The problem of excommunication – a response to Desiring God

A couple of weeks ago someone forwarded to me a post from Desiring God that hit me like a punch in the stomach.

In an article called “Kicked Out of Church: How God Brought Me Home” (link), author Scarlett Clay begins her story right after her church had excommunicated her, showing the indignation of her friends at such an injustice, and her own appreciation of their indignation.

But that’s only the first paragraph, and the reason for the excommunication hasn’t yet been divulged. (It’s clear, though, that she expresses contempt for herself about it, so that attitude, along with the title of the post, gives us a hint as to where this is going.)

Though her story unfolds in a somewhat non-chronological order, ultimately we see that

  • Her child was diagnosed with a rare and deadly disease through which, over the course of several years, he suffered and died.
  • During this time she stopped praying, for five years. She referred to this time as her rebellion.
  • While her son was in hospice and dying, “not one single person from our church came to see our son . . . . Not even the pastor.” (Even as I type those words I feel my heart beating faster, and I feel sick to my stomach.)
  • She separated from her husband and stopped going to church for a year and a half.
  • She was excommunicated by her Reformed Baptist Church (for quitting church? for separating from her husband?). It’s important to note that in Reformed Baptist circles, excommunication is not simply a dropping of a name from the church roll, as it is in many churches. It’s a formal process by which a church member is publicly declared to be apart from God and no longer a part of that body. Church members may variously be told to confront them with their sin or to shun them. (The 9marks.org website is a go-to place for many in conservative Reformed evangelicalism on how church discipline is to proceed.)
  • She told her friends she had been excommunicated, they responded with indignation, and she felt justified in her self-pity.
  • Over the course of time she saw the hollowness of a culture that looked to itself for answers rather than to God and His Word.
  • She began to admire and respect how the church that had excommunicated her had acted consistently with their convictions, remaining “steadfast to the biblical standard” (of what, she does not say), staying “faithful to God” by excommunicating her.
  • She prayed her first prayer in five years, asking God to forgive her and receiving His forgiveness. She began to participate in a new church, was reconciled with her husband, and began to study apologetics.

As I read the article and approached the end, I began to fear that the author was going to return to the church that had excommunicated her (the lack of care of which the Desiring God representative I spoke with called “deplorable”), so it was a big relief to me when she didn’t.

But she did have more to say about them.

In excommunicating a grieving member who had quit attending regular meetings, the pastor and elders, she said, were “holy” and “did the right thing.” She called it “loving,” “faithful,” and a reflection of God’s holiness.

But as I read, I had a very different view of it. With only the information in the blog post available to me, I saw this harsh treatment as if someone who hung at the fringes of the body of Christ had been forcibly shoved into cold and darkness.Photo by Mitchell Hollander on Unsplash

Then I thought about it in contrast to what could have been.

I don’t experientially know the grief of losing a child, but I’ve been told it’s some of the deepest, darkest grief there is. In my mind’s eye, what could have been in a case of a church member losing a child—even if that church member has dropped out of church, and especially if she has dropped out of church—would be for church members to take turns coming simply to sit with the grieving member in her grief, even if they don’t know what to say (sometimes words aren’t even wanted anyway).

Allowing her to express her anger at God without telling her she’s in rebellion against Him, but understanding that anger is a natural part of grief.

Being there for her when she wants to weep and when she wants to stay silent, when she wants to yell and when she ends up just ugly crying that gives her a splitting headache.

Being there for her when she says she doesn’t even want to darken the door of their church. Loving her through that, because she is still a child of God. She’s just in the black hole of grief.

How much more a representation of Jesus Christ, the God of the Universe, would that have been. . . .

So now I look at the final paragraph of her article. And in place of “church discipline” I substitute “care and compassion.” This is what could have been.

Looking back, [my church’s care and compassion] had reflected God’s holiness, and it was the beauty of his holiness [reflected in their care and compassion] that drew me back. True love, shown through unwavering faithfulness to his word, proved irresistible, gleaming like a bright jewel in the fog. I encourage church leaders to practice [care and compassion] in love. There will always be people like me who desperately need it.  

Is God’s holiness really reflected in the excommunication of a grieving member who has not been visited? No, God’s holiness is reflected far more in His holy love, His holy compassion, and His holy mercy.

Why is this so important? Because in certain segments of conservative evangelicalism, church discipline seems to have gone berserk. Instead of being reserved for the serious and public sins such as that described in First Corinthians 5, it’s no longer uncommon for Christians to be excommunicated for failing to keep their “vow of attendance,” or even for “rebellion” against whatever the elders decide they ought to do (even turning a blind eye to the sins of those elders, or living with abuse).

