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.

It’s Labor Day and I’ve decided to rerun a post we wrote in 2014 which needs to be discussed for the sake of new readers.

TWW is one of the few blogs out there which discusses the problems with membership covenants which we call a membership contract.We contend that it is a legal contract and that churches will use that contract to keep members *under their umbrellas.*

We advise, when asked (and sometimes even when not asked,) that readers do NOT sign these documents without getting legal advice. We find it odd (or par for the course) that churches rarely, if ever, explain that the member is signing a legal contract. This lack of transparency on the part of the church should be noted by those being urged sign said contract. Why won’t they tell you? Ask them straight out and see what they say…

IMPORTANT FACT: The church will not disclose what actions they will discipline a priori. That means, folks, it could be anything from skipping Sunday school for a few weeks to asking too many awkward questions about the budget or the conferences the pastor is attended. Like Geico, we have seen it all.

What if you have signed such a contract and now regret doing so?

Please read the post which will help you to understand that you have singed a legal contract. However, the legal contract can become null and void at any time of your choosing, even if the church says you cannot leave the church while under church discipline. They are absolutely WRONG. In fact, they are lying to you if they say this.

In the United States, just as you may join an organization, you can leave the organization whenever you darn well please. What authority driven churches won’t tell you is that YOU hold the power and can sue them if they decide to put your *under church discipline* retroactively, MaTT Chandler did that to Karen Hinckley at The Village Church. She had resigned in writing and they *wouldn’t let her.* Needless to say, Chandler got schooled in the matter and backed off, with an apology.

Read on and learn how to get out of your church contract.

One point: I have had a couple of pastors claim that they have *covenants* and would never use it as a contract. Isn’t that nice…. We believe that if the time comes, and they are sufficiently into *I’m the authority around here,* they will discover the beauty of the legal aspects of the church contract.

Please call us if we can be of assistance in helping you to leave your church or to simply drop your membership. Follow the steps below and we can assure you that many churches will back off and the ones who do not are just plumb stupid.

Read on to put the power back in your court.

Happy Labor Day.


 

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 — 170 Comments

  1. “They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”

    Matthew 23:4

    Time for more care for the sheep instead of tying them up with control and domination.

    Thank you Dee and team for being an evangelical version of Spotlight!

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  2. Wish we’d had this information before it happened to our family in 2012. Actually, I wish we’d had it long before that… before we ever became members in the first place. We were so naive and trusting back then. Of course, we were members before the JM clone became pastor. This “shepherd” missed the word “NOT” in 1 Peter 5:3 and thought it said “be shepherds of God’s flock… lording it over the sheep… micro-managing their lives and pressuring them to conform to your will.”

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  3. So what you’re saying is that as long as you’re a member they can publicly excoriate you and that’s about all, right? You can still resign and walk away and stop them from further public excoriation at any time, right? It seems to me that if you can unilaterally end the contract at any moment then you don’t have much to worry about unless they really go nuts and start making public statements with no warning. In most cases you will see something like that coming and you can resign before it happens. It’s good to know this, but doesn’t sound like a reason to lose any sleep.

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  4. I read the 5 Actions article at the TGC’s site. The first 4 actions make perfect sense. The 5th action ruined the whole article.

    I will never understand TGC’s fascination with church discipline. In my almost 58 years, I’ve seen church discipline applied twice. I both cases, the offending church members resigned before the process reached the entire church body. If TGC churches would just let members go instead of chasing them down, there would be no legal issues. The offending members that resign are not “repenting”, so restoration is not possible. There is no point in having a “Hotel California” church.

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  5. This business of legal contracts and corporate structures is one of the things that leads me to suspect that these arrangements are not “churches” per se. A “church” is “an assembly”. When believers assemble for believing purposes (“gathered in My Name”), “the church” is there.

    So what are these corporate, institutional and legal arrangements? They are instruments by which the people in charge assert their authority over the people who aren’t in charge.

    That sounds really cynical, but I think it’s as simple at that. And it makes me want to avoid them.

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  6. Ken P.:

    There is no point in having a “Hotel California” church.

    It depends on what the leaders think “the point of the Church” is. If you think that the point is “mutual edification” unto the larger goal of “transformation into the likeness of Christ”, it doesn’t make sense to try to hold on to people who are currently not in agreement with those goals.

    My private suspicion is that increasingly since around the 4th-5th century in the West and the 6th century in the East (the eras of Augustine and Justinian, respectively), the functional goal has been “social control”. That’s an hypothesis (perhaps more credible in the case of Justinian — fear of post-mortem punishments can be a powerful tool for keeping unruly subjects in line; Justinian was famously opposed to the univeralistic tendencies of some of the Greek Fathers) and I welcome correction.

    My sense of the current neo-cal enthusiasm for discipline is rooted in a desire for control over the people. Punish a few, for whatever reasons, “pour encourager les autres”.

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  7. Christian, you need not enter into any covenant other than the one written in Christ’s blood. His is a free church. You enter it by your own free will and you can leave it by your own free will. No membership contract required. As a believer, you enter the Kingdom of God by faith – it is a walk of life in Christ which should not be restrained by the laws of mere men. Jesus has set you free – don’t let church membership contracts draw you back into bondage.

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  8. I hope this thought does not offend too many, but I have noticed that in the early Church, people were known to fall down dead in punishment for lying to a apostle.

    In the present-day church, mighty leaders and self-described “apostles” can commit grievous crimes over multiple years and nothing happens (other than that they appear to thrive) until they are discovered, and often not much even then.

    I don’t think that the Holy Spirit in present in these present day groups in any way that remotely resembles the way He was present in the early churches. That kind of reinforces my skepticism of whether these groups really are “church.” It has the feel of intertestamental Israel, with the Glory departed.

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  9. Harry Mason: It seems to me that if you can unilaterally end the contract at any moment then you don’t have much to worry about unless they really go nuts and start making public statements with no warning.

    You must be rather new to our blog if this is your conclusion.

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  10. There is a website, Quit Mormon, run by an immigration attorney in Utah. People submit requests to him, he puts the requests on his letterhead, and sends the requests to the Mormon Church. Usually, a few weeks later, the attorney gets a form letter from the church and the person is out! The service is free and he’s been doing it a few years now.

    Maybe there’s a niche for some attorney wanting to do pro bono work for people wanting to get out of their signed covenants? The problem is the person wouldn’t be working with a large corporation calling itself a church but with all sorts of, by comparison, small churches.

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  11. Ken P.: I will never understand TGC’s fascination with church discipline.

    It is a manifestation of the new reformation. Its roots go back 500 years when Calvin exercised magisterial control over the citizens of Geneva to accept the terms of his Christian utopia or else … to the point of disciplining some of them to death. TGC feels it needs to exercise the strong arm of the law to purge the church of everything that competes with delivering their “gospel” (= Calvinism) … my way or the highway, but we want to discipline, shun and excommunicate you before you hit the road.

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  12. So, what does one do when they attend a church such as the Missouri Synod Lutheran type….which requites LCMS membership to take communion?

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  13. Molly245: So, what does one do when they attend a church such as the Missouri Synod Lutheran type….which requites LCMS membership to take communion?

    Are they required to sign a written contract or is “membership” simply their verbal statement of faith in Christ? Some church groups have “open” communion where any believer is invited to participate in communion, whether they are a member of ‘that’ church or not. Others have “closed” communion for only members of the church and/or denomination; other believers present cannot participate.

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  14. Thersites: I’d be interested in your best guess.

    Lots of folks here have better explanations and writing ability than me. it is better to use them.

    I think that the pastors and elders at these churches are just control freaks.

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  15. Most church membership contracts can be compared to workplace employee contracts. They are designed to control, intimidate, and manipulate. The terms and conditions of either will not hold up in a court of law.

