9 Marks Finally Admits Membership *Covenants” Are Legal Documents. We Told You So! Caveat Emptor!

Endeavor’s Tour of California (near Malibu) NASA

“We are programmed to receive. You can check-out any time you like, But you can never leave! ” Quote from the lyrics of Hotel California link


I have been writing about membership *covenants,* which I call contracts, since 2010. Back then, I wrote a post on how to get out of a membership covenant even if you are under discipline. Here is a link to that permanent posting.

Through the years, I have received several emails from pastors claiming that their covenant isn’t a contract. I told them that they would see the light if something happened in their church and they discovered that their covenants were really a contract when they consulted their lawyers. I’m not sure if these pastors were ignorant or merely trying to pull the wool over their congregations’ eyes. I’m sure some of them were ignorant, BTW.

I have had the experience to hear how numerous churches present this document before having their church members sign it. They talk about how it is a promise to care and pray for one another-a kind of “Let’s tiptoe through the tulips together” sort of a document. Unfortunately, this bed of tulips is filled with snakes, ready to bite.

Many people do not realize I have another free side job related to this blog. I am the “Dear Abby” on how to get out of a church when the church appears to want to apply retroactive church discipline.  Retroactive church discipline is a term I believe I invented to describe what some poor souls experience. Everything is going well. Then the member gets the heebie-jeebies about the church and leaves. Except, the church declares the individual to be suddenly, and without notice, “under church discipline.” They are then told that they must do something, depending on the church, to secure their release from the church discipline dungeon.

The very first person I met, who was struggling with this problem, now writes for TWW. You can read Todd’s story. which happened when he was still living in Dubai, called My, My Dubai. It is a timely reminder since it was a 9Marks church that did this and it is 9Marks that now admits that such covenants are legal contracts. Todd sent me a great picture of Dubai which I keep as a remembrance of that debacle.

What happens when you are asked to sign a covenant/covenant?

  • If the pastors don’t tell you there are legal ramifications when you sign it, then they are either deceptive or ignorant.
  • It doesn’t matter if they are ignorant.
  • If you sign it, you are legally bound by it so long as you continue to be a member of the church and you do not legally resign your membership.
  • You can legally resign your membership at any time, no matter what they say. You live in the USA and you can leave any voluntary organization at any time unless you legally owe them money.
  • You don’t have to sign a covenant to be legally bound by it. If you give verbal consent to the contract or if you repeat the vows in the contract in a meeting you are stuck. If your pastor asks people in the congregation to stand in affirmation of the contract, and you stand, you are probably stuck as well, especially if they filmed everyone standing. Some churches even hide it in the rules of membership. For example. If you join, you agree to the document
  • There are lots of other caveats. That’s why I suggest consulting a lawyer if you must sign the gosh darn thing.

If the church has the covenant and you like it, what should you do?

Don’t join. Many churches are thrilled if you give money or show up at the “Let’s clean the parking lot” Day. Sure, you can’t vote but when was the last time your vote really made a difference. It is my opinion that most churches never put anything to the vote unless they are sure of the outcome.

9Marks is the Hotel California of the evangelical set

In the many years that I have been advising on how to flee a coercive church, as far as I can remember, except a few, the church is a member of the 9Marks network or the pastor has 9Marks materials in his office. BTW, if you ever go into a pastor’s office, always look and see what books he has on display. They most likely represent his theological bent. One such office I visited, had books by John Piper, Mark Driscoll, and Mark Dever. I knew it was time to prepare my exit strategy.

A reader sent us this post at 9 Marks on July 2, 2021: Why American Courts Care about Church Membership—And Why You Should, Too.

I love the word * respect* before the word members. It rarely works that way.

American law provides reasons for churches to give careful attention to both their membership policies and the theological basis for those policies. Doing so respects the individuals who come to the church, and it can also protect the church from legal liability.

Pay very close to this next part. I have highlighted the word *internal.*

American courts have recognized that the First Amendment’s religion clauses prohibit courts from interfering with churches’ internal affairs

So long as you are a member inside the church, you are possibly subject to even the most arbitrary discipline.

Note this next line. The church has a right to define its own set of rules. They can define what should be disciplined. This means that so long as you are a member of the church, the pastors can dream up all sorts of things when it comes to discipline and there is little that you can do about it.

On many occasions, when churches have been sued for church discipline, courts have said that they cannot review the decisions of a church in carrying out its principles of discipline and self-governance.

Courts look for defined membership in legal cases.

What have I been saying for years?

If a church can point to a membership commitment or covenant that explains the biblical basis of church discipline, then there’s little chance that anyone (courts included) could be confused about the religious basis of church discipline. If the member in fact agreed to the covenant, so much the better.

It’s about protecting the church, not protecting you.

For years I have been saying that these confounded membership covenants were not created to make sure that Martha and Joe pray for the church. That sounds really spiritual and nice but that isn’t what this is about. The 9Marks author sums it up nicely.

American courts recognize that churches have a religious responsibility to govern themselves in accordance with their convictions. Church membership is thus not just a way of following biblical principles of accountability and commitment. It’s a wise way to protect the church from liability.

It’s the member’s responsibility to know these things.

I contend that it is the responsibility of the church to inform the prospective member that they are signing a legal document which will protect the church, especially if the church decides to discipline you. According to this, it appears that 9Marks has no intention of revealing the legalities inherent in signing a *covenant.* I find that troubling and so should prospective members ho should know they are signing legal documents, not a simple vow by Ethel and Fred to pray for the church.

Members and prospective members should be aware of what they’re committing to when they join a church.

Read how he writes this paragraph. If you don’t think that these covenants have legal implications, then this should convince you.

Many Americans are unaware that there’s even a difference between being a regular attendee and a member. “I’m committed to the church! I make it a priority, and I’m there consistently,” one might say. “Doesn’t that make me a member?” No, because (among other things) being a regular attendee doesn’t sufficiently clarify the nature of the relationship between the attendee and the church. There are biblical reasons to argue this, of course, but I simply want to emphasize that this also influences how many American judges have approached the issue.

The value of church membership for the average Joe appears to be tied to *allows oneself to be lovingly disciplined.*

Those who never took the step of affirming their commitment cannot expect the same commitment from the church. This includes the commitment to lovingly discipline them if they persist if the occasion requires it. Again, historically, American courts have recognized this. Perhaps they can serve as a reminder to contemporary Christians who wonder about the value of church membership.

Do biblical best practices involve signing a legally based church contract?

As one who has read the Bible for many years, I have yet to see a membership covenant being discussed in any chapter, even in the Epistles. Can anyone out there help me here? It appears the author, in keeping with Dever’s best practices, is delighted to see that the law recognizes membership[ contracts. After all, they end up protecting the church.

Apparently a church covenant is considered  For Christians, the biblical case for church membership should always be first and foremost. But it’s good to know that complying with biblical best practices also has practical legal benefits.

Take away points

  • Membership covenants are merely legal contracts that allow the church to discipline you as the church sees fit.
  • If the church does not tell you that you are signing a legal contract, you need to ask and wonder why.
  • You can quit a church anytime you wish, no matter what the covenant states. Being a member of a church is a voluntary association which means you join because you wanted to join and you leave because you wanted to leave.
  • Be sure to put in writing (and send by certified mail ) that you have rescinded your membership as of a particular date. Do not speak to them after this point. If they ask you to come to a meeting, don’t do it. If they keep bothering you, you may need to threaten legal action.
  • Don’t sign a membership contract, no matter what they call it. Many great churches do not require such devices.
  • A good church will let you attend even if you are not a member. Many churches will let you take part in many activities without membership. They also love donations from non-members.


Comments

9 Marks Finally Admits Membership *Covenants” Are Legal Documents. We Told You So! Caveat Emptor! — 150 Comments

  1. Excellent recording … always makes the post excellent, too. Thx. Open with visual art, close with a lovely piece. Perfect.

    The differences/similarities seem to blur…
    -the practices of Evangelical Membership Covenants
    -Scientology.

