Is Mark Dever’s View on Church Membership More Painful Than a Root Canal?

“I knew how to read a contract by 10 years old, but I didn’t know what it meant for somebody to come in and tell me they loved me and kiss me goodnight. That’s a problem.”-Corey Feldman link

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The Membership Roll

Note:12/21/18. Yesterday I received a call from a gentleman whose church is in the process of a church takeover, more commonly called in polite company as a *church revitalization.* I hope to tell his story one day after he gets through the mess. So, I’m dedicating this post rerun to him.

This was first posted on 10/13/14.

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Mark Dever recently presided over a 9Marks conference held at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. It was subtitled “a conference about the church, for the church”. It is essential for thoughtful Christians to understand 9Marks lingo. Words have meanings, and all too often we assume that everyone is reading from the same dictionary. In today’s church that is a dangerous assumption since you may well get caught up in patterns and behaviors that can border on abusive.

Mark Dever: What might his words look like in practice, not in theory?

The Associated Baptist Press published an article on Dever’s conference titled Pastors Calls Out Tolerated Non-involvement in Southern Baptist Churches written by Bob Allen. I was impressed by his analysis in which he highlighted portions of Dever’s talk and then juxtaposed Todd Wilhelm’s experience at the hands of Mark Dever’s right hand man, John Folmar, of UCCD. I listened to the 48 minute talk as well.

Words take on meaning when they are used to “enforce” a concrete action. In order to understand what Mark Dever and 9Marks mean by discipline, we will refer to the story of Todd Wilhelm. For those of you who are not aware of the whole story, please refer to our post called My, My Dubai: 9Marks Played Hardball

Quite simply, Todd Wilhelm was a member of UCCD, a 9Marks church in Dubai, and being tapped for leadership. He found out the church was pushing CJ Mahaney’s book in their bookstore. Todd has stood in solidarity with the victims of the SGM child sex scandals and asked for the books to be removed. The leadership refused and Todd bravely resigned his membership.

Why bravely? He is living in a foreign country and he had established relationships which were now put under strain. The church refused to let him resign until he joined another 9Marks approved church. He refused even though he intended to attend another church. His resignation was a conscientious objection to the church’s fealty to CJ Mahaney. He was then put on a “care list” which is 9Marks speak meaning that you are headed for church discipline since he wasn’t following the program. Sound a bit controlling?

(12/21/18 Note: at the time of writing, what is now known as Baptist New Global (BNG) was called Associated Baptist Press (ABP). When you see (ABP), it is referring to what is now known as (BNG))

Why do some think 9Marks is a cult?

Todd’s story is linked to by Bon Allen, who said the following:

Dever’s model has critics. Some compare such high-commitment membership expectations to a cult.

Today we will look at Mark Dever’s words on church membership and try to fathom what it means in practice. On Wednesday, we plan to look at a post by Jonathan Leeman in which I will attempt to demonstrate the problems inherent in the meaning of words.  Leeman and I agree on the bottom line of one issue but for radically different reasons. Those reasons could lead to serious consequences for those who have decided to “sign on the line” with Mark Dever.

Here is a link to Dever’s SEBTS talk. His enthusiastic audience was comprised primarily of pastors and future pastors which likely means you will see these methods being implemented by a church near you, especially Neo-Calvinist Baptist churches and Neo-Calvinist “whatever else” churches.

What does Dever think about people who do not commit to church membership?

Bottom line: unless you are near death or going to war, you are a sinner.

Dever claims that 2/3 of all members of Southern Baptists churches do not attend the church of which they are members. Unless it is for good reasons such as illness, Dever claims that the reasons for this is either sin on the part of the member or sin of the part of leadership that isn’t teaching obedience. 

Interestingly, there is another reason and this reason is usually studiously ignored by certain pastors because it might point to them. There are people who have been abused by pastors and ministries for standing up for issues of conscience. Todd Wilhelm is an example of this. So, in a 9Marks type of church, if you deeply disagree with an action, leave and do not immediately join an approved™ church,  you are a sinner in the eyes of Dever and should be disciplined. But nobody ever questions if Mark Dever and John Folmar are the sinners in need of discipline because they are the “authority”.

Membership should exemplify/witness of love for one another.

In his talk, Dever claims that churches should be known for their love for one another. He claims that this will result in a witness of the Gospel to the world and cause people to come to a saving faith. Now think. How many churches do you know that are known by the community for their love towards one another? I have yet to hear of the marvelous love witness by the members of Capitol Hill Baptist Church. Why is it that many churches are known more for their “lectures” on the sins of those “outside” the church? The next point may be the reason.

Love often means discipline but discipline is not defined.

(ABP article) “You first have to take steps to recover a positive understanding and experience of membership, where it becomes normal for people to know the truth about each other’s lives,” he said. “Once that becomes normal, well then it would begin to seem strange if you weren’t speaking to each other if somebody is regularly committing adultery. Then the lack of church discipline would begin to seem strange.

Dever quoted 1 Corinthians 5 which discusses a man who is sleeping with his mother-in-law. Dever claims that the congregation was in trouble because they didn’t confront the sin. He claims that love also means to discipline someone. This is where it gets tricky. Most people would not have trouble with a church intervening in a 1 Corinthians 5 situation.

Listening to Dever, you think he is saying that really, really bad sin needs to be called out. In fact, he mentions serial adultery in his talk. But, that is not how it really rolls at 9Marks churches, and there is a good reason for this. Dever and 9Marks do not define the rules of the game a priori. You are not told what they will  punish, so they are given a wide latitude to punish whatever they darn well want to punish.

Todd Wilhelm’s situation is an example of this. He believed deeply that Mark Dever and John Folmar should not be pushing books by CJ Mahaney. He requested that they reconsider their stand. UCCD refused, so Todd left the church; however, UCCD’s “leadership” would not “let him”. Todd stood for a righteous cause, but UCCD and John Folmar appeared to be too invested in their relationship with CJ Mahaney to wish Todd well. They should have shaken his hand and just let him go on his way.

Instead, they decided to punish him. This, folks, is the reason why you should be very, very careful in joining any church which says it will discipline but fails to define the parameters of the punishment.

Since this talk was recent, I wondered whether Dever might have learned anything from Todd Wilhelm’s situation. He apparently hasn’t. He still endorses open ended, ill-defined discipline, so my guess is that there will be more “Todd Wilhelm” situations in the future, if there haven’t been already. Hint, hint…

Churches should require a signed membership covenant 

In order to get away with punishing people for whatever they darn well please, they need a contract to protect the church legally when they hold their “rah rah, let’s consign them to Satan” all-church discipline meetings. (Those of you who sit in these types of meetings and vote for whatever you are told need to get a clue.)

(ABP) 2. Have and use a congregationally agreed upon statement of faith and church covenant.“You’re showing that within membership in the congregation comes responsibility,” he said.

Here is a link to the CHBC (Mark Dever’s church) covenant. Please remember that you are signing a legal contract, not some “let’s all love and pray for one another” Hallmark card. Once you sign this, you are bound to the church that has been given quite a bit of latitude over your life. Read it carefully. These contracts are usually one-sided, placing the burden on the members, while giving maximum latitude to the pastors.

Remember this: they are watching you and will tell you just how and when they want you to be obedient. It is one-sided.

…We will walk together in brotherly love, as becomes the members of a Christian Church, exercise an affectionate care and watchfulness over each other and faithfully admonish and entreat one another as occasion may require.

…We will not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, nor neglect to pray for ourselves and others.

...We will endeavor to bring up such as may at any time be under our care, in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and by a pure and loving example to seek the salvation of our family and friends.

…We will seek, by Divine aid, to live carefully in the world, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, and remembering that, as we have been voluntarily buried by baptism and raised again from the symbolic grave, so there is on us a special obligation now to lead a new and holy life.

…We will work together for the continuance of a faithful evangelical ministry in this church, as we sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline, and doctrines. We will contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the church, the relief of the poor, and the spread of the Gospel through all nations.

We will, when we move from this place, as soon as possible, unite with some other church where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God’s Word.

After you sign this contract, you can’t leave the church until you die or they say you can leave. (Repeat this 10x.)

( ABP) 6. Realize that admission into church membership is an act of the congregation. “Somehow the congregation needs to be taught that it must act to admit someone into membership, and that apart from death it must act to release someone from church membership,” Dever said.

…You can’t unilaterally agree to join the church and you can’t agree to leave by yourself.

Make sure you understand this. The leadership of a church could be engaged in activities that you consider immoral, unethical, flawed, etc. However, as a member of that church, you have little say. Also, remember that the elders have been put in place to support the pastors. Their knee jerk reaction will be to protect their man.

According to this contract, you have no right to quit on the spot. You must be given “permission” to leave. Todd believed it was unethical to sell books written by CJ Mahaney. This is a reasonable point of view. However, he was expected to stay in membership until he found a 9Marks approved™ church.

Todd refused, acting on his conscience. He wanted out of there and out of there immediately. He could no longer fellowship with those who promoted what he believed to be an unethical ministry. (Todd was formerly a member of an SGM church.) They refused to let him go! Can you imagine this?

Todd wasn’t committing adultery, embezzling funds, hitting on young women in the church, etc. He was such a good member that they considered him ready for leadership. But he needed to be disciplined for his reasonable belief. He went from “leadership” material to “discipline” fodder. Do not forget this. It has nothing to do with serial adultery. It has everything to do with “obeying” the pastor, no matter what. You are essentially stuck in the Hotel California with no ability to check out.

Children should stop being baptized.

Dever apparently believes that baptism is something more than an outward expression of one’s inward confession of Christ. He believes that children can have saving faith but, in order to be baptized, they need to something more. That “more” is a bit difficult to find in the Scripture but Dever *knows* this to be true. It must be one of those “keys to the kingdom” thing.

(ABP) Dever said the question is not whether a 5-year-old or 10-year-old “can savingly confess Christ.”

“Of course they can,” he said. The question for the church is whether its members have the capacity to make an informed, lifelong commitment to follow Christ. “The large number of nominal Christians and rebaptisms in Southern Baptist churches seem to answer that we have gotten something badly wrong in the 20th century,” he said.

Dever has some rather strong ideas on baptism that have been given to him because of his “keys” thing. (Question: Does Ligon Duncan have those keys or only those who follow Mark Dever? More on this on Wednesday.) He does not allow those who believe in infant baptism take communion at his church, including his friend Ligon Duncan. Apparently, you need to have 9Marks™ approved baptism teaching before you can take communion, just like it says in the New Testament, right?…Perhaps it is in Acts 30??

(From TWW) Let me repeat that. Because of Duncan’s paedo-baptist convictions, both Dever and Mohler would prohibit his participation in the Eucharist.

Membership is the way to be assured of your salvation.

Dever seriously means this. You are not assured of your salvation when Jesus becomes the Lord of your life. It appears that the Spirit cannot give you that assurance. Only by being a member of a 9Marks approved™ church will you know that you are truly loving God.