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  16. I attended a very conservative Presby church for the better part of a decade. Their policy was to admit to the Table people who were members of an Evangelical church and not under discipline. I was not a member of the Presby church but was somewhere else (dual-attending for multiple years as I wrestled with whether to leave). At some point I concluded that I was not submitting to the teaching office of the first church and reckoned that that ought to disqualify me from receiving communion at their hands, and while I was not formally under discipline, I stopped partaking at the little OP church.

    Calvinists (some of them, at least; perhaps most or all), hold that the benefits of partaking in the ceremony are all received through faith. I think they call it “feeding on Christ by faith.” One can do that without physically partaking. That may not be satisfactory if one holds to a more concrete form of sacramentalism, that one is actually taking Christ’s flesh and blood into one’s own body when one partakes. Feeding by faith may be a poor substistute for that.

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  17. Ken P.: I think that the pastors and elders at these churches are just control freaks.

    I think this too. They make a mockery of the Church. Really little more than a cult.

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  18. Samuel Conner:
    in the early Church, people were known to fall down dead…

    If you wanted to be REALLY snarky to a 9Marx type, you could tell them
    that they’re getting discipline all wrong:

    In a REAL New Testament, when you deliver someone over to satan to be taught not to blaspheme, something concrete and disagreeable actually happens to that person.

    That might make them squirm. It doesn’t happen in their churches, does it?

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  19. Samuel Conner: I don’t think that the Holy Spirit in present in these present day groups in any way that remotely resembles the way He was present in the early churches.

    Ken P.: I think that the pastors and elders at these churches are just control freaks.

    I think there is a strong correlation between these two points.

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  20. Samuel Conner,

    “Calvinists (some of them, at least; perhaps most or all), hold that the benefits of partaking in the ceremony are all received through faith. I think they call it “feeding on Christ by faith.” One can do that without physically partaking.”
    +++++++++

    haven’t taken communion in years. i feel closer to God now than ever before. in a free-er, more natural and relaxed way. having stepped out of christian culture meant shedding huge amounts of pressure.

    pressure to do this, do that, don’t do this, don’t do that, be this, don’t be that… or else ominous and vague threats that amounted to “the sky will fall!”

    well, guess, what. the sky didn’t fall. and God is as available as ever, and i’m able to connect.

    but getting back to communion — one can do this on their own, and make it very meaningful.

    this third party middle man is simply not required.

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  21. Harry Mason,

    “So what you’re saying is that as long as you’re a member they can publicly excoriate you and that’s about all, right?”
    ++++++++++

    peruse some TWW posts from the past and you will see how church leadership destroyed lives.

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  22. From the bylaws of a covenant-offering non-denom led by a former staffer at the church of a certain Mac:

    “Any claim or dispute arising between church members, pastors, staff, and/ or the church shall be settled by mediation following scriptural example. If resolution is not reached, legally binding Christian arbitration will be employed by the elders or individuals selected by the elders using a neutral arbitration service.”

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  23. Thersites,

    Ken P.: I will never understand TGC’s fascination with church discipline.

    I’d be interested in your best guess.
    ++++++++++++

    a case of arrested development — insecure 12-year old junior high boys on the inside who finally have power over people. a dream come true.

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  24. In a real-life development that Wartburgers may find loosely analogous to the present discussion, I built a crude concrete wall about a foot high, and a foot thick, as a short-term measure to retain a slope of loose earth that was slumping down onto our shed and damaging it. Now, we’re developing that wee part of the garden properly, and we want a nice brick wall in place of the ugly concrete one. It’s not practical to hide the concrete one; we need it not to be there. So I’ve hired a heavy-duty breaker to demolish it.

    A) Good News: it turns out that my home-made concrete is very strong.
    B) Bad News: see Good News.

    IHTIH

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  25. Max: Are they required to sign a written contract or is “membership” simply their verbal statement of faith in Christ?Some church groups have “open” communion where any believer is invited to participate in communion, whether they are a member of ‘that’ church or not.Others have “closed” communion for only members of the church and/or denomination; other believers present cannot participate.

    I’ve been attending Bible Study and worship service off and on at a local LCMS recently. I partake in their communion service. They know I am not a member of an LCMS but I have never been prevented from partaking nor has anyone even questioned me about it. Maybe its a local decision but the issue has never come up in my case.

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  26. Molly245:
    So, what does one do when they attend a church such as the Missouri Synod Lutheran type….which requites LCMS membership to take communion?

    I split attendance between a Southern Baptist and Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. I have taken communion at both. I am not an SB member nor a LCMS member. They both know that and my taking communion has never been an issue with either one of them.

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  27. JDV:
    From the bylaws of a covenant-offering non-denom led by a former staffer at the church of a certain Mac:

    “Any claim or dispute arising between church members, pastors, staff, and/ or the church shall be settled by mediation following scriptural example. If resolution is not reached, legally binding Christian arbitration will be employed by the elders or individuals selected by the elders using a neutral arbitration service.”

    And I think that the “legally binding” aspect means that the arbitration judgment will be enforced in a court of law if the loser (the layperson, typically, given that the process is controlled by the church leaders from start to finish) refuses to comply.

    So they do go to court before unbelievers to get what they want, if that’s what it takes.

    Somehow, I don’t think these people will be judging angels.

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  28. BillToo: I split attendance between a Southern Baptist and Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.I have taken communion at both.I am not an SB member nor a LCMS member.They both know that and my taking communion has never been an issue with either one of them.

    That’s interesting. I say that because the doctrines and worship practices of Southern Baptists and Lutherans differ significantly. Unless things have changed drastically within the last few years.

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  29. Thersites:
    I think there is a strong correlation between these two points.

    Agreed; I have come to believe that the “oike en” “in-dwelling” of the Spirit is partially or perhaps even primarily “among-dwelling”, a group phenomenon. Heavy handed leadership/controller-ship drives the life out of the group and grieves the Spirit, who departs from the group. He may remain “with” individual believers but is no longer “among” the group (sort of the inverse of Jesus’ promise in Jn 14:17). But it is the group that Paul speaks of as “body of Christ”, and the spirit is the life of the body. So if the Spirit is not present among the members of the body…

    With respect to the presence of God in these groups (analogous to the OT concept of God dwelling in the midst of Israel), I think they are in the situation of Israel in the intertestamental period. God was not discernibly present, no true prophets were speaking, but the people made do. An upstart group that was zealous for the traditions of the ancestors, the Hasmoneans, took over both the Temple and the civil governance (later replaced by Herod). The Pharisees arose as a religious reform movement trying to keep Israelite religion pure.

    Jesus, speaking a generation before God poured out a definitive wrathful judgment on all this, did not have much good to say about any of these three groups (king Herod, the priests, or the Pharisees, who were subbing for the prophets).

    I think that the present-day churches (not all, but many and perhaps most of the ones that draw the attention of TWW), are in a situation very similar to that of Israel at the time of Jesus. And I suspect that they are going to experience various forms of under-the-sun wrath in the next generation or two.

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  30. BillToo: I’ve been attending Bible Study and worship service off and on at a local LCMS recently. I partake in their communion service. They know I am not a member of an LCMS but I have never been prevented from partaking nor has anyone even questioned me about it. Maybe its a local decision but the issue has never come up in my case.

    That has been my experience with LMCS too. The official doctrine is only members can take communion, but my wife and I have been allowed every time we visited before we started attending regularly. The pastor specifically says the table is open to all Christians.

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  31. Max,

    We were not required to sign anything when we joined our local LCMS congregation. There was a membership class, then a confirmation ceremony where certain verbal promises were made, then a few weeks later a new member welcome for the entire group that joined in that calendar year. It was all very nice. No mention of church covenants, church discipline, etc. No promise to submit to the leadership.

    Not being a member prevented us from receiving communion. Returning former members are able to commune. Converts are not until they have been instructed and give assent to the LCMS teaching on the subject.

    By way of contrast, the evangelical “toast to Jesus” thing, the kids gorging on left over crackers, and the general casual approach to communion is one of the factors that caused me to leave that communion, primarily because I realized that there wasn’t any communion on that issue.