    For example, Fair Game (Scientology) and Discipline (EvangeoCovs).

    And as the post points out: No, the Gov does not wish to get involved. So Joe/Jo Churchgoer, figure it out. Beware & be aware.

    Each TWW post is a PSA. Ever grateful for the opportunity to stay out of the weeds.

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  2. “Church membership is thus not just a way of following biblical principles of accountability and commitment. It’s a wise way to protect the church from liability.“

    Look like “the church” being specified might not be so much the ekklesia and the individual people as the legal entity. Creating members benefits the legal entity? How winsome. Looks like the hold harmless bennies are yet another reason for the industrial complex to lead with sign-up papers.

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  3. Luckyforward:
    I keep reading the New Testament searching for those verses that suggest “membership covenants” and despite all my efforts I cannot find the DIRECT SCRIPTURAL DIRECTION.

    Am I missing something or is the reality the result of Biblical constructivism?

    One would think that one’s yes being yes would constitute sufficient adherence to the body.

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  4. Luckyforward: I keep reading the New Testament searching for those verses that suggest “membership covenants” and despite all my efforts I cannot find the DIRECT SCRIPTURAL DIRECTION.

    That’s because there is none.

    Luckyforward: Am I missing something or is the reality the result of Biblical constructivism?

    You haven’t missed a thing. These guys are masters at manufacturing stuff out of thin air, and then making you (generic you) believe that the rarified air is what the Bible ‘teaches’.

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  5. “The value of church membership for the average Joe appears to be tied to *allows oneself to be lovingly disciplined.*”

    Yes! So true! I recently left my 9Marks-affiliated, membership-covenant church after about 6-7 years of membership. In the 6 months since I left not a single person reached out to ask where I was. When I inevitably had a couple conversations with people in which I voluntarily told them I left, not a single person asked why. Maybe COVID was an excuse but we had been in-person all that time.

    In the covenant it stressed things like our duty to our fellow members. Yeah, right.

    I honestly don’t know why no one asked me about it. I and my family were very active – worship team, children’s church, etc… It’s bizarre to me. Even a 5-6 person Bible study I attended for all that time, no one sent me as much as a text when I no longer showed up. Even writing this I can’t figure it out – I’m more puzzled than upset. We left pretty quietly and still maintained friendships so maybe that’s why…but still.

    When two parties sign a contract it’s because they’re BOTH getting something out of it.

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  6. R: What do you think of verbal membership vows with no signing of anything?

    I’m not Dee, but here’s what her post says: “You don’t have to sign a covenant to be legally bound by it. If you give verbal consent to the contract or if you repeat the vows in the contract in a meeting you are stuck. If your pastor asks people in the congregation to stand in affirmation of the contract, and you stand, you are probably stuck as well, especially if they filmed everyone standing. Some churches even hide it in the rules of membership. For example. If you join, you agree to the document.”

    My take: Don’t even go to a church that has a membership covenant. I’ve never belonged to a church that had one of these things.

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  7. “if you ever go into a pastor’s office, always look and see what books he has on display. They most likely represent his theological bent. One such office I visited, had books by John Piper, Mark Driscoll, and Mark Dever.”

    Whew, that was one bad-boy “pastor” with a mix of books by those characters! Anyone signing on the dotted line there was surely exposed to plenty of Piper Points, Mark Malarkey, and Dever Drivel!

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  8. Paul K: I honestly don’t know why no one asked me about it.

    This is a sad story that echoes through the evangelical church. The act of leaving often means to the remaining members that something is wrong with their church. They don’t want to know why because it challenges their closely held belief that they are smart and they KNOW their church is awesome so don’t you go trying to mess up their belief system.

    I’m sorry. any of us have been where you are.

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  9. Luckyforward: I keep reading the New Testament searching for those verses that suggest “membership covenants” and despite all my efforts I cannot find the DIRECT SCRIPTURAL DIRECTION.

    You’re kidding me! I thought these boys did everything by the Book … every jot and tittle in their ministries are supposed to be Biblical. Keep searching, there must be something you missed! I (a typical church member) am way too busy with other things to read the Bible myself … I trust church leaders to give it to me straight.

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  10. O YES!!! Of course. Cover-ups and covenants are both LEGAL. Spread the word far and wide. The only reaction should be cut and run! Or, is that even legal once you’ve signed onto the conditions of the binding contract—the worst pre-nupt around. You just can’t divorce these abusive “brides of Christ.”
    We’ve got to warn people before they marry such a church: “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.”

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  11. I’m curious how many churches practice both elder-rule church government AND covenants? In these cases, a covenant acts almost like a member’s vote of approval for the dysfunctional elder-rule system. Members in elder-rule churches have zero rights or authority within the church, but signing a contract, which in other situations outlines the rights of BOTH parties, tricks members into thinking they’re getting something out of membership.

    Also, the bylaws of my church stated that merely attending regularly implied a person was AGREEING TO THE COVENANT. This is so messed up.

    I understand signing a membership statement if it gives a member rights, like the right to vote, but covenants in elder-rule churches give members absolutely nothing of value.

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  12. dee: Some *pastors* believe that visiting the sick and dying is a waste of their time.

    Oh yeah, they are way too crazy busy hanging out in coffee shops tweeting their lives away with the dudebros to be distracted by stuff like that! I can take you to a coffee shop right now a short distance from me, where NeoCal church planters in my community are “pastoring.”

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  13. Oh man, I’m worked up about this!

    In so many cases of religious abuse, the abuser exercises illegitimate authority over the abused through informal methods.

    Covenants in elder-rule churches are the formalizing of illegitimate authority with the added benefit (to those in authority) of the member’s explicit agreement (by signing the covenant) with their own mistreatment.

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  14. dee: Worse. They got lots of peopleto sign a legal contract without them knowing it.

    Lies, deception, hoodwinking, blackmail, despotism…….. how many of those are “marks” of the kind of church Jesus and Paul spoke of????
    These pastors and elders aren’t men of God. They are nothing more than power hungry little wannabe dictators…. narcissistic sociopaths.
    I love the fact that they openly admitted to it all. People need to take notice and take appropriate actions to protect themselves and their families from these authoritarian shysters.

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  15. I feel like a Jew in around a.d. 69. Truly the system is going to be crushed by our Lord.

    Here, in addition to the covenants and craziness, we have two other crazy ideas gaining steam and they are likely killing people.

    First is a form of Word of Faith that is telling their people that to admit there is covid or get a test or get a shot means you are calling it into existence. Saying the only way to get rid of it in our world is to “speak that which isn’t as though it is”. Give it no energy to feed on by denying its very existence.

    The second is that if you get the shot, you either took the mark of the beast or you took the trial run for the mark of the beast. Either way you are now satan’s minion, doing satan’s work and are to be shunned. Our local hospital is now offering secret jabs for those afraid of losing family and friends if they get the jab or speak out in favor of getting the jab. I decided to do the public thing and fully expect a shunning.

    Our county is now one of those you will see on the nightly news, with a very low (under 20%) fully vaccinated rate, a very high covid case count and a full and starting to run out of beds hospital. But in addition to those, news feeds still are showing people fighting against going back to masking, fighting against the shots, and fighting against closing any venues.

    Now imagine if you are under a church covenant OR believe you need absolution from your pastor or priest for your sins to be forgiven. Where does that leave you?

    Besides dead.

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  16. I am surprised the 9marks people are admitting to this.

    The root of church covenants comes from adopting the ways of society (also called “the world” in the Bible) in which “the law” is considered our final authority. It’s the reason people on both sides of the aisle argue about who will be appointed to the Supreme Court because it’s widely believed when a law is passed and upheld by that court people will fall in line. Which is crazy because as the apostle Paul said rules have no value in restraining sensual indulgence. Only a changed heart empowered by the Holy Spirit can cause people to choose/do good. A membership covenant however relies on the worldly way of thinking in which the law keeps people on line.

