“… you don't have to wait for someone to treat you bad repeatedly. All it takes is once, and if they get away with it that once, if they know they can treat you like that, then it sets the pattern for the future.” ― Jane Green, Bookends link
Grand Canyon Sunset
The problem with the application of Matthew 18
"I did Matthew 18, I prayed and was careful in how I worded what I said. Yet, instead of addressing my concern, my pastor became angry at me and said I was gossiping and causing disunity. I was eventually asked to leave the church. I did what the Bible said. What went wrong? For the last 6 years, we have heard variations on this comment from people who have had bad experiences with a church and its leaders. I often think of the lyrics to Bon Jovi's classic "You Give Love a Bad Name."
An angel's smile is what you sell,
You promise me heaven then put me through hell
I play my part and you play your game
You give love a bad name
I believe that the problem for the church today is the rise of the authoritarian leaders who believe that their words trump the words of the church member. The Bible discusses so many sins, it is quite simple of an egomaniac to turn the table and make you a problem for raising an issue.
Here is a true situation involving my husband and me. We went to our pastor to discuss a surprising conflict that had occurred in our Sunday school class. Unbeknownst to us, young earth creationism was treated almost like a primary doctrine. Unfortunately, this was not mentioned in the membership documents and statement of beliefs. When we urged the pastor to help potential members to understand this belief to prevent conflicts, he said he would not since it might prevent people from joining the church. We made the argument that people like us then get caught in unnecessary arguments and that, in fact, we would not have joined the church. We begged him to reconsider.
Suddenly, he turned around to me and said in an a loud voice, "You are being arrogant and condescending." Shocked, I stammered, "How?" At the time I was holding a huge cup of tea with two hands, sitting in a wing chair, pointing out something in a book he recommended. He replied, "It's your body language." I could tell my husband was becoming angry and I soon realized the discussion was useless. We went in to have a discussion and came out the losers. We followed Matthew 18 but the pastor was not going to play along.
My husband asked it would help to discuss this with the elders. He then responded "In the 28 years I have been pastor, the elders have only disagreed with me twice." This also meant it would be useless to carry this up the food chain since it was apparent in this "plurality of elders" the pastor was the big cheese. We would find this to be true later on when a pedophile situation caused much pain at the church.
When this happens, you can be sure that your church is run by authoritarians and will view any concern as a direct threat.
Review how this worked. We had observed a problem. We were leading a large Sunday school class. We, as leaders, did not understand the underlying dynamics which caused incredible conflict in the church. We attempted to discuss it and ended up, in short order, being made the problem. We should have made our plans to leave then. We didn't and ended up embroiled in an ugly pedophile situation. In the end, God used the experience as I started to blog.
It is important to note that said church never did change. In fact, it is heavily involved in The Gospel™ Coalition, has instituted membership contracts and featured CJ Mahaney as a speaker in the last year.
Recommendation: Get out of this church
If you have a concern about something going on in your church and you are treated like I was, do not be deceived into thinking that if you just try harder, you will make a difference. Following Matthew 18 will not make difference. You are making an assumption that you are both playing by the rules. However, in some instances this is not true. When this happens you are at a disadvantage and it is time to get out since further conversations most likely will lead to you being thought of as a problem and that can lead to church discipline.
Jonathan Leeman: Leader of the church discipline movement.
There is no question that Jonathan Leeman is the leader in the pro church discipline movement. He represents the thinking of 9 Marks' Mark Dever. In an article by Jonathan Merritt, Shepherds or shamers? The rise of church discipline in America (ANALYSIS)
Jonathan Leeman, author of “Church Discipline: How the Church Protects the Name of Jesus,” runs a Washington-based ministry that believes rigorous church discipline is one of the nine central components of a “biblical church.”
If a church member is found to be participating in significant sinful behavior, the congregation should enact discipline. This may include excommunication or public disclosure of the situation, but usually it only requires personally confronting the sinner.
…The purpose of church discipline, according to Leeman, is to protect Jesus’ name, show redemptive love for the sinner and warn the broader church against a greater judgment in the afterlife. But he also readily admits that church discipline can become authoritarian and abusive.
Abusive church discipline
How do the church discipline proponents like Leeman view authoritarian and abusive discipline? Secondly, how does Leeman's own ministry, which is supposed to be the expert in this area, possibly contribute to this abuse? Merritt says:
But church discipline critics claim that abuse is the rule rather than the exception, and they argue the Bible doesn’t teach church discipline as it is commonly practiced.
Wade Burleson, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Okla., said it should look more like helping alcoholics overcome addiction than public shaming of those going through divorce.
“Church discipline doesn’t mean kicking people out when they fail,” he said. “It means loving people enough to walk with people through their valleys.”
