Last week, someone, I forget who, sent out a Tweet that made me think. The person asked why none of the Village Church pastors or elders were formally disciplined after harassing Karen Hinkley for months. I even called a former friend who is an elder at that church and asked him how he could be involved in such an affair. I wanted to know why he didn't personally apologize to Karen or stand up and confess his sin in this blatant abuse of a dear person. Of course, I received no answer. Karen got beat over the head but the pastors got support from all quarters and, after all, Matt Chandler apologized. Case closed.
For years, TWW has documented case after case of unjust church discipline. People have been disciplined for alleged gossip, questioning the budget; asking for the pastor's salary; discussing their under-aged child's sex abuse by another church member; divorcing her chronically drunk husband who abused her; for expressing concern that a church supports a group which had been accused of covering up child sex abuse, etc. It is always the little guy who gets punished while the pastors get book deals, speaking engagements and pats on the back from their BFFs.
Have the Calvinistas christened a two tier system within the church?
It's the members who usually cause the disunity.
A week ago I read The Crack Begins at the Bottom by Tim Challies. In this post, Challies blames church members for causing most of the problems of disunity in the church.
Lately I’ve found myself pondering unity in the local church and considering that cracks in the unity of a church often begin at the bottom. They often begin at the foundation and work their way up to the roof. What I mean is that disunity often begins with the membership and spreads toward the leadership rather than beginning with the leadership and spreading toward the membership. This is not always the case, of course, but often it is.
His list of *member only* sins include but are not limited to:
- One person gossiping
- Two members quarreling
- Three or more members of a clique
- People who cause disputable matters being made into a matters of spiritual life and death
- One person who gets others to question the good intentions of the pastor since, of course, all pastors only have good intentions.
It's the members who are also responsible for bringing unity to the church.
If disunity begins at the bottom and works its way to the top, so too does unity.
I guess the pastors are just standing around writing sermons and being the good guys.
It's the members who must be disciplined for all kinds of things.
Challies linked to another relevant article he wrote Obligation to Assume: Church Discipline. Read this carefully. Challies and Dever appear to be calling for a wide spread usage of church discipline, not just in the area of scandalous sin (a term used an another article which I take to mean adultery.) If you read the entire article you will note that there is no mention of the sins of pastors.
Church discipline today is generally reserved for only the most terrible sins. I suspect many churches are willing to overlook almost any sin provided it does not cause rifts in the church and call the leadership into question. Disunity is the cardinal sin of the twenty-first century. Matters of morality and godliness are regarded with far more leniency. Sadly this shows that many church leaders are more concerned with how the members of their churches regard them than with how they regard God. This has not always been the case.
Even 100 years ago many churches considered almost any consistent transgression of biblical rules grounds for discipline. In 9 Marks of a Healthy Church Mark Dever provides some examples from the rules of his church which were drawn up in 1878. The document outlined many ways in which members could be liable to discipline. They included: any outward violations of the moral law; any course which may…be disreputable to it [the church] as a body; neglecting to contribute financially; being habitually absent from church. In short, the church required believers to act and live like believers and any consistent transgression of this rule would begin the process of discipline as outlined in the Scripture.
I decided to check another one of Challies' posts on discipline, Why the Local Church Really Matters. Calvinistas, who write articles on the importance of the local church, always seem to mention church discipline as applied to the church members.
It always seems that members are upsetting the apple cart of the always good and faithful pastors. Read the following excerpt carefully. Does Challies ever mention any discipline problems with the pastors? Also, note the word *biblical* in front of discipline. This assumes that all discipline administered by church leadership is *biblical.*
The local church is the best place for spiritual accountability. We have probably all encountered people who believed they were called to ministry or who even carried out some kind of ministry even though their lives were a mess. This happens where people do not have proper spiritual accountability. “All Christians need the spiritual accountability and discipline that being a member of the local church brings. It stops us from drifting. It offers a context for encouragement and rebuke. It provides a community to stir one another on to love and good deeds.”
The local church is the place from which discipline is biblically administered. The task of disciplining disobedient or unruly Christians belongs to the local church. This is a difficult task but one given specifically to the church as a means to show the deepest love and concern for the spiritual care of believers (Matthew 18:15-17). Discipline belongs to the church as one of its important functions.
Thom Rainer also seems to take Challies' position that it is sinful church members who cause the problems. Fourteen Key Reasons for the Breakdown on Church Unity. Read the entire article and see if any pastor is ever blamed.
Gossip. Church members talk about one another instead of talking to one another. Paul calls church members who gossip people “filled with all unrighteousness” (Romans 1:29, HCSB).
Actions cloaked in darkness. I recently heard of a church personnel committee and a few church staff members who worked in darkness to fire a pastor without ever meeting with him first or giving him reasons for his dismissal. Then they refused to respond to church members who were asking questions.
Failure to confront church bullies. Some church members seek power in a church they can’t get elsewhere. They are devious and dangerous. They must be courageously confronted.
Self-serving church members. Some church members insist on getting their way for everything from worship style to the order of the worship service. Biblical church membership, however, is selfless and more concerned about others.
The pastors and leaders of your church are just as sinful as the next guy.