    Sadly so many churches and leaders have lost the goal Jesus put before us to make disciples who follow him. Instead churches create pew sitters who follow rules that benefit the corporation called the church.

    The letter kills but the Spirit gives life.

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  17. Paul K: I honestly don’t know why no one asked me about it.

    Because you were an Apostate and had Apostate Cooties that were contagious.

    Ask any ex-Jehovah’s Witness. Nothing repels JWs like Apostates(TM). You can even buy an anti-JW door sign that says “WARNING: APOSTATES BEHIND THIS DOOR!”.

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  18. Paul K: Covenants in elder-rule churches are the formalizing of illegitimate authority with the added benefit (to those in authority) of the member’s explicit agreement (by signing the covenant) with their own mistreatment.

    During the Great Purge, when a high-ranking Inner Party official was Purged it was said Comrade Stalin got a real kick out of making the purged Traitor sign the death warrants/kill orders for himself and his entire family.

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  19. Ruth Tucker: Ruth Tucker on Thu Jul 08, 2021 at 09:39 AM said:

    O YES!!! Of course. Cover-ups and covenants are both LEGAL.

    Years ago where I am, a law firm got nailed for running an OSHA-compliance protection racket against small businesses who couldn’t afford lawyers.

    Their defense? “EVERYTHING WE DID WAS LEGAL!!!”
    And they were right.
    No criminal charges could be brought, but they all got disbarred. The entire law firm.

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  20. Max: You’re kidding me! I thought these boys did everything by the Book … every jot and tittle in their ministries are supposed to be Biblical.

    With mountains of Verses and Proof Texts.
    “SCRIPTURE! SCRIPTURE! SCRIPTURE! SCRIPTURE!”
    (Yes, I lived for years in Calvary Chapel Country. How ever could you tell?)

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  21. Max: “if you ever go into a pastor’s office, always look and see what books he has on display. They most likely represent his theological bent. One such office I visited, had books by John Piper, Mark Driscoll, and Mark Dever.”

    The pastor’s office I’m most familiar with (my writing partner’s) has a wide variety of theological books, historical books, Theodore Roosevelt biographies, a couple FRP game books, a complete set of <i.The Happy Hollisters children’s book series, and a couple My Little Pony figurines.

    Needless to say, it’s the only one I feel really comfortable in.

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  22. Max: New Calvinism (and other cults like it) would not exist if it weren’t for Biblically-illiterate and Spiritually-destitute folks drawn in by a mumbo-jumbo spell.

    It’s just plain old fashioned salesmanship.
    Whether selling the new Ford F-150 crew cab or religion, this is America, it’s whatever the traffic will bear.

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  23. Headless Unicorn Guy,

    I don’t think that was the issue. It might be with some people though. I’d kind of like to just ask people, but why stir the pot? Since the church was elder-rule, and my concerns were with elder-rule church government, there was no one to take my concerns to except the two elders – the very people who were the cause of my concerns because of the government they implemented! Before I even talked with them, I knew I wasn’t going to get anywhere, and since there was no one else to take the concerns to…there was no choice but to leave. Bringing the issue up to a bunch of members with zero formal decision-making authority seemed pointless. I tried to write about my thoughts as objectively as possible and I directed one person to that article – the same one Dee referenced in an earlier post.

    I think the real issue for people would be why ask about it if there is no structure for change. In other words, why question it if you can’t do anything about the answer. Or, and this may be more the issue, perhaps I simply misunderstood my relationships with people and thought they were closer than they were – and that’s probably my fault in the end.

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  24. Godith: Fair Game as equivalent to average church discipline via church covenants is provocative and untrue. Mark Driscoll is certainly running his church like a Scientology entity but that doesn’t equate all evangelical churches to the cult. Your making extreme statements doesn’t help the cause.

    If Driscoll can get away with it, then others will try it. You do know that Driscoll hired a white-shoe law firm in Phoenix to send cease and desist letters to two former members on the Trinity Church’s security team? Julie Roys has a podcast about that.

    Also Driscoll claims (per these guys) to have an $11 million legal slush fund. I don’t kniw how true this is; it could merely be an insurance policy that pays for a defense if Driscoll or one of his entities is sued.

    My point is, don’t minimize this nonsense. In between the 9 Marx contracts and Driscoll’s alleged legal slush fund and known cease and desist letters from well-heeled attorneys, “there is trouble in River City!”

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  25. Headless Unicorn Guy: Years ago where I am, a law firm got nailed for running an OSHA-compliance protection racket against small businesses who couldn’t afford lawyers.

    Their defense? “EVERYTHING WE DID WAS LEGAL!!!”
    And they were right.
    No criminal charges could be brought, but they all got disbarred. The entire law firm.

    I would love a reference to this. I didn’t think law firms ever got punished for their behavior. I was told by a plumber that they always doubled their fee for lawyers and got half of it up front, knowing that the lawyers would ALWAYS refuse to pay the second half with a “so sue me”.

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  26. linda: I decided to do the public thing and fully expect a shunning.

    Our county is now one of those you will see on the nightly news, with a very low (under 20%) fully vaccinated rate, a very high covid case count and a full and starting to run out of beds hospital.

    Oh, Linda, I am so very sorry you’re in that situation, both at church and in your region. You did the right thing by getting vaccinated. You protected yourself and those around you, and refused to conceal that. Your action will strengthen and hearten others.

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  27. Ava Aaronson: For example, Fair Game (Scientology) and Discipline (EvangeoCovs).

    I never even heard of church discipline until I began reading watch blogs. Several years ago I asked one of our pastors, “What would I have to do to get disciplined by the church?” He stared at me in total confusion, and said he could not imagine that happening.

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  28. dee: This is the funniest comment of the week!

    Finding a bit of humor here and there is the only way I can cope with the NeoCal mess. But, I suppose we all need to be weeping at the altar and interceding for God to put an end to the games being played in the American church. It’s high time for a genuine revival among God’s people to flush the counterfeit from the church, but I don’t see much movement in that direction … church folks are just too satisfied with doing church without God, it appears.

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  29. linda: Our county is now one of those you will see on the nightly news, with a very low (under 20%) fully vaccinated rate, a very high covid case count and a full and starting to run out of beds hospital

    So sad, and so senseless. I am seeing some (vaccinated) patients getting COVID now, though only 1 ended up in the hospital, and she was elderly with bad lungs. Of a recent wedding, about 10 attendees got COVID, but the groom’s father (unvaccinated) was the only one who ended up in the hospital and all the vaccinated were able to recover at home.
    Personally, I am still wearing a mask in stores because I don’t trust that everyone not wearing a mask is vaccinated (and many probably aren’t).
    And the ‘not speaking of it’ idea is just nuts. Kind of like all the cover-ups we hear about here on TWW (if we don’t talk about the abuse, it didn’t happen) – head in the sand.

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  30. Reading this makes me feel so heart-broken for all church members. No longer are we considered valuable sheep being cared for by shepherds (or rather, under-shepherds), who
    genuinely love us and have our best interests at heart. But instead, we are viewed merely as liabilities and nuisances that distract from the modern-day pulpiteer’s ‘ministry’, and we must be whipped back into shape so that we toe the party line.

    All of this is so polar opposite of Jesus’ response to the crowd of people when He saw them in Matthew 9:36–“When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Nowadays, it seems that His own Body is ‘harassed and helpless’ because of these fraudulent ‘shepherds’ who are nothing more than hired hands; whose only worry is to save their own skins and abandon the sheep when they are attacked. Lord, have mercy!

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  31. linda: Our county is now one of those you will see on the nightly news, with a very low (under 20%) fully vaccinated rate … if you get the shot, you either took the mark of the beast or you took the trial run for the mark of the beast … Our local hospital is now offering secret jabs for those afraid of losing family and friends …

    I’ve got you pinpointed. You are most likely way back in the Ozark Mountains of Southern Missouri or Northern Arkansas.