    We would not have joined if we had to sign anything. Ymmv.

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  32. Ricco: That has been my experience with LMCS too. The official doctrine is only members can take communion, but my wife and I have been allowed every time we visited before we started attending regularly. The pastor specifically says the table is open to all Christians.

    Good for him! The mentality of many seems to be that aggressive “fencing” of the Table is a way of inducing people to join. But fences tend to keep people out (that’s what fences are for) rather than inviting them to find out how to cross over them. This pastor, bless him, understands that it is better to invite people to “taste and see that YHWH is good.”

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  33. In love with power, that’s how I view them. So many want to be leaders, force everyone else to live under their rule.

    roebuck: I think this too. They make a mockery of the Church. Really little more than a cult.

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  34. Samuel Conner: Calvinists (some of them, at least; perhaps most or all), hold that the benefits of partaking in the ceremony are all received through faith. I think they call it “feeding on Christ by faith.” One can do that without physically partaking. That may not be satisfactory if one holds to a more concrete form of sacramentalism, that one is actually taking Christ’s flesh and blood into one’s own body when one partakes. Feeding by faith may be a poor substistute for that.

    This is one of the reasons I’m slowly moving away from the P & R world. I am increasingly convinced either the sacraments work in something like an ex opere operato manner, or they’re really optional memorial ordinances. Calvin tried to thread the needle between Luther and Zwingli, with an ultimately unsatisfactory result. Baptism gives grace, and the Lord’s supper gives communion with Christ, but only if you’re elect. In the end, “feeding on Christ by faith” = commune with the risen Lord (hopefully) via your efforts of contemplation.

    LCMS churches are a mixed bag when it comes to open or closed communion. The latter was the historical practice, as the more conservative churches love to point out. It had more to do with their belief in the local presence of Jesus in the eucharistic elements than anything else.

    When it comes to a church like this, as long as they haven’t adopted written church membership contracts, you should be okay joining.

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  35. Noevangelical: general casual approach to communion is one of the factors that caused me to leave that communion

    We visited a Southern Baptist church plant near us on one of the rare days they offered communion. The 30-something New Calvinist “lead” pastor made light of the sacrament by saying “I bought the cheapest grape juice and crackers I could get at WalMart. Grab some on the way out!” I suppose that sort of attitude is a result of New Calvinist teaching on the subordination of Jesus and/or turning SBC’s church planting movement over to a new breed of arrogant young reformers fresh out of seminary indoctrination who are intent on changing everything in SBC life. Whatever the cause, we didn’t find much that was Christlike in the whole service. (Regarding the blog topic: members there were required to sign a membership contract; small group leaders were required to sign an agreement that they affirmed the Westminster Confession of Faith)

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  36. Ken P.: In my almost 58 years, I’ve seen church discipline applied twice.

    At my church, the church discipline section in the book of order was described as the thing you ‘hope you never have to use’. Which seems a far more healthy attitude than TGC and such pastors who seem to be slavering to use it!

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  37. Max: (Regarding the blog topic: members there were required to sign a membership contract; small group leaders were required to sign an agreement that they affirmed the Westminster Confession of Faith)

    How can a Baptist affirm the Westminster Confession with its acceptance of pedobaptism? I can see affirming the 1689 London Confession. Maybe that’s it.

    Of course, for us older Southern Baptists, affirming any confession written by man is bizarre. I’ll stick to affirming the Bible, thank you.

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  38. Lea: At my church, the church discipline section in the book of order was described as the thing you ‘hope you never have to use’.

    I agree. In the 2 cases I saw, the discipline was due to blatant sexual sin. I believe discipline should be used only for the worst public offenses.

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  39. Ken P.: for us older Southern Baptists, affirming any confession written by man is bizarre

    Baptists have a long history of aversion to creeds. The New Calvinist movement sweeping through SBC life is trending the denomination toward creedalism. Us older Southern Baptists won’t be around much longer to have any say in the matter … the generational shift is clearly toward reformed theology. Mohler and his tribe push the Abstract of Principles as an additional statement of faith to the Baptist Faith and Message (which was revised in 2000 to provide wiggle room for theological diversity). Southern Baptists won’t look like Baptists after us Baby Boomers all die off.

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  40. Ricco: The pastor specifically says the table is open to all Christians.

    Not LCMS, but this is what my church says before every communion. (technically, they say this is the ‘lords table’) I personally prefer open communion, it just feels right to me.

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  41. Max: (Regarding the blog topic: members there were required to sign a membership contract; small group leaders were required to sign an agreement that they affirmed the Westminster Confession of Faith)

    At a Baptist church?? Weird.

    The way it was explained to me in presby land, is that we will be ‘guided’ by the confessions, not bound to them. But this was not for members at large.

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  42. Darlene: That’s interesting.I say that because the doctrines and worship practices of Southern Baptists and Lutherans differ significantly. Unless things have changed drastically within the last few years.

    I’d say the main difference is the SB church I mentioned is a more relaxed less formal worship service while the LCMS one I mentioned leans to more liturgical. Both seem to treat the Communion with the respect and seriousness it deserves. However, and somewhat surprisingly to me, the sermon/teaching at the LCMS is almost all Scripture teaching/application while the SB pastor tends to qoute a couple of verses and add a lot of personal stories. I’m getting much more out of the LCMS sermon. Not to extrapolate this to mean all LCMS or SB are this way. Speaking only of the specific two that I attend.

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  43. Further to the Charlie Stross quote at the head of this post, I have read that contracts work best between parties that can and do trust each other. The fact that churches are insisting on these as part of the terms of membership suggests to me that the two parties (the institution and its leaders on one side and the would-be member on the other) can’t and don’t (and perhaps shouldn’t) trust each other.

    This is perhaps another argument against churches that are so large that it is impossible for the leaders to know the led. And if the shepherd does not know the sheep, is he really the shepherd of those sheep?

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  44. Samuel Conner: This is perhaps another argument against churches that are so large that it is impossible for the leaders to know the led. And if the shepherd does not know the sheep, is he really the shepherd of those sheep?

    It’s also a common procedure in small New Calvinist church plants in the SBC. Membership contracts are quite common among the new reformers. Such agreements provide a measure of insulation between the pulpit and pew – which is unBiblical, of course. The “lead” pastors at SBC church plants don’t endeavor to know their sheep, regardless of the size of the church. They corral them under small group leaders who watch for dissenters and report back to the pastor for disciplining orders. These young preacher boys don’t call or visit members in their homes, don’t visit them in the hospital, nor pray with them in nursing homes. But they find plenty of time to tweet their lives away in coffee shops; they dedicate more time to chatter on smart phones than they do in face-to-face dialogue with members. Welcome to 21st century church.

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  45. Lea: At a Baptist church?? Weird.

    The way it was explained to me in presby land, is that we will be ‘guided’ by the confessions, not bound to them. But this was not for members at large.

    My impression from my time in the OPC was that the local presbytery was pretty adamant that candidates for office (and especially for Teaching Elder) be quite strictly conformed to the WCF and other standards and vow to remain so. It may be that there were just a few presbyters who had taken it on themselves to make sure that no TEs were ordained without passing this “screen.” Someone has to volunteer to serve on the committees that examine candidates and credentials, and if you get the “right” people there, it can over time shape the character of an entire presbytery.

    From the standpoint of the RefBap congregation mentioned here, a lay small group leader is still an extension of the teaching office of the institution (inasmuch as teaching may happen in the small group context), and so it makes sense that if the teaching officers were bound to conformity to WCF, they would extend that to small group leaders too.

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  46. Max: It’s also a common procedure in small New Calvinist church plants in the SBC.Membership contracts are quite common among the new reformers.Such agreements provide a measure of insulation between the pulpit and pew – which is unBiblical, of course.The “lead” pastors at SBC church plants don’t endeavor to know their sheep, regardless of the size of the church.They corral them under small group leaders who watch for dissenters and report back to the pastor for disciplining orders.These young preacher boys don’t call or visit members in their homes, don’t visit them in the hospital, nor pray with them in nursing homes.But they find plenty of time to tweet their lives away in coffee shops; they dedicate more time to chatter on smart phones than they do in face-to-face dialogue with members.Welcome to 21st century church.

