who was guilty of scandalous sin. See also Galatians 2:11-16.
2. The decision as to whether or not it is necessary for a repenting member to confess his sin to the entire church rests with the pastors (also called elders and overseers) of the church; but the general principle is: the repentance ought to be as public as the sin is notorious. That is, publicly known sins are to be repented of publicly.
3. Unless providentially hindered, any member who willfully and habitually absents himself from the appointed meetings of the church will be liable to church discipline.
4. Any member who seeks a transfer of membership or any other removal of his name from the church roll while subject to any stage of church discipline will not have his name removed from the church roll without the consent of the Elders. If he should leave during the discipline to attend another church, [church name] will communicate the nature and status of the discipline with the pastor of the other church.
5. Each member of [church name] agrees that he will not initiate or pursue legal action against the church, nor against the pastors, deacons, or church staff in connection with their performance of official duties. Any Christian considering legal action against another Christian is encouraged to heed 1 Corinthians 6:1-8
They give us 2 types of discipline. The first highlights the guy who was guilty of incest. Once again we have no problem with this so long as they have examined the man and ascertained that he was mentally sound.
Here is the rub. The next category is all of the others reasons for discipline. The only one they outline specifically is not showing up for church "willfully and habitually." They do not define what this is so apparently they get to define what that means.
All the rest……
From what I can tell, this is a huge category which is subject to the decision of a group of men (in these churches it is only men who decide). It is obvious that they are concerned about getting sued so they throw in the zinger about not suing them.
So, to what sins are they referring? There are lots of them in the Bible: pride, gluttony, cheating, lying, anger, lust, etc.
Surely these men will be reasonable, right? After all, they are elders. And aren't elders the godliest men in the church? Since godliness is no respecter of societal status, why do we seldom see sanitation workers, plumbers, or fast food workers who are elders? Why do most elder boards appear to consist of those who rubber stamp the pastor's agenda?
Church discipline sounds like a good idea but few churches carefully define the types of sins that are disciplined up front. They also do not define the method of discipline that is employed. In other words, you are subject to their decisions and their methods and have little to no say in the matter. You are just a "wee little sheep" in need of some punishment.
Wee little sheep and really big cheeses
How is the average church member perceived by church "leaders?" Since 9 Marks is the celebrated church discipline crowd let's take a look at what they say on their website link.
A wee-little sheep breaks through a fence and runs away. But unlike most parables, his shepherd doesn't’t find him (Luke 15:1-7). This little sheep wanders to and fro, far away from home, and eventually stumbles upon another flock. From that moment on, another shepherd is given charge over his life. Imagine the first shepherd picking up his cell phone and saying to the new overseer, “Hey, friend. There are a few things you should know about this wee-little sheep…”
I find this statement condescending and arrogant. We are the "wee little sheep" in need of protection by the shepherd. They are the shepherds. They spend a few years at seminary and suddenly they are the "really big cheeses".
They must get you to join their church in order to do their thing.
From the same 9 Marks article:
But to the extent that Christians float around as free agents, never committing anywhere, the examples cited above become more unrealistic. Keep encouraging everyone who walks through your doors to join a church, whether yours or someone else’s,
Once you check in, you may have a hard time leaving.
In the same article
Several months ago I was helping a couple in a troubled marriage, and the wife’s new pastor (from another church) called me. He said, “I’d really like to know how your elder board is thinking about this situation.” The pastor worked at a Bible-believing congregation in another state.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because I want to make sure my counseling falls in line with how your elders want to exercise oversight over this marriage.”
Note: A guy in another state wants to allow the former church to "exercise oversight."
You have a legal right to leave a church and to have them stop harassing you.
Slavery was abolished a long time ago. In fact, you are a bond servant to Christ, not to First Baptist, Dominia, no matter how much they try to convince you that they have the "authority" over your life. Here is a link to a post on how to leave a church that is abusing you.
Isn't most church discipline for bad stuff?
In many authoritarian churches, it's all bad stuff and they get to define it, not you. Here are two example mentioned in the last two days on our blog. We have hundreds of examples just like them.
True Story #1 Asked for help with a child bully
My husband and I were disciplined out of a Baptist church for a situation that involved very serious bullying against a child. The leadership did not properly deal with the problem, but instead told my husband to “man-up”, and accused us of “playing the victim.
We were shocked at the lack of compassion for children being hurt physically and how no serious intervention was made to prevent this from continuing to happen. In fact, the abused was made to look as if they deserved this or somehow brought it upon themselves.
