Further Proof You are Signing a Legal Contract Not A Membership Covenant: Courtesy of The Gospel Coalition

Contract law is essentially a defensive scorched-earth battleground where the constant question is, “if my business partner was possessed by a brain-eating monster from beyond space-time tomorrow, what is the worst thing they could do to me?” ― Charles Stross link

http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=40263&picture=hand-silhouette
Stop before you sign.

I had to post this! The quote TGC article and its recommendations are going to pushed next week at TGC's conference. 

Recently, I did a search on church membership covenants/contracts and realized that this website is one of the few which actually is raising questions about this current push to have members sign these things. What don't they want you to know?

YOU ARE SIGNING (OR HAVE SIGNED)A LEGAL DOCUMENT! 

Yes, I know this is shouting but everyone who is being asked to sign these contracts/covenants or has already signed one needs to know the intent of these agreements. They are not some loosey goosey "let's all pray for one another" agreement. They are designed to prevent the church from getting sued when they discipline you.

This morning I saw a post at The Gospel™ Coalition website called 5 Actions Churches Should Take in a Changing Legal Culture. 

At first I thought this was going to be limited to the concern that churches would be forced by the government to perform same sex marriages. In fact that is how the article started off. But, the following got slipped in further down in the article.

This advice will be given at next week's TGC conference.

Download the free Protecting Your Ministry resource, or visit booth 109 at The Gospel Coalition National Conference in Orlando, April 13 to 15, to grab a hard copy and enter to win one of six $500 gift certificates to the conference bookstore.

The post is written by an attorney and she is in the business of protecting churches, not individuals.

Christiana Holcomb is litigation counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom in its Scottsdale, Arizona, office. Holcomb specializes in protecting the freedom and autonomy of churches and ministries.

She strongly recommends that churches adopt a written membership policy.

Carefully read her advice.

5. Adopt a written membership policy.

Only those persons who “unite” with the church have consented to the church’s authority over them. As a result, churches with formal members have greater legal protection when it becomes necessary to exercise church discipline. Churches are encouraged to adopt a written membership policy that explains the procedure for becoming a church member, procedures for member discipline, and procedures for rescinding church membership.

Of course, this recommendation does not mean that a church should adopt a form of church government to which it does not subscribe. Churches can still have designated members who affirm they are committed to and part of a church body, even if there is no voting or say in church practices.

Let's review what she said.

  • Unite is a nice word for signing on the dotted line.
  • If you unite, you agree to the church's authority over you.
  • If you unite, the church has legal protection to apply church discipline.
  • There is no definition for what violations church discipline is instituted; merely the procedures to do so.
  • Corollary: They can discipline what ever they darn well please and they do so in many churches.
  • There should be procedures for rescinding church membership.
  • Corollary: That means they can also NOT rescind church membership.

The final point is the most important for all to understand in this entire essay. They can tell you that you are not allowed to resign your membership until ….whatever.

A church does not have to give you any say or vote in church practices.

Do you understand this? Let me say it another way. A  church can do whatever they darn well like in the way of discipline and they do not have to listen to your disagreement or concerns, whatsoever. You are merely a silent sheep who gives money to the church. Do not think a *plurality* of elders will give you protection. Elders become elders by agreeing with the pastors in the vast majority of churches.

The attorney who wrote this is with the Alliance Defending Freedom
 
Remember: this advice is only for the freedom of churches to restrict your freedom via legal methods. 

TWW recommends that potential members of churches carefully consider if they are willing to give away legal protection and their freedom by signing these covenants. This blog has highlighted story after story of poorly applied and abusive church discipline. We are currently sitting on a huge story of a well known, TGC linked church that applied church discipline in a shocking manner. We hope to be able to tell the story within the next 2 weeks.

How to get out of a previously signed covenant.

You may be able to get out of a covenant/contract by following the advice in this TWW post. We are still working on a resource page on this matter since we seem to be one of the few sources educating church goers of this concerning trend. 

Once again, you are signing a legal contract no matter what cutesy, spiritual name they apply to it. 

Here is a brief excerpt from that post!


The Membership Covenant

Did you know that most churches consult attorneys to draw up these covenants? Are you aware that they were developed, not for purposes of sweet fellowship, but to protect the church in case an angry church member sues them? Did you know that some angry church members are actually justified? For those of you who have signed such a document (Dee has and has successfully gotten out of one), were you advised that you were signing a document that had been vetted by lawyers? (Dee was not). An open and honest church should advise unsuspecting potential members of this fact and encourage them to seek similar advice.

How to Resign

Three years ago, I spoke with a nationally well-known attorney who informed me that the only power that churches have is the ability to throw members out of the church. They can do that with very little recrimination. But, they could have some legal trouble announcing a member's supposed "sins" to the full church if said member employs the following procedure. What we are about to discuss has been “run by” legal experts. However, TWW states categorically that this should not be taken to mean it is an official legal position. Please seek advice of an attorney for an authorized opinion.

The Steps:

  • Resign your church membership prior to the all-church announcement. Better yet, before harsh discipline is applied.
  • Keep your lips sealed.
  • Do not tell anyone that you are going to take the following action. You do not want Sally Sycophant (we all know a few of these) to run to the pastors and report this, giving them an opportunity quickly schedule the all church gossip session.

The Letter:  (We give special thanks to ARCE, who knows a thing or two, for sending this format to TWW.)

1. Send the following letter, return receipt requested (and tracking, in case the Post Office lets them have it without returning the card).
2. Put the return receipt number on the heading of the letter (you can get the form with the number at the PO, before typing the letter).
3. The format

Date
To the pastors and administrators at ____________ church.

This letter is notice that I am not longer a member [attendee] at _______________ church, effective with the date of this letter.
As a non-member, I am no longer subject to any of your discipline as of (date on letter). After (date on letter), any publication, notice, or speaking about me by any church staff or recognized church leader is no longer authorized by me.
Any negative remark or statement about me, any encouragement that people shun me, or any action other than deleting me from your records will be evaluated for possible legal action for libel or other tort claim against the individuals involved and the organization.
If any one asks about me, refer them to me, any other action may result in a tort claim against you.
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. You must desist from any act that may harm my reputation or me or come between me and other persons of my acquaintance. Legal action may ensue.
Sincerely,

Sending this letter and the aftermath

  • You must mail the letter on the date on the letter and they will not receive it for a couple of days thereafter.
  • Keep a copy, print out the tracking showing when it was delivered, keep the green card or, if it is refused, the returned letter (they are legally responsible for the content if they refuse it).
  • Document any response or any failure to comply. If they (leadership or staff) call, listen but do not talk, except to say “I disagree” if they make a false statement about you.
  • Document the conversation.
  • Go to an attorney if they proceed to trash your reputation or that of your business.
  • Do not respond by trashing the organization. 

Comments

Further Proof You are Signing a Legal Contract Not A Membership Covenant: Courtesy of The Gospel Coalition — 155 Comments

  1. Hmmm. On the Alliance for Defending Freedom web site they quote Russell Moore who said, in part: Without soul freedom we have no other liberties.”

    So I am confused, is it only the corporate religious institution that has soul freedom or is it also every pew person on the roll?

    And what on earth is “soul freedom” anyhow?

  2. Lightning reflexes! Seriously, though, I love reading what you write on this topic. I knew in my gut when my husband and I were attending an Acts29, TGC loving church, that signing a “covenant” was odd to say the least. Perhaps my growing up in the UMC played a part in seeing this requirement for membership as strange.. does Christ himself require His follower, past or present, to sign on a dotted line? No. He said it is finished. His blood is the signature. Could you imagine the first church requiring this?!

  3. Nancy wrote:

    So I am confused, is it only the corporate religious institution that has soul freedom or is it also every pew person on the roll?

    Nancy, I am sure that Russell Moore probably agrees with the change in BFM 2000 that went from priesthood of the believer (singular, individual) to Priesthood of the believers (corporate). I cant remember who explained this change but as I understood it it represented a subtle change in grammar but a substantive change in meaning. Bottom line individuals are not a priesthood unless they are in a group, i.e. church.

  4. @ Mitch:

    What they fail to acknowledge is that every believer is in the Church, regardless of what ‘c’hurch leaders try to tell them.

  5. I just wish people would stop saying that signing a church covenant isn’t signing a contract!

  6. Pingback: Membership covenants | Civil Commotion

  7. Mitch wrote:

    Bottom line individuals are not a priesthood unless they are in a group, i.e. church.

    Do you mean a local™ church?

  8. Bridget wrote:

    I just wish people would stop saying that signing a church covenant isn’t signing a contract!

    I f that is what they are told by their church, then that church is lying and should not be trusted in other matters.

  9. Mitch wrote:

    the change in BFM 2000 that went from priesthood of the believer (singular, individual) to Priesthood of the believers (corporate)

    That is what they did, and that is what they meant. Meanwhile the leadership who used to proudly proclaim that they were not priests in the traditional sense accumulated more power to themselves and guess what, it was individual power because they themselves do not answer to anyone. And where did they get that power–they stole it from the people.