    So they really aren’t good shepherds at all, are they?

    A good shepherd knows his sheep and the sheep know him.

    Sadly, it seems that a lot of people in our day are willing to follow strangers when they ought to run away.

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  47. Jesus, the perfect Word, *is* the embodied contract. He is made valid by the Father’s affirmation and by his own life, death, resurrection, ascension, and pending return.

    The Holy Spirit seals us together with The Word, and guides us individually and communally as we work out life under Christ. Provisions and rewards are the fruits of the Spirit.

    Baptism is our public signature.

    The Eucharist or communion/Lord’s Supper is how we gather and remind and participate in The Word, this embodied contract.

    Scripture informs us of The Word, transforms us in the understanding of Jesus. (And lots of other things).

    Church contracts void and replace, at best minimize, all the above, by elevating and inserting human (and usually just male elders) in place of all that I listed above. All that God has already sufficiently provided.

    Also, if you have to regulate and force “love” and “generosity”, it’s probably not natural and therefore likely isn’t love and generosity in true form but something else entirely. Usually a vice disguising itself as virtue.

    P.S. Another note – I think there’s a component of emotional unavailability and distance that is present, whether preemptively or reactively, or both, in environments with these kind of church contracts.

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  48. Ken P.: In my almost 58 years, I’ve seen church discipline applied twice.

    Similar experience here. The “discipline” was not even the removal of the offender from the congregation, the individual had already done that. The meeting was rather a presentation of a path back to restoration.

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  49. Harry Mason: if you can unilaterally end the contract at any moment

    “IF” a person knows these things then… but how many people know? This is where TWW does people a huge service… by letting them know. Some of us didn’t know… and expected and trusted church leadership to shown compassion and love and concern to a desperate beat down abused woman.

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  50. emily honey: Jesus, the perfect Word, *is* the embodied contract. He is made valid by the Father’s affirmation and by his own life, death, resurrection, ascension, and pending return.

    The Holy Spirit seals us together with The Word, and guides us individually and communally as we work out life under Christ. Provisions and rewards are the fruits of the Spirit.

    Baptism is our public signature.

    Amen and Amen!! No church contracts necessary!

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  51. Samuel Conner: Sadly, it seems that a lot of people in our day are willing to follow strangers when they ought to run away.

    Oh, but the pastor is so charismatic … and the music is cool … and they have free coffee and donuts in the foyer!

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  52. Ken P.: I will never understand TGC’s fascination with church discipline.

    I can.
    The oh-so-Delicious taste of POWER.

    “The only goal of Power is POWER. And POWER consists of inflicting maximum suffering among the Powerless.”
    — Comrade O’Brian, Inner Party, Airstrip One, Oceania, Nineteen Eighty-Four

    “There is no Right, there is no Wrong, there is only POWER.”
    — Lord Voldemort

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  53. Future generations of Christians will rightly judge membership contracts as a blight on the Church, much like we now view the Shepherding Movement of the 1970’s.

    The only question is will 9Marx leader Mark Dever and his side-kick Jonathan Leeman ever be humble enough to repent?

    “Discipleship was wrong. I repent, I ask forgiveness.”
    -Bob Mumford, one of the national leaders of the Shepherding Movement
    This quote was on the cover of “Ministries Today” magazine, Jan/Feb 1990 issue.

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  54. Todd Wilhelm: The only question is will 9Marx leader Mark Dever and his side-kick Jonathan Leeman ever be humble enough to repent?

    I once heard a fellow tell Kenneth Copeland that he never heard him repent of anything. Copeland responded “Repent of what?!”

    Dever and Leeman will never repent … that means they would have to admit they were wrong … rather, they are waiting for dissenters of their views to repent.

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  55. Continue to pray for us. A couple of weeks ago we were made aware during church of a “change of emphasis” in order “to better reach the lost.” We are a Church of the Nazarene. We met with leadership and all encouraged us it is an evangelistic campaign, change in method not message. Except we have learned it isn’t. It is part of a strategy known officially as Vision2020. Districts do Mission Action Plans. Great idea if it only were truly mission minded. On the surface and if you question it is super 100% evangelistic. Except if you go beneath the surface on denom websites you find it training the youth to be social justice warriors, change agents, and basically community organizers a la Obama. Not at all about seeing the youth be born again or come to faith in Jesus. We older folks are now the “foundational” members who may be resistant to change, unwilling to consider new methods, and essentially a drag on the church except for our tithes and offerings. The goal of the church is now to change society by resisting the 1% and systemic evil, not to change it by seeing people become believers (very different from their Christ followers). It uses the methods of the church growth movement and is very Purpose Driven/Liberation theology.

    Now, I’m not going to argue if that is a good direction or a poor one. Our personal conviction is that a church is a voluntary association for the propagation of the gospel. Get that right and we believe that will change society one heart at a time. Your mileage may vary.

    Pray that we see this clearly, neither overlooking deception and evil nor seeing it where possibly it just isn’t. All of us bring perceptions to issues. Pray our perceptions be accurate, not our projections onto the movement.

    Then pray as to whether we stay full time and work to stand firm on the original teachings of this church, to stay part time to do the same, or flee.

    BUT this is not the teaching we joined to be a part of. Social justice songs and service projects are not what we believe the church is all about. There are other organization where that should be the point and we do support those we believe are on a good path. But the church, to us, should be all about Jesus. Not politics, either left or right. And not about fixing the world rather than leading folks to faith in Christ.

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  56. Max: Dever and Leeman will never repent … that means they would have to admit they were wrong … rather, they are waiting for dissenters of their views to repent.

    I believe you are correct, Max.

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  57. Like Geico, we have seen it all.

    Dee, not to pick on cliche’ details but “Farmer’s (not Geico) has seen it all”.
    Geico’s slogan is “15 min and we’ll save you 15%”.
    Maybe that’s it! Take 15 min to consider (not) signing a covenant and then spare yourself 15% of your life in misery trying to get out of it.

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  58. This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of in 21 years as a pastor. Signing a legal document to become a member? That is not in the Bible. No early churches required such a ludicrous thing. I fear for the church leaders who are using the techniques of cults to enforce their authority. Going after church members who leave their church is a tactic of Scientology, not biblical Christianity.

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  59. Leslie Puryear: This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of in 21 years as a pastor. Signing a legal document to become a member? That is not in the Bible. No early churches required such a ludicrous thing.

    “White man wants everything in writing and that’s just so he can use it against you later in court.”
    — Billy Jack

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  60. Max: I once heard a fellow tell Kenneth Copeland that he never heard him repent of anything. Copeland responded “Repent of what?!”

    Why do you need to “repent” when You Can Do No Wrong?

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  61. Max: Oh, but the pastor is so charismatic … and the music is cool … and they have free coffee and donuts in the foyer!

    And Christians are such easy marks.

    “I go chop you dolla,
    I make you money disappear;
    Four-one-Nine just a game —
    You be the Mugu,
    I be the Masta!”
    — “I Go Chop You Dolla”, a Nigerian pop song about a con man

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  62. Max: Christian, you need not enter into any covenant other than the one written in Christ’s blood. His is a free church. You enter it by your own free will and you can leave it by your own free will. No membership contract required. As a believer, you enter the Kingdom of God by faith – it is a walk of life in Christ which should not be restrained by the laws of mere men. Jesus has set you free – don’t let church membership contracts draw you back into bondage.

    Yes! This is excellent! Our former YRR pastor tried this stuff on us. He had formed a “covenant committee” to change our church’s covenant so it would include all the strong-arm, gestapo disciplinary language. He casually mentioned in one of the meetings that the covenant needed to be signed by all members and the whole committee jumped on that like a possum on a june bug! Even people with no awareness of the 9-Marx material it came from instinctively knew that such a tactic was totally, completely wrong. Fortunately, he didn’t stick around long enough to “teach further on it”; which is what he always said when someone disagreed with him!