The dubious history of church discipline
Leeman and others claim that church discipline has been practices through the ages. How it was practiced is another story. Again from Merritt:
Those who promote rigorous church discipline say they have history on their side. And they are at least partially correct. But when Christians speak of church discipline today, they may not be referring to the practices of yore. Even the most stringent adherent would not condone behaviors reminiscent of American witch hunts or the Spanish Inquisition, for example.
“The Puritan model is to put people in the town square or the village green in the stocks as a way of shaming the individual,” said Randall Balmer, a professor of American religious history at Dartmouth College and author of “The Making of Evangelicalism.”
One need only add Calvin's approval of the killing of Michael Servetus for heresy and Roger Williams, the founder of the US Baptists, who was banished by the Puritans for his belief in the freedom of worship to realize that kooky church discipline has been around for a long time.
The epic fail of church discipline today
The Village Church discipline of Karen Hinkley, along with the seemingly "all's well" approach to her former husband's 10 year habit of viewing Internet child sex abuse, spread like wildfire throughout the Christian community. Except for the "my church is always right" folks, everybody recognized the abusive nature of this situation. What made this even more concerning is that The Village Church requires one book to be read for those signing the TVC membership covenant and that is Leeman's book, Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus (9Marks: Building Healthy Churches) From Village Church
We require prospective members to read Church Membership by Jonathan Leeman before signing the Membership Covenant. This book is handed out at Covenant Membership. It explains what membership is and why it’s important to commit to a local body of believers.
Thank you to a reader of TWW for pointing this out. (Let me know if I can use your name.)
Let this fact sink in. Matt Chandler and The Village Church are held up as the super leaders of today's NeoCalvinist movement. They are supposedly doing it right. Yet, this catastrophe happened while using the Leeman's 9 Marks membership book. Can you imagine what is going on in other churches?
This is not the only occurrence of the followers of Dever, Leeman and 9Marks. One only needs to read the account of Todd Wilhelm who was held hostage at John Folmar's church, UCCD. Folmar worked with Dever and is a 9 Marks church plant. Todd made the unforgivable mistake of saying he disagreed with this church selling CJ Mahaney's books. He quit and they attempted to discipline him by refusing to let him go until he joined another 9 Marks approved church.
Leeman: What to do when a church screws up church discipline, particularly when they are using my book.
Again, thanks to a reader for pointing this out. Shortly after the TVC fiasco, Leeman wrote, Why Church Discipline Goes Awry and How To Avoid It. Here are some of his thoughts.
…wrong approaches to discipline can occur in large churches when the sheer size impels them to rely on regulated processes instead of personal pastoral care.
…A fundamentalist mindset, I’ve remarked in other writings, prefers things in black and white
…Yet I’ve been angered to hear of churches where the elders, in the name of respecting headship, condone or at least overlook reports of husbands who are harsh, severe, and demanding with their wives
…you should be leery of joining a church where the leaders play favorites, punish those who disagree, have a temper, use the silent treatment, must always have the last word, cannot be wrong, emphasize external conformity, are consistently dogmatic on both the big and small issues, seldom if ever admit they are wrong, have difficulty giving authority to others, only promote their closest friends or family members, and generally need control.
He then discussed what makes a healthy church.
I once had the opportunity to address a number of the elders of a church who handled a terribly complex case of church discipline piously but poorly. The media had picked up on the story, and a number of writers, Christian and non-Christian, charged the church with abusiveness. In fact, I know the church and its leaders, and it is a gospel-centered and healthy church. The brothers made a mistake in complicated situation, a mistake for which they quickly apologized and altered course.
Here are three things that he missed.
1. I am glad the *brothers* altered course and apologized. However, once again, there is little mention of the person who was injured in the poor decision. Leeman is church authority focused and does seem to overlook the very real pain of a victim. Let's hear more about the victims and how they are doing.
2. Secondly, it is worrisome to me that he only mentions *brothers.* Women should be are involved, even in his decidedly patriarchal system. Perhaps including the *sisters* once in awhile might lead to better understanding of the pain involved in a situation. Sidelining 50%+ of your church means you are losing out on some excellent input.
3. UCCD is a 9 Marks church. They treated Todd poorly. When will 9 Marks show us they know how to apologize?
What should a church discipline? This is the real *key.*
This is the fatal flaw in the system of church discipline. All systems need checks and balances. Since the sins that need to be disciplined are not spelled out, anything is up for grabs like:
1. Wanting to annul one's marriage to a child porn loving husband
2. Conscientious objection to supporting a ministry which has been accused of mishandling systemic child abuse.
Here is one *complete list of sins from the New Testament.* I have only copied through the *D's.* There are 124 sins in that list.
1. Abusers of Self: Self polluters, having unnatural lusts
2. Adultery (Note: Only for those who have been married)
4. Backbiters: Those who speak evil of those who are absent
5. Banqueting: A drinking party
6. Becoming a Stumbling Block to a Weak Brother Through Our Liberty: Taking liberty to do things without thinking of the effect on a weaker brother's conscience.