    And now, individual person, sign right here on the dotted like so you can’t make any trouble about it down the line no matter what.

  10. 5 Actions Churches Will Always Be Free To Take In A Changing Legal Environment
    1: Get out of the wedding/marriage business.
    2: Get out of the religious employment business.
    3: Get out of the facilities use business.
    4: Get out of the wedding/marriage business.
    5: Get out of the “membership” business. (If necessary, do concordance search for every instance of “member” and “join” in the New Testament. These scriptures (among others) are inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.)

  11. dee wrote:

    Do you mean a local™ church?

    I’m reminded of a recent Dever sermon, “Lose the Church, Lose the Gospel.”

  12. dee wrote:

    Mitch wrote:
    Bottom line individuals are not a priesthood unless they are in a group, i.e. church.
    Do you mean a local™ church?

    Yes exactly, local church, i think some people use language like gathering of believers ect but they clearly mean local organized church discounting church universal and certainly leaving out individuals. In this view I really dont know where that leaves the reformation, that was for the most part a movement of individuals apart from “The Local Church”. Al least until they became the local church.

    Just FYI, this is not my view and in my mind takes a very narrow or almost no account of the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of every individual believer. It is as if they never read that part about the Holy Spirit being a deposit or down payment from God to every believer for the assurance of resurrection. On the other hand when you take their view it certainly makes it much easier to control people and work your personal agenda.

  13. Nancy wrote:

    it was individual power because they themselves do not answer to anyone. And where did they get that power–they stole it from the people.

    Great observation, you know I have very little desire to ever do Phd work but if I did, an interesting study would be the parallel path that the conservative church and the U. S. government has taken. Basically, individuals on both front have been robbed and in many cases have given away their personal power, responsibility and inheritance to the church leaders/government. I am not sure what was received in return but I am sure it was a bad deal.

  14. I haven’t read very far in the post yet, but what immediately jumps out at me is that these people’s definition of “church” is nothing like what is described in the Bible. Their “church” is not a body of believers; it’s a means of maintaining control over people.

  15. Pingback: Whose Rights are Protected in The Gospel Coalition’s Article on Churches and Current Legal Culture? | Spiritual Sounding Board UNITED STATES

  16. Julie Anne wrote:

    Oh brother, I just did the same post. ha!

    We are very much alike. I think we would be hanging out all the time if we didn’t live on opposite coasts.

  17. Corbin wrote:

    I’m reminded of a recent Dever sermon, “Lose the Church, Lose the Gospel.”

    He really wants to say, Lose the Church, Lose your Faith. That is implied in his statement.

  18. It’s sad when some church leaders get off-mission and start thinking it is all about them. I left a church several years ago because they had me volunteering for an average of 15 hours a week and I was a complete burnout. I had been active in this church for 30 years. When I left (quietly, under the radar and without angry words), one pastor called me and was civil, but the recurring theme of the phone call was, “we hate to lose you after all that we have invested into your life.” While I do agree that he did invest into my life, he failed to mention or even notice all that I had invested in the church (his livelihood) in money, talent and time. There was no thank you (not that I expected one), just a general “how could you betray me like this?”

    To me, this is the attitude that can breed a leadership into a dictatorship if unchecked. I suspect this is where church contracts come from.

  19. Covenant Life Church (former SGM flagship) made the purpose that you stated explicit when they instituted a “church covenant” in 2002-2003. They sent members a Q&A which included the statement,

    Why sign the covenant?
    … as Ken Sande noted in his recent sermon on church discipline, a signature creates a record of ”informed consent.” If any member in the future sought to sin without repentance and then threatened our church body with a lawsuit if we obey Jesus’ commands regarding church discipline, we can point to his past agreement as evidence that he consented to subjecting himself to this process.

    CLC didn’t try to hide the fact that its main purpose was to shield the church from lawsuits by members or ex-members. I think I recall Ken Sande describing that as a growing problem that he advised churches to head off in his “message” which introduced CLC to the concept of church covenants. But I haven’t listened to that message in many years to verify the details. They didn’t try hard to spin it as something beneficial to the members.

  20. dee wrote:

    Corbin wrote:
    I’m reminded of a recent Dever sermon, “Lose the Church, Lose the Gospel.”
    He really wants to say, Lose the Church, Lose your Faith. That is implied in his statement.

    I don’t know, Dee. I think he probably did mean lose the gospel because he seems to think the only way (besides complimentarian marriage) for the gospel to be seen is in the context of the hierarchical authoritarian structure he thinks constitutes a church. You know, the “you under me” gospel.

    I suppose I could listen to his sermon to see what he actually says. Which would work except for the listening to it part. :/

  21. “Churches can still have designated members who affirm they are committed to and part of a church body, even if there is no voting or say in church practices. ”

    I read until here and felt the need to point out that fewer and fewer pew sitters are voting on much of anything that has not already either been decided or attend churches where they have elders deciding.

    Even if they get to vote on elders they have listened to “authorities” telling them it is the Holy Spirit’s choice for them.

    The reason I bring this up is because the idea that being a member gives you a vote is a non sequitur meant to affirm something that does not really exist.

  22. Alliance Defending Freedom: Say no more.

    Formerly called Alliance Defense Fund, this is a legal organization, an alliance of 2200 attorneys in a non-profit “ministry” meant to defend religious freedom.

    My only encounter with Alliance Defending Freedom (other than an annoying phone call soliciting donations) was in October 2012, shortly before the election, when they were trying to get pastors to participate in “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.” This was intended to get pastors to preach publicly for or against political candidates or parties, by name, in violation of tax-exempt laws.

    While it is perfectly acceptable for a pastor to speak to a moral issue, such as abortion or same-sex marriage, speaking for or against a candidate may get the church in trouble. But Alliance Defending Freedom would be there to the rescue.

    Some law firms are called “ambulance chasers.” Alliance Defending Freedom goes one further, urging potential clients to jump out in front of moving traffic.

  23. @ Ted:

    Thank you so much for your informative comment. I, too, do not like pastors preaching about politics. I have no problem with bringing up issues as a belief of a particular church such as abortion, etc. I do object to them saying the person a Christian should vote for.

  24. @ Mitch:

    Bingo. It was pure deception and only a very few on that committee were on to Mohler and questioned it.

    Here is an article from way back in 2000 that mentions this:

    http://assets.baptiststandard.com/archived/2000/7_17/pages/bfm_meaning.html

    As far as Moore’s quote, here is my take. The concept of soul competency is coming up on many SBC blogs because the SBC basically lost it after the CR as a guiding principle and it is starting to become one of those older people realize was extremely important. (There are no keys to the kingdom for Dever if there is soul compentency). Moore is using “the language” but it has a different meaning. So beware.

    Mohler is Moores protege. Never forget that Al Mohler is first and foremost a political strategist who has been on a mission to take over the SBC one entity at a time. He changes the conversation and sets the parameters for definitions and meanings. He is the SBC’s version of James Carville and thousands of young men would follow him off a cliff and think he is a brilliant theologican and scholar. Why? I don’t know.

  25. formerly anonymous wrote:

    I don’t know, Dee. I think he probably did mean lose the gospel

    Let me explain myself since I have a history with this subject. A number of years ago, Ken Ham started telling people that if they deny a young earth, they are denying the doctrine of the atonement. Form my perspective he is basically saying the person is not a Christian because denying the doctrine of the atonement means you do not accept Christ’s atoning work.

    So, what happened when one loses the Gospel. The Gospel is the good news of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection. If we lose the Gospel, we lose our means of salvation.

    I do not like them misusing words like this and I do believe it is passive aggressive. Believe like we do or we question your salvation.

  26. Lydia wrote:

    The reason I bring this up is because the idea that being a member gives you a vote is a non sequitur meant to affirm something that does not really exist.

    I absolutely agree. In one post i asked what difference it would make in one’s life if they didn’t join the church. I asked readers to tell us the number of times that the vote didn’t go the exact way they planned for it to go.

    That being the case, why sign one of those contracts? Or to quote a famous person “What difference does. it. make?!

  27. dee wrote:

    Mitch wrote:

    Bottom line individuals are not a priesthood unless they are in a group, i.e. church.

    Do you mean a local™ church?

    This was another deceptive end run. The whole purpose, IMO, of the “church discipline” issue voted on at the SBC Convention years back was sold as simply wanting to clean up the church roles. Who could argue with “honest numbers”? But the real focus was “membership” and the “local church” and we see in a few years how that issue evolved.

    Always remember, there is a bigger game plan behind anything they propose and it always involves power and control. They basically change the meanings. Priesthood of believers must NOW mean you are in a local church UNDER the discipling of a “leader”. This is the gospel, you know.

    I would not trust these guys to interpret recipes.

  28. Dave MacKenzie wrote:

    If any member in the future sought to sin without repentance and then threatened our church body with a lawsuit if we obey Jesus’ commands regarding church discipline,

    This is the part that I object to. You are signing up for church discipline without being told what they discipline and how the discipline prospectively. It is my understanding that all sorts of things got disciplined in SGM-like asking too many questions, being prideful, etc, Please correct me if I am wrong.