    “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”
    –Jesus

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  63. Ken P.: Of course, for us older Southern Baptists, affirming any confession written by man is bizarre. I’ll stick to affirming the Bible, thank you.

    Exactly! As a Southern Baptist, I was always taught that we have no creed but the Bible. What’s funny is that when I Googled that phrase, my computer blew up with “TGC” and “Desiring God” (Piper) links saying how awful that is!

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  64. Samuel Conner: So they really aren’t good shepherds at all, are they?

    A good shepherd knows his sheep and the sheep know him.

    Sadly, it seems that a lot of people in our day are willing to follow strangers when they ought to run away.

    Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.
    -John 10:1-5

    I only know the voice of the Good Shepherd! That is why we couldn’t follow our former Neo-Cal YRR pastor, we just couldn’t understand his voice, and we wouldn’t follow a stranger!

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  65. WHEEE!!!! Just got a message from young son: “Just landed in Texas”. Thanks be to God.

    Anybody who thinks that parenting gets easier on the parent-not really; just different. Parenting is easiest while they are still in utero; after that not so much.

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  66. Our former pastor posted this quote online when we left the church due to his harsh preaching. We felt beat up each Sunday and almost questioned our salvation!
    Jonathan Leeman, “Stop calling yourself a Christian if you’re making a habit of living independently from the local church.” How arrogant is that! A lot of pastors think they have the authority and power to deal with their congregations like Calvin did. We were burned at Calvin’s stake and lived to tell about it.

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  67. Anotherone,

    This isn’t much comfort in the aftermath of a traumatic experience of church misleadership, but in the long run these “not such good shepherds” will be a self-limiting phenomenon. God isn’t mocked, and shepherds who mistreat the sheep will find themselves in the position of the unrighteous shepherds of Israel. God will set His face against them.

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  68. Samuel Conner: God will set His face against them.

    How true. But in the meantime they do a lot of damage. How in blazes this sort of thing takes root in christianity or how it takes root in the US remains amazing to me. Land of the free and home of the brave except at church? How does that even happen?

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  69. Bridget,

    Thanks. I am a lot sicker and I look a lot worse now. I quit sending pictures because of that. At one point I thought I might not live until he got back. But, here we are. I am go glad.

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  70. In churches where the congregation truly governs the church (traditional Baptist governance), being a member matters in a way that it does not in clergy governed churches.

    I’m our Baptist church’s clerk so have the “job” (5-15 minutes/year) of keeping our membership records up to date. Here is the membership ending provision of the bylaws:

    B. Membership shall be terminated upon any of the following events:
    1) Transfer of membership to another church (other church requests letter).
    2) Request of the member.
    3) Non-participation. When a member has ceased to participate for a period of four months or more and has been contacted, or repeated unsuccessful attempts to contact them have been made, then by a recommendation of the Elders he or she may be removed from membership by a majority vote at a congregational meeting.
    4) Exclusion by disciplinary action of the church following Matthew 18:15-17. A two-thirds vote at a congregational meeting is required for expulsion.
    5) Death of the member.

    We are about to revise the constitution and bylaws as they were written for a multi-congregation church, and we stopped being that a decade ago. I made no recommendations for changes to that section, beyond the merging into the single surviving document.

    I like the fact that the operative words are “shall” and “upon” in “shall be terminated upon any of the following events”, combined with the simplicity of #2 “Request of the member.” Shall is a non-discretionary term, “upon” doesn’t leave room for delay, and I think combined with #2 being so simple it leaves no room for abuse about “can’t resign while …”.

    So that is something to look for if you are looking at a document in a situation where membership does matter. Does the document state or mean that resignation ends membership right away?

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  71. okrapod: How true.But in the meantime they do a lot of damage.How in blazes this sort of thing takes root in christianity or how it takes root in the US remains amazing to me.Land of the free and home of the brave except at church?How does that even happen?

    In my experience of a wanna-be mega-church, the group-think became pretty thick. The pastor was much loved and a genuinely gifted man, and I think a genuinely good man — not a narcissist or a sociopath. But he seemed to eventually buy in to the prevailing church-growth mentality (I think there is a significant amount of peer pressure among pastors, and it influences even people who consciously try to resist it) and also had some long-term vision ideas (that probably should not have been pursued from the place of a vocational minister) that seemed to bind his conscience — a vision from God that he felt compelled to pursue.

    A seeming opportunity arose to pursue/achieve the vision.

    The teaching agenda shifted toward “how to hear from God” and “the importance of listening to the voice of God.” The vision was introduced — to become a megachurch and train missionaries and change the local region, the state, and the world. It was a risky and costly vision. Along the way, “wisdom” considerations were deprecated as “sight, not faith” and hints were dropped that he thought God might do some unexpected things that would make the new vision achievable with very little cost to the average layperson in the congregation.

    After some months of this preparation, a congregational meeting was held to prepare to decide whether to adopt the new vision (or not). The congregation was pretty enthusiastic (with a few uneasy dissenters, myself among them), and shortly thereafter voted strongly in favor.

    It was November 2007. Within a few months, people were losing their jobs and the fund-raiser stalled. The hoped-for large gifts seemed to not materialize, and other things miscarried. Having sold their property to acquire the land for the megachurch building, they became homeless and had to deal with the discomforts of that. It took them near a decade to dig out from this, and they are now in what appear to me to be smaller facilities than they started with. And there is a new pastor.

    I think it is very easy to believe that gifted men really are “hearing from God” in ways that go beyond the Scriptures. And once you believe that you are kind of stuck, because if you don’t “get with the program”, you are disobeying “the voice of God” mediated to you by your pastor whom you love.

    It’s hard to be free and brave when everyone around you thinks that the pastor has prophetic gifts and is hearing directly from God.

    I’m glad to be out of that and will not be going back.

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  72. ishy: I’d like to tell them, “Stop calling yourself a Christian if you believe you have authority over another living being! That’s God’s job, not yours!”

    Absolutely! Controlling others for your own purposes is the opposite of loving others as self.

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  73. Bridget: So happy for you! (but making me cry). Praying you’re not in alot of pain and you get to do everything you want to soon!

    I too join in prayer solidarity.

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  74. okrapod: Thanks. I am a lot sicker and I look a lot worse now. I quit sending pictures because of that. At one point I thought I might not live until he got back. But, here we are. I am go glad.

    You will look like an angel to your son! So happy for both of you.

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  75. Anotherone: Jonathan Leeman, “Stop calling yourself a Christian if you’re making a habit of living independently from the local church.” How arrogant is that!

    The truth hiding in plain sight here is that all of these independent local “churches” are in the habit of making a living for their CEO’s independent of the rest of the local church. They should set the example, and stop calling themselves churches.

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  76. Nick Bulbeck,

    I don’t know, Nick, how one would identify what ‘the local church’ would include/exclude unless there were some criteria. But criteria identification is what we have now and we see problems with that. Would it include ‘the metropolitan universal church of the eternal focus’, or if not why not?

    My bunch is pretty tolerant but that would not sell.

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  77. Nick Bulbeck,

    okrapod,

    The thought occurs to me that the periods of time when there was more or less a single undivided form of church (within specific geographical regions), and therefore clear boundaries defining what was and was not “church”, was when the State (the Roman Empire post-Constantine, the Carolingian state, medieval Spain, Calvin’s Geneva) was allied with it and helping to suppress deviation.

    Post-Reformation, anything and everything can call itself “church” if it wishes. There’s no way to control it. It looks bad from the inside and outside, but perhaps there’s some sort of process at work. Paul wrote (to an individual congregation, admittedly), (paraphrased:) “it is necessary that there be disagreements among you, that God may show who is approved.”

