If all Church power vests in the clergy, then the people are practically bound to passive obedience in all matters of faith and practice; for all right of private judgment is then denied. Charles Hodge
Princess Buttercup wishing you all a merry Advent season!
The joy of church discipline
“Church discipline is meant to produce joy.” Thus states a theology professor. Darrell Bock, a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, interviewed Jeremy Kimble who is an assistant professor of theology at Cedarville University and elder at Grace Baptist Church in Cedarville, Ohio.
The first thing that I did before reading the rest of the article was to mosey on over to Grace Baptist Church and take a look at their stated beliefs on discipline. Always do this before you visit any church.
Scroll on down to Appendix B which spells out their thoughts on the matter. Let me pick out a few statements that jumped out at me.
There is no a priori discussion on what constitutes a church discipline sort of offense.
It can be just about anything if the statement is to be believed. In other words, don’t get on the bad side of the church leadership because they can use just about anything to *discipline.”
Church discipline is concerned with the prevention and correction of offenses, an offense being defined as anything in the doctrine or practice of a member of this church that is contrary to the Word of God, a direct violation of the church covenant, or failure to adhere to the church Articles of Faith in the prescribed manner, all in a manner that lacks repentance.
From this point they discuss the typical steps of Matthew 18, leading up to a vote by the majority of the congregation to boot the offender from the church.
Once the person under discipline has reached Stages 4 and 5, he/she must give up their right to go to *court.
According to the appendix, Stage 4 is the meeting with the Elders and Stage 5 is the vote by the congregation to dismiss the member. As TWW continues to insist, these church covenants, which we prefer to call church contracts, are legal documents. This next quote appears to mean that a person cannot sue the church as it proceeds through this process.
The members of this church agree that there shall be no appeal to any court because of the dismissal or because of public statements to the congregation at the fourth or fifth stages of church discipline.
At any time in the process a believer who has been confronted will have the right of appeal to the Council of Elders to be heard in regard to the matter in which he or she stands accused.
Now, the good readers of this blog know that this is not true. If one is able to prove serious harassment, like in the Karen Hinckley situation at Matt Chandler”s church, civil litigation is often possible, especially if the church gets a bit overboard in their approach. Never take the church word for this. They are only interested in protecting the leadership of the church. Always consult an attorney.
Members cannot leave the church while under discipline and can be retroactively disciplined.
This is one of my personal favorites. Inumerable churches make this claim and they are wrong. The church cannot act like the Hotel California in which you can check in but you can never leave.
Therefore, discipline may be instituted or continued either before or after a member seeks to withdraw from membership if the Council of Elders determines that such discipline may serve to guard and preserve the honor of God, protect the purity of the church, or restore the erring member to the Lord (see #4)
Members who are under discipline by the church forfeit and waive the right to resign from this church. Resignations from membership are possible only by members who are in good standing and who are not under any disciplinary action. (Codswallop. Dee could not resist.)
While the church cannot force a withdrawing person to remain in this congregation, the church has the right and the responsibility to encourage restoration, to bring the disciplinary process to an orderly conclusion, and to make a final determination as to the person’s membership and/or fellowship status at the time withdrawal is sought or acknowledged. In doing so, the Council of Elders at its discretion, may temporarily suspend further disciplinary proceedings, dismiss any or all charges pending against the accused, or proceed with discipline.
Folks, involuntary servitude was ended when the Civil War ended. No one can force you to stay in a church, even if you are under church discipline. You may leave whenever you darn well please. And if you do it properly, you can prevent a church from playing the retroactive discipline game.
We wrote this post in which we highlighted a court case in which a woman did resign from a church and then sued the church which had continued with her discipline. In this post we also have a template of a letter and instructions on how to resign from the church. This is the United States and people are free to leave voluntary organizations at any time. Don’t let them tell you that you can’t.
Although the church says their covenant can be found in this document, I was unable to find it there or anywhere else for that matter. If someone can help me I will post a link to the covenant.
Now, with that background, let’s get back to the article.
It’s about sin and love…
Dr Bock brings up the potential pitfall of legalism which is a good point. I also wish he brought up the very real problem of sinful church leaders who misapply church discipline. Once again, they never define what sin should be disciplined. This leaves it open to *any sin at any time we feel like it.”
Kimble responded that he felt it’s important for church discipline to be done with a proper recognition of “what sin actually is,” noting that with sin “we reject what is life giving and pure and good, for what is going to produce death and destruction.”
“If we can get back to that doctrine of sin, we can then start saying something like, ‘Discipline is done for progress and joy in the faith.’ It’s not meant to produce a, as you said, a grim, austere kind of environment. It’s meant to produce joy,” replied Kimble.
Church: Make sure the person should be discipline and get yourself some good lawyers.
Bock states that the process of discipline should be done with care and brings up the question of liability. Kimball has no such concerns because he has *good lawyers.” Folks, if you ever thought for one minute that church discipline and covenants have nothing to do with the law, think again. It is. Churches are merely trying to protect themselves from being sued. Never forget, if the church screws up, you hold the power when it comes to abusive and undeserved church discipline.
“The worst thing you want to do is discipline someone who doesn’t deserve it, and deal with whatever the array of factors might be that could be in play. So it’s a very, very deliberative process,” Bock said.
There is also a potential legal dimension, Bock added, noting that, “in an American legal context,” practicing discipline “might get the church into trouble.”
“We have some good lawyers in our church that are able to give us some guidance in that regard, as well, to know what kinds of documentation do we need,” Kimble replied.
Never forget. If the church wants to, they can discipline you for anything such as: for not giving enough, for asking too many questions, for disagreeing with your pastor, for refusing to stay in a church which likes to sell CJ Mahaney books, for not joining the right™ church after leaving, etc.
In the end, I wonder if this is all a power game. It is one game I no longer plan to play and neither should you. I would NEVER join Grace Baptist Church. They will not define what is a *discipline level offense.* The door remains open for anything that could be defined as a sin.
- You may leave your church anytime you want, including while you are under discipline. This is not the former USSR. Please see this link on how to resign from a church.
- Remember pastors and elder are still sinners.
- Never join a church that will not spell out for you, a priori, what they will discipline. If they will not, that means they want the right to discipline anything and that is unbiblical and can lead to abuse.
- Never join a church in which an elder, like Kimball, rejoices in the fact that they *have lawyers” helping with the leaderships’ right to discipline you.
- If you insist on joining a church that boasts of *having lawyers,* make sure you have one as well. Ask your attorney (who is not a member of the church) to review what you are getting into. If they are concerned, listen to them.
- Never sign a membership contract (usually called a covenant to make it sound biblical) that gives the church the right to discipline you for undefined sin.
- Church discipline should be limited to egregious sins, many of which are against the law anyway. Others which are not crimes include pastors caught in adultery and divorce caused by a husband leaving his family to shack up.
- Find a church which gets it. Avoid power hungry elders and pastors who love to be *in charge,* demand submission (and they won’t tell you for what) and enjoy deciding on who should be disciplined next.
For Dr Bock: Next time, please ask those, who discuss discipline more than they discuss real grace, what they discipline. It might be an eye opener for you as it was for me 10 years ago.