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  32. Root 66: save their own skins and abandon the sheep when they are attacked

    Heck, many of the NeoCal “pastors” abandoned the sheep when they set up shop. They don’t minister to member needs, don’t make hospital visits, don’t pray with folks in nursing homes, don’t preach funerals, etc. (that’s in my area; hope it’s better where you live).

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  33. Here’s another observation–much of what Dever and his 9-Marx lackeys appear to be doing is doubling-down with this discipline stuff. Hoping to bind church members with the ‘contract’ card seems like a really desperate move to me. Perhaps they are realizing that this whole ‘church revitalization’ thing isn’t working (umm…the SBC is hemorrhaging members right now!), so they are ramping-up their efforts to attempt to maintain control over folks. It’s like when everybody’s laughing and pointing at some kid while he’s jumping up and down, screaming, “You’d better listen to me…or else!” I think they are losing their choke-hold on the church–and they know it!

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  34. Max: Heck, many of the NeoCal “pastors” abandoned the sheep when they set up shop. They don’t minister to member needs, don’t make hospital visits, don’t pray with folks in nursing homes, don’t preach funerals, etc. (that’s in my area; hope it’s better where you live).

    Nope…they’re far too busy doing ‘God’s work’ to participate in such menial tasks! Funny thing is–all of that IS God’s work!

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  35. Root 66,

    “…No longer are we considered valuable sheep being cared for by shepherds (or rather, under-shepherds),…we are viewed merely as liabilities and nuisances that distract from the modern-day pulpiteer’s ‘ministry’, and we must be whipped back into shape so that we toe the party line.”
    +++++++++++++++++++++

    i have observed that many pastors simply follow where the christian industrial complex wind blows — minus critical thinking.

    my previous pastors (excellent human beings) adopted all sorts of popular methods, doctrines, ideas, language which in theory sounded good, but which in practice and whose logical end were destructive to human lives but preserved & grew the pastor’s careers and income.

    i’m quite sure they took all these things on board (just like a fast food franchise trying to keep up with food/drink trends) without much if any actual thinking.

    sort of like 12 year-olds, doing what everyone else is doing to fit in.

    it is my contention that church leadership methods are decided around shadowy Madison Avenue-type conference tables for the sole purpose of protecting (if not growing) power & wealth.

    These methods are then given names like ‘doctrine’, ‘gospel-, and other power words designed to curb resistance.

    pastoral careers & peer standing require towing the party line to great extent.

    members/attenders simply do what they’re told.

    everyone falls in line, no critical thinking required.

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  36. The pressure to become an “official” member can be pretty intense. At the last church we attended (over five years ago) it really bothered our pastor that we wouldn’t join and sign. We were tithing, attending regularly, and volunteering, but that just wasn’t good enough for him. Not even knowing our history of being abused by a previous pastor, and then shunned when we dared to speak out about it, was enough to make him stop bringing membership up.

    But boy were we glad when we decided to stop going there, that we had never officially joined the church. It was so easy to just walk away and move on with our lives. No meetings, no resignation letters etc. I don’t know if I will ever attend a church again, but I do know that I will never sign any membership contracts!

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  37. Godith: We should stop evil wherever it appears as much as one is able, but also believe that tarring all churches with the Driscoll brush will accomplish little good. It will make people who do it look like extremists. Or to change the metaphor, crying wolf is counterproductive. Save our criticism where it is warranted.

    I think Driscoll only appears extreme because we know a lot about him. My former church has never been in the news, and it is just as extreme. This cult movement is much, much bigger and more entrenched now in evangelical culture than most people realize. They have a multi-million dollar social media empire. There are three different large organizations that promote this kind of church control.

    There’s been tons of people dee has written about who have been extreme. And a bunch of others sharing similar theology that church members should have no autonomy. Some of those people who follow this ideology pastor the largest churches in America. John Macarthur. JD Greear. Mark Dever. Ed Young. Josh Howerton. I think James Macdonald’s example far outdoes even Driscoll.

    And they have a whole lot of followers who pastor small churches with that kind of church model. There are two of them in the town of 1500 where I live.

    Whatever you think, it’s not a small portion of evangelicalism…

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  38. Paul K:
    “The value of church membership for the average Joe appears to be tied to *allows oneself to be lovingly disciplined.*”

    Yes!So true!I recently left my 9Marks-affiliated, membership-covenant church after about 6-7 years of membership.In the 6 months since I left not a single person reached out to ask where I was.When I inevitably had a couple conversations with people in which I voluntarily told them I left, not a single person asked why.Maybe COVID was an excuse but we had been in-person all that time.

    In the covenant it stressed things like our duty to our fellow members. Yeah, right.

    I honestly don’t know why no one asked me about it. I and my family were very active – worship team, children’s church, etc…It’s bizarre to me.Even a 5-6 person Bible study I attended for all that time, no one sent me as much as a text when I no longer showed up.Even writing this I can’t figure it out – I’m more puzzled than upset.We left pretty quietly and still maintained friendships so maybe that’s why…but still.

    When two parties sign a contract it’s because they’re BOTH getting something out of it.

    I’m so sorry this happened to you 🙁 The exact same thing happened to us years ago. We gave our lives to that church. My husband kept it running when they didn’t have a pastor. We sacrificed our time, our money, and often our mental and emotional health. And when we resigned our membership only ONE person phoned to make sure we were okay and ask why we had left. We were absolutely, completely gutted that nobody cared. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much in my life.

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  39. Max–I will only confirm my home team says “soouuiiee” lol.

    And yes, word of faith theology stinks. So does hyper fundamentalism.

    Unfortunately the crazies here are likely to allow more variants, meaning more trouble for everyone everywhere.

    We are blessed in that we can lay low until this mess passes. As to long term, it could drive us out of our beloved area.

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  40. Godith,

    “Fair Game as equivalent to average church discipline via church covenants is provocative and untrue. Mark Driscoll is certainly running his church like a Scientology entity but that doesn’t equate all evangelical churches to the cult. Your making extreme statements doesn’t help the cause.”
    ++++++++++++++++

    A ‘church leadership method’ by any other name would smell as rotten.

    i think most church leaders are decent people. but i observe them adopting what’s trendy, without thinking.

    without understanding how it’s designed to protect them while diabolically harming others and the cause of what’s honest, ethical, good, and right.

    it is necessary to point these things out.

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  41. elastigirl: i have observed that many pastors simply follow where the christian industrial complex wind blows — minus critical thinking.

    my previous pastors (excellent human beings) adopted all sorts of popular methods, doctrines, ideas, language which in theory sounded good, but which in practice and whose logical end were destructive to human lives but preserved & grew the pastor’s careers and income.

    I have seen this as well. Many pastors jump on the bandwagon of the ‘next-big-thing’ in the hopes of becoming some kind of megachurch, because it worked at ‘so-and-so’s’ church. But, they often fail to look in their rear-view mirrors and see the piles of bodies along the Way that they have crushed in order to make their church ‘successful’! NOT cool!

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  42. one of the dones,

    Sadly, what both of y’all have experienced sounds to me like a good, old-fashioned shunning! Unfortunately, many churches take an “Us vs. Them” approach when someone decides to leave, regardless of the reason. Many pastors tend to take it very personally, as well. It’s all very petty and childish. Dust off your sandals and just keep walking–there are better days ahead!

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  43. Friend: I never even heard of church discipline until I began reading watch blogs.

    For me, it was church discipline and church covenants (memberships). (I’m not including my up-until-watch-blog-reading, rather limited understanding of the practice of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Amish shunning.)

    I’m so grateful Dee has been writing about church discipline / church memberships / church covenants….I think My Dubai (about Todd Wilhelm) was the first one I read.

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  44. Root 66: Unfortunately, many churches take an “Us vs. Them” approach when someone decides to leave, regardless of the reason.

    Yeah, and they will even pull a few Scriptures out to justify shunning folks who leave. This is one of their favorites:

    “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.” (1 John 2:19)

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  45. one of the dones: when we resigned our membership only ONE person phoned to make sure we were okay and ask why we had left. We were absolutely, completely gutted that nobody cared

    I’ve experienced that. It’s both a gut-wrenching ordeal and a wake-up call. Much of the church is not the Church at all … church members who are not Christians … pastors who are not called to that sacred office.