(ABP) “Joining a church is joining an assurance-of-salvation cooperative. We are to observe evidence of God’s grace in each other’s lives. We are to encourage one another. We are to correct one another when occasion requires.”

Dever said church membership is not optional for someone serious about following Christ. “Membership functions to assure us that we have truly known God’s love and that we are truly loving God in response,” he said.

Upon reading this article, @soloner tweeted the following. I think it says it all.Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 4.50.53 PM

Folks, be very careful that you understand the meaning of words before you sign a membership contract. In fact, please call a covenant a contract in order to understand what you are signing. Ask yourself this question. Would you live in a country which did not define the laws and the expected punishment for breaking those laws? If you wouldn’t, ask yourself why you should trust men like Mark Dever to decide when they will, or will not, discipline you and for what? Always keep Todd Wilhelm’s situation in the back of your mind before you sign on the dotted line.


TWW has written extensively on church discipline and membership covenants. It is our opinion that covenants are legal contracts which are in place to protect primarily pastors and leadership from lawsuits. There is little to nothing in these contracts to protect the individual church member. We caution everyone to think twice before signing one of these documents. Ask yourself this question: Why should I trust these leaders to do the right thing?

If you wish to do more reading on this subject, here is one link to get you started. It even has a letter that you can send to your current church should you wish to “get the heck out of Dodge” and do so with minimal damage.


Comments

Is Mark Dever’s View on Church Membership More Painful Than a Root Canal? — 154 Comments

  1. Regarding the “keys” that are reckoned to be held by present-day self-described church leaders, I will take that claim seriously when they can prove that they known how to “pray to the Father in Jesus’ name” and have the Father do for them whatever they ask. Jesus promised that to the apostles (John’s “Last Supper Discourse”) and this seems to me to be a very useful verifiable test of whether Jesus’ promises to the 1st century apostles still apply to present-day self-described church leaders.

    I have not seen a lot of evidence that present day church leaders are able to do this, and so while I don’t dispute their claims to be in charge of the groups that employ them, I don’t have a lot of confidence that Jesus’ words about and promises to the 1st century apostles apply to them.

    This isn’t meant to be a reviling judgment, just a call to humility.

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  2. OK…. now I read the post. I like this site and I am glad stuff is exposed. I think these people are clueless at how they handle this stuff. BUT…. if all I did was read the 9Marks material and not know how poorly they implement it…. I have to say I agree with most of it. I am amazed at how lackadaisical people are in their approach to church. People do run from accountability and they do hurt themselves and others because they feel like they answer to no one.

    It would be cool if Dee and Deb featured some commentary by someone that sees both sides of this…. but is still disgusted by the double standards and downright cultish behavior.

    There are some of us out here that read the blog but still have many of the “convictions” for lack of a better word, of the groups covered on the blog.

    Good job guys!! Merry Christmas and keep up the good work!

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  3. “… church takeover, more commonly called in polite company as a *church revitalization.*”

    The New Calvinist seizure of SBC traditional (non-Calvinist) churches in my area have been called “replants” … it sounds so much nicer than takeover or split … but it’s still just as deceptive and ugly.

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  4. Breaking news that I just heard on radio in central Arkansas: conviction for Mark Aderholt, former Baptist youth pastor who was charged with assault of a teenage girl in his youth group when he was 25. Relevant to Arkansas news because he was employed at two very large Baptist churches. One was Immanuel Baptist in Little Rock. (That detail may be interesting to some because it was Bill Clinton’s home church.)

    I’m still at work and have not found verification on the internet with a quick search. I’ll try to investigate more thoroughly when time permits. Radio news only hits a quick headline blurb and is on to the next thing before I realize it’s a familiar name.

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  5. “Folks, be very careful that you understand the meaning of words before you sign a membership contract.”

    The only covenant that a Christian needs to enter into is the one written in blood by Jesus … no other contract required. There is freedom in Christ; some church membership contracts put you in bondage. Church – particularly the organized, institutional one – is voluntary.

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  6. George: It would be cool if Dee and Deb featured some commentary by someone that sees both sides of this…. but is still disgusted by the double standards and downright cultish behavior.

    We have a written a number of stories. So, I’ll post a couple of them while I’m in Israel.

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  7. Growing up in the SBC (not Reformed), there is another reason why many “members” quit going to church.

    Their “salvation” was little more than being manipulated into saying a prayer and getting a bath with their clothes on. It’s called “quick prayerism” and it’s not just an SBC phenomenon.

    If you did the math, for every 100 genuinely saved, active members in good standing in a typical Evangelical church, you MIGHT have 5-10 more members who don’t attend for legitimate reasons (shut-in, away at college, military service, missionaries to foreign countries, or on a long-term work assignment away from the area) but who would if they could.

    BUT you would have 500-600 more who don’t attend for various reasons. Some of them may be attending other churches but the church doesn’t know that (or if the church isn’t SBC, they don’t drop them, hoping they’ll “return to the fold”). Some may be dead and nobody knew about it. MAYBE a handful are subjects of genuine church discipline (e.g. the man abandoned his family and married his secretary). The majority, though, simply don’t come except at Christmas, Easter, or if their vote is needed to keep the building open.

    I agree that churches shouldn’t toss off members because they don’t agree with everything that the church does or they ask the wrong questions (if they have no church background, how would they know if the question was right or wrong?) BUT if a church has made legitimate efforts to restore (or even just to contact) a non-active member, and that person has no interest in returning, then I have no problem with them being taken off the rolls.

    I may be in that situation, I was a member of a megachurch and quit going. But I contacted them in 2014 and told them I wanted off the rolls because I hadn’t gone there in years and didn’t agree with what they did. Did they remove me? I don’t know because they never contacted me.

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  8. I just started attending Apex Baptist Church here in NC. Our campus just got a new pastor – Nate Akin … yes, son of Dan Akin at SEBTS. I’m not aware that I have to sign a covenant at this point to join the church; I’m interested in seeing where this goes, though. May be pleasantly surprised.

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  9. Max: The New Calvinist seizure of SBC traditional (non-Calvinist) churches in my area have been called “replants” … it sounds so much nicer than takeover or split … but it’s still just as deceptive and ugly.

    A Pox on them…

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  10. Quite possibly I misheard “conviction” for Aderholt when it was actually “indictment”. So there you go–this is how misinformation spreads, with people like me! My fave radio station runs the same headline news bites over and over and over. Except not this evening. I had one shot at hearing it.

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  11. Reading this blog, I am reminded of some of the spiritual abuse I have had to flee from in multiple churches over the years:

    • Expectation that I would participate in and affirm a scheme by a senior pastor to
    launder money
    • Retaliatory action against me by a pastor and lay leader, because I stood my ground
    in opposing their attempts to accommodate people who were unrepentant and a danger
    to others
    • The same retaliatory action, also motivated by the idea that I was “practicing
    psychology” because I was not seen as sold out to “biblical counseling” methodology
    • Having a dating relationship ended at the behest of the other party’s small group
    leader; I only knew the woman for a few weeks and never met the woman’s small group
    leader
    • Being told by a pastor I only knew for about 15 minutes that I was “my own worst
    enemy”, and how I could benefit from that pastor’s wisdom

    I regularly attend church today, but have not been a member of a church for a number of years and would not consider church membership now. My experience has been that church membership, more often than not, is based more on loyalty to mammon than the Triune God.

    While I recognize the doctrinal elements of spiritual abuse, my impression is that spiritual abuse is more likely to be motivated by individuals who believe they are endowed with New Testament authority they don’t have. I never thought church would become a den of vipers.

    Ironically, I would enjoy the opportunity to be a member of a church grounded in spirit and truth. During the holiday season, I’m reminded that while I have generally been able to run from spiritual abuse before becoming a victim of it, any obligations I am said to have to the church are outweighed by the spiritual need to guard my heart (Proverbs 4:23).

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  12. George,

    “I am amazed at how lackadaisical people are in their approach to church. People do run from accountability and they do hurt themselves and others because they feel like they answer to no one.”
    +++++++++++++++++++++

    i am a responsible adult. I am accountable to my family, to a few close friends, to the laws of the land, to my clients,…. to the person I work for… that about does it, I think.

    i’m a grown-up. i know how to live my life responsibly. I’m accountable to multiple people and entities who are worthy of it.

    I occasionally miscalculate, make mistakes, and disappoint people, and take responsibility & make amends accordingly. I do not hurt myself or others.

    I can’t think of anyone i know who isn’t in this category, as well.

    none of us includes a person wearing a church hat in our sphere of accountability. However we each have many levels of accountability, and we care about it.

    why does none of this count? why are we viewed as those who “feels like they answer to no one”?

    i am amazed at your assumptions of people.

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  13. George: People do run from accountability and they do hurt themselves and others because they feel like they answer to no one.

    I suppose it boils down to the “biblical” mandate for accountability. As far as I can tell the Bible says we are accountable to God alone and not to fellow Christians (this seems counterintuitive but there are no verses mandating accountability in the way the term is commonly defined). So if a church has set up an accountability structure, maybe it’s something from which we should run away. Or perhaps church people mean a different concept when they use the word accountability.

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  14. elastigirl: why does none of this count? why are we viewed as those who “feels like they answer to no one”?

    i am amazed at your assumptions of people.

    Good points. Nowhere does scripture assert that people must join a ‘church’ and submit to the authoritarian control of a man/group of men. It simply is not there. Accountable? Yes, I, like many, am accountable to my national government, state and local governments, spouse, children, friends, siblings, neighbors and so on. Who can live a life doing whatever they please for long?

    No, you will never again convince me that I must be told what to think, say and do by some ‘anointed’ men who view themselves as above reproach and deserving of the right to control the lives of others. I honestly wonder if this huge segment of The Church has forgotten about one very important fact: God has given us his own Spirit to dwell with us and hold us accountable. I think that leaves me in pretty good hands. Oh, and he is never narcissistic, self-serving or abusive. Never.

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  15. The only being that I am accountable to, and beholden to, is the only one who holds the keys to the kingdom, Jesus Christ. The church can be great but it is nothing more than the voluntary grouping of members of Christ’s kingdom on Earth for corporate worship of him, fellowship with other saints, exercising the priesthood of all believers. The soul winning, spreading of the Great Commission, and charity to others, isn’t a function of the church, it is the duty of each Christian individually, sometimes we can join together using the church for economies of scale, but it should still flow from the members of the congregation not from the decisions of the Pastor, Elders, Deacons, etc… That is why I historically identified as Baptist, but lately I’m having trouble recognizing my church.

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  16. Jarrett Edwards:
    The soul winning, spreading of the Great Commission, and charity to others, isn’t a function of the church, it is the duty of each Christian individually, sometimes we can join together using the church for economies of scale, but it should still flow from the members of the congregation not from the decisions of the Pastor, Elders, Deacons, etc…

    I actually think it’s this top-heavy church model that is exactly why there are so many impotent Christians. The average Christian is not expected to do the work of the ministry. And having been in New Calvinist circles, that is really no different.