    Unfortunately, this “approval” process is not fast on the scale of a human lifetime, and a lot of people get hurt in the process. Todd Wilhelm mentioned above the “Shepherding Movement”. Much of the “new reformation” looks headed for similar assessment. I sometimes wonder whether the original Reformation was not as great as I have been taught, and perhaps they should have gone further in their analysis of received dogma.

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  78. Lydia,

    Thanks. It is just that I had a cluster of stuffs-nothing terminal at this point that we know, but scary. Back in January I seem to have developed damage to a vertebral body-no reason to get films since we know what is happening, and from my own imaging experience a wedge deformity of a vertebral body is rather common. But I also got into a spiral of weight loss which started out intentional (good) but which I could not stop (bad) no matter how much I ate. Cachexia is something you don’t want. That followed by some oral surgery. And I have now had a reaction to a med which I have now stopped. It is some kind of scary to watch a body self destruct while you are still in it. Feels helpless. Feels bizarre. I can still think since this is not a pain cycle but ‘fortuitous juxtaposition of phenomena not due to a common etiology’. And yes I wrote this paragraph just to get to say that little phrase-it sounds so something or other.

    In the words of a former prof, there are several ways to say ‘danged if I know’ and make it sound like you do know. Commentary by me: …and charge for it? More commentary by me: like some theologies do?

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  79. okrapod:
    Lydia,

    In the words of a former prof, there are several ways to say ‘danged if I know’ and make it sound like you do know. Commentary by me:…and charge for it?More commentary by me:like some theologies do?

    Well said! Though I think I’d rather pay someone who admits, in somewhat convoluted fashion, that he “doesn’t know” than pay someone who doesn’t know that he doesn’t know and thus confidently affirms what is probably not true. There’s a lot of that in our day.

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  80. Samuel Conner: The thought occurs to me that the periods of time when there was more or less a single undivided form of church (within specific geographical regions), and therefore clear boundaries defining what was and was not “church”, was when the State (the Roman Empire post-Constantine, the Carolingian state, medieval Spain, Calvin’s Geneva) was allied with it and helping to suppress deviation.

    This is what I was taught and what I believed until I started digging into church history. If we can believe Irenaeus, who died more than 100 years before the edict of Milan, the Christian church was unified quite well before Constantine arrived. He used the unity as part of his argument against Gnosticism (see http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103324.htm). And it would be a mistake to conclude that the church was unified by Constantine. Arianism came back strong shortly after Constantine’s death, and it was a battle that raged until the end of the fourth century (Athanasius was exiled numerous times because of his fight against Arianism). So historically speaking, I don’t believe that there is a strong case for the claim that the friendship of church and state unified Christianity. One could also make the claim that this is what divided it.

    For me, the takeaway is church and state don’t combine well – they both suffer from the union.

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  81. ION: Opera

    I’m not, generally, a big fan opera; but I’m listening to Andrea Bocelli’s performance of Nessun Dorma a couple of years back from the King Power Stadium. A whole string of top A’s, and he’s not even trying.

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  82. okrapod,

    Congrats! So glad he is home and safe! Hope you and yours have a blowout celebration, and I hope you feel well enough to thoroughly enjoy it!

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  83. Root 66: Our former YRR pastor tried this stuff on us … He casually mentioned in one of the meetings that the covenant needed to be signed by all members and the whole committee jumped on that like a possum on a june bug!

    TWW is here to create opossums in the Body of Christ who will devour these young whippersnapper June bugs! Good Lord, the youth group is running the church! Since these young pastors are not spiritual, they depend on the flesh to control, manipulate, and intimidate the pew to follow them.

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  84. Leslie Puryear: I fear for the church leaders who are using the techniques of cults to enforce their authority. Going after church members who leave their church is a tactic of Scientology, not biblical Christianity.

    Well, Pastor Puryear, this appears to be the SBC of the future. The young reformers are coming into it by droves … they are being educated at SBC seminaries which are leaning reformed … and they have 9Marks on their minds to whip the pew into shape, to restore the “gospel” by the strong arm of the law that the SBC has lost (gospel = Calvinism to them). As a small church leader in SBC, I hope you can help steer these young reformers clear of SBC life within your sphere of influence. You use the “c” word for good reason; many of us see the New Calvinist movement as a cult of sorts by the message and methods they use.

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  85. From what I see in NT churches the purpose of Church discipline was to bring about restoration, and not intended to be a power play on the part of leadership. Most Bible students understand 1 Cor 5 to be referring to a man who was cohabiting with his step-mother (in today’s lingo). The church was apparently proud of their “tolerance.” Paul instructed that discipline needed to be applied and then broadens the application. In 2 Cor 2:5ff there apparently was repentance on the man’s part and so Paul instructs to forgive and comfort him and bring him back into the fellowship and reaffirm. Church discipline ought to cause “great anguish of heart and affliction” (2 Cor 2:4) as Paul felt when giving instruction to the church on how to discipline the individual. Church discipline should be applied gently and humbly (Gal. 6:1) and not with an attitude of superiority. However, there are steps prior to applying church discipline as Jesus pointed out in Matthew 18 by going to the individual personally, then taking one or two others along. I realize verse 15 of Matt. 18 speaks of a brother who “sins against you”. However, in my judgment, there needs to be personal contact first and an attempt to challenge the individual to godly living first before taking next steps.

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  86. okrapod:
    Bridget,
    Thanks.I am a lot sicker and I look a lot worse now.I quit sending pictures because of that.At one point I thought I might not live until he got back.But, here we are.I am go glad.

    I’m sure he’s thrilled to see you! I hope you have better health to enjoy the visit.

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  87. Don Jones: From what I see in NT churches the purpose of Church discipline was to bring about restoration, and not intended to be a power play on the part of leadership.

    Indeed. Restore to fellowship and to membership … but not to leadership (for leaders who fail morally). The church discipline we are see exercised within the New Calvinist movement, for example, is intended to intimidate the pew – not restore it. There is nothing loving about the strong arm of religion being extended to shun and excommunicate believers who do not agree with pulpit message and method.

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  88. okrapod,

    Lol! It sounded so big scary word smart I don’t dare question it!

    Your comment made me think of John Quincy Adams:

    Someone asked the elderly former President, “How is John Quincy Adams today?”

    He answered, as he walked along with his cane, “John Quincy Adams is well, thank you, quite well. But the house in which he lives is tottering on its foundations, the windows are shaking, the roof is leaking, the doors are not hanging straight; and I think John Quincy Adams will have to move out of it soon. But John Quincy Adams himself, sir, is quite well, I thank you, quite well!”

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  89. Ken F (aka Tweed),

    Thanks for the correction.

    One might also argue that there is no realistic way for there to be uniformity of opinion as a group of groups gets larger. I have read (forgot about that in my earlier comment) that one of the side-effects of the Constantinian establishment was the migration of large numbers of former pagans into the churches in following decades. It was impossible to properly catechize them all. Constantine himself IIRC favored the Arian position.

    I’ll also note that while there was substantial doctrinal uniformity (certainly compared to our day) prior to Constantine, there was significant disagreement over practice. The Montanist controversy, for example, occurred during this period.

    “Christ undivided” is a forlorn hope, I think. It would be good if we could at least be kind to one another.

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  90. Don Jones: However, there are steps prior to applying church discipline as Jesus pointed out in Matthew 18 by going to the individual personally, then taking one or two others along. I realize verse 15 of Matt. 18 speaks of a brother who “sins against you”. However, in my judgment, there needs to be personal contact first and an attempt to challenge the individual to godly living first before taking next steps.

    I will add a caveat to that, if it’s a crime. Churches should never handle crimes of any sort. I see Matt. 18 used all the time to argue that the church should be handling crimes, some of a very horrible nature. No, no, NO!

    In fact, it seems to me that there are very few reasons a church would do church discipline for any reason. Questioning the issue, wanting to leave the church–not good reasons for church discipline. Assault, divorce, molestation, murder, theft–crimes which God has put the government in charge of investigating and handling. A church should never investigate any thing that might be a crime first before reporting to police!