An e-mail was sent to the church to address the problem of bullying. It was stated that:
“tattlers may have a heart issue of self-righteousness or fear”.
Also, the following quote from the same e-mail:
“It is easy to be judgmental and begin to excuse a bad attitude which displeases Christ by harboring anger toward another child or family that is not responding the way that you believe they should respond. This is a sin that is ultimately more dangerous to your family than the actual bullying. We as pastors are very aware of this snare that can trip up the best of families. Now, every parent assures us that they are the kind of parent that does not take up the side of their child with blind protectiveness. It almost is humorous….but it does mean that we, knowing our vulnerability to be blind to with our own children, have trust that the pastor is speaking to us about our child is doing it from a heart of love and even an eagerness to be fair on behalf of your child.”
This very long quote is just a small sampling of rude comments directed our way.
We decided to leave the church as their way of “handling” the problem was less than satisfactory. We were told we could not leave because they were the shepherds of our souls. Also, we were told we were being disobedient by not returning to church and that church discipline would be enforced if we did not return and receive counseling for our issues.
The leaders of our former church were very worshipful of CJ Mahaney, Al Mohler, Mark Dever, John MacArthur, John Piper, etc…. They loved attending Together for the Gospel conferences, Shepherd’s Conference, etc…
Story #2 Excommunicated from an EFCA church
I was excommunicated from an Evangelical Free Church a year ago. This church is Reformed and extremely authoritarian. I didn't’t realize that the EFCA churches are autonomous and without any accountability.
These elders insinuated themselves in a dispute I was having with a contractor I hired who had defrauded me (and whose license was suspended by the state board because of a complaint I filed). The elders told me I could not file the complaint, nor tell anyone about the poor work he did (because “it would impair his ability to earn a living”).
I wrote the EFCA district office to advise them how my elders handled this matter, and I was publicly disciplined for “slandering the elders in emails to the EFCA District Office.” Not only was my account entirely true, I did not share details with anyone in the church body. I was never given the chance to defend myself.
I let the EFCA district office and the national office know about the unjust steps the local church had taken against me and their response was: “Find a church home where you will be loved,” NOT repent and submit yourself to your elders. Unfortunately, in my small community, the pastors are a tight-knit group and I don’t believe I will be welcomed in anyone’s church. I never dreamed I would be without a voice or a defense in the body of Christ.
It took the church nine months to carry out the “discipline”. We were never notified of when it would take place, nor were we informed that it had taken place. The church waited until the week of our child’s birthday to carry out the discipline. Hmmm…makes one wonder if their intentions were entirely pure [;-)]
A message to those hurt by abusive church discipline
You are not alone. Many people have been hurt by churches. In the current climate of increasing authoritarianism, we believe that such stories will become commonplace. The only way to cut down on this nonsense is to speak up and tell your stories. Church membership is on the decline in the US. We believe it is stories like this which are contributing to the rise of the "Nones" in our country. These are believers who have left the organized church. As opposed to being disobedient, we believe that many of these folks have been treated poorly by wolves disguised as "pastors and elders."
The Wounded Warrior Project
From time to time, TWW has been asked if we accept donations. So, we have decided to recommend two charities. One involves human trafficking but more on that in the near future.
However, we also wanted a charity that would reflect what we try to do at TWW. We believe that Christ came to set the captives free from the legalism of the Law and the Pharisees who defined that Law. Many of you are dedicated to the freedom that you have found in the grace of Jesus Christ and help others to leave the bondage of manmade regulations.
The women and men in our military have fought hard to maintain the freedom of the United States.They, too, have fought against manmade philosophies such as Fascism and Communism that would restrict our pursuit of liberty and happiness. Many have died in defend that freedom and we honor them today. Others have returned home with terrible injuries, both physical and mental, and they are deserving of our undying gratitude.
We believe that it might be therapeutic to donate to The Wounded Warrior Project as a declaration that we are free in Christ and free from authoritarian churches. Many of us have been wounded by the church. This is one way to help others who have been wounded in the defense of another kind of freedom.
So, consider sending $5, $10, etc. and let it be a statement of your freedom and your rejection of abusive church leaders.
Then, as our wounds continue to heal, may we go on to find peace, love and joy in the arms of a Savior who has wounds on His hands, feet and side. Those wounds are beautiful. And, as you watch this video, consider this. I think the ones who have been wounded look cooler, fiercer and stronger because of their injuries. May it be so with you.
And know this, TWW will always stand by, and with, you.
Lydia's Corner: 2 Samuel 18:1-19:10 John 20:1-31 Psalm 119:153-176 Proverbs 16:14-15