    The New Cal line is “come to church and hear preaching”. Soul-winning isn’t even part of their theology. Studying the Bible for themselves isn’t part of their theology. as you’re supposed to read books by New Cals. The church discipline incidents we see are mostly about leaving a church, not going to church after abuse, and disobeying “authority”. I haven’t seen or heard one about being a sincere Christian.

    elastigirl is right, we are accountable in many ways as adults. But I think if our churches don’t expect us to be ministers of the gospel, then we probably won’t be. And I don’t think that will happen until everyone is viewed as having equal authority and responsibility.

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  17. Max: “Folks, be very careful that you understand the meaning of words before you sign a membership contract.”

    It is particularly important that [generic] you understand the meaning of the following words:

    Do not sign a membership contract.

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  18. With respect to the OP
    Not painful for the leaders!! Or when the leaders do feel self inflicted pain, (i.e. good old CJ), the boys rally around their buds…

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  19. George
    It would be cool if Dee and Deb featured some commentary by someone that sees both sides of this…. but is still disgusted by the double standards and downright cultish behavior.

    There are some of us out here that read the blog but still have many of the “convictions” for lack of a better word, of the groups covered on the blog.

    I came out of that (figuratively and literally). I was deep into Reformed Baptist theology and their critique of modern American church life. I eagerly joined CHBC thinking “Here is where they have the theology and practice right!”

    I didn’t last a year.

    I quickly learned that whatever their diagnosis (and the diagnosis has and will be argued, here and elsewhere), their answer is the same – a Rule to correct the perceived bad behavior. Every problem is met with a Rule. From a Lutheran perspective, they’re trying to solve Gospel problems by continuously applying more Law. And that… never… works.

    And of course, if you have lots of Rules, you need people to declare and enforce those rules. CHBC is a very authoritarian church, and when I was there, the leadership circle was very tight and insular. Accountability is one direction only – top-down.

    Frankly, if one views the indifference of many professed Christians as a problem, perhaps the root *is* the church – but rather than the Church not being “disciplined” enough (as 9Marks etc see it), but that we’re not Christ-like enough. And Christ did not go around scolding people. Well, ok, He did, but the people He did scold… were the religious scolds. Ponder that and consider…

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  20. It dawned on me why 9 Marks of a Healthy Church does not include anything about God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit ……… with Dever, Leeman, and their cronies holding the keys, making the rules, and meting out judgements and discipline, whadda we need the Holy Trinity for anymore?

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  21. It’s not really or only a 9 Marks thing. Here’s Luther on the subject


    God’s people or holy Christians are recognized by the office of the keys exercised publicly. That is, as Christ decrees in Matthew 18 [:15–20], if a Christian sins, he should be reproved; and if he does not mend his ways, he should be bound in his sin and cast out. If he does mend his ways, he should be absolved. That is the office of the keys. Now the use of the keys is twofold, public and private. There are some people with consciences so tender and despairing that even if they have not been publicly condemned, they cannot find comfort until they have been individually absolved by the pastor. On the other hand, there are also some who are so obdurate that they neither recant in their heart and want their sins forgiven individually by the pastor, nor desist from their sins. Therefore the keys must be used differently, publicly and privately. Now where you see sins forgiven or reproved in some persons, be it publicly or privately, you may know that God’s people are there. If God’s people are not there, the keys are not there either; and if the keys are not present for Christ, God’s people are not present. Christ bequeathed them as a public sign and a holy possession, whereby the Holy Spirit again sanctifies the fallen sinners redeemed by Christ’s death, and whereby the Christians confess that they are a holy people in this world under Christ. And those who refuse to be converted or sanctified again shall be cast out from this holy people, that is, bound and excluded by means of the keys, as happened to the unrepentant Antinomians.

    The church is recognized externally by the fact that it consecrates or calls ministers, or has offices that it is to administer. There must be bishops, pastors, or preachers, who publicly and privately give, administer, and use the aforementioned four things or holy possessions in behalf of and in the name of the church, or rather by reason of their institution by Christ, as St. Paul states in Ephesians 4 [:8], “He received gifts among men …”—his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some teachers and governors, etc. The people as a whole cannot do these things, but must entrust or have them entrusted to one person. Otherwise, what would happen if everyone wanted to speak or administer, and no one wanted to give way to the other? It must be entrusted to one person, and he alone should be allowed to preach, to baptize, to absolve, and to administer the sacraments. The others should be content with this arrangement and agree to it. Wherever you see this done, be assured that God’s people, the holy Christian people, are present.
    It is, however, true that the Holy Spirit has excepted women, children, and incompetent people from this function, but chooses (except in emergencies) only competent males to fill this office, as one reads here and there in the epistles of St. Paul that a bishop must be pious, able to teach, and the husband of one wife—and in 1 Corinthians 14 [:34] he says, “The women should keep silence in the churches.” In summary, it must be a competent and chosen man. Children, women, and other persons are not qualified for this office, even though they are able to hear God’s word, to receive baptism, the sacrament, absolution, and are also true, holy Christians, as St. Peter says [1 Pet. 3:7]. Even nature and God’s creation makes this distinction, implying that women (much less children or fools) cannot and shall not occupy positions of sovereignty, as experience also suggests and as Moses says in Genesis 3 [:16], “You shall be subject to man.” The gospel, however, does not abrogate this natural law, but confirms it as the ordinance and creation of God.

    (Luther’s Works Volume 41, p153-154)

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  22. Ken F (aka Tweed): I suppose it boils down to the “biblical” mandate for accountability. As far as I can tell the Bible says we are accountable to God alone and not to fellow Christians (this seems counterintuitive but there are no verses mandating accountability in the way the term is commonly defined). So if a church has set up an accountability structure, maybe it’s something from which we should run away. Or perhaps church people mean a different concept when they use the word accountability.

    In the biblical “case study” for excommunication/expulsion, the notorious incident of the believer who had intimate relations with his step-mother, the underlying concern that seems to have motivated Paul’s insistence that the elders intervene was that the person’s behavior was scandalous even by the standards of outsiders. To tolerate this would bring disgrace on the reputation of Christ.

    (as an aside, something similar seems to be in view in the life-long trouble that Nathan prophesied would “never leave” David’s “house” after David’s notorious transgressions. David had given the gentiles grounds to blaspheme YHWH; YHWH had to act to vindicate His name)

    The kinds of things that are regarded today to be grounds for “discipline” are generally so much smaller as to not be worthy of comparison to the biblical precedents.

    It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the motive for “discipline” in our day is usually not “the honor of the Name of Christ”, but simply “social control” over the “members.”

    IMO, one should run away from people who want that kind of control.

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  23. Lowlandseer,

    I have read this by Luther. However, you fail to mention the problem that Im addressing here. I’m not discussing a scenario like 1 Corinthians 5. I’m not discussing adultery or heresy on the order of denying essential doctrine. I am not discussing crimes.

    Sadly, I think many want to ignore or pretend I am not saying what I’m saying. I am saying that there are a bunch of difficult men who are abusive and will *discipline* people who don’t go along with their nonsense.

    I’m waiting for you and others to do me a favor. Spell out what the limits of discipline are and for what *sins* it should be employed. However, I won’t hold my breath on the matter. Sinful men like loopholes.

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  24. By your account, what Todd has done is, in effect, to excommunicate everybody else in his church because he disagrees with their decision to sell certain books— and not because he thinks the books are heretical,but because he thinks their author is immoral. But it’s stronger, really— he’s not only said the other members are not fit to commune with him, he’s willing to deny himself the sacrament of communion too. The offense for which he’s being disciplined is not his opinion on the books— it seems he could have loudly proclaimed that without any discipline at all— but his light opinion of the sacrament and his self-righteousness with respect to his fellow Christians.

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  25. Slight tangent

    Regarding the title question: since I’m in the fortunate position of having no infected root canals, then yes, it presumably is.

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  26. Eric B Rasmusen,

    Ummmm- your comment shows a lack of understanding of the situation and a theology that seems different.

    Todd cannot excommunicate anyone. That is the role of the church to make that decision and the Bible is quite clear on the matter.

    I don’t know where you go to church but Todd went to another church in which he participated in communion. So no denial there. He doesn’t need a 9 Marks church for communion.

    People need to make a stand against the light treatment of child sex abuse by the church. You are the one who seems to blow off that one which means I would not want to be anywhere near you sort of church.

    As for self righteousness in respect to fellow Christinas, there are a gazillion churches out there thinking they’ve got it right. I’m sure you are involved in one like that.

    Finally, since you are all into self righteousness and all, 9 Marks put him under church discipline for not immediately joining another *9 Marks sanctioned* church. Todd, on the other hand, having made one bad choice did not rush into making a second bad choice. Send biblical and logical to me.

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  27. Perhaps this is getting old, and the horse I am beating is not only dead, but decomposed, but …

    If the Father does not listen when an office-holder “prays to the Father in Jesus’ name”, doing whatever that office-holder asks, what grounds are there to believe that what that office-holder claims to “bind on earth” is actually “bound in heaven.”?

    I don’t see much grounds.

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  28. dee,

    I thought it was clear enough from the Luther quotation – “If a Christian sins, he should be reproved; and if he does not mend his ways he should be bound in his sin and cast out. If he does mend his ways, he should be absolved. That is the power of the keys.”

    The Bible specifies both “sins” and the limits of discipline. (And every sinner likes a loophole,regardless of gender or status)

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  29. George: I am amazed at how lackadaisical people are in their approach to church. People do run from accountability and they do hurt themselves and others because they feel like they answer to no one.

    God and I don’t actually need a church to keep the communication going. Church is for corporate worship and service to God’s world, not to keep me in line or narrow my beliefs in the guise of deepening them, as happens in every church that espouses “accountability.” The government protects my freedom to worship or not. I have no intention of surrendering my rights.

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  30. A thought that may be useful is that when considering whether to embrace a contractual obligation to be accountable to the hierarchy of a local congregation, carefully inquire as to the nature of the accountability to which that local church hierarchy is itself subject. If there is no recourse to appeal above the local congregational leadership, it might be very unwise to subject oneself to that group.

    In Presbyterian polity, the local session of elders is “under” the Presbytery. An unjust disciplinary decision by the local elders can be appealed to the Presbytery, and an unjust result there can, in principle, be appealed to the general assembly of all the congregations in that denomination.

    I think that Lutherans have something similar.

    IFBs, as is well known, do not. SBC congregations don’t either; the local congregational leaders are where “the buck stops.” While one would like to think that one could rely on self-described Christian leaders to judge justly in all cases, the threat of review by a “higher court” can be a useful restraint on less-than-perfect humans in local leadership. Where there is no such higher review, one is taking one’s chances with people whose character may not be clearly discernible from their public performances.

    Pv 22:3 comes to mind. Or, shorter version, “Run!”

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  31. This might be a novel thought, but yes there is church discipline. But since the veil was torn at Calvary we each have unfettered access to the One Who does the disciplining.