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  46. Root 66:
    one of the dones,

    Sadly, what both of y’all have experienced sounds to me like a good, old-fashioned shunning!Unfortunately, many churches take an “Us vs. Them” approach when someone decides to leave, regardless of the reason.Many pastors tend to take it very personally, as well.It’s all very petty and childish.Dust off your sandals and just keep walking–there are better days ahead!

    Pretty much. It started out as an unofficial shunning which later became an official shunning.

    After several years of having time to heal, we started to find it funny and went on a mission to kill them with kindness. It became a game to run into someone from the group (we lived in a very small town) and make a point of *not* avoiding them at the grocery store. Just being super friendly and talkative so that they had to be incredibly rude and look like a jerk in public to be able to go through with shunning us 😀 Our former pastor would practically run and hide if he saw us in a store, which became extremely entertaining 😀 Guess he wasn’t such a tough guy after all. Which made us wonder – why had we been so afraid of him? We called it our Wizard of Oz experience.

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  47. Paul K:
    Oh man, I’m worked up about this!

    In so many cases of religious abuse, the abuser exercises illegitimate authority over the abused through informal methods.

    Covenants in elder-rule churches are the formalizing of illegitimate authority with the added benefit (to those in authority) of the member’s explicit agreement (by signing the covenant) with their own mistreatment.

    Then you’ll really like this one from our former church: https://www.csmedia1.com/doxachurch.net/doxa-membership-application-v4-nov-2020.pdf

    Note it’s an “application,” not a “covenant.” It doesn’t even bother outlining what the elders/leadership commit to. But there IS a commitment from members to “neither criticize nor listen to criticism concerning any member(s) of this body…”

    Yup, totally turned out that was one-sided.

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  48. Godith: Mark Driscoll is certainly running his church like a Scientology entity but that doesn’t equate all evangelical churches to the cult.

    Thank you. Exactly. That is the problem. “Evangelical” and “church” are tarnished, in name in any case, unless & until real church points out what’s going on. Where is there an actual “church” calling out the heresy & the predation? That would be the actual church, not just going about their business letting this evil happen in the name of God.

    (Rachel Denhollander & a number of prosecutors have all been tweeting about how the pastors who show up in Court ALWAYS are in support of the predators on trial, NEVER in support of victims. Church. Predators. Hunting Ground.)

    Apropos sermon texts might include:

    Jude 1.4: “For certain people have crept in among you unnoticed. They are ungodly persons whose condemnation was predicted long ago, for they distort the grace of our God into decadence and immoral freedom as an opportunity to do whatever they want, and deny and disown our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”

    2 Peter 2.1: “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there are false teachers among you, who stealthily bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.”

    2 John 1.10-11: “If anyone comes to you but does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your home or even greet him. Whoever greets such a person shares in his evil deeds.…”

    Elron Hubbard: “If you want to get rich start a religion.”

    Let’s watch if increasingly pastors are Elron reincarnated. Contracts & covenants. Church discipline & Fair Game. Secrets in spades. Grift, goons, graft. Power, sex, $$$. All in the same game: Scientology & Evangelical. If it walks like a duck …

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  49. linda:
    I will only confirm my home team says “soouuiiee” lol.

    Haha. My parents met while going to UofA.

    I remember as a youngster watching what was then called “The Game of the Century” between them and the Longhorns back when that was one of the bigger rivalries in college football.

    I have fond memories of traveling from a mountainous state that is a couple of states west and slightly north of your state every summer to visit various relatives scattered here and there in that state.

    It has been around 20 years since I have been back there.

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  50. dee: Even worse. Some *pastors* believe that visiting the sick and dying is a waste of their time.

    Where’s the contract for a church, like top down, seeking to do the right thing? That’s something I could wrap my head around as it aligns with Scripture:

    “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1.27

    “Learn to do right; seek justice and correct the oppressor. Defend the fatherless and plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah 1.17

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  51. linda: First is a form of Word of Faith that is telling their people that to admit there is covid or get a test or get a shot means you are calling it into existence.

    Many years ago, wasn’t there some sort of Pop Magick book called “The Secret” which was pretty much the same thing? Redefining reality with just your thoughts?

    “Abracadabra” = “I Speak and IT IS SO!”

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  52. Ava Aaronson: Elron Hubbard: “If you want to get rich start a religion.”

    The version I heard (from SF litfandom’s oral history) was “Writing for a penny a word is stupid. If you want to make a million, start your own religion.”

    Another bit of LASFS oral history was that Scientology grew out of a bar bet between Elron and John Campbell (editor of Astounding who shaped Golden Age SF). That the two of them were drinking at the hotel bar at some early WorldCon, with the booze flowing and Elron talking about some pop psychology he came up with. Campbell challenged him to write it down and he’d publish it. The reault was Dianetics, and Dianetics grew into Scientology.

    Campbell himself was known for dabbling in pseudoscience (especially Psionics/psychic powers and the antigravity Dean Drive) in his later years, and did plug Scientology when it came out. From his editorials in Sixties/Seventies Analog (the renamed Astounding), the guy was also into Eugenics – You’d think going through WW2 would have taught him something about proto-Transhumanism by breeding the Fit and culling the Unfit. He was also into the Tobacco Industry Party Line that smoking and lung cancer were NOT connected; I was not surprised to learn much later that he was a heavy smoker.

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  53. one of the dones: shunning … went on a mission to kill them with kindness … *not* avoiding them at the grocery store … being super friendly and talkative … former pastor would practically run and hide if he saw us in a store …

    Light repels darkness.

    Shunning and excommunication are archaic practices of the dark ages. Ministers and ministries which exclude Christians because they don’t agree with church contracts, authoritarian leaders, subordination of female believers, twisting Scripture to support theology, etc. are living in darkness. Jesus said “I am the light of the world; whoever follows me will never walk in darkness” (John 8:12). No light … no Jesus.

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  54. Wild Honey,

    I just read the app and visited the doxa website. It looks like doxa is elder-rule. Elder-rule really seems similar to a small business set-up except the owners are labeled “elders”.

    Here’s a big question I have: in elder-rule churches, who owns the property? In my previous church, the elders are also the officers of the 501c3 entity. I think the 501c3 owns the property, but the elders control the 501c3 and it’s asserts unless I’m mistaken. I’ve always wondered if it would be possible for the elders to sell the assess and pocket the money.

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  55. Headless Unicorn Guy: linda: First is a form of Word of Faith that is telling their people that to admit there is covid or get a test or get a shot means you are calling it into existence.

    Many years ago, wasn’t there some sort of Pop Magick book called “The Secret” which was pretty much the same thing? Redefining reality with just your thoughts?

    “Abracadabra” = “I Speak and IT IS SO!”

    Ava Aaronson: Elron Hubbard: “If you want to get rich start a religion.”

    (Dee and GBTC: I’m not certain enough about TWW comment policies and whether or not you will need to preview the linked video. My apologies if you need to preview the video, as I know you are busy and I don’t want to waste your time.)

    Last Week Tonight with John Oliver episode titled Televangelists (Language warning, and no offence to anyone intended….there are times when I find John Oliver’s sense of humour and cynicism so very apt):

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7y1xJAVZxXg

    (I watched this episode long before I encountered church-related watch blogs….I remembered the episode while reading through comments like those I have excerpted.)

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  56. Friend: Even sneakier.

    I love how the word SUBMIT is printed at the bottom of the last page.

    When I read through the Doxa “church” membership application, there were a number of things from it that I thought of quoting and / or commenting on.

    From my perspective, the Doxa “church” membership application is not only sneaky, but I would question which God they (the Doxa “church”) are worshipping.

