“Punishment – The justice that the guilty deal out to those that are caught.” -Elbert Hubbard link
Punishment Island link
Now, back to the business at hand. Before you are employed by a corporation, you will be handed a handbook of corporate policies. This should spell out all sorts of rules and regulations on advancement, dos and don'ts, how to prevent getting fired, how you are paid, etc. Whole divisions of human resources have been developed to deal with the complexities of human management. Deviations from the corporate policy will get the company sued, on one hand, and the employee fired on the other hand.
Take a look at these handbooks. They are often so complex and detailed that summaries are provided for each section. In spite of the cumbersome nature of these rule books, they continue to be used because they protect the company and its leaders as well as the employees. They are not perfect but each lawsuit or kerfluffle is instructive and new policies are added on a routine basis. Any prospective employee is advised to read the book and sign off on it.
The government has similar rules called laws. How much tax you pay, how fast you drive, and how you hire and treat your employees are all found in the codified law.
God, Himself, provided His rules of the game which are codified in a document we call the Bible. Through this document, we understand our origins, our problem and our solution. We are commanded to love, to not commit adultery, and to be honest amidst many, many other commands and truisms.
I call all the above the rules of the game. Unfortunately, in many church communities, the rules are not spelled out. There are many assertions about the need for "gospel" discipline but it is rarely defined in any coherent manner. Do you get disciplined for gluttony, adultery or for remarking on the lifestyle of a pastor? There is no consistency from church to church. We are told to "trust" the elders and pastors yet we know little of these men and their own weaknesses and biases.
That is why I want to commend Attorney Ken Sande. Yup, you read that right. He has developed a 25 page document called Model Relational Commitments which he explains is:
To promote peace, preserve relationships, reduce a church's exposure to legal liability, and ultimately to improve a church's ability to model and proclaim the gospel of Christ.
Now, in case you think that I am saying that I agree with this document, I want to state categorically that I do not agree with a number of items and actions that are promoted in the text. For example, he outlines that this is a legal document from the get go. That puts anyone who signs this on warning.
However, due to his transparency in releasing this document, I would know, a priori, that I could not join his church. This would be a win/win for both the church and me. They would not want me to join because I would not be on track with some of their beliefs. I would not want to join them because I could not agree with their "contract." I would probably be thrown into church discipline within a week.
So, in that respect, Atty Sande gets what he wants: peace. So will I. It is very difficult to be a member of a church and suddenly discover that there are some unwritten rules which will be enforced. That happened to me at a former church.
I have related this event on an number of occasions. My husband and I were teaching a class on systematic theology. When we got to the theology of creation, we decided to have a debate on various beliefs surrounding the age of the earth. Our intent was to learn from one another. But, a riot nearly ensued, with a vocal and angry group of young earth proponents invading our class. When we spoke to our head pastor about this, he blew us off. He confirmed the church only teaches young earth creationism. We asked why this was not stated up front. He said he didn't want that belief to prevent people from joining the church. So, he was inviting conflict. My husband and I would never have joined that church had we known of this issue up front. This sort of thing is deceptive and causes church conflict.
The idea of these relational commitments are discussed at Peacemakers here.
Much of the conflict that churches experience today arises because they have not clearly established and communicated how they will govern their affairs and relate to one another. As a result, there can be significant confusion and disagreement among both leaders and members over how a church will function and act. When members' expectations are not met and they are treated differently than they wish or expect, they can become deeply offended. All too often this leads them to move from church to church, and in some cases to file retaliatory lawsuits.
One of the most important steps a church can take to prevent this type of confusion and conflict is to adopt clear and comprehensive governing and relational policies. Traditional church governance documents include a constitution and bylaws, which are sometimes linked to a denominational book of church order.
Clear and comprehensive policies are absolutely needed. As you will see, the document is neither comprehensive or clear, merely lengthy.
It's not just for members! Red Flag!!!
Before I begin, I want to point out a deeply troubling aspect of this process. They believe that this document must be applied to all who attend the church, not only the members. The story to which they refer is available on page 4 of the document which I link to below.
If you are not yet ready to become a member, you and your family are certainly welcome to attend our worship services, find fellowship in a small group, and seek assistance from our leaders. Please realize that if you continue relating to us in any of these ways, we will assume that you have consented to these Commitments, even if you have not yet formally joined the church. (See the story on the next page to learn why these Commitments apply to both members and attenders.)
As you will see, I have some serious disagreements with some of the core practices as presented in this document. And I am a believer. Attempting to apply this to those who are seeking or healing is inappropriate. In fact, I believe such an application of a "contract"could be challenged up in a court of law. But consult a real lawyer before continuing to attend such a church. I mean it!
I cannot directly link to the 25 page Word Document that is the presented Model Relational Commitment. If you go to this link at Peacemakers and scroll to the bottom of the page, there is a link to the document which I will now discuss.
This commitment document contains a number of red flags for me as an individual. I will quote them and record the page number so that you can corroborate my quotes.
Unclear and nonspecific definitions of personal peacemaking (P.6)
Under the category of personal peacemaking I find the following items unclear and easily abused. For example, they give no example of minor offenses which means the field is wide open. Also, the use of the word "gossip" is consistently abused in a number of churches. There are those who believe it is gossip to discuss the presence of a sexual offender in the church. As you will see at the end of this piece, gossip does get brought up.
· We will try to get the “logs” out of our own eyes before focusing on what others may have done wrong (Matt. 7:3-5).
· We will seek to overlook minor offenses (Prov. 19:11).
· We will refrain from all gossip, backbiting and slander (Eph. 4:29). If we have a problem with others, we will talk to them, not about them.
· We will make “charitable judgments” toward one another by believing the best about each other until we have facts that prove otherwise (1 Cor. 13:7).