    I would never, ever sign a contract to allow someone to discipline me unless I knew what those parameters encompassed.

  29. Eric S wrote:

    When I left (quietly, under the radar and without angry words), one pastor called me and was civil, but the recurring theme of the phone call was, “we hate to lose you after all that we have invested into your life.” While I do agree that he did invest into my life, he failed to mention or even notice all that I had invested in the church (his livelihood) in money, talent and time. There was no thank you (not that I expected one), just a general “how could you betray me like this?”

    This is an excellent comment. I am so sorry that this happened to you. But it goes on all the time. I know some people who were at a church for 18 years, raised their kids in the church, volunteered, small groups, etc. They left. Not one person even bothered to see where they were. They had ceased to be useful.

  30. dee wrote:

    That being the case, why sign one of those contracts? Or to quote a famous person “What difference does. it. make?!

    The only difference I can see is that it would mean you cannot be in their exclusive club with the brilliant gospelly pastor. (Who is usually using Clearasil)

    As I hear more and more folks tell me they are never joining a church again, I like to find out how many are simply attending and how long before someone starts talking to them about joining and how long that goes on before it becomes a problem. The problem usually comes through the kids as in ‘you kid cannot do this or that because you are not members’, sort of thing.

  31. Dave MacKenzie wrote:

    Why sign the covenant?
    … as Ken Sande noted in his recent sermon on church discipline, a signature creates a record of ”informed consent.” If any member in the future sought to sin without repentance and then threatened our church body with a lawsuit if we obey Jesus’ commands regarding church discipline, we can point to his past agreement as evidence that he consented to subjecting himself to this process

    Did they outline what Jesus said in scripture would constitute “church discipline”? Of course not. They get to interpret that for people.

    Besides, Jesus was harder on the religious leaders of his own tribe than anyone else. That could be a potential problem for them when it comes to church discipline as Mahaney demonstratg

  32. oops, as Mahaney demonstrated when he fled to Mark Devers arms and then on to Al Mohler’s. The rules did not apply to him so why would we listen to anything TGC has to say? Hypocrites.

  33. @ dee:
    Yes. I agree with you. Passive aggressive indeed. And yes, you seeing things our way or you’re not saved is the intended end, I believe, and is the point of playing with the word Gospel.

    Julie Anne has a post about Dever’s and someone else’s recent book. Something about church being compelling and attractive (never mind how many such books there are on the market already). I went to Amazon and read as much of the sample as I could before I succumbed to boredom. They went on about being against what they call “gospel plus” churches. By that they mean basically the gospel plus certain types of groups/demographcs or programs composing the identity of your church and how this is wrong.

    As far as I’m concerned they are already a gospel plus church because they have the cross plus hierarchical authoritarianism as the gospel. But they are saying not only are they not gospel plus, but they condemn such — and oh by the way they will define what gospel plus is so they can continue to be gospel plus themselves and get away with it. So there is the passive aggressivism again (though I didn’t think to call it that until you said it).

    This is my working theory: I think what he’s after right now is the definition of gospel. He can’t really go around telling everyone they’re not saved at this point. And since his MO is to not give people more than they can handle until they’ve been properly prepared, he’ll get to that point once he’s won the gospel debate (though he’s probably rather avoid the debate part and just get you to swallow it whole with no fuss).

    Passive aggressive and deceitful, IMO, and I trust him not at all. I can’t prove he’s got an agenda he’s gaming according to his “I have many things to say but you cannot bear them now” MO, but since it’s worked for him before and he seems to think it’s even from God, complete with chapter and verse, I don’t see why he wouldn’t try to use it across the board broadly through all of Evangelicalism.

    And I don’t like this ladie’s article either, as it seems opportunistic to the same end.

  34. “Of course, this recommendation does not mean that a church should adopt a form of church government to which it does not subscribe.

    Why would that be included in item #5, “Adopt a Written Membership Policy”? I suspect that it’s addressing concerns about an ongoing movement toward eldership.

  35. formerly anonymous wrote:

    Passive aggressive and deceitful, IMO, and I trust him not at all. I can’t prove he’s got an agenda he’s gaming according to his “I have many things to say but you cannot bear them now” MO, but since it’s worked for him before and he seems to think it’s even from God, complete with chapter and verse, I don’t see why he wouldn’t try to use it across the board broadly through all of Evangelicalism.

    So true. You can never prove there is an agenda. That is the frustrating point! But there are “patterns” of behavior. Most folks don’t pay close enough attention and it helps that Americans are experts at treating words/incidents/events as singular and not looking at overall patterns.

  36. Eric S wrote:

    When I left (quietly, under the radar and without angry words), one pastor called me and was civil, but the recurring theme of the phone call was, “we hate to lose you after all that we have invested into your life.” While I do agree that he did invest into my life, he failed to mention or even notice all that I had invested in the church (his livelihood) in money, talent and time. There was no thank you (not that I expected one), just a general “how could you betray me like this?”

    Eric S. have you seen this “Evangelical Church Exit Interview” cartoon video by The Christian Monist? Scroll to the bottom of the page.
    http://evangelicalinthewilderness.blogspot.com/

  37.   __

      Is members only clubs next. Churches might loose their tax exemption but make up for the loss by membership dues.

    @ Dave A A

  38. I have tried to research membership agreements, contracts, covenants,etc. and can find almost nothing except TWW! The United Methodist Church has membership vows. Most churches have baptismal vows (which is totally different). In Scotland they have membership classes but I do not believe the Church of Scotland makes one sign or vow something, beyond belief in Christ as Savior and Lord. The scary part is when kids join at teenage years. They really have NO idea what they are getting into.

  39. Godith wrote:

    I have tried to research membership agreements, contracts, covenants,etc. and can find almost nothing except TWW! The United Methodist Church has membership vows. Most churches have baptismal vows (which is totally different). In Scotland they have membership classes but I do not believe the Church of Scotland makes one sign or vow something, beyond belief in Christ as Savior and Lord. The scary part is when kids join at teenage years. They really have NO idea what they are getting into.

    I wonder if signing as a teen is a legal contract? They are minors ( under 18)…..Lawyers?

  40. dee wrote:

    I am so sorry that this happened to you. But it goes on all the time

    Thank you. My wife and I are over it by now, but we still occasionally see an old member of the church who asks us a question regarding some false rumors about us that can always be traced back to the pastor. I share this story for those who have also gone through it. They are not alone.

    Ted wrote:

    Eric S. have you seen this “Evangelical Church Exit Interview” cartoon video by The Christian Monist? Scroll to the bottom of the page.

    That’s great! Some of it was very similar to my exit interview.

  41. Dave MacKenzie wrote:

    Dave

    I would say Ken Sande is likely very sorry that he gave any advice of that sort to CLC/SGM/Mahaney. Whatever happened to Ken Sande’s role in the Mahoney rehabilitation, anyway? Why did a guy with such close associations with SGM/CLC disappear? There’s more to that story.

    I think those who have signed an agreement never dreamed that the church would fail to act biblically and use the agreement to harm them.

  42. Eric S wrote:

    I left a church several years ago because they had me volunteering for an average of 15 hours a week and I was a complete burnout. I had been active in this church for 30 years. When I left (quietly, under the radar and without angry words), one pastor called me and was civil, but the recurring theme of the phone call was, “we hate to lose you after all that we have invested into your life.”

    Incredible. I’ve known some employers with this attitude too. I doubt this church would like to be thought of as secular, but to me this isn’t Christianity in action. At all. In fact some secular businesses could teach them a thing or three re better attitude and conduct. I see these type of churches as hybrids – a cultural collectivization where the pastors circumscribe power unto themselves. Servant leadership? smeh meh. They have grown for themselves a new Roman Empire, an unholy non-rolly General Motors. **rant over (temporarily)

    Spoof article for you Eric: http://www.theonion.com/articles/company-to-experiment-with-valuing-employees,37947/

  43. This is a legal question. If the church mislead them to believe it was not a legal contract could they not sue the church on those grounds?

  44. Angelacfr wrote:

    This is a legal question. If the church mislead them to believe it was not a legal contract could they not sue the church on those grounds?

    That’s a very good question, and I await a response too. How can consent be given if they aren’t fully informed of what they are consenting to?

  45. @ Jenn Grover:

    “I think those who have signed an agreement never dreamed that the church would fail to act biblically and use the agreement to harm them.”
    ++++++++++++++

    biblical: a silly putty word that you can stretch, bounce, roll into a ball, flatten like pancake, roll into a tube, mold into a cube…

    there are too many definitions of what it is to “act biblically” (all spoken of with a noble, far away look in the eye) for me to take the word with any seriousness anymore.

  46. Angelacfr wrote:

    This is a legal question. If the church mislead them to believe it was not a legal contract could they not sue the church on those grounds?

    @ Haitch:

    Well there are two things to consider. Whenever you sign something and date it in the presence of witnesses, then the average person should be aware that they are entering into a contract of some sort. Ignorance of the law is not usually an excuse for ignoring a signed contract.I believe that the churches count on our ignorance.