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  57. What can a church do as discipline that could actually matter? Excommunication? Denunciation? Shunning? A church (or a secular organization for that matter) could do all those things, regardless of whether a person has signed a church covenant/contract/agreement. If you want to leave, you can leave. If they refuse to take you off their books, who cares at the end of the day.

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  58. linda: Our county is now one of those you will see on the nightly news, with a very low (under 20%) fully vaccinated rate, a very high covid case count and a full and starting to run out of beds hospital.

    A friend of mine has a son who is a medical professional in a local hospital. He told his father “Tell all your friends to take the COVID vaccine. If they won’t, I’d be glad to them a tour of the COVID unit at the hospital. I guarantee you, they will get the shot before they leave.”

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  59. Paul K: Here’s a big question I have: in elder-rule churches, who owns the property? In my previous church, the elders are also the officers of the 501c3 entity. I think the 501c3 owns the property, but the elders control the 501c3 and it’s asserts unless I’m mistaken. I’ve always wondered if it would be possible for the elders to sell the assess and pocket the money.

    I don’t think it’s the same for every church with this setup, but I think you may be on to something. If I’m not mistaken, I think HBC/James Macdonald are fighting over this very issue, with Macdonald claiming sole ownership of all/most entities.

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  60. Wes: Excommunication? Denunciation? Shunning? … If you want to leave, you can leave. If they refuse to take you off their books, who cares at the end of the day.

    Wartburgers who have experienced these things can tell you that it mattered to them; it was a heartbreaking and unsettling thing to go through. Folks should not be treated that way in the Body of Christ nor the Kingdom of God … of course, churches which exercise such practices don’t know anything about either.

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  61. Wes: What can a church do as discipline that could actually matter? Excommunication? Denunciation? Shunning? A church (or a secular organization for that matter) could do all those things, regardless of whether a person has signed a church covenant/contract/agreement. If you want to leave, you can leave. If they refuse to take you off their books, who cares at the end of the day.

    In the case of a few churches dee has written about, there were lawsuits and harassment. The Village Church comes to mind. I don’t think a church covenant is as legally binding as a church might want it to be, but it might be pretty effective in threats of lawsuits if the church has a lot of money and lawyers behind them against an average Joe.

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  62. Paul K: I think the 501c3 owns the property, but the elders control the 501c3 and it’s assets unless I’m mistaken. I’ve always wondered if it would be possible for the elders to sell the assets and pocket the money.

    In most cases, I think the congregation “owns” the church. I don’t believe the elders could dissolve the church, sell the property and walk away with the cash without the congregation getting involved. Of course, in elder-rule churches, the congregation has little say. This has been the sad thing about the takeover frenzy of traditional (non-Calvinist) churches by New Calvinists in the SBC. After congregational governance is booted out in favor of elder-rule polity, many end up in a split with longtime members walking away from the property they financed over many years … while the new boys (the new congregation) inherit stuff they didn’t pay for … it’s called plundering and looting.

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  63. Paul K: Here’s a big question I have: in elder-rule churches, who owns the property?

    That is an excellent question, and I have no idea of the answer.

    When we first started attending Doxa, there were five elders (plus senior pastor) on the elder board. When we left two years later, there were three (with zero public announcements when elders stepped down / were forced out). Now, two more years later, there are only two elders (including the one who asked if I could submit to leadership and training).

    Power is certainly getting concentrated.

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  64. researcher: I would question which God they (the Doxa “church”) are worshipping.

    The god of numbers (not to be confused with the God of the Book of Numbers).

    But the tiny, insecure, whiny, guilt-trip inducing, lower-case god of attendance metrics, tithe dollars, volunteer hours, membership applications, buildings owned, online sermon views, cars carrying Doxa bumper stickers, Doxa t-shirts sold, etc.

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  65. Wild Honey,

    This happened in my church, too. When I joined, there were 5 or 6 elders. When I left, only two. I think that unless the elders are really committed and skilled at developing leaders within the church and appointing them to be elders, I fear this probably happens often. Also, the whole idea of the elders developing leaders means the elders will become an inner ring of people who generally are lock-step with each other.

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  66. Max,

    The bylaws stated that the elders have all “decision-making authority”. There simply isn’t a mechanism by which members could exert authority over decisions – members don’t really “exist” in the 501c3.

    To be clear, I’d be SHOCKED If the elders pocketed the assets, but if it could happen, I’m sure in some situations it would.

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  67. Paul K: The bylaws stated that the elders have all “decision-making authority”. There simply isn’t a mechanism by which members could exert authority over decisions – members don’t really “exist” in the 501c3.

    IMO, power and control are driving the New Calvinist elder-rule model, rather than being “Biblical.” There’s just something about the spirit of this bunch that requires them to be authoritarian … rulers rather than servants.

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  68. Wild Honey: When we first started attending Doxa, there were five elders (plus senior pastor) on the elder board. When we left two years later, there were three (with zero public announcements when elders stepped down / were forced out). Now, two more years later, there are only two elders … Power is certainly getting concentrated.

    I’m a retired biologist. We called that “survival of the fittest” where there is a continued existence of organisms best adapted to their environment, with the extinction of others. In the case of New Calvinists, it’s more aptly “survival of the meanest” … these are some of most mean-spirited church folks I have ever encountered. They take over churches by stealth and deception, push out older members, subordinate female believers, and assorted other sins. Their behavior would not convict them of being Christian … and they do it all claiming to be the sole keepers of the one true gospel.

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  69. Paul K: the whole idea of the elders developing leaders means the elders will become an inner ring of people who generally are lock-step with each other.

    No system guarantees sincere belief coupled with skilled leadership. However, church bylaws can be written to encourage fresh thinking. Make the group of elders large. Have them serve two- or three-year terms, and take at least one term off before running again. Require an open process, so that any man or woman who belongs to the church can step forward and run. Have all candidates write a paragraph about themselves for the church website or bulletin. Maybe let them stand up and introduce themselves during the service or at coffee hour. Give every member over 18 a secret ballot.

    Annual meetings are a good idea too. Here, the congregation can give an up-or-down vote on the whole slate of newly elected elders. This will usually be pro forma, but it gives the congregation a voice. (Likewise the congregation should discuss and vote on a itemized budget they have already reviewed, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

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  70. Paul K,

    Disposal of church land might be governed by forces much older than 501(c)(3). I have heard of US courts honoring colonial land agreements written in the 1600s. A couple of miles from here is a collection of five churches, three of which are different flavors of Baptist. In a bygone century, one congregation owned all that land, and the deed stated that it could only be subdivided if it were used by another church.

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  71. Paul K: I think that unless the elders are really committed and skilled at developing leaders within the church and appointing them to be elders, I fear this probably happens often. Also, the whole idea of the elders developing leaders means the elders will become an inner ring of people who generally are lock-step with each other

    Yup. Personally seen this happen in TWO previous churches, now, the ones prior to and after Doxa.

    Both really emphasized training up leaders from within the congregation. And in both, an inner circle of yes-men resulted.

    The first had an interesting side effect in that the pastor’s weaknesses (overworked himself and had unrealistic/perfectionist standards) also manifested in 3 out of 4 of the elders. One ended up leaving the church and was refreshingly forthright in stating publicly that it was because of the pressure on his family (wife and seven kids still at home). And two of the others ended up separated from their wives for a time (one couple reconciled, I’m not up-to-date on the other), with pressure from church commitments being cited as the source of the problem.

    The other church hasn’t failed quite so spectacularly (yet), but both before and after I left, a number of people from the congregation over a number of random conversations complained, “They just don’t listen” about various leaders and staff.

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  72. Friend,

    This process happened almost exactly as described at the second of the two churches I mentioned in the comment above. Didn’t help.

    We spent two tenures at this church. During the first, my husband and I joked that it was a benevolent dictatorship, because little got done unless the senior pastor explicitly wanted it to happen, but he was a man of good character, so this didn’t produce any super visible problems.

    Unfortunately, his successor (whom he personally trained up as youth then associate pastor and recommended the congregation hire upon his retirement) turned out to be immature and not have quite the same character.