· When someone tries to correct us, we will ask God to help us resist prideful defensiveness and to welcome correction with humility (Ps. 141:5; Prov. 15:32).
They believe that the church is the best place to deal with a business or legal dispute. (P.7)
When we have a business or legal dispute with another Christian, we will make every reasonable effort to resolve the conflict within the body of Christ through biblical mediation or arbitration, rather than going to civil court (1 Cor. 6:1-8). If the other party attends another church, our leaders will offer to cooperate with the leaders of that church to resolve the matter.
Marriagecentric teaching (P.8)
The church says their teaching and ministry will center around marriages and families and say little about single people. They also appear to enforce certain gender roles.
Because our church recognizes both the divine origin of marriage and the devastating effects of divorce, we are deeply committed to preserving marriages and preventing divorce. Toward this end, we will devote a significant portion of our preaching and teaching ministry to strengthening marriages and families. We require and provide thorough premarital counseling to ensure that couples enter into marriage advisedly and are well prepared for its many challenges.
We also encourage couples to nurture their marriages by participating in weekly fellowship groups in which people can grow together in their love for God and for one another (Heb. 10:24-25). As relationships deepen within these groups, we expect husbands to spur each other on in loving and cherishing their wives, and wives to encourage one another in respecting and loving their husbands (Eph. 5:33).
Domestic violence is not discussed while other reasons for divorce are elucidated (P.9)
Domestic violence is not listed as a reason for divorce and is not addressed specifically. However, they do say that neglect should be born patiently. Warning, Will Robinson, Warning!!!
When divorce becomes an option, an offended spouse can imitate God’s love by offering a straying spouse these same evidences of grace (Eph. 5:1-2). This may involve patiently bearing neglect or lovingly confronting serious sin (Col. 3:12-14; Gal. 6:1).
The issue of child sexual abuse is addressed but the response pattern is vague. (P.10)
The document claims that this is the "minimal steps" that must be taken but there is no mention of the involving the police. This could cause me question if they think that involving the police is not a first line action.
If a child is harmed in our church, we will take immediate steps to inform the parents, to accept responsibility for our role in the situation, and to hold offending youth workers fully responsible for their actions. We will also evaluate our practices and procedures, considering changes that might reduce the likelihood of such harm to children in the future.*
* These are the minimal steps a church should take to protect its children from abuse. For more detailed guidance on screening and supervising youth workers, see Child Protection First!™, which is available through Peacemaker Ministries.
A vague description of Biblical Counseling, along with a legal caveat. (P.11)
They differentiate biblical counseling from "secular" counseling but do disclose that they do not have trained or licensed psychotherapists. There is little said about involving trained professionals for serious issues.There is also troubling caveat on the legalities of this counsel.
To prevent our leaders from being placed in situations that might compromise their pastoral commitments, we, the members and attenders of this church, agree that we will not try to compel them to testify in any legal proceeding or otherwise divulge any confidential information they receive through pastoral counseling or ministry (Prov. 11:13, 25:9).
There is a lengthy section on church discipline with few examples of when it is applied. (PP.13-18)
The major lack of this entire discussion of church discipline is this. There is little description of what sort of thing will be disciplined. But, boy oh boy, there will be church discipline. And they will pursue you if you try to leave the church during the process. (P.17)Also, the number of pages devoted to this issue far exceed any other issue. It is rather amazing that they can write all that stuff and still not define, in any sort of detail, what they punish.
We realize that our natural human response to correction often is to hide or run away from accountability (Gen. 3:8-10). To avoid falling into this age-old trap and to strengthen our church’s ability to rescue us if we are caught in sin, we agree not to run away from this church to avoid corrective discipline. Therefore, we waive our right to withdraw from membership or accountability if discipline is pending against us. Although we are free to stop attending the church at any time, we agree that a withdrawal while discipline is pending will not be given effect until the church has fulfilled its God-given responsibilities to encourage our repentance and restoration, and to bring the disciplinary process to an orderly conclusion, as described in these Commitments (Matt. 18:12-14; Gal. 6:1; Heb. 13:17).
If an individual leaves the church while discipline is in effect or is being considered, and our leaders learn that he or she is attending another church, they may inform that church of the situation and ask its leaders to encourage the individual to repent and be reconciled to the Lord and to any people he or she has offended. This action is intended both to help the individual find freedom from his sin and to warn the other church about the harm that he or she might do to their members (see Matt. 18:12-14; Rom. 16:17; 1 Cor. 5:1-13; 3 John 1:9-10).
You will be punished for gossip!!! Of course, gossip is not defined.(P.17 footnote)
Always, always, always read the footnotes.
For my final example of why I would run from this church, I provide the "gossip" footnote. I want you to note that "gossip" is put in the same category as pedophilia.
For example, if we confronted a man in our church for seducing young women, or for acting inappropriately around little children, or for sowing gossip and division, and he left and started attending another church, we would consider it our duty to urge the leaders of that church to counsel with him and to protect their people from his harmful behavior.
It is amazing to me that a 20+page document could be developed and very few examples of what they will, or will not, address via church discipline are given. Why is this? Is it laziness? Or do they want to have wide latitude in which to do things "their way." Remember, all contracts should be designed to be a protection to both parties. That does not seem to be the case in this contract. In fact, some of the things in this "relational" contract are downright concerning.
Please, please, please-protect yourself. Do you really know those who are in leadership in a church? They are asking you to trust them and they have the latitude. You need to ask yourself a question. If they will not tell you what they will and will not discipline, why should you trust them?
Lydia's Corner: 2 Chronicles 32:1-33:13 Romans 15:23-16:9 Psalm 25:16-22 Proverbs 20:16-18