    I wonder how different the world would be if Christians focused more on learning, believing, and obey what is in the red letters (I know, the Calvinistas do not like red letter Bibles. A pox upon them.) If what is in the NT Black letters had to be understood in ways not contrary to the red letters. If what is in the OT is seen as pointing to Christ, but in a system that was ended in 70 A.D.

    What if we realized the organized formalized 501(c)3 entity is a tool we can use or not, but all believers are church members, Jesus is its head, and He is quite capable of disciplining erring members. What if we got serious about our freedom to follow Him, costly though that will be. And if a fellow believer is disobeying Him, they do not need my discipline but my prayer, because the to use an Andy Stanley phrase, gotcha inherent in their sin IS going to get them.

    Imagine–people truly following Christ instead of following other people. Truly working together to evangelize instead of to make tithing units.

    What could the world get done that way?

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  32. Nancy2(aka Kevlar): 9 Marks of a Healthy Church does not include anything about God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit

    Strange days we live in. The organized church has lost its connection to Jesus … and its members seem satisfied with that.

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  33. George,

    It really does seem to all come down to the particulars of the discipline. As a younger Christian who gave the benefit of the doubt to pastors who were big names in the reformed movement I found out that I should not have given them that benefit. As Dee says the “covenant” was too ill defined. They held all the cards. I disagreed with them over the way they spent the congregation’s money. They had set budgets for themselves on how much to spend in a particular category. They blew right through it without informing or seeking approval from the congregation. When I objected and tried to find out who was responsible they ended up trying to discipline me. This was before they tried to put in to place a “covenant” that the members would sign. Needless to say, there was no way I would trust them to be bound legally like that. We left. In my opinion There is something really sick about these folk. They will go to extremes to protect what they perceive as their good reputation.
    Be careful. I think Dee is right. Don’t sign their “covenant”, read contract. It is too ill defined. Dee and Deb have given the advice to take a good long time before you join a church. Get to know people. I think that is excellent advise.

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  34. Samuel Conner: A thought that may be useful is that when considering whether to embrace a contractual obligation to be accountable to the hierarchy of a local congregation, carefully inquire as to the nature of the accountability to which that local church hierarchy is itself subject.

    A parallel thought to this one is to bear in mind that “a local church” is simply a para-church organisation. Even if it is not specifically designed to shut out the rest of the church (and some are), a major practical upshot of its daily life is the maintaining of walls separating it from the rest of the church in that locality. A realistic process of appeal to a parent para-church denomination is infinitely better than nothing. But with the best will in the world, it will always be far easier for the para-church hierarchy to close ranks in favour of its installed local leaders.

    One thing [generic] you might try when investigating a local congregation, therefore, is to explore its standing in relation to the other congregations in that locality – that is to say, as far as it exists, the local church. Depending on the state of the church locally, you may or may not get anywhere with this…

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  35. Max: The New Calvinist seizure of SBC traditional (non-Calvinist) churches in my area have been called “replants” … it sounds so much nicer than takeover or split … but it’s still just as deceptive and ugly.

    “Always use proper code words: ‘Relocation’. ‘Resettlement’. ‘Delousing’.”
    Holocaust (Seventies miniseries)

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  36. Ken A: We left. In my opinion There is something really sick about these folk. They will go to extremes to protect what they perceive as their good reputation.

    “Not out of any Heavenly virtue, but Hellish Respectability.”
    — G.K.Chesterton, one of the Father Brown Mysteries

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  37. Nick Bulbeck,

    Good point. In my experience, the leaders of local congregations have only limited “fraternal relations” with leaders of other local congregations not in the same denomination. Open-ness to the validity of other groups might be a good “proxy” for how fair-minded a person might be in dealing with internal disagreements.

    ====

    A thought/question about “document trails.”

    I’m curious: when a 9Marks church imposes discipline on a member, what sort of documentary record is generated? Are these records open to inspection by other members? By the public at large?

    It might be a useful thing, when wondering what one will experience if one becomes a member of one of these groups, to request to examine the records associated with past incidents of discipline. The attitude of the congregational leaders to such a request might itself be highly illuminating.

    One might also want to carefully examine the constitutive documents of the group, things like a “constitution” and “by-laws”, and perhaps even look at the legal filings related to the incorporation of the legal entity under which the group operates. These might be highly instructive in terms of the nature of the governance of the group and what restraints there might be on arbitrary leadership.

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  38. Sean:

    I regularly attend church today, but have not been a member of a church for a number of years and would not consider church membership now.My experience has been that church membership, more often than not, is based more on loyalty to mammon than the Triune God.

    This is the approach I’m taking. Now I would attend whatever “newcomers” or “membership” class a church had, solely to learn more about their doctrine and practice. But I would ask the question, if I joined, but later felt led by God that it was time for me to move on, what are the steps needed to terminate my membership? Of course if they said I had to ask the elders for permission (or even to “discuss” such with them first, I would not join and would not go back.

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  39. Samuel Conner: In my experience, the leaders of local congregations have only limited “fraternal relations” with leaders of other local congregations not in the same denomination.

    Not where I live. Many of our congregations work across across denominational lines and with other religions too. Chaplains, in the military and in hospitals, work across all of these lines, and manage to meet people where they are, without compromising their own beliefs. After the mass murder at Tree of Life – Or L’Simcha in Pittsburgh, the major vigil began at nearby Sixth Presbyterian Church.

    These churches that only talk to their kissin’ cousins are doing their separate-but-superior flocks a grave disservice.

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  40. Lowlandseer: The Bible specifies both “sins” and the limits of discipline.

    For me it wasn’t clear. How well do you know the stories who have been abusively disciplined? The are tons of sins in the Bible. Anyone looking for a reason to discipline will find what they are looking for. There are no defined lists of those sins which should be disciplined for a reason. Let’s go after Dee when she gets irritated at CJ Mahaney. There are some who would propose that (and even attempted to do so.)Then there is the guy who gets a bit angry by getting cut off the highway. That’s a sin.

    I am going to stand my ground of this one. There should be conferences on discussing the limits of discipline and the misapplication of Matthew 18. I doubt you will ever see that however. There are too many authoritarians who rather enjoy being admirals in rowboats.

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  41. Lowlandseer: I thought it was clear enough from the Luther quotation – “If a Christian sins, he should be reproved; and if he does not mend his ways he should be bound in his sin and cast out. If he does mend his ways, he should be absolved. That is the power of the keys.”

    No, Lootair (Luther) is not clear (in an explicit sense).

    Which ‘sins’ are we talking about?

    The guy having sex with his step mom, or the jaywalker?

    Or does Luther by inference teach that in the sight of the Almighty there’s no difference between the two?

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  42. “Dever claims that 2/3 of all members of Southern Baptists churches do not attend the church of which they are members. Unless it is for good reasons such as illness, Dever claims that the reasons for this is either sin on the part of the member or sin of the part of leadership that isn’t teaching obedience.”

    These people are frauds. It is as simple as that! They teach that people are obliged to go to their churches and give them at least 10% of their hard-earned cash to keep them in business. In reality Dever is no different from Kenneth Copeland or Benny Hinn who also get rich on deceiving their audiences – the only difference is how the false teaching is packaged. God will judge them in his own time.

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  43. Samuel Conner: In the biblical “case study” for excommunication/expulsion, the notorious incident of the believer who had intimate relations with his step-mother, the underlying concern that seems to have motivated Paul’s insistence that the elders intervene was that the person’s behavior was scandalous even by the standards of outsiders. To tolerate this would bring disgrace on the reputation of Christ.

    (as an aside, something similar seems to be in view in the life-long trouble that Nathan prophesied would “never leave” David’s “house” after David’s notorious transgressions. David had given the gentiles grounds to blaspheme YHWH; YHWH had to act to vindicate His name)

    The kinds of things that are regarded today to be grounds for “discipline” are generally so much smaller as to not be worthy of comparison to the biblical precedents.

    It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the motive for “discipline” in our day is usually not “the honor of the Name of Christ”, but simply “social control” over the “members.”

    IMO, one should run away from people who want that kind of control.

    Well said Samuel.

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  44. Samuel Conner: It might be a useful thing, when wondering what one will experience if one becomes a member of one of these groups, to request to examine the records associated with past incidents of discipline. The attitude of the congregational leaders to such a request might itself be highly illuminating.

    That, too, is a good thought. I think you’re right – it might be highly illuminating.

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  45. Eric B Rasmusen,

    That is such a load of hogwash. Todd did the right thing, he acted according to his conscience and obeyed the spirit of 2nd John.

    9 Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; 11 for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds. (NASB)

    Even giving a greeting to a false teacher is to participate in wickedness. Selling books and sharing a stage with false teachers certainly come under this. The Lord also judged a church in Thyatira for tolerating Jezebel.

    It was not Todd but the false teachers who have made light of “the sacrament”. The Lord did not die on a cross so that celebrity preachers could start a club that puts them on the stage, makes them rich and gives them fraudulent authority over other people.

    Oh and please don’t try to use a technicality by saying that 2nd John is only referring to false teachers who deny the humanity of Christ. Whilst this is the context of the verse, it teaches a general principle.

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  46. Nancy2(aka Kevlar): Nancy2

    And remember this: LOVE is not one of the 9-Marx, either! However, that’s the one characteristic that the true “Holder of the Keys” said would be an identifying trait in His followers! Oh that we would learn, through the Holy Spirit’s transforming power, how to love one another!

    It’s so sad to see all the collateral damage Dever & Co. are creating in the church. When our former YRR was confronted with his attempt to implement this stuff in our church, I asked him if this was all he knew. He said nothing, which essentially told me that he didn’t know anything else…and that really broke my heart. How do these well-educated seminary graduates fall for this garbage? It really takes me back to I Corinthians 13 about how important love is to our faith!

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  47. Dee Parsons,

    I think what you’re talking about falls under what Luther would call public or private sins and he offers advice on how to proceed depending on their severity and how it affects the church. Calvin does a similar thing, pointing out that discipline is meant to be corrective and restorative, not excessive; that there are limits to our judgement and that we should “not claim for ourselves more license in judgment, unless we wish to limit God’s power and confine his mercy by law. For God, whenever it pleases him, changes the worst men into the best, engrafts the alien, and adopts the stranger into the church.”

    Calvin also highlights one of the problems of the time which was “the wilful excess of the Anabaptists …who act in the same way today. While they recognize no assembly of Christ to exist except one conspicuous in every respect for its angelic perfection, under the pretense of their zeal they subvert whatever edification there is. “Such persons,” says Augustine, “not out of hatred of other men’s wickedness but out of fondness for their own contentions, ensnaring the weak folk by boasting of their own name, strive either to draw them all to their side or at least to divide them. Puffed up in their pride, mad in their stubbornness, deceitful in their slanders, and turbulent in their seditions, they draw the shade of a rigid severity to hide their lack of the light of truth. Those things which Scripture enjoins to be done to correct the vices of the brethren with a modest remedy while sincere love is kept and unity of peace preserved, they seize upon and turn to the sacrilege of schism and the occasion of cutting off.” (Institutes, Book 4, Ch 12:8-13). But you don’t need to take Calvin’s word for it. G H Williams’ 1500 page “The Radical Reformation” documents in great detail their excesses as well as their origins and development.