    However, considering the difficulty that most people have in understanding church and state functioning, it could be an interesting court case if someone decided to challenge the ignorance of signing such a contract.

  47. elastigirl wrote:

    biblical: a silly putty word that you can stretch, bounce, roll into a ball, flatten like pancake, roll into a tube, mold into a cube…

    Thank you for making me laugh tonight.

  48. Jen,

    Brent has detailed Ken Sande’s efforts to get C.J. to repent and apologize, and afterward having “little contact or influence with SGM”.

    http://www.brentdetwiler.com/brentdetwilercom/ken-sande-counseled-cj-mahaney-to-confess-he-was-so-very-gui.html

    I just found my cassette of Ken’s message at CLC “Church Discipline: It’s a Family Affair” (Matthew 18:12-32) from Oct 20, 2002. I’ll try to transcribe or summarize it.

    I have not found a description of what CLC considers “church discipline” to consist of, although they did lay out some principles in the following document which is from the same time frame as the church covenant:

    Statement on Conflict, Disputes, and Lawsuits
    For Members of Covenant Life Church
    Adopted May 1, 2002

    The church is populated by sinners who have received grace but continue to face challenges in working out their salvation,[1] especially in relationships. As the people of God, we commit to overcome our offenses in a biblically prescribed manner leading to resolution and peace. Bitterness, resentment, and broken relationships are not acceptable for the people of God.

    The church has adopted as its practice the principles taught in Ken Sande’s book, The Peacemaker[2], which provides wise biblical counsel for resolving disputes.
    When two church members cannot resolve a conflict privately, they should seek the help of other wise church members. The church’s pastors also are trained and desire to assist members in mediating disputes. If a dispute becomes long-standing without successful conciliation, members should seek pastoral help.

    According to 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, Christians should never bring a dispute among believers before a civil law court. Instead they should seek the mediation of the church through pastors; if one or both parties prove to be refusing to turn from sin that produces the conflict, the pastors should seek to apply the steps of church discipline to restore peace and order in the church. Church members agree to refrain from any lawsuits between Christians and to seek means of conciliation through the church.

    If a church member has a dispute with a pastor that he does not believe has been successfully resolved after repeated attempts, he should seek the assistance of another pastor and if he deems necessary inform the Senior Pastor for evaluation by the pastoral team.

    Church members agree to refrain from filing lawsuits against other Christians and to seek conciliation through the church, unless a minimum of two pastors review their situation and confirm that litigation is biblically legitimate.

    [1] Philippians 2:12
    [2] Ken Sande, The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict, 2nd Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1997).

  49. elastigirl wrote:

    biblical: a silly putty word that you can stretch, bounce, roll into a ball, flatten like pancake, roll into a tube, mold into a cube…

    What rolls downstairs
    Alone or in pairs
    And over your neighbor’s dog?
    Tastes great as a snack
    And fits on your back?
    It’s LOG! LOG! LOG!
    It’s LOG! LOG!
    It’s big! It’s heavy! It’s wood!
    It’s LOG! LOG!
    It’s better than bad! It’s good!

  50. You know, if Alliance Defending Freedom wasn’t located in a soulless office park along one of Scottsdale’s concrete arteries (freeway), I’d picket it, just on general principles. But it wouldn’t be worth it. Not at all like picketing the Celebrity Centre in Hollywood, where the locals all know about Scientology and cheer you on.

  51. I’d also note this article is very deceptive about the effects of same-sex marriage on the right of ministers to decline to marry couples. As in, the writer very carefully threads the needle to imply there might be a threat, but in reality, there is no threat. I’ll just state it here, bluntly:

    If you are a minister and you have a church, you CANNOT be forced to marry anyone against your will. Period. The End. We have this now. Example: You can’t force a Catholic priest to marry you unless you go through the hoops to get a Catholic marriage. I couldn’t waltz down to the big Mormon Temple in the center of town here and tell them I’d like to use their facility for a wedding–it just doesn’t work like that. Religions and ministers are protected by the First Amendment.

    Of course, it gets dicey if you’re providing a for-profit service and this is, as of yet, undecided, although I think it’s going to be the same thing as cakes and flowers, if you’re in business (key word = business), you have to serve all comers.

    But of course the ADF is not going to tell their readers the unvarnished truth about what their rights and obligations are under the First Amendment, because it’s not scary enough. The ADF makes bank on cases where it can cry “religious freedom!”, when, in many cases, it’s just a b*tthurt person who wants permission to discriminate because s/he thinks Jesus will love him/her more if s/he strikes a blow at the “h*m*s.”

  52. Headless Unicorn Guy wrote:

    What rolls downstairs
    Alone or in pairs
    And over your neighbor’s dog?
    Tastes great as a snack
    And fits on your back?
    It’s LOG! LOG! LOG!
    It’s LOG! LOG!
    It’s big! It’s heavy! It’s wood!
    It’s LOG! LOG!
    It’s better than bad! It’s good!

    Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball [Cult].

  53. No where in the New Testament do I see a reference to a membership covenant or contract being enforced on anyone!

  54. mirele wrote:

    But of course the ADF is not going to tell their readers the unvarnished truth about what their rights and obligations are under the First Amendment, because it’s not scary enough. The ADF makes bank on cases where it can cry “religious freedom!”, when, in many cases, it’s just a b*tthurt person who wants permission to discriminate because s/he thinks Jesus will love him/her more if s/he strikes a blow at the “h*m*s.”

    Yes, but it is not necessarily that simple. If a pastor does not comply with either the requirements of the denomination and if it is a denom that assigns pastors to posts, then he can find himself unassigned and therefore out flipping burgers, or whatever else he may be trained to do.

    Aside: IMO everybody needs to have backup knowledge/skills because ‘life’ happens to everybody.

    Or if a pastor in a different denom does not keep the congregation happy he can find himself voted out of the job by the congregation. And either way he can find himself and his wife and his kids ridiculed and marginalized and simply ‘not invited’ socially. And alway there are other reasons that can be used as explanation for his job problems-did not visit the sick frequently enough, did not have inspiring sermons, failed to have vision based ideas for church growth, whatever.

    And what you have said about what you perceive to be said clergy person’s reasons for his choices is pretty good evidence that there is plenty enough intense feeling in favor of same sex marriage that vilification would/could indeed be heaped upon him. First amendment or not.

    I don’t know how any membership contracts would help that particular situation. Employment contracts perhaps? I am not a lawyer so I don’t know if clergy employment contracts would be an answer to the issue or not.

  55. An Attorney wrote:

    No where in the New Testament do I see a reference to a membership covenant or contract being enforced on anyone!

    Precisely. There is a covenant, and Jesus made it. It is primarily about the legal standing betweem God and man, and derived from that the church as a new ‘family’.
    Within that church are structures for discipline if needed, but membership of any one local body is voluntary and a ‘freewill’ decision.

    I can’t get my head around needing legal contracts to be drawn up and signed between members and leaders in a local church. It’s not in the bible. It seems to be more a reflection of the litigation society so beloved in the States and which has long since crossed the Pond to the UK as well. But the church of all places ought to be the place where the law does not need to be invoked to settle disputes. It is supposed to be about cultivating close friendships and healthy relationships, and these by definition can hardly be legally enforced.

  56. @ An Attorney:

    We don’t use the term “new testament” any more when talking about “church” because that would give people somewhere to go for the answers. We use the terms ‘gospel’ and ‘biblical’ because those words are more difficult to pin down and make obfuscation easier.

  57. Godith wrote:

    I have tried to research membership agreements, contracts, covenants,etc. and can find almost nothing except TWW!

    I have recently become aware of this which makes it even more important that I set up a resource page dealing with it.

  58. @ Dave MacKenzie:

    Much of Sande’s advice is questionable. For example, pastors are usually not experts in contract law. Their understanding and subsequent *ruling* in such a situation will most likely be subpar. In fact, it could be in error. Even worse, they could be inadvertently be violating some obscure laws with their suggestions and intervention.

    I think it would be nice if a church could negotiate some simple matters like”Joe ran over my dog and should help me pay the vet bills.”That’s about it.

    After watching the advice given by a number of pastors in these sorts of situations in the last 6 years, I wouldn’t trust the “keep it in the church” advice whatsoever.

    Keep an eye on this blog. If things go as expected, we will soon be writing about a horrendous situation at a well known church with a well known pastor conference circuit pastor and his team. If this doesn’t convince you that churches are overstepping their boundaries, then I will not be able to convince you.

    I do not like the fact that Sande markets to his base which are church leaders. This shows a conflict of interest from the very start.

  59. @ mirele:
    You have made my day! I love your feisty attitude and if I lived anywhere near you, I bring you coffee and join in on the action!

  60.   __

    “And Where Shall Your Treasure Be?”

    hmmm…

      And to think all this 501(c)3 membership stuff has been the by-product of one Man, who by men was falsely accused, mocked, seized, bound, scourged, smitten with the palm of the hand, reviled, crucified, and put to death. 

