Without a sense of caring, there can be no sense of community. Anthony J. D'Angelo link
Last week, I wrote a post about my 14 year old small group fellowship. My goal was to help people who have had trouble forming small groups through their own churches or who do not have a church at this time. I wanted to show them that they, too, could form such a group.
I decided to bring this up last week because I have been involved in an offline conversation with a great guy who attends one of the well-known gospel™ churches and until recently was an appointed small group leader. (I so wish I could tell you the name of the church but there is a reason, for the moment, why I cannot do so.) This small group was made up of members of said church. The leader, however, did not follow the stilted and authoritative protocol on what had to be studied in the group. He actually used some judgment and directed the study to meet the questions and needs of the members. They really enjoyed their group.
So, in good Gospel™ fashion, the elders removed him from leadership since he didn't follow the program. They could not find anyone else to lead it so *Poof!* – no more small group. It was disbanded. Just in case you think this former leader was going off track and requiring the group to watch the last 5 years of The Duggar Family, I am here to disabuse you of that notion.
He was teaching within an orthodox Christian perspective but not rigidly following the approved church program. He now has plans to get together with the folks outside of the church structure. Unfortunately, that makes him a *freeloader* in the eyes of 9Marks. This is a term used by the very gospel™ 9Marks church membership czars.
9Marks' Jonathan *Keys* Leeman and church membership
Matt Smethurst of The Gospel Coalition interviewed Jonathan Leeman on various issues surrounding church membership in a post Hey Christian, Polity Matters! It is important to understand that Leeman loves all things which tie members to a local church. He is considered the guru of church discipline. Dee functions as the thorn in his side, consistently pointing out serious flaws in the application of his chosen membership/discipline rules.
The interview was based on Leeman's book Baptist Foundations: Church Government for an Anti-Institutional Age. They describe the book as:
Edited by Leeman and Mark Dever, this new volume brings together 11 contributors to mount an exegetical and theological case for elder-led, deacon-served, congregational church governance.
At first I thought this was going to be another interview in which he states that his sort of church holds the keys to the kingdom of authority. He uses this term so regularly in his posts that I have taken to calling him *Keys* Leeman. Here is a link to another article that we wrote on this subject. However, much to my surprise, he decided to ratchet up on the name-calling. He is asked this question.
You insist Christianity must be “congregationally shaped,” but what if I’ve found solid Christian community outside of a local church?
Christian who do not do it his way are *freeloaders*
Here is his full answer.
I’d say you’re a freeloader! You live in a world in which local churches still do the hard and biblical work of identifying people as Christians through baptism and the Lord’s Supper and then nourishing them through congregational and elder oversight. And then you’re taking all of this good fruit and nourishing your “fellowship” with it.
Without churches, in other words, how would you know your Christian fellowship is actually “Christian”? Imagine a world with no local churches. How would there be any accountability for who is and is not a Christian? Who would separate right teaching from wrong teaching, or call out the hypocrites and heretics?
I’m not denying that some confusion already exists in these matters, but take away churches and you would have complete gospel chaos—every man defining Jesus as seems right in his own eyes. Fellowship outside of a local church can be sweet, but it lacks the accountability structures that God intends to help that fellowship grow and remain faithful.
Just so we do not forget his ever present keys:
…It’s the governing structures of a local church that publicly declare who the Christians are and what the gospel they believe is. I’m not saying you cannot be a Christian or properly understand the gospel apart from a local church. Of course you can. I’m just saying your opinion of whether you’re a Christian or what the gospel is, is that and nothing more—your opinion
…..When these two or three or three thousand get together and agree they all believe in the same Jesus, his authority is present and they are a church, capable of exercising the keys. This protects the who and the what of the gospel. It doesn’t leave gospel accountability to every individual.
Let's take a look at his assumptions.
- The local church is working its proverbial fingers to the bone identifying who the real Christians are. Apparently, only the local church structure is equipped to do this.
- The elders and the congregation are killing themselves by nourishing the members and helping them grow.
- You, dear person, are utterly incapable of figuring out if your fellowship is really *Christian*.
- You are also too stupid to separate right teaching from wrong teaching.
- You cannot call out the hypocrite and heretics.
- Without accountability to men like those in 9Marks churches, there would be gospel chaos.
Gospel chaos? Good night! There are a gazillion churches and denominations and he thinks there isn't already chaos?
Abusive 9Marks' style church discipline overlooks the victims
9Marks has developed a system which I believe is ripe for abuse. And when abuse occurs, well, it was just a mistake. On June 11, 2015, Leeman wrote the following in Why Church Discipline Goes Awry and How to Avoid It.
I once had the opportunity to address a number of the elders of a church who handled a terribly complex case of church discipline piously but poorly. The media had picked up on the story, and a number of writers, Christian and non-Christian, charged the church with abusiveness. In fact, I know the church and its leaders, and it is a gospel-centered and healthy church. The brothers made a mistake in complicated situation, a mistake for which they quickly apologized and altered course.
Think carefully. Does this remind you about a major dustup during that time frame? If you guessed Karen Hinkley and The Village Church, you would be correct. Read it closely. Do you see one mention of the victim? Nope! 9Marks church discipline doesn't really care about the person hurt. They appear to only care about their system staying in place.
The freeloading bloggers cared for the victim of TVC's pious™ discipline
Leeman did not mention the victim in this situation. This pious™ church deeply hurt a woman, put their congregation at risk by giving lots of leeway to a pedophile, and made sure that thousands of members of the congregation were intimately informed of the victim's supposed *sin*.
Guess where Karen went for help? Not to the pious, keys holding church but to the freeloading bloggers. We supported her during her crisis. We made sure the world learned of her abuse at the hands of both a pedophile husband and the gospel™ church. Had she not received help from us freeloaders, that story would have been buried by the very pious™ TVC.