    Dodgy perfectionist theology and human sinfulness are an explosive and dangerous mix.

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  48. Nick Bulbeck: Samuel Conner: It might be a useful thing, when wondering what one will experience if one becomes a member of one of these groups, to request to examine the records associated with past incidents of discipline. The attitude of the congregational leaders to such a request might itself be highly illuminating.

    Nick Bulbeck: That, too, is a good thought. I think you’re right – it might be highly illuminating.

    Gosh, I don’t even know what to think of this idea. The answer would have to be no, whether the church is abusive or not. If a church disciplined some poor woman for supposedly thinking ill of the minister’s wife, then the record should be exposed. Or should it? Maybe the poor victim wants to be left in peace.

    What about records of disciplining a young boy who allegedly led an elder to fon dle him? I would not trust the content of the church’s account, still less its ability to redact. The appropriate record to inspect here is a criminal one.

    A couple of years ago I asked two members of clergy at my church how discipline is handled. Both were floored by the question. Clergy themselves are much more subject to discipline than members. Yes, problems do occur, and they are sometimes handled very poorly. But it’s not in anybody’s job description to make the members behave.

    If clergy are trying to counsel people through infidelity, alcoholism, shoplifting done by their children, etc., that should be entirely confidential—and not disciplinary. I doubt that most clergy in healthy churches keep anything akin to therapists’ notes.

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  49. Friend,

    I agree that it’s a bit of an extravagant proposal, but 9Marks discipline IS public: Mt 18; “tell it to the church”. Records should be maintained, and could be redacted to conceal identities.

    My point is that prospective members have the right know how often this sort of thing happens in the congregation they are considering affiliation with, and why it happens. That information is revelatory of the character of the leadership, or of the followership, or of both, and that is, I would think, something that any prudent person would be wise to want to know before becoming part of the group.

    If in practice this information, even in redacted form, cannot be disclosed, that’s fine too; do the prudent thing and abstain from membership. Be an exemplary participant as a visitor and non-communicant. Feed on Christ by faith alone.

    It may make the leaders ashamed of themselves, which might be a good thing.

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  50. Friend,

    It’s worth noting that there’s a world of qualitative difference between counselling in its many forms – including addressing a person’s very clear wrongdoing via a small circle of appropriate witnesses – and church discipline. The former is not something I’d ever ask about, and I don’t think it was what Samuel was referring to either. The latter is, by definition, public: it is expressly meant to be so.

    There would be good and bad ways of going about asking the question (i.e. the question "How do you, as a congregation/leadership, handle discipline? [please give examples]", or some variation on that theme). There’s a great deal of room for misunderstanding, and I think the points you quite rightly raise illustrate the fact that it would need to be an open conversation.

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  51. Samuel Conner: If in practice this information, even in redacted form, cannot be disclosed, that’s fine too; do the prudent thing and abstain from membership. Be an exemplary participant as a visitor and non-communicant. Feed on Christ by faith alone.

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply. New England churches in past centuries created records with one line, saying that Sister so-and-so had repented and been restored to communion. Meanwhile, New England town clerks were making one-line records from people who felt a need to state officially that they did not agree with the majority religious opinion of the town. No thank you. Not for me.

    But I infer a dichotomy: either look at disciplinary records, or attend the church without joining. How about joining a church that does not consider the disciplining of members to be a routine and perhaps public duty? There would be no records to inspect, redacted or otherwise. You are right: people have the right to know, but I think the mere existence of church discipline should cue them to flee.

    I don’t want my church to keep a Stasi file on me. Likewise I would not spend years of my life attending a church that I felt unsafe about joining.

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  52. Friend,

    I agree. Perhaps I could snarkily rephrase this to say that if one gets hints that “discipline” has the status of a routine “sacrament” rather than a rarely and reluctantly used last resort, one is well advised to “Run!”

    And I think this might be one of the points of the concerns that TWW has repeatedly raised about the risks of signing one-sided membership contracts — these are a strong hint that the church that requires them regards discipline to be a routine sacrament to be employed for social control rather than a last resort for genuinely grievous and scandalous transgressions.

    We’ve come a long way from Jerusalem and Philadelphia.

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  53. Nick Bulbeck: There would be good and bad ways of going about asking the question (i.e. the question “How do you, as a congregation/leadership, handle discipline? [please give examples]”, or some variation on that theme).

    If the question leads to a baffled stare, you’re probably in one of the healthier churches.

    The distinction between disciplining and counseling is key, thanks. What probably happens in more churches is a refusal of services; they won’t perform a marriage because of ____.

    The worst case I know of concerned parents who called churches all over town, begging someone to hold a Christian funeral for their late son, who was gay. After their family church refused to bury him, everyone else asked why they had been turned down. One of those dying mainline denominations came to their rescue.

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  54. George,

    elastigirl,

    Ken F (aka Tweed),

    I think the problem with the evangelical conversation about “accountability” is that it puts the cart before the horse, so to speak. Let me make an example:

    I married my wife because she is smart and beautiful and kind and I new I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her and hopefully start a family. We have been married almost 10 years and we have just gotten closer and closer over the years. I feel extremely accountable to her. Her wellbeing is my highest priority. I didn’t marry her because I need someone to hold me accountable. I married her because I love her and over time I have become more and more accountable to her over time.

    You can’t tell people “you must have accountability, so make some friends for the purpose of having someone to hold you accountable.” That WON’T work. Instead, accountability grows naturally out of close friendships, and relationships are impossible to control with rules. If you just encourage people to be friends with each other, accountability should just come about naturally.

    At the Neo-Cal church plant that my wife and I attended for 3 years, we were put into small groups and told “these are your friends (just like the Seinfeld bit about the 1 year old’s birthday party), they need to be your best friends so tell them everything.” Life doesn’t work that way. You can’t dictate or control relationships. It seems like these churches are trying to systematize and mandate the emergent properties of relationships. Instead, it would be better to realize that these things can’t be controlled and just encourage strong relationships and see where it goes.

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  55. Eeyore: Frankly, if one views the indifference of many professed Christians as a problem, perhaps the root *is* the church – but rather than the Church not being “disciplined” enough (as 9Marks etc see it), but that we’re not Christ-like enough. And Christ did not go around scolding people. Well, ok, He did, but the people He did scold… were the religious scolds. Ponder that and consider…

    That is the thing that I think a lot of these evangelical “leaders” don’t get. They take Jesus’ criticism of the religious leaders and turn it on the members. They would be wise to remember that all of Jesus’ harsh words were for the men placing the burden of the religious system onto normal people without living under it themselves.

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  56. Eric B Rasmusen,

    That is a really nasty but clever spin! But if, as you say, Todd in a sense excommunicated his own fellowship, then I see that he put righteousness above the importance of remembering the Lord’s death in the manner of the ritual sacrament of the cup and bread. And in a sense, Todd is saying that all the other members in his church were guilty in a sense of child sex abuse coverup, if they did not agree that C.J. Mahaney was too corrupt to sell books on righteousness.

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  57. Mark R,

    elastigirl,

    Ken F (aka Tweed),

    To me, this whole discipline and accountability thing is about trying to mandate the emergent qualities of relationships rather than letting them develop over time. For instance, I didn’t marry my wife because I wanted accountability, I married her because she is smart and beautiful and kind. Over time, our relationship has gotten deeper and closer and I have felt more accountable to her. If I had going into the marriage for accountability rather than love, the accountability would have never developed.

    At the Neo-cal church plant we attended for 3 years, we were placed into small groups and told, one-year-old birthday style (thanks Jerry Seinfeld), “these are your friends. Be super close to them and tell them everything about your life and be accountable to them.” And I really tried to do this and really overshared with people I just met. It didn’t work because I wasn’t really friends with them. You don’t become friends with someone just because you are told too. No one can control that process; it has to be allowed to unfold naturally.

    I think some of this problem is theological. We think of God as being alone and perfect and isolated. A big change for me has been thinking of God as pure relationship. The Trinity has been united in relationship for all time and They created to share the overflow of love between themselves. That puts, for me, a higher value on relationship and a lower value on performance and perfection.

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  58. Friend: The worst case I know of concerned parents who called churches all over town, begging someone to hold a Christian funeral for their late son, who was gay. After their family church refused to bury him, everyone else asked why they had been turned down. One of those dying mainline denominations came to their rescue.

    Those ‘dying mainlines’ will be alive and well long after the big fundagelical outfits (reformed or non, it makes no difference) have dried up and blown away like so many Walmart bags snarled in chain-link fences.

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  59. Muff Potter,

    Totally agree! I was just thinking that maybe the reason why so many evangelical churches are so divisive is that it’s in their DNA. Their whole reason for existence is to be different than those other people who aren’t doing things quite right. Then, to justify your continued existence, you have to keep those lines between us and them extra bright. To me, the beauty of a liturgical form of worship is that it allows people to relate to the tradition in whatever way they can rather than hearing an hour long sermon on what you have to think to be a Christian. I have found that the liturgy “believes for me” on days when I just can.

    If Christians could come back together into a few traditional denominations, and if people could make room for each other’s differing beliefs on a wide range of issues, we would be so much better off.

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  60. George,

    George

    The problem I see here is that you are trying to mandate the effects of strong relationships rather than letting them emerge. I didn’t marry my wife for the accountability. I married her because she is smart and beautiful and kind and I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her and maybe have a family with her. Now, I feel incredibly accountable to her, but that isn’t why I married her. I don’t think our marriage would be very good if I had. We need to stop thinking we can control relationships and mandate the outcomes. Life is kind of messy, and making rules to solve these problems often has the opposite effect that we were looking for.

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  61. Ricco:

    … trying to mandate the effects of strong relationships rather than letting them emerge.

    Yes and Amen.

    I think one sees this very thing in the pastoral epistles in Paul’s “tests for office.”

    These can be flattened out into a “checklist”, and anyone who tics all the boxes in the list is eligible for promotion to an office of ascribed authority, to which all others must bend the knee.

    I don’t think that’s what Paul had in mind.

    I think that Paul wanted as overseers people who were already well regarded and trusted because of long-demonstrated character in a variety of settings.

    IOW, the “qualifications” are not a checklist for eligibility, but rather a guide to recognizing who is able to serve well.

    Or, as you say: leadership in the church should be thought of something that emerges rather than something that is imposed.

    —-

    And if that is true, it might be a bit of a problem for present day practice, in which senior leaders are typically hired from outside the congregation and parachuted into a position of authority that they have not “earned” through long relationship with those who are to be overseen.

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  62. Eric B Rasmusen,

    Do Baptists consider communion a “sacrament?” I thought they considered it a symbol. Your logic seems to be bent towards completely justifying the powerful at the expense of the powerless. When I read the Gospels with a 50,000 foot view, that isn’t what Jesus is doing. This seems to be a clear example of following the letter of the law while completely ignoring the spirit of the law.