    Gump!

    But death could not hold Him…

    Yep !

    House of worship?

    You don’t need a lawyer to beleave on His Name today.

    🙂

    ATB

    Sopy

  61. Nancy wrote:

    Or if a pastor in a different denom does not keep the congregation happy he can find himself voted out of the job by the congregation.

    That’s why so many non-denominational churches crop up, with the by-laws made up by the founding pastor(s), and rigged in such a way that the people in the church can never get rid of the pastor. Where there are never any votes by all the people in the church, but only among the elders who have been hand-picked by the pastor.

    In some cases the members of the congregation find out that they are not even members in a legal sense, that only (some or all of) the elders are legally members of the church.

    These legal constructs make life all that more convenient for the pastors, and tie in nicely with the rising tide of authoritarianism in American evangelicalism, and evangelicalism in general.

  62. mirele wrote:

    If you are a minister and you have a church, you CANNOT be forced to marry anyone against your will. Period. The End. We have this now. Example: You can’t force a Catholic priest to marry you unless you go through the hoops to get a Catholic marriage. I couldn’t waltz down to the big Mormon Temple in the center of town here and tell them I’d like to use their facility for a wedding–it just doesn’t work like that. Religions and ministers are protected by the First Amendment.

    You are correct about this. Even in Norway, where there is a state run church and pastors/bishops, etc are appointed by the state, the King stepped in and said no one should be forced to violate their conscience in performing gay marriage.

    But that does not fit the narrative that some Christians want. Some groups are alarmists and actually make bank on scaring people. Just like at the stupid Y2K stuff that was taken up by some of these pastors and their buddies who made bank on selling freeze dried food, seeds, etc.
    There was a couple who I knew quite well in my church who loaded up their car with generators, seed, hoes, and even soap making implements and headed to the North and went “off grid.”

    I tried to convince them that they were over reacting. The guy started crying, telling me that so many people were going to die. I kid you not. So, i backed off and made some off the cuff joke that I knew where to go when the world collapsed.

    What he said next startled me. he said that I could not come to his bunker because I didn’t prepare and he had just enough for his wife and him. He said he was going to shoot anyone who stepped foot onto his property! This is the attitude he picked up from reading all those “Its the end of the world ” scenarios put out by Christian pastors and people trying to make a buck off hysteria.

  63. dee wrote:

    I do not like the fact that Sande markets to his base which are church leaders. This shows a conflict of interest from the very start.

    He created a nice little niche market for himself and church organizations who can afford his services. The poor and downtrodden . . . well, not do much.

  64. An Attorney wrote:

    No where in the New Testament do I see a reference to a membership covenant or contract being enforced on anyone

    Of course not. This has nothing to do with the Bible and everything to do with controlling people. Watch carefully for the next round. I predict that some of the Calvinista brigade will come out with history books purporting to *prove* that the early church did have convenience. You wait.

    I had one Reformed Baptist guy comment on the blog sometime in the past year saying the these covenants went all the way back, get ready, it’s coming….to the Puritans!!!

  65. Ken wrote:

    I can’t get my head around needing legal contracts to be drawn up and signed between members and leaders in a local church.

    It really is quite simple. Read 9 Marks material. They want to control your rights of conscience. If you come to a point where you disagree with their trajectory and want to leave, that is no good enough. You have to leave and go immediately to a 9 Marks *approved* church.

    These folks want to create a Puritan like church in which they have control over all aspects of your life. It is downright silly. It reminds me of a kid who got beat up in middle school who vowed to exact control and revenge over all of his bullies. Now he is the guy in charge and the tables have been turned.

  66. Nancy wrote:

    We don’t use the term “new testament” any more when talking about “church” because that would give people somewhere to go for the answers.

    Great comment!

  67. Gus wrote:

    In some cases the members of the congregation find out that they are not even members in a legal sense, that only (some or all of) the elders are legally members of the church.

    I have been meaning to get into this. They claim that the members are the church. But, if you look for the documents, you will see the names of the pastors and others who actually hold the church and its contents.

    Note carefully what is going on with the Mars Hill assets. I do not know much about this but I intend to learn.

  68. Bridget wrote:

    He created a nice little niche market for himself and church organizations who can afford his services.

    From what I understand, it is not cheap to bring these groups in. So, the only ones who can afford it are the ones who have control over the money and that, of course, are the leaders/pastors. The system is rigged from the outset.

    I am not saying that anyone is purposely rigging things. I don’t know if that is true or not.But I do know human nature and everyone likes the people who hold the money-especially in churches.

  69. dee wrote:

    I had one Reformed Baptist guy comment on the blog sometime in the past year saying the these covenants went all the way back, get ready, it’s coming….to the Puritans!!!

    That actually wouldn’t surprise me. Even so, it wouldn’t make the practice acceptable just because it has always been around. Besides, the Puritans did quite a few things that would land a person in jail today and things I wouldn’t want to give an answer for. Making people sign church covenants to be ‘in’ is one of them.

  70. Bridget wrote:

    Besides, the Puritans did quite a few things that would land a person in jail today and things
    I wouldn’t want to give an answer for

    Blasphemy! The Puritans are the current approved™l group du jour. Get with the program.

  71. dee wrote:

    Read 9 Marks material.

    Dangerous headline material there: Wartbug Watch Now Recommending 9 Marks Materials Bridget being treated by Nancy for shock; An Attorney threatens legal action; the Man Behind the Curtain to take centre stage in resisting this unexpected change. … 🙂

    I don’t see why we need to have more than a membership roll. It’s sad that the word minister has fallen into virtual disuse, as it means to serve, and been replaced with Pastor with his Leadership Team in a shepherding, governmental role.

    Actually, I wonder if these convenants might actually go all the way back to the NT itself, where Paul said and from among your own selves will arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Discipleship, which I understand to be following Christ, becomes following men instead. That was the essence of the disciplement/shepherding error, and attempts at control of the flock you are talking about here just another variation on this theme.

  72. Nancy wrote:

    Yes, but it is not necessarily that simple. If a pastor does not comply with either the requirements of the denomination and if it is a denom that assigns pastors to posts, then he can find himself unassigned and therefore out flipping burgers, or whatever else he may be trained to do.
    Aside: IMO everybody needs to have backup knowledge/skills because ‘life’ happens to everybody.
    Or if a pastor in a different denom does not keep the congregation happy he can find himself voted out of the job by the congregation. And either way he can find himself and his wife and his kids ridiculed and marginalized and simply ‘not invited’ socially. And alway there are other reasons that can be used as explanation for his job problems-did not visit the sick frequently enough, did not have inspiring sermons, failed to have vision based ideas for church growth, whatever.
    And what you have said about what you perceive to be said clergy person’s reasons for his choices is pretty good evidence that there is plenty enough intense feeling in favor of same sex marriage that vilification would/could indeed be heaped upon him. First amendment or not.
    I don’t know how any membership contracts would help that particular situation. Employment contracts perhaps? I am not a lawyer so I don’t know if clergy employment contracts would be an answer to the issue or not.

    Well, the thing here is that courts would absolutely NOT intervene in doctrinal disputes, even if they include employment. This can lead to some very grotesque results. Let me give you a very recent example. A federal judge decided that a couple who had formerly been Scientologists and had given money, had to go through Scientology’s mediation procedure to get the money back. Even though, as former members, kicked out, the person who would run the procedure couldn’t talk to them because they’re apostates, and even more, the procedure had never actually been used. It was just put in place as part of the 1993 agreement that got Scientology its coveted tax return. So while there was extreme injustice done to the Garcias, there was nothing Judge Whittemore could do for them, because it was all within the religion. The same thing would happen with clergy employment contracts.

    Seriously, when I was in law school, we were told in Constitutional Law that there were only a very few things courts could not touch. Doctrinal disputes of any sort were at the absolute top of the list. There have been a number of cases over the past couple of decades involving congregations who have left the Episcopal Church-USA, and the diocese claims the property. While, at bottom, it’s a doctrinal dispute, in order for the court to hear it, it has to be all about property law. The moment making decisions based on doctrine enters the picture, judges want OUT.

    So, the long and the short of it is that churches can hire and fire ministers based on doctrine and there will be no appeal to the courts because the courts will not touch it with a 50 foot pole. That was why the Garcia case was so distressing. The Garcias had approached it as a contract issue, and it had been in court for a couple of years before the judge decided it was a religious issue and he couldn’t touch it.

  73. @ Godith:
    1I don’t think you’ll find “nnormal” churches using this kind of coercion. Because it is about belief, not manipulation and control. Literally. I don’t have to sign anything in the denomination i belong to, and doubt it would even occur to them to ask for any such thing.

    These covenants seem more like loyalty oaths (mmade to a king or queen) than so-cso-called “mmemberdhip” documents.

  74. @ mirele:

    Wow. Pity the Garcias.

    So, how are we saying that these church membership covenants are legal contracts while the legal system is saying ‘don’t look at us in this matter?’ If they are legal, but not our legal system, which seems to be the issue, what legal system are we talking about? Or are they basically worth no more than an old sears-roebuck catalog in an outhouse?