I am going to make an assumption that most of you believe that your pastor is as capable of sin as you are. I wrote something about this years ago.
Ultimately, the person bringing a question or complaint is accused of being the problem, and the original issue is quickly forgotten. This is an excellent way to obfuscate the real matter at hand. The priesthood of the believers is no longer in play. The pastors become the untouchable leaders, and the congregation exists to carry out their mandates without complaint. We have watched as the role of deacons has been relegated to directing traffic and the elders serve merely to relay the mandates of the untouchable leader.
We want to leave you with a true story. There was a very large church in Texas whose senior pastor was well-known and considered to be a pillar of the community. He was authoritative, and the church grew to include thousands of members. Unfortunately, he was involved in a long-term affair with a member of the church. His deacon board spent years covering up this sin. Members who were hearing rumors and had the temerity to bring a complaint were accused of being divisive and of spreading malicious gossip. Eventually, the pastor went too far and was fired; however, this did not make up for the years of deception and the abuse of thoughtful members who left the church, both discouraged and bitter. The church itself was the butt of jokes for years. The cause of Christ was tarnished, especially as the cover-up became common knowledge throughout the area.
Does the Bible really mean that pastors and church leaders are to be treated and disciplined differently than the lowly church members?
I have read reams of articles on bad behavior on the part of pastors. Early on, I came across a caveat about discipline when it comes to pastors that I had never seen before. It has caused me to be quite concerned about the beliefs on accountability by church leadership. I decided to Google the phrase *discipline of church pastors.* Most of the articles that popped up dealt with pastors and affairs. I take it that pastors do not gossip, act quarrelsome, hang in a clique, etc.
There seems to be an underlying belief by authority driven leaders that church elders are not to be confronted unless there are multiple witnesses. Do they make the assumption that church members don't need the same number of witnesses, if any.
1 Timothy 5:18 states
Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.
Pastors and Sin: Nine Ways Church Elders are Held Accountable well demonstrates my contention that pastors should be treated as a separate class than the lowly members. Read carefully to see how dangerous it can be when misapplying this Bible verse.
3. Multiple witnesses
Holding church elders accountable requires two or three witnesses, "Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses." Notice how the Lord has commanded that there be a careful process that includes the following elements. First there must be a personal witness. Then in order to bring an accusation, that person is obligated to bring a minimum of one other witness. This language implies a vigilant examination and verification process.
This procedure is designed to protect the elder from trivial, false or evil accusations. It also protects him from accusations based on rumors, gossip or internet slander. It is part of the territory: Church elders are often targets of criticism since they are all imperfect in their life and doctrine, and the best of men can be picked apart. Furthermore, elders are often subjected to unrighteous criticism because the standard to which they are held is often higher than any elder is able to meet. It is common for church members to fall into merciless criticism, because elders are sinners and have weaknesses and inadequacies.
However, the process commanded by God in 1 Timothy 5 protects elders from unnecessary accusations by immature, unnecessarily offended or envious parties.
The requirement Paul outlines here is obviously only for flagrant, public, or scandalous sins. If the sins are private and lesser in nature, then the rebuke should be less severe and spoken in private between brothers. However, if a public rebuke for serious sin is to be delivered, it must be upon the testimony of two or three witnesses. These witnesses are evaluated and if found to be truthful then the rebuke is required. The foundation for Paul's command is found in Deuteronomy 19:15, where Moses communicates the law of witnesses: "One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established."
Thus, Paul establishes a careful and orderly environment where hard evidence is gathered (not rumors), and testimony is examined.
- Some acts may be witnessed by only one person. Take, for example, adultery. If a church member saw a pastor checking into a hotel with a woman who was not his wife, should the church leaders blow off this observation since only one church member saw it? What if it was not a church member who reported it?
- What happens when it is an act that only happens behind closed door such as domestic violence?
- Should church members not be afforded 2-3 witnesses like an elder of the church?
Assuming that Timothy believed that church leaders were sinners, then what did Timothy really mean? I believe that Timothy meant to protect leaders from silly complaints like "he was mean to me" which might be reported by only one person. However, if a number of people report someone is consistently behaving in a belittling manner, the leader should be questioned. S
Shouldn't the same thing apply to the us little guys? Absolutely. It is vital that we do not take Bible verses beyond the scope of intent.
Is seems to me that Tim Challies believes that church leaders behave less sinfully than church members. I dare you to find that view of sin in the Bible.
Tim Challies is dangerously wrong. Church leaders and church members are all capable of causing disunity. He is setting up a scenario that is doomed to failure. It is an Us vs. Them scenario instead of a "We are all in this together." That to me is perversion of the gospel and disruptive to the unity of the church universal.
This is why I believe that church discipline is being mishandled on a pervasive scale throughout the church. Pastors believe they are above the fray and can clearly see the sin of the little guy. The little guy is fearful when being confronted by his alleged sin because the pastors hold the power in this scenario. The gullible cannot believe that their pastor and church leadership can sin and sin badly, causing much pain.
Folks, never forget this. Your pastor is not in a different league as you. He is capable of great sin, just like anyone else. If you ever hear any pastor say to church members *you guys are the real problem," get the heck out of there and find a church in which the pastors gets it. I do not think these guys and their BFFs ever will.