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  91. Samuel Conner: “Christ undivided” is a forlorn hope, I think. It would be good if we could at least be kind to one another.

    Yes, Christianity has always been a mess – either by internal or external struggles. I was looking for the time when the church got it right, but I don’t think there was ever a golden age. Each generation has had to work through various kinds of struggles, and in the process created problems for follow-on generations to solve. But they also left a lot of very solid writings and traditions. I am coming to the conclusion that the Nicene Creed is a solid rallying point, but beyond that there needs to be humble and civil dialogue and room for disagreement.

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  92. Leslie Puryear: This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of in 21 years as a pastor. Signing a legal document to become a member? That is not in the Bible. No early churches required such a ludicrous thing. I fear for the church leaders who are using the techniques of cults to enforce their authority.

    If there was a “Like” button here, I would certainly use it for this comment!

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  93. Deeb’s
    ( off topic but vital for the church going forward)

    When you have time, I would love your take on the statement released yesterday.

    Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel.

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  94. Max: There is nothing loving about the strong arm of religion being extended to shun and excommunicate believers who do not agree with pulpit message and method.

    It is if you redefine “love”, My Dear Wormwood.

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  95. Samuel Conner,

    I question whether operational uniformity was ever a goal. I don’t see the exact same advice in every epistle sent to different places. Just one example off of my head would be how the people in Phillipi knew it to be wrong that a female lead a church. The church there was started in Lydia’s home. There are many interesting examples. And when you include context and the cultural differences in cities, it gets even more interesting. Paul called the Cretins, liars! Ephesus boasted a huge Pagan Temple. so if Elders are a necessity why didn’t Paul write every single epistle to the elders?

    I do see the theme of an overarching belief that Jesus Christ is Messiah -resurrected -but the handling of details is not approached uniformly. It’s a very interesting topic.

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  96. This bit worries me:

    “Only those persons who “unite” with the church have consented to the church’s authority over them.”

    This surely proves that their “church” is a man-made organisation because true believers are united to each other in Christ by the Holy Spirit.

    The church (a man made institution) has no authority over an individual. As servants of Jesus Christ, we all answer to him alone. We can encourage each other, provoke one another to love and good deeds, bear the burdens of one another, pray for one another, serve one another and love one another. But there is no place for one believer having authority over another. None at all! I am so glad I left the institutional church.

    Another difference between this false church and the true church is no consent is needed. I never gave “consent” to the authority of Jesus Christ over me. He is the Lord and King whether I “consent” to it or not!

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  97. Leslie Puryear: That is not in the Bible. No early churches required such a ludicrous thing.

    There is much that goes on in the American church that is not Bible-based. We have drifted so far from authentic church that we’ve lost our way … we’ve not sought the genuine, but settled for the counterfeit.

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  98. Lydia,

    I agree. Paul was very pragmatic and flexible. He sternly berated the Galatians for contemplating the Judaizers’ demands that Gentile new believers be circumcised, but at another time himself circumcised mix-ethnicity Timothy to avoid giving offense to local Jews. “All things to all men, that by any means” he might win some.

    Paul seems to have been very concerned to not raise unnecessary barriers to belief and fellowship. We definitely live in a different day.

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  99. Anotherone,

    Yup, Mr. Leeman really speaks for G$d, doesn’t he!! I thought it was G$d’s job to determine who a “believer” is….. I have enough humility/fear of G$d to not be quoted so prominetly to say things like this! But then, I am just a lowely pew peon….

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  100. okrapod,

    I hope you have a wonderful time with your son!

    I’m going to join in with lots of others here to say I’ll be praying of you & wishing you as healthy & happy a time as possible. You are much loved here & your comments are so wise, as befits a lifelong MD.

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  101. Dee you need to look into the counseling contracts that churches with these covenant contracts are having members and no members sign. I need to send you what I found. It is unbelievable, I scoured the 27 page document that they are so slick to add to the counseling form but don’t put it in there. It is a very dangerous document that anyone could get looped into agreeing and signing. You actually have to go searching for this document and it’s craftily placed in their counseling contracts which is legal and legally binding. The unsuspecting person will sign away their legal right to any due or fair process with the courts should they be duped into counseling especially if they are in any legal dispute with another member or person. It’s a insidious little document and something that must be reported on. Talking already members of a church into counseling isn’t difficult for these pastors. Once the trust is there as a member you will sign because remember they trust the pastor at this point.

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  102. Max: These young preacher boys don’t call or visit members in their homes, don’t visit them in the hospital, nor pray with them in nursing homes. But they find plenty of time to tweet their lives away in coffee shops; they dedicate more time to chatter on smart phones than they do in face-to-face dialogue with members. Welcome to 21st century church.

    According to author James Bridle, we’re heading into a new dark age, fueled and exacerbated by the misuse and abuse of high-technology.

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  103. Lydia: I question whether operational uniformity was ever a goal. I don’t see the exact same advice in every epistle sent to different places.

    E.W. Bullinger (The Companion Bible circa 1921) also questioned it, which is why he wrote that Paul’s epistles were more of an ethical repository rather than the almost Islamic ‘how to’ approach they’ve morphed into over the last 45-50 years.

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  104. Samuel Conner: The thought occurs to me that the periods of time when there was more or less a single undivided form of church …was when the State (the Roman Empire post-Constantine, the Carolingian state, medieval Spain, Calvin’s Geneva) was allied with it and helping to suppress deviation.

    Late medieval Britain was like that post-Henry-VIII, too, albeit with brutal swings between a Roman and an English church. Which is what happens when a minority who want to enforce unity by placing themselves in power. It was, in other words, “membership covenants” writ large.

    Quite apart from being impractical, I don’t think it would be necessary or even desirable for “churches” locally to merge, unless the local church is very small maybe. As you say, why can’t they love one another? In general, these businesses have an honorary patron in the form of a Galilean carpenter. Who is said to have challenged his followers with words to the effect of: if you only love people who are like you, what good is that? When these local para-church groups are primarily concerned with protecting the boundaries between them and other local para-church groups, they shouldn’t be calling themselves “churches” IMHO. They’re just Lone_Ranger_Christians thinly disguised with a collective identity.

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  105. Nick Bulbeck: Which is what happens when a minority who want to enforce unity by placing themselves in power. It was, in other words, “membership covenants” writ large.

    “UNITY! WE MUST HAVE UNITY, COMRADES!”

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  106. drstevej: Nope, I voted Trump, not Hillary.

    I gotta’ tell ya’ about the time I sojourned with a coven of forest crones.
    Some of the best times I’ve ever had…

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  107. Karen:
    Covenant signing is like “signing off your soul to the devil.”

    Just don’t do it!

    If you do, you’re taking Pastor/Elders’ Mark on your forehead and right hand.
    i.e. “WE OWN YOU!”

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  108. Bridget: How can her experience wrong?

    Right? I had to go back and look what she said and this is not the way to answer.

    I’m guessing he’s talking abut being in communion alone, but whatever. I don’t think God cares about the ceremony as much as if your heart is right.

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  109. Karen: Covenant signing is like “signing off your soul to the devil.”

    Just don’t do it!

    While this might sound a little extreme to the casual churchman, I personally believe you are on track. When men usurp the authority of Christ in ‘their’ church, it opens the door for the demonic to enter. It is becoming increasingly clear that Christ’s authority is waning in the organized church – the authority of men now controls the wheel. All authority is His in Heaven and in Earth in the real Church … that which supplants his rule in the organized church is an illegitimate authority and demonic at the root.

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  110. Lea: I don’t think God cares about the ceremony as much as if your heart is right.

    I agree. But the folks stuck on correct doctrine don’t see it that way. They seem to have lost the heart part.

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  111. Max: While this might sound a little extreme to the casual churchman, I personally believe you are on track. When men usurp the authority of Christ in ‘their’ church, it opens the door for the demonic to enter.