  75. Nancy wrote:

    If they are legal, but not our legal system, which seems to be the issue, what legal system are we talking about?

    “Just like Shari’a, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”?

  76. numo wrote:

    I don’t have to sign anything in the denomination i belong to, and doubt it would even occur to them to ask for any such thing.

    I have never been asked to sign anything, but when I became a methodist we did acknowledge in a public church ceremony that we would support the church with, if I remember correctly, the equivalent of time, talents and financial support. I believe that is correct but it was a while back.

    When my kids and grandkids became ‘baptized episcopalians’ from having been duly baptized baptists, the parent filled out a family request form on line, furnished the dates and places where each family member had been baptized using the trinitarian formula, and got a notification e-mail from the church that they had been accepted for membership a couple days later. Of course, they had been participating there for some time and were known, but I am just saying there were no legal papers to sign or public vows or promises to be made for membership in a different church/denom.

  77. dee wrote:

    It reminds me of a kid who got beat up in middle school who vowed to exact control and revenge over all of his bullies. Now he is the guy in charge and the tables have been turned.

    I’ve always gotten that exact impression about Womb Tomb Swanson — a High School Dork/Omega Male who found a way to become Alpha Male by Divine Right and is throwing his weight around HARD. No, HARDER. “IT’S PAYBACK TIME!”

  78. dee wrote:

    Watch carefully for the next round. I predict that some of the Calvinista brigade will come out with history books purporting to *prove* that the early church did have convenience. You wait.

    oceania has always been at peace with eurasia, comrade.

  79. dee wrote:

    There was a couple who I knew quite well in my church who loaded up their car with generators, seed, hoes, and even soap making implements and headed to the North and went “off grid.”

    What he said next startled me. he said that I could not come to his bunker because I didn’t prepare and he had just enough for his wife and him. He said he was going to shoot anyone who stepped foot onto his property!

    “Just like Survivalism, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”

    And Jim Bakker (of Jim & Tammy fame) is still hawking Christian Survivalist Supply Hoards. Except this time it’s The Antichrist(TM) instead of Y2K(TM) and the price has gone up.

  80. @ numo:

    The lutheran school where one of my grandkids goes may be the same kind of lutheran you are. Anyhow, one of the subjects on the kids report card is ‘religion’ and part of that (only part) is church and sunday school attendance. The kids get credit for attendance regardless of where they go to church. So said grandkid gets religion credit at a lutheran school for, among other things, being a participating episcopalian. I think that is so reasonable.

  81. mirele wrote:

    You know, if Alliance Defending Freedom wasn’t located in a soulless office park along one of Scottsdale’s concrete arteries (freeway), I’d picket it, just on general principles. But it wouldn’t be worth it. Not at all like picketing the Celebrity Centre in Hollywood, where the locals all know about Scientology and cheer you on.

    HAIL XENU!

  82. @ Ken:
    I think any time a church calls a new pastor, there should be a contract drawn up by the church, with legal counsel, that limits what the pastor can do in governing the church, requiring that any changes to that contract must be approved by a 2/3 vote of the membership with the discussion occurring with legal counsel and without the pastor being present or speaking for the change.

  83. I have to get this off my chest… You know what is irritating me and pushing my buttons in addition to this said approach to membership covenants? Its the term “non-denominational church” When are evangelical Christians going to own up and confess that “non denomination” IS a denomination.

    Furthermore its hugely dishonest and deceptive to have SBC, Evangelical Free, etc… hide behind the name non-denominational when they are a denomination.

  84. Headless Unicorn Guy wrote:

    I’ve always gotten that exact impression about Womb Tomb Swanson — a High School Dork/Omega Male who found a way to become Alpha Male by Divine Right and is throwing his weight around HARD. No, HARDER. “IT’S PAYBACK TIME!”

    Ah, old womb tomb Swanson. A truly fascinating study in “something is really off about this guy!”

  85.   __

    “Religious faith as a temporal resource is wasted if authority is not invested in the people that market the product; in this case Christianity.” ~Sopwith

  86. @ Eagle:

    SBC does seem to be like a denomination now, but that was not always the case. Baptists used to be proud of the fact that the SBC could not tell the individual churches what to do (they could dissociate but that was all) and that “no baptist can tell any other baptist what to believe.” So, you see how much has changed.

  87. @ An Attorney:

    That sounds like an idea, but who would enforce it if the civil courts won’t get involved? I am still not getting a feel for where this all leaves us.

  88. The one thing that should put people off on signing a covenant/contract for a religious group is that there is virtually no recourse in secular court. At best, you will be stuck in a mediation where your best interests will come in a distant second to the interests of the group. At worst, you will have nowhere to turn and your only choice will be to leave and send a letter of resignation.

  89. Nancy wrote:

    So, how are we saying that these church membership covenants are legal contracts while the legal system is saying ‘don’t look at us in this matter?’ If they are legal, but not our legal system, which seems to be the issue, what legal system are we talking about? Or are they basically worth no more than an old sears-roebuck catalog in an outhouse?

    There’s no real good way to look at church contracts/covenants that meshes with the U.S. legal system for the simple reason that once it gets into church doctrine, the legal system will not touch it due to the First Amendment. Thus, you’re limited to whatever remedies (if any) are spelled out in the covenant/contract. It could be mediation, it could be a church trial, it could be nothing or anything.

    In some ways this is worse than an End User Licensing Agreement. Even if you skip over the EULA, you know you could take the time to read it and everything would be spelled out (even if it includes mediation and is incredibly onerous). These covenants/contracts can say just about anything short of breaking the law and if you let yourself be bound by them, whatever is in them goes.

  90. @ Nancy:
    Baptism is all that is actually needed; cf. the historic churches (pre- and immediately post-Reformation). Confirmation is the final thing for full “membership,” but it has nothing to do with the kinds of things demanded in these documents by the kinds of controlling, cult-like churches that insist on them. That’s not, shall we say, terribly “biblical,” no matter how much they claim it is.

  91. Eagle wrote:

    I have to get this off my chest… You know what is irritating me and pushing my buttons in addition to this said approach to membership covenants? Its the term “non-denominational church” When are evangelical Christians going to own up and confess that “non denomination” IS a denomination.
    Furthermore its hugely dishonest and deceptive to have SBC, Evangelical Free, etc… hide behind the name non-denominational when they are a denomination.

    Well what about groups like the “Association of Related Churches”? They’re a non-denominational denomination which I suspect exists in some ways to give legal cover (and tax benefits) to its church and ministry members.

  92.   __

    “There is a lot of bull$hit out there, keep your eyes on the prize for which you were won by Christ Jesus.

  93. @ Nancy:

    Well the school is affiliated with the church and the church is Missouri synod. I don’t know the details of how “affiliated” a school which markets to the public might or might not be. They emphasized to us that they were conservative and lutheran but had a broad policy for the students. Beyond that, I have no idea.

  94. @ Nancy:

    Anyhow, the school has been around since the middle of the last century and has a good reputation all around, and we are impressed so far. I think one of the reasons the child’s father did not object might be because nobody thinks the lutherans are cultish. And this being the south, I am thinking that not too many people think that lutherans are conservative, given what goes on in some other religious traditions around here.

  95. @ Nancy:

    Maybe I should think this all through and not have to do so many different posts. So far including kids and grandkids they have variously gone to pre schools, schools or universities that were baptist, methodist, disciples of christ, moravian and now lutheran. And of course public schools and universities. So far we have not run into anything that is over the cliff, but of course we check things out as well as possible and we are, well, ummm, resilient I guess would be the word.

  96. @ Melissa:

    I know, right? The closest my (liberal wishy-washy worldly etc.) church gets to this is that if you attend for more than a couple of months they’re going to expect you to sign your name on the list for coffee hour and/or sandwiches for the homeless shelter. Covenants with a church?! I already have a covenant with God, thanks.

  97. Whenever I see an attorney giving advice in a national forum I take it with a huge grain of salt. And for an attorney to write an article for national consumption saying that doing this or that will lead to a particular result under contract law makes no sense to me at all. I didn’t see anywhere in her article any advice that churches should consult local attorneys regarding a state’s laws on enforceability of various contract provisions.

    Contract law is almost exclusively the product of the individual state’s laws and enforcement is almost always in state courts, not federal courts. She just writes down five steps to take and offers a downloadable guide for churches to follow. If the elder board at my church asked me what I thought of following advice from an article written on a website, I’d tell them to hire legal counsel to look everything over carefully.

  98. Eagle wrote:

    I have to get this off my chest… You know what is irritating me and pushing my buttons in addition to this said approach to membership covenants? Its the term “non-denominational church” When are evangelical Christians going to own up and confess that “non denomination” IS a denomination.

    Furthermore its hugely dishonest and deceptive to have SBC, Evangelical Free, etc… hide behind the name non-denominational when they are a denomination.

    The Non-Denominational Denomination.

    Though a phone-in to a radio talk show some 30 years ago said it best:
    “Non-denominational — you know, Fundamental Baptist with the labels painted over?”