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  63. Root 66,

    “Oh that we would learn, through the Holy Spirit’s transforming power, how to love one another!”
    ++++++++++++

    i think we already know, don’t we?

    it’s just a matter of reminding ourselves to choose patience, kindness, to prefer the other person over ourselves, and similar things.

    not easy…. but we all know these things. every human deep down knows these things.

    i believe God can help us in the process of training ourselves to slow down in the moment and choose what is patient, what is kind, what is selfless instead of self-centered.

    i don’t think there’s any mystery to love.

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  64. Samuel Conner,

    This is all fantastic.

    Seems to me like what we always want to do is force things to happen rather than to open our eyes and try to identify what is actually going on. I think given enough time, many religious leaders would write thousands of words on creating a system that would cause the fruits of the spirit to emerge.

    Seems like a lack of patience and faith.

    And good point. How do we know a pastor is the kind of person who will be a good pastor if we have never met him before his “interview.” This seems like a bigger problem in nondenominational churches that don’t have the heirarchy to recommend people.

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  65. And good point. How do we know a pastor is the kind of person who will be a good pastor if we have never met him before his “interview.” This seems like a bigger problem in nondenominational churches that don’t have the heirarchy to recommend people.

    I think a great test of a church is if a pastor is modeling a humble and generous spirit. I daresay few of those 9 Marks pastors do that.

    Is the pastor going out and ministering to those in hospitals? Are they working with ministries to people who don’t elevate their celebrity and fame? Or are all their friends rich people and famous pastors, and all they do with their free time is speak at conferences and write more books?

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  66. Ricco,

    My sense is that we don’t need more written words; just patient wise living in the same (good) direction over the long term.

    I think that generally people learn more from what they see in others than from what read of what those others may have written. That’s not to denigrate good new writing, but to avoid over-exalting it.

    Paul wrote in one of the epistles to “take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you”. Precepts are useful; example is more compelling, and of course Jesus is the best example; (paraphrased) “I have given you an example, that you should do [for one another] as I have done for you.”

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  67. dee,

    But Todd *has* excommunicated his old church. He has declared that they are unfit for Christian fellowship. That’s the reason he’s leaving, right? They will have their own communion service, but of course anyone who is excommunicated can always do it on his own.
    If Todd is leaving because he thinks his old church is heretical, that’s a good reason to leave, but that’s not the story, is it? He’s leaving because his old church is selling books whose content he doesn’t object, but whose author he considers immoral. I don’t think that’s a good reason to leave a church, and is worthy of discipline, though we can discuss what degree of admonishment is appropriate.

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  68. ZechZav,

    I don’t think the accusation is that Mahaney is a false teacher. Isn’t it that he ran his church badly, and didn’t report a sex offender? That’s entirely different. I doubt he *taught* that you shouldn’t report sex offenders. Your complaint about him is that he is immoral, not that he teaches falsely.

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  69. ZechZav,

    I disagree. I greet non-Christians all the time. I just don’t treat them as Christians.
    Also, think about it– should we really not sell the books of false teachers? I think Luther, Calvin, Augustine, and Aquinas were all wrong on some points— Aquinas and Augustine seriously wrong. Yet I would greet them, and I would sell their books in church. Would you? (maybe not, but most Christians would be willing to cross denominational boundaries for some books, at least)

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  70. Lowlandseer: But you don’t need to take Calvin’s word for it. G H Williams’ 1500 page “The Radical Reformation” documents in great detail their excesses as well as their origins and development.

    Dodgy perfectionist theology and human sinfulness are an explosive and dangerous mix.

    All is relative, I guess.

    I, OTOH, would recommend Stepchildren of the Reformation, which presents a far different perspective on the Magisterial Reformers vs the Anabaptists and other dissenters, which looks pretty similar to what is going on in the Church today. The hierarchical, authoritarian ‘rulers’ of The Church did not like it when people rejected their tyrannical control, and came up with all sorts of excuses to not only ‘discipline’ but even murder them. Of course they justified such actions as you quoted above.

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  71. Ricco,

    Who do you think is powerful and powerless? Having left, Todd can criticize the church. The church can criticize him. The power seems pretty balanced.There’s nothing more to discipline than that here, is there? What power do you think the church has?

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  72. Samuel Conner,

    One of the favorites seems to be the discipline of abused wives who have reached the end of their rope and finally find the courage to escape a horrendous marriage. So the church leaders have this woman who has been scorned and crushed by her control freak abuser husband… and they see the chance to publicly humiliate her further by throwing her out… and then they take away any help and comfort she might receive from friends by telling them all to shun her. But it’s for a good cause… now their church will be known to value marriage. And of course, it’s a warning… for other abused wives in the congregation to keep in line… and for everyone else to respect their authority.

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  73. Mary27,

    I’m glad to have never seen this up close, but I have read of it over at “A Cry for Justice”.

    May YHWH show Himself just toward such people.

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  74. Ricco,

    Ricco,
    I agree with you. But, I am actually too busy to control much of anything at church and if I was crafty enough to mandate outcomes I would use that at work and be rich!! Not sure how that came through in my post.

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  75. George,

    My point wasn’t that you do this. I was more commenting on the rigid structure in systems like 9Marks. They try to make things like accountability happen rather than trying to help set up the conditions under which this can happen naturally.

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  76. Ricco,

    “I have found that the liturgy “believes for me” on days when I just can.”
    +++++++++++++

    that’s lovely.

    my aunt & uncle have a few extremely difficult things that are part of their lot in life. having faith is utterly exhausting. at times, they’ve burnt it all up just getting through something.

    when my aunt asks for prayer on their behalf, she will say, “can we borrow some of your faith?” or “please have faith for us. we’re at zero.”

    it’s so honest. and true. there are times we simply don’t have any more (faith, belief, hope). hopefully it renews itself (my experience is that it does).

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  77. Funny how the accountability and discipline for those in leadership often isn’t manifested before the congregation in a visible, binding document/covenant/what have you, especially given the need for pastors to be ‘above reproach’ per multiple epistles.

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  78. JDV: Funny how the accountability and discipline for those in leadership often isn’t manifested before the congregation in a visible, binding document/covenant/what have you, especially given the need for pastors to be ‘above reproach’ per multiple epistles.

    Convenient circular reasoning. The leader is presumed ‘above reproach’, thus one should never reproach them. ‘You’ on the other hand, are a mere peon, obviously likely to go off the deep end without the constant watch and care (discipline) of those on a higher plane. This is the reasoning that protects JMac et. al, and convinces them that they can do no wrong. Who are you, oh Pew, to question the annointed?

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  79. TS00,

    One of the first person accounts in this or a prior post was about a case where a member inquired privately about a bad experience another person had reported having with a church officer. The inquirer was charged with sin for having “brought a charge against an elder” with only one witness.

    Of course, he hadn’t brought a charge at all, but in a congregation with no supra-congregational authority, there is no appeal of an arbitrary abuse of power.

    It seems to me to be a general principle that in any power hierarchy, there needs to be MORE accountability for the people who have more power and more ability to wreak havoc. That in practice, this is often not the case — power and accountability are, perversely, inversely related — is an illustration of the way that institutions are damaged and corrupted by the fallen-ness of their office-holders.

    One would like to think that this pattern of office-holders corrupting their institutions would not be instantiated in the churches, but to actually believe that would be quite wishful, IMO.

    Run away from self-described churches in which the leaders are accountable to no-one above them. And examine carefully even the ones that do have supra-congregational accountability systems.

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  80. Samuel Conner: Run away from self-described churches in which the leaders are accountable to no-one above them. And examine carefully even the ones that do have supra-congregational accountability systems.

    Your second warning is important. My spiritually abusive pastor was fond of proclaiming the superiority and safety of elder-led congregations, as if there was no such thing as narcissistic, controlling pastors surrounded by yes-men elders. He could have declared grass was purple and all would have nodded their heads approvingly. The false security of appealing to higher authorities was rarely tested. The one time it was – he was overruled; but he conveniently chased those, and other independent-minded, thinking persons away.

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  81. Foks,
    Sorry bout the delay in approving comments. I got the norovirus on Friday and was sick though the weekend. I am slowly getting better.

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  82. TS00: He could have declared grass was purple and all would have nodded their heads approvingly…. he conveniently chased those, and other independent-minded, thinking persons away.

    Maybe this was why I was so quickly outed when my ex showed up – I never toed the purple line, and although quiet, I’m sure the pastor could see I think for myself. My ex, however, though his heart was full of rebellion, was very quick to put on the hypocritical show and look like his thinking lined up with the pastor’s in every way. Well, Jesus was a very independent thinker, just ask the Pharisees, put perfect in all His thinking, and that is who I follow! Not some man with a swollen head.

    Merry Christmas to all of us independent thinkers, who do a pretty good job of accepting each other’s differences.

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  83. Eric B Rasmusen: I don’t think that’s a good reason to leave a church, and is worthy of discipline, though we can discuss what degree of admonishment is appropriate.

    I would never join a church in which those who hold to beliefs like you were in charge,

    I know who you are and I know your history. You have spoken out loud and clear on morality issues when it comes to homosexuality. I do not wish to discuss that now-dear heavens, not now.

    You have a real thing about the morality of homosexuality-falling all over yourself fussing and writing. But, when it comes to child sex abuse and coverup, you recommend church discipline for those who oppose those who have been credibly accused of coverup or encouraging those who have been credibly accused of cover up. I bet you would have a cow if your church suddenly recommended books by whoever your sinful person of the moment is.

    Once again, I disagree with you on the excommunication issue. I believe that is the power of the church, not an individual. I used to be a member of a church that experienced a change in pastors. Said pastor was a serious Calvinist. I’m not and I left the church. I’m still friends with folks who still attend. I wasn’t excommunicated (I think he was afraid of me anyway).

    Todd did not take communion on his own. He did so at an Anglican Church which he was attending. That is that church and their rules. Perhaps you disagree but thankfully your opinion is not followed by many evangelical churches.

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  84. It depends on whether you love God or fear God.

    In Dever’s way of thinking, you don’t choose to follow Jesus, it is foisted on you at the beginning of time.

    God is to be feared and obeyed so it’s no wonder guys like Dever are so controlling. They attempt to emulate God as they understand him.

    So their version of discipline is embraced.

    And it’s got to be worst for those raised in this belief. Fear is all they know.

    Their Jesus reminds me of a picture I saw showing Jesus at a door with a lantern.

    Jesus: Knock knock
    Other side of the door: Who’s there?
    Jesus: It’s me, Jesus. Let me in.
    Other side of the door: Why should I let you in?
    Jesus: Because you won’t like what I’m going to do to you if you don’t let me in

    This Jesus acts like a goon from a “collection agency” and because you have no choice guys like Dever become obsessed with the membership. You can’t leave, it’s ordained you must stay. If you leave God will also punish me for letting you leave. A never ending cycle of fear.

    If the bible is the human interpretation of encounters with the divine then it’s going to contain human brutality. And we see that. Cities razed, so many “put to death” edicts, populations enslaved, party like it’s 1999..BC.