Yes, Jonathan, Karen was abused. I don't care if you *know* that church, which, by the way, practices your keys. I know the victim. I also care for other people who have been hurt by similar pious™ mistakes. I wish you would start to reflect that you get that in your writing. There have been one too many people hurt by exercising those supposedly God ordained keys in an unholy manner.
Hard working bloggers care for many who have received the left boot of fellowship by gospel™ claiming 9Marks' type churches
1. There was the story of Todd Wilhelm who was hurt by 9Marks UCCD. Leeman claims he doesn't remember anything about this, so I am including this link to refresh his memory. Doing the hard work in a church means keeping up with those who have been unnecessarily hurt by your methods.
There is this thing in medicine known as Morbidity and Mortality Rounds. The doctors attempt to see what happened that caused the patient to die. They do this to try to prevent it from happening again. The reason is that they actually care about the well being of the one patient who died. Have you ever considered doing the same for the victims of unjust church discipline? You should. It would be far more meaningful than saying "It was just a mistake but all is well." It isn't well. It will happen again as you will see.
Also, who did Todd come to discuss the pain he underwent at the church? You've got it. The hardworking women of this blog. He was believed. We even think he is a hero for caring about those children who were abused in SGM.
2. Within the next two weeks, we will be presenting another despicable case of church discipline which involves a church heavily aligned with 9Marks. This is going to be one more story that shows how the parameters put in place by Jonathan Leeman and Mark Dever can be dangerously applied.
- Guess how many hours I have spent on the phone with the victim?
- Guess how many hours a woman who was hurt by Mark Dever's BFF, CJ Mahaney, spent talking with her?
- Guess who is going to try to raise money for this woman who was ill-treated by a church?
The freeloading bloggers, that's who. The hard working churches are too busy trying to figure out who can and cannot receive communion. (Give me a call. I could clear that up quickly. It ain't rocket science.)
My stab at weeding out hypocrisy
Leeman seems to be concerned that non-church affiliated groups could fall prey to hypocrisy or heresy. However, even gospel™ centered churches have that problem. My guess is that my small group could weed out heresies and hypocrites quite well. I think many groups could do so.
Here is one example of our hypocrisy sniffing abilities. Remember the time that Mark Dever let CJ Mahaney deserted his local church and came to sit under the tutelage of Captain, oh my Captain? Not bad for not being under the care of the CHBC elders who might tell me to turn a blind eye, right?
9Marks and their view of the body of Christ: the sick cannot be given communion unless they come to church
Years ago, I worked in a nursing home. One of the most poignant moments I observed was watching the priests, pastors and other church members come to the home, pray for the individual, sing a few hymns and administer communion. Some of these dear people, many of whom had memory problems, would brighten up when they saw the pastor. They would repeat psalms and sing along with familiar hymns. However, the most moving time I noted was when they administered communion. I saw many patients with tears running down their cheeks. Many of them looked so peaceful after the visits and slept quietly during the night after the encounter.This meant something to them and gave them peace in their spirit.
However, Mark Dever does not believe this is kosher. If they don't come to church, they don't get communion. After all, it's some sort of divine corporate rule, right?
It’s a wonderful thing to remember those who are separated from us, especially by disability or age. Prayers, Scripture reading, visits, and encouragements of many kinds properly express Christ’s love and ours for such a brother or sister. But what about “taking them the Lord’s Supper”?
No, I don’t think you can serve the Lord’s Supper to one person alone any more than you can baptize an infant. It’s outside the definition of what the Lord Supper is by its very nature. In my mind, therefore, this question is comparable to the question of how we should think about baptizing someone unable to be baptized. In the case of both the person in the nursing home and the person who is unable to be baptized, their inability morally excuses them from the command. It’s the nature of the Lord’s Supper to be an expression of the unity of a congregation (1 Cor. 10:17).
While all members of a congregation may never be present, the public meeting should be one of which all members are welcome and most members usually are present. Someone’s inability to assemble with the congregation—we trust then—will be accompanied by God’s special provision for them during their trials or extended absence.”
Leeman believes that, in some limited circumstance, one could bring a group of members to a nursing home to give communion, but it cannot be done in small groups meetings, at weddings, or at summer camps because well…. hmmm…. I guess because they have the keys and say so.
On the day a church serves itself the Supper, I can see it sending a small group of representatives to the nursing home to extend that same corporate word of affirmation to the individual: “You are part of us, as we are covenantally united together in Christ.”
The principle here is the same as the principle for the idea of gathering. Gathering, too, is a necessary part of what makes a church a church and a member a member.
I wonder if this is why Leeman sees some of us as freeloaders. It is all about a corporation as opposed to being caring towards the individual members. A decision is made for the entity, and the individual is lost in the company known as church. It is a small gathering of believers who meet under one umbrella and follow all the peculiar rules and regulations of that group. There appears to be little room for people who do not fit into the system. The system is all. In the beginning were the keys…
I know of churches that do give communion to individuals. I know pastors who spend time visiting the sick and the lonely. I also know pastors who encourage small groups to share communion. These are pastors who seem to see beyond the rules into the heart of the matter. I've actually participated in these times of communion in small groups and have found them deeply meaningful. But, I guess I broke the rules and am now suspect…
No, Jonathan Leeman, we are not freeloaders. You and 9Marks are the ones who have chosen to overlook the hurting people in your incessant march towards perfect church polity. In the meantime, you sometimes step over or on the people Jesus hung out with – the ones who were hurt by a group of Pharisees who had the system down pat. We, on the other hand, support those who have left the church or are barely hanging on due to abuse from your pious™ BFFs.
Freeloaders? Not by a long shot.