  99. dee wrote:

    Ah, old womb tomb Swanson. A truly fascinating study in “something is really off about this guy!”

    I’ve gotten similar “something is really off” about Ayn Rand (Objectivist cult leader and latest Fourth Person of the Trinity) and David Miscavage (current head honcho of Scientology).
    * Rand — something non-human trying to impersonate a human.
    * Miscavage — stone psychopath, capable of anything.

  100. Sopwith wrote:

      Is members only clubs next. Churches might loose their tax exemption but make up for the loss by membership dues.

    I once skimmed a “Church Discipline” book by Puritan John Owen and found this “members only club” mentality way back in the day.

  101. Brent Detwiler’s new post 04/10/2015, see how your PDI/$GM tithe dollars work for you…on Prosperity Church Road…there is even contract/covenants mentioned, interesting reading!

  102. LOL. The Alliance Defending Freedom. LOL.

    I attended an officially non-denominational Christian school (a “classical Christian academy”) a while back. It was actually a pretty good school overall, and although most of the faculty were Calvinist, they did give a pretty even-handed overview of most of the topics, including church history. Fundamentalist it wasn’t, not by a long shot.

    However, they did have a guest lecturer for the Law module who was from the ADF. He was pretty much your stereotypical pushy, know-it-all, Sheldon Cooper-but-with-nine-kids Calvinist lawyer. Despite being a lawyer, he thought himself qualified to also give a short lecture on Christian orthodoxy and the patristic era.

    Now, whenever a Calvinist says he’s going to tell you about the church fathers, you know that whatever you hear is going to be skewed, BIG TIME. After all, most of the Church Fathers themselves would almost certainly have considered most “Reformed” teachings to be heresy, and so Calvinists find themselves having to rewrite church history to make it seem like Augustine was the only Father worth

  103. (oops, posted too soon)

    LOL. The Alliance Defending Freedom. LOL.

    I attended an officially non-denominational Christian school (a “classical Christian academy”) a while back. It was actually a pretty good school overall, and although most of the faculty were Calvinist, they did give a pretty even-handed overview of most of the topics, including church history. Fundamentalist it wasn’t, not by a long shot.

    However, they did have a guest lecturer for the Law module who was from the ADF. He was pretty much your stereotypical pushy, know-it-all, Sheldon Cooper-but-with-nine-kids Calvinist lawyer. Despite being a lawyer, he thought himself qualified to also give a short lecture on Christian orthodoxy and the patristic era.

    Now, whenever a Calvinist says he’s going to tell you about the church fathers, you know that whatever you hear is going to be skewed, BIG TIME. After all, most of the Church Fathers themselves would almost certainly have considered most “Reformed” teachings to be heresy, and so Calvinists find themselves having to rewrite church history to make it seem like Augustine was the only Father whose opinion actually mattered. Also, an especially bizarre movement was when this lawyer guy said that the Copts were “kind of Nestorian”. Now, that statement is ridiculous on its face, because it was actually Rome and Constantinople who were accused BY the Copts of being Nestorian! The Copts themselves hold to Miaphysite doctrine, which is very strongly anti-Nestorian. So this guy had no idea what he was talking about yet he actually considered himself qualified to lecture on the topic.

    (Ironically, I will probably be attending a Coptic Divine Liturgy soon, as part of a general inquiry into Eastern churches. If I become a Copt, I might start giving that lawyer credit for making me one!)

  104. Ken wrote:

    I can’t get my head around needing legal contracts to be drawn up and signed between members and leaders in a local church. It’s not in the bible.

    I’m a day or two late to this conversation but I just ran into one of these myself. At my CLB there wasn’t one of these but where I’m at now they have a document with a half dozen responsibilities that requires a signature and date for membership. No, I haven’t signed.

    As others have observed, the signature and date implies a contract. I’ve signed a few contracts in my day but they’ve always had two sets of signatures. I can’t imagine signing a contract outlining my responsibilities without a list of responsibilities by the other party and their signature attesting to their intentions. But then to have such an extensive exercise would outline the absurdity.

    I’ve read numerous objections to such activity described as using a business model for the church. Yet I’ve had business partners for decades and we’ve operated largely on a handshake basis figuring that, without good faith, trying to enforce a legal document would be fruitless and likely counter productive. So if I don’t find contracts useful in business, why should I do one with a local church?

    Contracts have their place, but not in a church and if someone thinks contracts are a business model for the church, they are using bad business models.

  105. @ Nancy:
    If the document was an employment contract and the issue was not theology but compliance with a contract signed by the pastor and the authorized representative of the church body, then a court would enforce the contract. If the issue was theology, then that would be a different matter. But a violation of the contract would remain. Also, the contract could easily define the venue for resolution of disputes, including the court where the church is.

  106. In addition to all the control/church discipline factors of membership covenants, we should not neglect to realize the other side of the coin:

    “Well, ya know, we’re sorry you lost your job and your home and now have a six-figure medical bill because you got no health insurance anymore, but you’re not a formal member of this church. Yeah, we know you attend every Sunday, serve in multiple ministries, attend the mid-week bible study, teach Sunday school, change diapers in the nursery, drive old ladies to church, sing in the choir, and tithe like a fool, but you’re not a formal member. Our benevolent fund policy, however, allows us to give non-members a one-time gift to help out in a time of need. Here’s a Target gift card.”

  107. @ An Attorney:
    If the pastor changes his doctrine after being hired that does not void the contract? As in he misrepresented himself. Do you see it happening that such things will be contractual?

  108. @ MidwesternEasterner:

    Thank you for your interesting and very informative comment.t I love the part about Sheldon with 9 kids!

    Would you keep us posted on your foray into the Copt churches? I would be most interested to hear of your thoughts and decision.

  109. Bill M wrote:

    I’ve signed a few contracts in my day but they’ve always had two sets of signatures. I can’t imagine signing a contract outlining my responsibilities without a list of responsibilities by the other party and their signature attesting to their intentions. But then to have such an extensive exercise would outline the absurdity.

    Good for you for seeing through the covenant/contract nonsense!

    I really liked you point on the two sets of signatures. Not only would it be absurd for them to outline their responsibilities, it would also reveal their intent to punish things like pride, asking too many questions, gossiping (meaning you heard that they were going to pay the pastors lots of money), etc.

  110. Steve Scott wrote:

    Our benevolent fund policy, however, allows us to give non-members a one-time gift to help out in a time of need. Here’s a Target gift card.”

    I have actually heard this argument given to one of our readers-complete with Target card!

  111. lydia wrote:

    If the pastor changes his doctrine after being hired that does not void the contract?

    I think it would be hard to do so unless it was spelled out in the original contract. Even then it could get dicey. Let’s say a church spelled out they wanted a traditional Baptist. Well, that could be interpreted in many ways, as you know. I think your could spell out things like “Will always allow women elders/” However, he could still undermine the whole thing by getting elders who support him and having them do the dirty work.

  112. dee wrote:

    reveal their intent to punish

    I don’t think the signed document is because of bad intent but a desire to get folks to make a commitment to their fellow believers. Unfortunately that can be twisted over time into a commitment to the institution. Has someone been presented with a contract for friendship?

    At the CLB, the pastor gave a message that included saying skepticism was bad and equated it to cynicism. The message was on wisdom, of all things. Thanks for the encouragement, I’ll stick with the Bereans and keep a healthy skepticism.

  113. dee wrote:

    There was a couple who I knew quite well in my church who loaded up their car with generators, seed, hoes, and even soap making implements and headed to the North and went “off grid.”

    So sorry to hear that people you know drank that Kool-Ade, Dee. Did you ever hear from them after they moved away? Have they come to their senses yet, or are they still trying to convince themselves that civilization ended 15 years ago? I imagine the “sunk costs” involved in their move would make it hard to come back…

  114. Bill M wrote:

    I don’t think the signed document is because of bad intent but a desire to get folks to make a commitment to their fellow believers.

    I have been doing a ton of reading on these contracts. If you read all the statements by Sande and other such groups, they all say these are to protect the church from lawsuits. Now, whether that is evil or not-I can’t say but it has little to do with commitment to your fellow believers and everything to do with the ability of the leaders to discipline you without any parameters.

    Here is the quote from the lawyer in the post.

    “Only those persons who “unite” with the church have consented to the church’s authority over them. As a result, churches with formal members have greater legal protection when it becomes necessary to exercise church discipline.”

    We have written extensively on this issue and in every case, the legal aspect of the control over a member and the ability to discipline him with legal impunity is stated as the reason for these contracts.

    They were never meant to be some “Kum bay ya” moment in which we join hands with our local church members and vow to love them through thick and thin. That is what we are being sold, but it isn’t true. Here are two of many posts that we have written on this subject.

    http://thewartburgwatch.com/2013/08/12/membership-covenants-are-primarily-legal-protection-for-the-church/

    http://thewartburgwatch.com/2013/08/14/ill-defined-church-discipline-in-the-hands-of-sinful-leadership/

  115. Serving Kids In Japan wrote:

    Did you ever hear from them after they moved away? Have they come to their senses yet,

    Well, they have never admitted it but both now have jobs. he is still trying to get the electric company to take them off the grid without much success. Now, it is a *rights* issue.