    We were on the road to failure right from the get go, we were never destined to get it right but God so loved the world that gave his only begotten Son so that none may perish but all should have eternal life.

    Love not fear. All not some, not a random few. All.

    When I read the gospels, I don’t see Dever’s version of Christianity shine through.

    When I see the Salvation Army van handing out soup on bitter cold winter nights, that’s when I see a vision of Christianity that I can at least understand.

    Wherever you lie on spectrum of faith, I hope that you love and not fear this Christmas season.

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  85. TS00,

    Thanks, I’ve had that recommended to me but haven’t got round to buying it yet. I’ve got his translation of the works of Menno Simons.

    Have a good Christmas

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  86. elastigirl: i don’t think there’s any mystery to love.

    Great comment!
    I don’t believe that love’s a mystery either.

    It never was about the hows and whys.
    Just do it.

    Take it out of its biblical-shmiblical-display-case and just do it…

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  87. Jack: Their Jesus reminds me of a picture I saw showing Jesus at a door with a lantern.

    Jesus: Knock knock
    Other side of the door: Who’s there?
    Jesus: It’s me, Jesus. Let me in.
    Other side of the door: Why should I let you in?
    Jesus: Because you won’t like what I’m going to do to you if you don’t let me in

    I saw a similar (and perhaps harsher) version:
    Jesus: “Let me in!”
    Other side of the door: “Why?”
    Jesus: “So I can save you.”
    Other side of the door: “From what?”
    Jesus: “From what I’m going to do to you if you don’t let me in.”

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  88. JDV:
    Funny how the accountability and discipline for those in leadership often isn’t manifested before the congregation in a visible, binding document/covenant/what have you, especially given the need for pastors to be ‘above reproach’ per multiple epistles.

    YES! But instead we have the unending rules and covenants for everyone else but . . .

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  89. Eric B Rasmusen,

    Your disagreement is with the Bible and the Apostle John. You are doing just what I antipated – creating a technicality.

    If you are mugged by a man in the street and you see a friend walk by and say hello to the mugger, how would you feel? How would you feel if you objected and he said “I am just hanging out with him socially…oh and he preaches at our church. We cannot consider him a false teacher because what he says is good. He just does not practice what he preaches”. You would think that your “friend” is just being slippery.

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  90. Eric B Rasmusen,

    Eric B Rasmusen:
    dee,

    But Todd *has* excommunicated his old church. He has declared that they are unfit for Christian fellowship. That’s the reason he’s leaving, right? They will have their own communion service, but of course anyone who is excommunicated can always do it on his own.If Todd is leaving because he thinks his old church is heretical, that’s a good reason to leave, but that’s not the story, is it? He’s leaving because his old church is selling books whose content he doesn’t object, but whose author he considers immoral. I don’t think that’s a good reason to leave a church, and is worthy of discipline, though we can discuss what degree of admonishment is appropriate.

    Hello.
    Just to be clear.
    An act of leaving itself, can be an act deserving discipline, if it does not meet certain standards?
    What should this disciple potentialy look like?
    Would any such discipline potentially extend into the afterlife?
    Does the Church (universal) have authority to declare the state of a person in this life, or the next?
    Was any such authority, implied in Christ reference of “The Keys”, and is it held today by the Church universal?

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  91. Samuel Conner: Run away from self-described churches in which the leaders are accountable to no-one above them.

    Often, In nondenominational mega churches, the pastor is only accountable to his “peers.” This means that he is “accountable” to other multi-millionaire mega church pastors. And they are going to protect their own because if any one of them can be taken down, then they are all more vulnerable

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  92. Eric B Rasmusen,

    Well, now that Todd Wilhelm doesn’t go there, there is no power dynamic. But it seems pretty hard to argue that the church leaders who cut him off from communion, told others to shun him, and told him that he was not allowed to leave until he submitted to discipline didn’t have any power in the situation.

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  93. dee,

    Sorry for the multiple posts saying the same thing. I posted and it disappeared so I posted it again and the same thing happened haha. For everyone reading, I’m not so in love with myself that I said the same thing 3 times, I promise

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  94. Eric B Rasmusen: I greet non-Christians all the time. I just don’t treat them as Christians.

    Can you expand on this? In what ways do you treat Christians and non-Christians differently. And by what standard do you determine whether or not someone is a Christian.

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  95. Ricco: I’m not so in love with myself that I said the same thing 3 times, I promise

    AWWBA, I am in love with myself, and I do keep saying the same stuff all the time.

    A merry Christmas to Wartburgers, regular and otherwise, everywhere!

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  96. To paraphrase a Dr Demento classic called “Commercials on 45”:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tg9IgSbTEII

    “This one has 650 milligrams…”
    “This one has 650 milligrams…”
    “This one has 10,000 milligrams. Take one and never feel pain again.”
    “I’m Reading Mark Dever on Church Membership and I Can’t Feel Any Pain!”

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  97. Jack: When I read the gospels, I don’t see Dever’s version of Christianity shine through.
    When I see the Salvation Army van handing out soup on bitter cold winter nights, that’s when I see a vision of Christianity that I can at least understand.
    Wherever you lie on spectrum of faith, I hope that you love and not fear this Christmas season.

    Agreed on all three counts; for whatever that’s worth, given that I’m a heretic and (to all intents and purposes) proud of it.

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  98. Ricco: Often, In nondenominational mega churches, the pastor is only accountable to his “peers.”

    I often think that a useful wee rule of thumb is: is the church CEO accountable to anybody that 1) he did not choose, and 2) he cannot materially discomfit?

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  99. Ricco: it seems pretty hard to argue that the church leaders who cut him off from communion, told others to shun him, and told him that he was not allowed to leave until he submitted to discipline didn’t have any power in the situation.

    Ah but he blogged. I believe Todd’s action is being cast as asymmetrical warfare.

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  100. Max,

    That’s beautiful. After reading that, I realized that’s how I’m trying to raise my daughter.

    Merry Christmas everyone! This website, and the comment section specifically, has meant the world to me in the last year plus. Thanks for letting me come on here and think out loud and try to figure some things out.

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  101. You don’t have to be a member of a church to be a member of The Church. You don’t have to be accountable to a man; you are accountable to God.

    These organizations certainly make a lot out of one sentence saying ‘not to forsake’ getting together with other Christians, don’t they? One little sentence, not at all clear as to what it’s referring to since “the church” organization as we know it today did not exist then, has grown into quite a set of organizing principles and rules and levels of hierarchy.

    I’m all about opting out of that mess. I never felt so good until I did.

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  102. Maple Lady: Merry Christmas to all of us independent thinkers, who do a pretty good job of accepting each other’s differences.

    Amen! Merry Christmas, Wartburgers, and God bless us one and all.

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  103. Mary27: One of the favorites seems to be the discipline of abused wives who have reached the end of their rope and finally find the courage to escape a horrendous marriage. So the church leaders have this woman who has been scorned and crushed by her control freak abuser husband… and they see the chance to publicly humiliate her further by throwing her out… and then they take away any help and comfort she might receive
    friends by telling them all to shun her. But it’s for a good cause… now their church will be known to value marriage. And of course, it’s a warning… for other abused wives in the congregation to keep in line… and for everyone else to respect their authority.

    Honestly, is it ever used for any other purpose?

    How about the wife who discovered her husband was a child molester? And she was disciplined and shunned while the church supported poor molester?

    It’s all a sham. These men have no discernment, no ability to police themselves, much less anyone else. They are a false hope for those who are looking for a safe community.

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  104. Max: If you treat someone as if they already were what they could be, that’s what they may become.

    Beautifully put Max.
    The very purpose of the Good News.

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  105. Friend, a bit of pushback re the Christian funeral of the gay man. What did the parents expect? If you call churches that teach one cannot practice homosexuality and be Christian, of course they will not do a Christian funeral for your gay child. There are churches that disagree with that teaching and will.

    For the life of me, I don’t see the evil in the churches that refused. My husband was raised Catholic and is no longer. Our marriage was not within their boundaries. His worship and church membership are elsewhere. So, if he died, why would his Catholic relatives assume he could have a good Catholic funeral?

    If you reject the tenets of any faith, that faith does not owe you wedding ceremonies, baby showers, funerals, or any of the other big shindigs or special rites of their faith.

    I suspect the Christian funeral the parents wanted was so they could either pretend his situation was in line with the church or convince themselves he would suffer no consequences.

    Without arguing who is right or wrong, it just seems strange to expect those who would view the young man as not Christian to give him a Christian funeral.

    Shoot, maybe I should call up the local Baptist church and ask to hold a beer party. Or the Lutherans and hold a “I have decided to follow Jesus” style revival. Or the Methodists and ask to hold a “there is no such thing as free will” celebration.

    Makes as much sense to my brain as expecting a sheepherder to win the local cattlemen association cattleman of the year award.

    Or expecting some hunky guy to be crowned Miss America.

    We are not necessarily free to choose our temptations to behavior, be it good or bad. I will never be tempted to do brain surgery, though it is a good thing. And I may escape this life never tempted to rob a train. Those lacks of temptations do not make me good or bad. But what I do with the temptations I face, good and bad ones, will at the very least make me accepted or not accepted in specific groups. My jeans wearing habit would make me intensely unpopular with our local Amish, and they would not do my funeral even if my folks were Amish.

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  106. linda,

    Can’t believe I’m commenting on Christmas but for me Christmas was celebrated a couple of days ago.

    Linda,of course people can practice what they want. However, there is a kindness and love factor in this equation. We can all jump up and down, feeling rather smug in our beliefs. Or is there a better way? This family was hurting. Could the pastors figured out something that would not compromise their beliefs while at the same time demonstrating compassion? How can we all better show the love of our Creator to everyone, even when it is difficult.

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  107. linda,

    Oh, man, I so want to rob a steam train with a big payroll in gold coins!!! Is that not a Christian thing? 😉

    This Eric B Rasmusen guy, from what I read in these comments, and see at his web site, seems quite queer in the head, as in not able to think straight. [I also suspect homophobia is a sign of irationality, but never mind that for now and here!]

    He pretends to be a Christian, yet admits he treats people he suspects to not be his kind of Christian differently from his Christians.

    Obviously then he has thought (somewhat, maybe) about “The Church” and yet doesn’t understand excommunication and how it works. People don’t excommunicate a church, if they could there would be a lot of churches with abusers in positions of power excommunicated, let me tell you.

    And how does Eris tell if someone isn’t Christian? Not sitting in a pew next to him, evidently! Not how it works, Eric!!

    Merry Christmas, Dee (and everyone!), thanks for what you do here, hope you feel better asap.

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  108. dee:
    linda,

    Can’t believe I’m commenting on Christmas but for me Christmas was celebrated a couple of days ago.

    Linda,of course people can practice what they want. However, there is a kindness and love factor in this equation. We can all jump up and down, feeling rather smug in our beliefs. Or is there a better way? This family was hurting. Could the pastors figured out something that would not compromise their beliefs while at the same time demonstrating compassion? How can we all better show the love of our Creator to everyone, even when it is difficult.