    Max…
    I live in SoCal, Woo Capital of the USA. Including Christian Woo. Including Spiritual Warfare Woo which sees Demons under every bed. And I’ve been on the receiving end of the last-mentioned a couple times (“What were we thinking?” funny in retrospect, not so funny at the time).

    Men alone are capable of some pretty diabolical acts and attitudes without invoking “the demonic”. Greed, Selfishness, Egomania, Control-Freakery, Holding the Whip over others — men alone can make a pretty good Hell without supernatural assist. Especially when they can claim Cosmic Justification for what they wanted to do anyway.

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  112. Headless Unicorn Guy: Men alone are capable of some pretty diabolical acts and attitudes without invoking “the demonic”.

    Agreed. That which comes against the Church falls in one or more of three categories: the world, the flesh, and the devil. The world and the flesh are doing such a good job disrupting the church that the devil doesn’t have to get involved in most cases.

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  113. dee:
    Roberto G
    Try to be a bit nicer.

    What – and lose the comedy?

    As a wise green muppet once said: A pastor’s strength flows from the Force.

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  114. Ryan:
    Uhh…a little fear mongering here?

    Not in the least. Have you actually read out examples on this blog. There are lots and lots of them. That is why we came up with the letter to write when the church does something bad to you. You are the one who is not sufficiently informed.

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  115. Ken P.: I will never understand TGC’s fascination with church discipline.

    Simple, actually.
    “I HOLD THE WHIP!” control-freakery, Cosmically-justified by Divine Right.

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  116. Roberto G,

    “Everything you said was wrong.”
    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Roberto,…Roberto,

    “haven’t taken communion in years. i feel closer to God now than ever before. in a free-er, more natural and relaxed way.”

    –so you, an anonymous stranger to me, are the authority on what i feel and what i don’t feel?
    —————

    “having stepped out of christian culture meant shedding huge amounts of pressure. pressure to do this, do that, don’t do this, don’t do that, be this, don’t be that… or else ominous and vague threats that amounted to “the sky will fall!””

    –somehow, Roberto believes he is the authority on what is true and not true about my life & life experiences.
    ————

    well, guess, what. the sky didn’t fall. and God is as available as ever, and i’m able to connect.

    Roberto, a total stranger, feel entitled to tell me this didn’t happen.
    ————-

    but getting back to communion — one can do this on their own, and make it very meaningful.

    this third party middle man is simply not required.”

    Roberto, give me your best thesis as to why this is “wrong”. I’ll be waiting.

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  117. elastigirl: Roberto, give me your best thesis as to why this is “wrong”. I’ll be waiting.

    I’ll give it a guess that it’s not what Wayne Grudem says in his books, because of course God only sticks to evangelical rules 😉 The weird thing about the slippery slope that all those evangelicals warned others about, is that Jesus is there at the bottom, as well as at the top, & every step in between.

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  118. Beakerj,

    Wayne Grudem.

    that’s thesis enough for some folks.

    well, what the Roberto types really need to do is write “Wayne Grudem” with sharpie on a piece of paper, cut it out, & tape it to a ping pong paddle. it fits nicely in a back pocket, so all they have to do when challenged is whip it out and hold it up.

    as to that slippery slope, just various paths with hills and valleys like the routes every one else is on.

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  119. Harry Mason: It’s good to know this, but doesn’t sound like a reason to lose any sleep.

    Have you ever been shunned, Harry? Have you ever been shunned by the whole community where you had built all your relationships? Have you ever lost your job because your employer was part of that community? Have your kids ever been shunned at school by their former church friends?

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  120. Beakerj: I’ll give it a guess that it’s not what Wayne Grudem says in his books, because of course God only sticks to evangelical rules

    Wayne Grudem-he’s so important, he can even change the words of the Bible. After all, he knows better what God intended to say than God does.

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  121. Headless Unicorn Guy: I live in SoCal, Woo Capital of the USA. Including Christian Woo. Including Spiritual Warfare Woo which sees Demons under every bed.

    No I would disagree. We have more concentrated crazy woo in Sedona, Arizona. Even Christian woo. On the other hand, it’s much prettier and quieter than SoCal.

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  122. SiteSeer: Have you ever been shunned, Harry? Have you ever been shunned by the whole community where you had built all your relationships? Have you ever lost your job because your employer was part of that community? Have your kids ever been shunned at school by their former church friends?

    Have you ever had someone try to ruin your reputation by telling lies about you after you leave their church so they can explain to the ones left behind that it’s not the church, it’s you? And they should probably not even bother contacting you to find out what happened. Because the elders tried to reason with you, but you are unreasonable and ungodly.

    They’re welcome to pray for you, of course.

    Gotta keep the sheep in line, y’know.

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  123. SiteSeer: Wayne Grudem-he’s so important, he can even change the words of the Bible. After all, he knows better what God intended to say than God does.

    What would God ever do without Wayne Grudem Go Wayne Grudem?

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  124. Hmmmmmm….

    This “Roberto” comes out of nowhere Defending the Faith against us Heretics ON MULTIPLE THREADS.
    Where have we seen this one before?

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  125. SiteSeer: Have your kids ever been shunned at school by their former church friends?

    This stuff is really hard on kids I would imagine, since they don’t understand why. Of course, I’m an adult and don’t understand ‘why’ except that people are awful. I would default to the ‘they weren’t your real friends’ explanation, but that still feels terrible.

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  126. SiteSeer: Harry Mason: It’s good to know this, but doesn’t sound like a reason to lose any sleep.

    Have you ever been shunned, Harry? Have you ever been shunned by the whole community where you had built all your relationships? Have you ever lost your job because your employer was part of that community? Have your kids ever been shunned at school by their former church friends?

    Have you ever been stirred in the night with a burden to see this abuse come to end, Harry? Mistreatment of believers within the New Calvinist movement is real; Siteseer describes it well. Shunning and excommunication are archaic practices … they are law, not life … graceless, not Grace. What love is this?!

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  127. Lea: I’m an adult and don’t understand ‘why’ except that people are awful.

    I was young and now am old … over the years, I have learned that some of the meanest people on the planet are church folks! Notice that I didn’t say “Christians.” Religion has an ugly side to it … the archaic practices of shunning and excommunication of believers who simply just want to get away from a belief and practice they no longer agree with is about as mean-spirited as you can get. Welcome to New Calvinism … it is coming to a church near you!

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  128. Max,

    Shunning, also known as “The Ban”, was “faithfully employed (as advocated by Menno Simons) to maintain a spotless community in the world of surrounding evil”. You can read of the excesses of the anabaptists in Ch 19 of “The Radical Reformation” by George Huntston Williams.

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  129. Max:Welcome to New Calvinism … it is coming to a church near you!

    And if the New Calvinists don’t have you in their crosshairs the NAR/Seven Mountains people will. When Jesus said there would be ravenous wolves he wasn’t using hyperbole.

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  130. Lowlandseer,

    “Shunning, also known as “The Ban”, was “faithfully employed (as advocated by Menno Simons) to maintain a spotless community in the world of surrounding evil””
    +++++++++++++++++

    “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” (Ephesians 5)

    i believe there’s truth to this, and ‘Paul’ expressed it poetically. but it sure is fodder for control freakery & paranoia.

    i’ve run across many things in the NT which fall into this category. Things intended to be for the good.

    But i marvel… it didn’t occur to the speakers and writers how their words with the power of their own personal influence could be exploited by others to destroy people?

    i mean, if I were Jesus, even, i would have worded some things so differently, to avoid this very thing.

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  131. Lowlandseer:
    Max,

    Shunning, also known as “The Ban”, was “faithfully employed (as advocated by Menno Simons) to maintain a spotless community in the world of surrounding evil”.

    Disconnect Decree LRH came down from Flag?

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  132. Lowlandseer: You can read of the excesses of the anabaptists in Ch 19 of “The Radical Reformation” by George Huntston Williams.

    You can read of their sacrifices for a free church in “The Reformers and Their Stepchildren” by Leonard Verduin.

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