  116. @ Bill M:

    PS-Make sure you read Todd Wilhelm’s story if you haven’t already. Also, we hope to be able to publish an incredibly upsetting story from one the *approved* megachurches in the near future. You will get a chance to see how they use these things and it ain’t pretty.

  117. @ dee:

    I totally agree which is why the “one way” contract/covenant is a joke. What people are basically saying by signing these is that the “church authorities” have the right to decide if I am member in good standing and the right to harass me over it. (That harassment takes many forms depending on the church but the point is you cannot just walk away and say what you want about your experience there because you signed the contract. People who sign these give the church the right to present them to the congregation in any way they want. That is why it is very important to formally end the membership. People might not be aware of how this can also hurt their careers)

    The courts see all this as adults voluntarily joining a group over religious beliefs. The best thing we can do is warn folks of the dangers even if they seem like the nicest people in the world at the time.

  118. @ Serving Kids In Japan:
    I am aware of a family who, in preparation, obtained additional credit cards; refinanced their house, increasing their debt to get more cash out, etc. Then bought some property in a remote area, financed to the hilt. Then spent like crazy on generator, fuel, food stuff, tools, weapons, etc., spent to the limit on the cards. After Y2K failed to be the “end time”, they declared bankruptcy!!!! Not a very good “Christian witness”!

  119. @ dee:
    Thanks for the heads up. I’m looking at having lunch with one of the elders and will be interested in the genesis of the membership document. After recently reading some books on the church, one “Finding Church” by Wayne Jacobsen and others of a similar bent, I’m not real sure on membership anymore anyway. While I’m also not sold on the non-institutional church idea of Jacobsen, just reading such subversive literature will likely be a red flag to many pastors.

    Also thanks for everyone here. I ran across Wartburg Watch last December when I had just gone through my own, I’m not sure what to call it, church challenge? I found the postings here so useful I started at the beginning of the blog and read most every post and most of the comments. It was instrumental in helping me process what had happened, so many stories echoed my own. Thankfully it may not have taken as long for me to process because so many of you were a lot further down the road and shared your stories. I figured it was time to come out of the shadow and toss in my two cents.

    Thanks to all, you’re gems, and of course special thanks to the hosts Dee and Deb for taking their time and energy.

  120. I prefer the way some of the holiness churches, such as the Church of the Nazarene, do membership.

    Their manual spells out exactly what is expected of you should you apply for membership, and for what you can lose your membership. You don’t sign a covenant but like the UMC there are some promises and vows.

    And if you disagree with something in the manual and for that reason choose not to join? Every one I’ve ever been in will welcome you with open arms anyway. There might be some specific roles in leadership non members cannot fulfill, but that is to be expected. They generally understand that a healthy church will have attenders who for whatever reason do not wish to join. The step of membership is more like “ok, if I am going to go out in the world and represent this church and promote it, here is what the church expects of me in beliefs and behavior.”

    Sort of like you can buy Coca Cola, sell Coca Cola down at Safeway, and drink Coca Cola without being employed by Coke. But IF you want to work for Coke, Coke has the right to set parameters.

  121. Elders become elders by agreeing with the pastors in the vast majority of churches.

    In our former church, elders wielded all the power because they were lifetime appointees. Pastors became pastors by agreeing to become the elders’ lapdogs.

  122. dee wrote:

    There was a couple who I knew quite well in my church who loaded up their car with generators, seed, hoes, and even soap making implements and headed to the North and went “off grid.”

    What you described seems over the line certainly, but we basically packed up and got out of Dodge when we fled the urban chaos and violence of the city where we were and moved to small town NC. We did not bring generators and freeze-dried food, but we grabbed up the kids and our clothing and medical books and packed it all in a van-truck and headed east over the mountains. Decades later I still think that it was a great idea for us. I love this place.

    I do think there is a time to pack up and get out when I read about some of the targeted peoples in mid-century europe who had been told and were aware of the danger but stayed for one reason or the other. One well known writer about that period who himself was in a camp as an adolescent has written about this. So, would I load up and move on and leave all behind again? In a flash if I had to or even ought to.

  123. Bill M wrote:

    Also thanks for everyone here. I ran across Wartburg Watch last December when I had just gone through my own, I’m not sure what to call it, church challenge?

    When I was going through my challenge there was ONE blog that had the nerve to address the real problems in Christendom (with comments) out there: Slice of Laodicea. I have a special place in my heart for Ingrid Schlueter. We don’t agree on all things but she is a women of courage and she ultimately paid a high price. She was sort of a pioneer who paved the way. I wish there had been a TWW back then, too.

    I am impressed you have read the entire blog! That is a great way to process!

  124. @ Lydia:
    It looks like Ingrid is now going through her own torment at the hands of her own father. It makes my head spin.

  125. @ Bill M:

    Mine too. I feel so bad for her. I have become very cautious about those who make a living in ministry. I have not seen that turn out well in many years. I must be living in the wrong neighborhood. :o)

  126. Lydia wrote:

    Slice of Laodicea

    I used to read there too. What an intriguing name! Laodicea is certainly all too often a picture of the modern western church.

    It’s a shame if Ingrid has had a rough time since then. I remember her being down about something once so I sent her a Limerick on the theme – cheered her up a treat. Perhaps at the moment though humour would not be an appropriate thing, there is a time for everything.

  127. I just realised something… in England, a contract is defined as the provision of goods or services in return for a consideration (payment in money or kind). Without payment (voluntary donations wouldn’t count), there is no contract, so the document is not legally enforceable and a court would throw it out. US law may take a different approach, but I think the principle is fairly general.

    That said, joining and leaving a church are matters of fact. You can also argue that freedom of religion means that a church cannot stop you from leaving at any time, even when you are under discipline.

  128. Arce wrote:

    @ Serving Kids In Japan:
    I am aware of a family who, in preparation, obtained additional credit cards; refinanced their house, increasing their debt to get more cash out, etc. Then bought some property in a remote area, financed to the hilt. Then spent like crazy on generator, fuel, food stuff, tools, weapons, etc., spent to the limit on the cards. After Y2K failed to be the “end time”, they declared bankruptcy!!!! Not a very good “Christian witness”!

    Sounds like a Survivalist variant on “Run up your credit cards, Christ is Coming Soon (as in Rapture any minute now) and you won’t ever have to pay them back!”

  129. dee wrote:

    Serving Kids In Japan wrote:

    Did you ever hear from them after they moved away? Have they come to their senses yet,

    Well, they have never admitted it but both now have jobs. he is still trying to get the electric company to take them off the grid without much success. Now, it is a *rights* issue.

    From Y2K Survivalists to Sovereign Citizen Manifestos…

  130. MidwesternEasterner wrote:

    Now, whenever a Calvinist says he’s going to tell you about the church fathers, you know that whatever you hear is going to be skewed, BIG TIME.

    After all, there is only One church father, and his name is CALVIN.

  131. Hmmmm, re: PDI/$GM, excerpt from BD 04/17/2015 post:

    “I knew about these things because I did all the master planning for SGM and the men on the leadership team. That involved coordinating and scheduling our vacations, teaching weeks in the Pastors College, ministry travel including international trips, retreats of various kinds, and numerous conferences. We had to plan 2-3 years in advance. I was also extensively involved in developing policies and procedures for SGM.”

    Guess it is always good to know “the source of the force.” AKA “the brains of the operation.”

  132.   __

    “Some Day This ‘Religious War’ Gonna End…”

    @ Foot

    “I knew about these things because I did all the master planning for SGM and the men on the leadership team…” ~ BurntD

    hmmm…

    Da proverbial ‘monster’ behind the SGM curtain?

    Who knew…

    hahahahahaha

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k26hmRbDQFw

  133. This may be worth mentioning, upon reflection.

    I have a friend of mine moving to the DC area who was considering attending a CHBC satellite church while he goes to school at Georgetown. Being recently tipped off by TWW about some of the serious red flags raised by that church and the 9 marks group, I passed along my concerns along with some links to the stories I saw here.

    He didn’t really see what the big deal was at first.

    He said something interesting though to go along with this, and I ran with it. He said his church (an SBC church which I have attended for several years) has a very similar membership covenant, and similar language about members and church discipline to CHBC’s. I had never really thought of that. Here’s the thing though – in my entire time there, only ONCE was I approached about membership. Once. One of the pastors mentioned it to me, almost off-hand. That’s it. None of the other pastors ever brought the issue up to me. They took the time to know me, and that’s what mattered to them. If I had wanted to teach a class or deal with kids, that was a different matter, and they would have required me to become a member and submit to a background check.

    In other words, what a church has in their covenant and what they actually enforce and make a big deal about is very important and sometimes misleading. This makes stories from people who have been there and seen the underbelly very important. My friend would have never known, and I could have never brought it to his attention without the investigative work done here.