    In that case I don’t see what they could have done without making things worse.

    Let’s say that the family church decided (out of respect for the members) to hold the service. If the pastor says the standard “he was a good man” words that you hear in most funerals, the rest of the church is probably incensed that the pastor “compromised the Word”. But if the pastor spoke what he likely believed to be the truth — that their son was in Hell at that moment due to his sins — then the family is upset in a time of grief.

    That church was in a no-win situation. Either they don’t hold the funeral and upset the family, hold the funeral and tell the truth about the eternal fate of the son and upset the family, or hold the funeral and go with the generic words heard at most funerals and anger the congregation which believes a conservative viewpoint of Scripture.

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  109. linda,

    Merry Christmas to everyone!!

    Linda…. I agree with you! But, Dee and Mark are also correct. I think where Dee hits the mark is the question about there being a better way. This is a tough situation with no simple answer…. but perhaps situations like this are where we all need to be asking for wisdom. If the pastors come across in a “matter of fact” way that does not “weep with those who weep”, then I would say that there is improvement needed.

    For me…. I tend to see things very black and white…. so I need to work harder at letting love show through. May God help all of us to minister his love with wisdom.

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  110. Mark R, dee,

    I’m looking forward to visiting Israel in a couple of weeks. I loved the Ray vander Laan series “That the World May Know. ” I learned a bunch about the history of the faith in that series.

    One thing that I learned, and it has stick with me, is how the early Christians behaved to their neighbors who were not Christian. When people died, often pagan people threw the bodies over the wall to burn in the garbage dump.

    Early Christians formed burial societies. They would go to a neighbor’s home which had lost a loved one. They cared for the body and taught them how to bury the body with respect. In this, they taught the the value of the Imago Dei in each person

    I guess they could have stomped around and fussed at them being pagans and patted themselves on their backs saying “Aren’t Christians more appropriate.” But they didn’t. Many early conversions were due to this practice.

    I bet the pastor could have done the funeral without compromising his values. He could have taken the position of the early church. The image of God is present in all of His creation and he could have thanked God for this man.

    We need to look for ways to love like the early Christians who were mocked and thrown to the lions-all the while caring for and loving their neighbors.

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  111. George: May God help all of us to minister his love with wisdom.

    Linda, Mark, Dee, and George, thank you for your thoughtful words about that family’s situation. I have no more facts to supply, but wanted to express appreciation for your time and care. I hope that you and all others in Wartburg Land have had a blessed Christmas.

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  112. He might could have but there would have to be a lot of things understood up front.

    For example, he could say to the family that he would do this as a private individual only and that he isn’t addressed as “pastor of X church”, and that the service could not be at the church (that would give the appearance of the church accepting his behavior) nor could he go to a gay-affirming church to do it (appearance that he agrees with that church’s views).

    Of course, if he doesn’t have the luxury of controlling the elder board like the megachurches do, he may still have a problem answering to them.

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  113. Mark R: hat church was in a no-win situation. Either they don’t hold the funeral and upset the family, hold the funeral and tell the truth about the eternal fate of the son and upset the family, or hold the funeral and go with the generic words heard at most funerals and anger the congregation which believes a conservative viewpoint of Scripture.

    Maybe they could have talked about the transcendent value of love, how love overcomes all, how a parent’s love never wavers (an analogy for our God’s love for us?) and the savior we are all searching for regardless of our life situations? Maybe they could have found a way to bring comfort to a family reeling from loss and inspired others to?

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  114. @ Mark & George :
    Welcome to TWW.

    We’re quite the eclectic bunch here at TWW.

    We have a wide array of beliefs and non-beliefs.

    Although I can only speak for myself when I say that homosexuality, like evolution is not a hill to die on, I suspect that more than a few of us here feel the same.

    Nonetheless, I gotta’ agree with dee that the pastor should have let human kindness reign instead of religious dogma.

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  115. Muff Potter,
    SiteSeer and Muff, thank you also for weighing in. It pains me that my original comment triggered this discussion on Christmas Day, but we do well to listen to one another at any time.

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  116. dee:
    linda,

    Can’t believe I’m commenting on Christmas but for me Christmas was celebrated a couple of days ago.

    Linda,of course people can practice what they want. However, there is a kindness and love factor in this equation. We can all jump up and down, feeling rather smug in our beliefs. Or is there a better way? This family was hurting. Could the pastors figured out something that would not compromise their beliefs while at the same time demonstrating compassion? How can we all better show the love of our Creator to everyone, even when it is difficult.

    I was just reminded of Jesus’ conversations with the Canaanite woman who said that even the dogs may eat the crumbs, and the Samaritan woman at the well.

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  117. Mark R: In that case I don’t see what they could have done without making things worse.

    Let’s say that the family church decided (out of respect for the members) to hold the service.If the pastor says the standard “he was a good man” words that you hear in most funerals, the rest of the church is probably incensed that the pastor “compromised the Word”.But if the pastor spoke what he likely believed to be the truth — that their son was in Hell at that moment due to his sins — then the family is upset in a time of grief.

    That church was in a no-win situation.Either they don’t hold the funeral and upset the family, hold the funeral and tell the truth about the eternal fate of the son and upset the family, or hold the funeral and go with the generic words heard at most funerals and anger the congregation which believes a conservative viewpoint of Scripture.

    Ah. Such “love”. One of my kids will likely never darken the door of a church again because of the loving “christian” “friend” who said they would burn in hell unless they decided to give up being gay. (Pretend to be what they are not. Lie to the world about something they knew about themselves before the age of ten. Not a choice they made, but the person they were created to be.) So that’s what God wants? He wants people to live a lie?

    And even if you believe the interpretation of the Bible that calls gayness a sin, isn’t there also something in there about Him saving us “while we were yet sinners”?

    I eat too much sometimes. Technically, that makes me a glutton. I have on occasion called other drivers idiots. Guess that condemns me to hell, along with my gay child, because apparently we have to be without sin before Jesus’ sacrifice can be applied to us to cover our sins.

    Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

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  118. dee,

    Dee,
    Thank you for this reminder of how the early Christians were known by their love. I needed to hear it tonight.

    I think that many who call themselves christian today don’t understand what they are actually committing themselves to.

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  119. refugee,

    I am very sad to hear about your kid who understandably wants nothing more to do with church. I don’t accept the traditional interpretations on homosexuality and I could not attend a church that took that position. When I left the church system, I found great contentment in being single again. I will probably be single for the rest of my life because I want to put the Lord first and I trust him whatever happens.

    However I support freedom of conscience and practice for Christians who hold to the traditional views. I would not want someone to lose their job or be “disciplined” for stating their position. I was glad when the Asher’s Baking company in Northern Ireland won their appeal. In case you are not aware, they were taken to court for refusing to ice a cake with the message “Support Gay Marriage” and I believe they were within their rights to refuse.

    I would also advise any Christian with “same sex attraction” to avoid any church associated with Dever’s 9-Marks network. I would also advise them to run a mile from any church associated with the Gospel Coalition. In fact I would advise ANYONE to avoid them. My former church was associated with the Gospel Coalition and they regularly used buzz words like “accountability” and “discipline” especially when it came to homosexuality. However their promotion of men like Kevin DeYoung, John Piper and CJ Mahaney showed their lack of concern for truth, love and justice. The anti-gay GodHatesFags brigade are at least honest about their hatred so most gay people will stay away from them. However in the TGC circles, they could end up wasting several years hoping for help and getting spiritually abused.

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  120. dee:
    Mark R,

    I wonder if the early Christians who formed the burial societies made things perfectly clear up front?

    The deceased pagans whom they were burying were by modern-day traditional standards (Latin tradition, both Protestant and RC) people who were already beyond hope of experiencing God’s mercy, having died outside of faith. That may be a hint that the earliest church did not read their Scriptures the way we do. They certainly had a kinder posture toward outsiders and people who deviated from their norms.

    I will be watching with great interest in coming years science news on the subject of human intrauterine development. I think that traditional theological anthropology is going to face some challenges. This item mentions the remarkable case of a woman whose body was composed of two sets of cells, both genetically female, but with different DNA:

    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/3-human-chimeras-that-already-exist/

    What would happen if the kind of early embryogenesis event that leads to human chimerism happened between fraternal twins of opposite gender, and at a stage such that one set of cells produced the central nervous system and the other the reproductive anatomy? The child woven together by God this way would be a human person whose brain was one gender and whose anatomy was a different gender. Subjectively, it might feel like “being in the wrong body”. To the extent that male and female brains are different, a person with this constitution might exhibit behaviors that appeared to be inappropriate to his/her visible anatomy.

    This scenario has been proposed:

    http://www.hy-ls.org/index.php/hyls/article/view/57/0

    Traditionalists may insist that “that doesn’t matter”, and they may have a defensible argument from the biblical text. But it seems quite possible to me that the “born that way” position may be vindicated over the long term, and traditionalists would be wise to consider how that outcome might require them to rethink, or at least modulate, their position or, at the very least, their tone.

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  121. ZechZav,

    “I will probably be single for the rest of my life because I want to put the Lord first and I trust him whatever happens.”
    +++++++++++++++

    is it not feasible to continue to put the Lord first and be in a partnership of love?

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  122. Samuel Conner: That may be a hint that the earliest church did not read their Scriptures the way we do.

    I think the earliest Christians really got the message. God is our Creator. All are created in the image of God. All are worthy of respect. Respect is not something that was routinely practiced in the Roman culture. Respect had something to do with position and power. Christians demonstrated respect to the lowliest people in their society. The ones who can’t give millions to a building campaign. I would imagine this attracted people to the faith. It is also probably one of the reasons that the Romans got so mad at them. They were not playing by the rules and it threatened the very foundation of their society which respected and feared Caesar.

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  123. dee,

    “Respect is not something that was routinely practiced in the Roman culture. Respect had something to do with position and power. Christians demonstrated respect to the lowliest people in their society. The ones who can’t give millions to a building campaign…..

    It is also probably one of the reasons that the Romans got so mad at them. They were not playing by the rules and it threatened the very foundation of their society which respected and feared Caesar.”
    +++++++++++++++++++++++++

    ha…. Roman Culture sounds like church.

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  124. elastigirl:
    ZechZav,

    “I will probably be single for the rest of my life because I want to put the Lord first and I trust him whatever happens.”
    +++++++++++++++

    is it not feasible to continue to put the Lord first and be in a partnership of love?

    It is possible and I would support people in this, if they feel it is good and right for them. My reasons for thinking I will remain single is circumstantial. The gay community is a very small subculture and the Christian community is also a very small subculture, and where the two meet is even smaller. Add to that the issue of mutual attraction, the chances are very unlikely. There is also the matter of being “equally yoked” and I do not want to be in a relationship which pulls me away from the Lord. This puts me in the same position as a straight Christian who is single for whatever reason. If God chooses to bless me with a special friend, I would be very grateful. If he does not then I still trust his goodness and love.

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