7. Being Angry With One's Brother: Expressing unkind thought or action toward others
12. Brother Going to Law Against Brother: No definition given, so I'll wing it. Bringing legal action against another. If someone has a better definition, please let me know.
13. Burying our Talents: Not making wise use of what God gave us
14. Calling One's Brother A Fool: Ridiculing another
15. Chambering: Unmarried people living and sleeping together
16. Clamor: Loud, continued noises
19. Corrupt Communications:Unprofitable or impure language
20. Covenant Breakers: Lightly breaking a solemn or legal pact.
22. Craftiness: Cunningness
25. Defiling the Body
27. Denying Christ
28. Desiring the Praise of Men: Doing things to gain praise.
Jared Wilson addresses weird church discipline.
On the same day that Leeman published his article, Jared Wilson posted 5 Ways to Keep Church Discipline from Seeming Weird. Is he addressing the TVC situation. Here is a synopsis of his thoughts.
In churches with healthy discipleship cultures, church discipline is going on all the time in helpful, informal, everyday ways. When the more formal processes of church discipline become necessary, they are much less likely to be carried out too harshly or received strangely. The church will already have a positive training context for knowing that discipleship requires obedience, correction, perseverance, and mutual submission.
… If church membership is a Christ-centered covenant relationship – and it is – their needs to be a clear, mutual promise between all invested parties that their yes will be yes and their no will be no, so that there can be no surprise when someone’s yes to sin is received with a no from the church.
…If a church never broaches the subject until a church’s response to someone’s unrepentant sin must be made public, church discipline will always seem alien.
…If we will follow the biblical process of church discipline, beginning with confidential and humble rebuke of a brother’s or sister’s sin, if unrepentance persists and the circle of visibility widens, expulsion will be seen as a regrettable and sorrowful necessity,
…God will get the glory and our churches will give him glory when church discipline is practiced in the context of a grace-driven culture.
Here are a few thoughts.
1. Karen Hinkley supported church discipline but did not believe they would apply discipline in such an obviously damaging situation.
2. Karen supported a covenant, believing that she would never do anything to violate the covenant. She, along with the rest of TVC had absolutely no idea what the pastors and elders would discipline. (The fatal flaw in this concept.) The covenant was wrongly applied.
3. TVC often discusses church discipline with all of their members by placing those being disciplined on a list that members can access. Members also seemed ill trained to know what should be disciplined and what shouldn't be disciplined. (If I hear Hosea used as a proof text to stay married to a serial adulterer, I will slap someone upside the head!)
4. When discipline is poorly applied and someone is kicked out for not tithing, for being proud, for asking too many questions, for gossiping, etc. most thoughtful people will not see this as positive.
5. No, God does not get the glory in situations like I have discussed. In fact, there are way too many people who run from churches due to this nonsense. As the reader commented to me, "Yes, Jared, the way your friends discipline is weird at times. Admit it."
Two recommendations from Dee
1. What should churches discipline.
One only need to look around your average "serious Gospel" church and one will discover all sorts of sins, including those of the leaders. What does the Bible say? The best example of church discipline involves a man in an incestuous relationship with his mother.
1 Cor 5:1-4 Bible Gateway NIV
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? 3 For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. 4 So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present,5 hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,[a][b] so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.
Look at what Paul says about this.
- Even the pagans thought such acts were disgusting. (That's saying a lot for that culture.)
- The church members were proud this was going on.
This was a highly unusual situation that was affecting the entire church. The sin was so egregious that even the pagans would be against it and the church was, in essence, promoting it. This is a good example of the serious nature of the sin involved-both the couple and the church were promoting unbiblical activities.
Let's look back to Todd's situation for a counterpoint.
He wanted to leave UCCD because he conscientiously objected to the selling of CJ Mahaney's books in their bookstore. He wanted out immediately since they refused to remove the books. Funny thing on this one. Even the pagans agree with Todd along with many Christians. This is a righteous stand based on a gospel concern for abused children.
He wanted to take his time selecting another church which, of course, was against the *rules* of UCCD and 9 Marks as well as Capitol Hill Baptist Church. However, Biblically it seems like a thoughtful approach. Also, because he deemed the support of CJ Mahaney by UCCD as unrighteous, it seems to me that he understand the Gospel better than some at UCCD. It seems to me that 9 Marks blew this one, big time, and an apology is due. (Maybe you should make it 10 Marks and add apologize in there.)
2. Membership covenants/contracts can and will be used against you.
My recommendation: Don't sign them unless they spell out in detail what they will punish. If you decide to go ahead, you may be stuck staying married to child porn addict because the *elders* say so. There are many good churches which do not require these. Also, many churches will allow you to attend without signing one. Please protect yourselves from aggressive churches and let us know your stories as you do!