    The new senior pastor held an annual budget meeting like usual last summer, and the congregation approved the new budget and elders. The VERY NEXT SUNDAY, the senior pastor announced they were (a) restructuring pastoral staff, (b) firing the worship pastor, aka the only external hire in almost 20 years, and (c) taking the church in a new direction. Which turned out to focus on the “true” gospel and “this thing not a lot of you have probably heard of, covenant membership.”

    The dictatorship wasn’t so benevolent anymore.

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  73. Regarding a few comments about leaving a church and feeling shunned or ignored afterwards by former friends… I’m sorry. That hurts, and I’m sorry.

    Put me in mind of a book* I recently read, but don’t have handy to cite exactly, so pardon the butchering that follows. It made a distinction between a “bond” and a “relationship,” and cautioned against confusing the two. A “bond” is something we feel based on belonging to the same family, the same civic organization, the same neighborhood, the same school, etc. But a “relationship” is deeper, involves a mutual openness and vulnerability and honesty even about disagreements.

    When reading this, I immediately thought of church community, and how it often strives for the “relationship” but only succeeds at the “bond.” And how it’s hard to tell which you’ve achieved until you either leave or have serious disagreement.

    *”Recovering from Emotionally Immature Parents” by Lindsay Gibson

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  74. Godith: We should stop evil wherever it appears as much as one is able, but also believe that tarring all churches with the Driscoll brush will accomplish little good. It will make people who do it look like extremists. Or to change the metaphor, crying wolf is counterproductive. Save our criticism where it is warranted.

    Maybe it’s just my cynicism speaking, but so many churches have so little oversight. Coverups of sexual abuse are rampant. Oh, and money shenanigans, in the name of being a church with a 501(c)3 tax exemption. You’ll pardon je if I say that churches in general don’t police themselves and they have to show me they’re worthy of trust.

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  75. Muslin, fka Dee Holmes: Maybe it’s just my cynicism speaking, but so many churches have so little oversight. Coverups of sexual abuse are rampant. Oh, and money shenanigans, in the name of being a church with a 501(c)3 tax exemption. You’ll pardon me if I say that churches in general don’t police themselves and they have to show me they’re worthy of trust.

    Maybe it’s just reality showing: “many churches have so little oversight” and what do they care about? They may watch the $$$ if anything.

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  76. It was a 9 marks article that brought me here. The article basically said that pastors should not let people quit church. Unless they went to another approved church.
    How this was to be done was vague.

    However, the covenant fad is a natural reaction to an institution that feels under siege.

    I’ve only ever heard of these covenants in evangelical churches and this may be due to an inherent competitiveness with each other. This is about keeping people under control and from what I’ve seen there is more church hopping in the evangelical streams.

    The evangelicals in particular are not coming off well. There have been so many failures whenever they seem to enter the political realm. Not so much with politicians as with the fact that most people living in constitutional democracy actually uphold constitutional democracy – including the military and law enforcement arms.

    As many events in the past have made clear, the constitution has not always been applied equally, but the majority (including the religious majority) have little desire for theocracy.

    So with such failures as “the moral majority” and “the Christian coalition” and their agendas mostly going nowhere combined with general secularism in North America/Europe then the focus naturally becomes stemming the outward flow.

    Hence the focus on legal contracts to control congregations. Too bad that constitution keeps getting in the way.

    My wife was raised in the Pentecostal Church and never heard of contracts.

    In fact her church only started it after they went through the purpose driven Life program in 2004.

    The whole purpose driven thing was a blatant manipulation so no surprises there. It was the nail in the coffin for my church going days.

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  77. However without a robust church, how do Christians intend to engage society to fulfill the great commission?

    Love for Jesus is not enough. He doesn’t talk to many of us.

    People decry theology but that’s the key to understanding a strain of Christianity and whether it aligns with your values.

    So it seems that Jesus reaches people through the actions of his followers.

    Unfortunately those actions don’t seem to entice enough people to get on board.

    Are the Calvinists right? Maybe Jesus isn’t talking to us because we aren’t chosen?

    I was a Christian for many years, my attempt to re-engage this year lasted two months.

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  78. Jack: So with such failures as “the moral majority” and “the Christian coalition” and their agendas mostly going nowhere combined with general secularism in North America/Europe then the focus naturally becomes stemming the outward flow.

    So Dever and his merry embrace Calvinism because they see the wider society as rejecting their vision. They believe that their followers must be irresistibly drawn to their true faith. Since they are chosen then they can’t leave (otherwise the whole chosen thing is exposed as the blarney that it is). They are chosen even if they have to forced into it.

    The great irony of their perceived Christian failure is the constitution was built on the ideal of “love thy neighbor”, Christianity’s greatest commandment. Even if we’ve consistently fallen short of that ideal, it is still the foundation that all citizens appeal to.

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  79. Jack: engage society to fulfill the great commission?

    Love for Jesus is not enough. He doesn’t talk to many of us.

    People decry theology but that’s the key to understanding a strain of Christianity and whether it aligns with your values.

    So it seems that Jesus reaches people through the actions of his followers.

    Unfortunately those actions don’t seem to entice enough people to get on board

    The Great Commission isn’t engaging society per se. It’s teaching those “on board” – you and me – everything Jesus instructed the 12. Billy Graham lookalikes, who don’t believe in Christian life, haven’t got enough to say to us about these essentials.

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  80. Wild Honey: It made a distinction between a “bond” and a “relationship,” and cautioned against confusing the two. A “bond” is something we feel based on belonging to the same family, the same civic organization, the same neighborhood, the same school, etc. But a “relationship” is deeper, involves a mutual openness and vulnerability and honesty even about disagreements.

    I like the differentiation between the terms bond and relationship….it adds nuance.

    (Kinda like years ago, differentiating between the terms friend and acquaintance added nuance.)

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  81. one of the dones: Our former pastor would practically run and hide if he saw us in a store, which became extremely entertaining

    While we were being shunned by the New Calvinist church we left, I bumped into our former pastor in a grocery aisle. He was startled to see me when he turned around from getting an item off the shelf. Rather than running away to hide, he nervously tried to start a conversation “Uhhh, do you know where they put the Christmas pretzels?” Taking advantage of this great opportunity, I responded “Do you mean the ones that look like Mark Driscoll?” He looked shocked and walked away. It was great!

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  82. one of the dones: I’m so sorry this happened to you The exact same thing happened to us years ago. We gave our lives to that church. My husband kept it running when they didn’t have a pastor. We sacrificed our time, our money, and often our mental and emotional health. And when we resigned our membership only ONE person phoned to make sure we were okay and ask why we had left. We were absolutely, completely gutted that nobody cared. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much in my life.

    This brings back extremely sad memories for me. I’m so sorry you went through this too. You’re not alone…”completely gutted” pretty much covers it.

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  83. one of the dones: And when we resigned our membership only ONE person phoned to make sure we were okay and ask why we had left. We were absolutely, completely gutted that nobody cared. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much in my life.

    I am so sorry. This is a theme I hear over and over again. I believe that it is weak individuals who act this way. When someone leaves, some weak individuals who remain feel threatened. They base their identity on the fact that everyone feels the same way they do. When someone leaves, it causes weak people to experience cognitive dissonance.

    “I know I am in a good church. I am too smart to have made a mistake. When my friend Sally chose to leave, I must believe that she is in the worng. I must avoid her at all costs in order to keep my belief that I made a good choice.”

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  84. dee: “I know I am in a good church. I am too smart to have made a mistake. When my friend Sally chose to leave, I must believe that she is in the wrong. I must avoid her at all costs in order to keep my belief that I made a good choice.”

    The problem with deception is that you don’t know you are deceived because you are deceived.

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  85. Max: Too many church folks identify with “the church” rather than “in Christ.” When you have misplaced your identity, you don’t know who you are, what to say, or how to act.

    This is so intriguing. Christians and non-Christians are capable of maintaining an identity, of course. You’re suggesting that bad churches take that away from people, or distort it beyond recognition… or that people give it up at the church door. Am I getting the gist, or misunderstanding you?

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  86. Friend: Christians and non-Christians are capable of maintaining an identity, of course. You’re suggesting that bad churches take that away from people

    Not even “bad” churches, but churches in general. Let me use this example. My neighbor, a lifelong member of “First” Church, talks more about the church than Jesus. She talks extensively about her religion, rather than her relationship with Christ. Her faith is built on religious beliefs and practices of the institution, while Jesus gets lost in any dialogue with her. If you ask her what it means to be a Christian, she would answer in the programmed Christianese from her religion without necessarily touching on the essentials of faith in Christ. The Main Thing is not the main thing in her life, and she typifies so many good church folks that I have known in my 70+ years of doing church in America.

    Paul talks about his identity in Christ in this way:

    “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body I live by faith by adhering to, relying on, and completely trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

    I’ve known only a handful of believers in my Christian journey who could truly say that. Most I have known put their trust in religious systems … there’s a world of difference. I don’t doubt their salvation and genuine belief in Christ, but their spiritual understanding of what salvation entails. Somewhere along the line they were either not discipled properly “in Christ” or willingly chose to identify with “the church” and not in the fullness of the knowledge of the Son of God.

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  87. dee: “I know I am in a good church. I am too smart to have made a mistake. When my friend Sally chose to leave, I must believe that she is in the worng. I must avoid her at all costs in order to keep my belief that I made a good choice.”

    i.e. Sally Has Apostasy Cooties.

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  88. Max: Too many church folks identify with “the church” rather than “in Christ.”When you have misplaced your identity, you don’t know who you are, what to say, or how to act.

    Being “in Christ” instead of “in the church” is no guarantee against CULT behavior.
    (Including a LOT of One-True-Way-ism.)

    In my past I encountered those who “misplaced their identity” by outsourcing it TO Christ. Leaving nothing left except a “Worship Bot”. My experience was in these independent “Just Me and JESUS! JESUS! JESUS!” splinter “Fellowships”. It ABSORBED their identity like an insect-hive massmind until they had none left.

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  89. Max,

    In my real life, I’ve concluded that it’s more Christian for me to do what’s right than to tell people about Jesus, or that I’m doing right in the name of Jesus. They have heard it all, complete with threats and brainwashing.

    At church, at home, and with selected other people, I do divulge my faith. Sometimes people ask how I find strength; I mention prayer and watch their faces. If they are unreceptive, I assume they have been proselytized to a point of glazing over. That is the fault of obtuse, bullying Christians. I’m not going to add another layer of glaze.

    Jesus himself asked several people not to divulge that he had healed them. I’ll take my Great Commission with a vow of silence, thanks.

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  90. Friend: Jesus himself asked several people not to divulge that he had healed them. I’ll take my Great Commission with a vow of silence

    And to others, He said “Go home and tell them how much the Lord has done for you.” We are all geared differently in our witness for Christ, but I’m the only one who can tell my story.

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  91. Jack:
    It was a 9 marks article that brought me here.The article basically said that pastors should not let people quit church. Unless they went to another approved church.
    How this was to be done was vague.

    9Marks has a list of member churches which it publishes on its website. I pass by two of them on the way to my church (which is not on the list). So if you didn’t join one on the list, you would be “disciplined”.

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  92. Michael in UK: The Great Commission isn’t engaging society per se. It’s teaching those “on board” – you and me – everything Jesus instructed the 12. Billy Graham lookalikes, who don’t believe in Christian life, haven’t got enough to say to us about these essentials.

    I don’t know about not engaging society. If the apostle Paul hadn’t travelled throughout the Roman Empire, would Christianity ever have taken root? Ultimately it was the adoption by the Roman Empire of Christianity which put it in the dominant position for Western Society. Jesus wandered throughout Galilee. If the gospels are taken as true, there was more engagement in the communities than in specific buildings or houses of worship.

    The fact is if Christianity doesn’t bring more people “on board” then those already “on board” will eventually pass on. A closed clique will not grow.

    And those who look to the Mega church model would be reminded that most mega church attendees came from other Christian backgrounds. Growth comes at the expense of loss to another christian sect.

    The evidence shows that overall, more people are leaving religion than joining it.

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  93. The Great Commission is about announcing a new King. Simply put. First the King of the Jews, but the word itself. Of course the world needs to know this. And the main reason why the Apostles had such a hard time with this is because it was a direct threat to worldly powers. It was pitted right against Caesar – but that could be anyone today too. If it was merely a religious movement, with a message to religious people, it wouldn’t have been much of a threat.

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  94. Paul D.:
    Real contracts outline the rights and obligations of each party. What obligations do these covenants impose on the church and its leaders?

    It’s been a while, but I remember the contract I did NOT sign said something about supporting the church. It always seemed to me from the way it was worded (though I may be paranoid) that the church could come after any non-tithing member legally for nonpayment, if the powers that be wanted to get tough.

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  95. Jack:
    The fact is if Christianity doesn’t bring more people “on board” then those already “on board” will eventually pass on.A closed clique will not grow.

    And those who look to the Mega church model would be reminded that most mega church attendees came from other Christian backgrounds.Growth comes at the expense of loss to another christian sect.

    The evidence shows that overall, more people are leaving religion than joining it.

    Thus, the emphasis by the neo-Calvinists and hyper-Calvinists on outbreeding the heathen. I heard Tim Bayly as a visiting teacher at our former hyper-Calvinist, hyper-controlling, hyper-authoritarian, toxic PCA-affiliated cult say that more church members result from faithful families raising children (in a “be fruitful and multiply” sense) than from evangelism. I was so stunned, I wrote it down word for word.

    When I asked the “pastor” about it, he insisted I heard wrong. I didn’t.

    I guess, in their view, children never grow up and leave the church or get thrown out for daring to have their own thoughts and opinions or desire to live an authentic life and not a hypocritical lie.

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  96. Max: While we were being shunned by the New Calvinist church we left, I bumped into our former pastor in a grocery aisle.He was startled to see me when he turned around from getting an item off the shelf.Rather than running away to hide, he nervously tried to start a conversation “Uhhh, do you know where they put the Christmas pretzels?”Taking advantage of this great opportunity, I responded “Do you mean the ones that look like Mark Driscoll?”He looked shocked and walked away.It was great!

    My teens would have preferred shunning, actually; they were so wounded by their treatment from the elders’ kids (vicious bullying and horrible lying gossip). They were so traumatized when we left, they would look for a way to hide whenever they saw someone from the church in a public place.

    But then, they were doubly traumatized because the “pastor” sought them out (stalked them—so menacing in his manner that older teen felt the need to stand between him and younger teen) at the county fair after we told him we were going to take a year off from that church. He threatened them with removing our membership if the teens didn’t repent and obey the elders and start coming to church again. When we told my spouse about it, he called the pastor and told him to remove our family from the rolls—we wouldn’t be back. Not in a year. Not ever.

    For years, I kept these details private and hid my identity behind this pseudonym to protect them from someone guessing who I was and coming after them to inflict more trauma.

    They are confident adults now, and I am so proud of them.

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  97. refugee: Thus, the emphasis by the neo-Calvinists and hyper-Calvinists on outbreeding the heathen. I heard Tim Bayly as a visiting teacher at our former hyper-Calvinist, hyper-controlling, hyper-authoritarian, toxic PCA-affiliated cult say that more church members result from faithful families raising children (in a “be fruitful and multiply” sense) than from evangelism. I was so stunned, I wrote it down word for word.

    When I asked the “pastor” about it, he insisted I heard wrong. I didn’t.

    I guess, in their view, children never grow up and leave the church or get thrown out for daring to have their own thoughts and opinions or desire to live an authentic life and not a hypocritical lie.

    I misspoke. He said “more church growth”, not “more church members”.

    BTW, that church had a verbal covenant. Thanks, Dee, for confirming my suspicions that a verbal covenant is considered just as binding as a written, signed one.

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