This kind of high-handed demand of slavish obedience is never what God intended toward those whom He told to “shepherd the flock . . . not domineering . . . but being examples.”

I know of many accounts of wrongful church excommunications, some of them personally from people with whom I’ve spent hundreds of hours. But there are also scores of credible accounts available at various websites. The people I know will someday be ready to tell their stories, but until then, you can read about horrendous mishandlings of church discipline and excommunication in many places. For example, here and here and here and here and here and here and here. Or you could view a whole slew of examples here

The stories bear an air of eerie similarity. The people without influence, often abuse victims, are excommunicated, while people with influence—even if they are abusers or abuse enablers—remain ensconced in the church or in a new church because they are friends with the pastor or they are wealthy donors or they did something else to ingratiate themselves with church leaders. The abused, on the other hand, or the people without influence, were punished, often for simply trying to get the elders to listen to truth and refusing to live any longer with lies.

This is what I was thinking about when I read this Desiring God article: church discipline gone haywire. Church discipline that punishes the very ones who need help and protects the very ones who should be disciplined.

I felt heartsick when I read that Desiring God article to see that a church responded to a grieving member who had quit attending their formal meetings by excommunicating her.

I felt heartsick that someone at Desiring God thought this message about the “holiness” of what appears to be heartless excommunication was an appropriate message to deliver to Christians.

I felt heartsick to see Christians sharing it on social media with other Christians, affirming that this was an example of church discipline well done.

What has happened to the conservative evangelical church?

When Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about his longing for change in America, he spoke not only to the people who were being oppressed. He spoke to all Americans. The entire society needed to change.

In like manner, many voices have been speaking within the conservative evangelical church realm, some for many years, not only to those who have been abused and treated harshly and unjustly by the church, but to the church at large.

When I say “our church culture must change,” I say it not only for the spiritual health of those who are oppressed, of whom there are many. But I say it for the spiritual health of those who have come to believe that what appears to be callous disregard and lack of care is a fitting substitute for compassion.

The conservative evangelical church of Jesus Christ is in desperate need of true compassion. Stand in the shoes of the one who has lost a child, the one who has been treated cruelly, to seek to understand what it’s like. Then run to help them, as our Lord has admonished us so many times.

Let us love one another, brothers, for love is of God, and whoever loves is born of God and knows God.

Almost 30 years ago John Piper wrote an article in which he quoted Romans 13:10, I Corinthians 13:13, Galatians 5:6, John 13:35, and I Corinthians 13:1-2 and said, Love and compassion are the summation of all practical Christian living.” He was admonishing Christians to apply this truth in their interaction with those who don’t know Christ, but how much more important is it within the body! After all, in the book of Acts, people were drawn into the Kingdom of God when they observed the care and compassion Christians showed for each other.

“Behold, how they love one another.”

Is this how outsiders who learned of Scarlett Clay’s excommunication would see it? Clearly not, since she described their reaction at the beginning of her article. How many of them turned away from church more than ever because of what was done to her?

Desiring God, it is vital that you stand firmly for compassion, not only for people on the outside of the church, but for the desperate and needy within the very walls of the church. It is crucial to the life and health of the church that you decry a lack of care in the body of Christ that your representative called “deplorable.”

It is essential that you call out to churches to distinguish Biblical church discipline—such as in the case of egregious First Corinthians 5 type sins—from  situations in which someone is grieving, desperate, and broken, the cases that call for practical help, for love and compassion, “the summation of all practical Christian living.”

Many of the most well-respected leaders of conservative evangelicalism have been turning their backs on the cries of the needy for years, and even exacerbating their pain. Will they continue in this?

And what will the rest of us do?

***

Note: In preparing this post I corresponded with the author of the Desiring God article, who told me that the pastor and associate pastor of the excommunicating church had both apologized for failing in ministry to her family. I also corresponded with a representative of Desiring God who told me the lack of care shown by this church was “deplorable.” I’m trying to find and correspond with the church that excommunicated Scarlett Clay, and if I’m able to learn pertinent information from that correspondence, I’ll update this article accordingly.

The rampant religious abuses in conservative evangelical churches, which are increased and exacerbated by threat and action of church discipline and excommunication, are addressed more fully on many websites. The double standard they invariably display is described in more detail here: “Four ways teaching Christians to embrace ‘I’m the worst sinner I know’ is harming the church.” Another pertinent article is “When Church Discipline is Sin” by Jason Harris, son of Joy Harris, a domestic abuse survivor, the first part of whose story is told here.

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55 Comments on "The problem of excommunication – a response to Desiring God"

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momzilla76
Guest
momzilla76

Excellent article. God’s holiness is not served by telling hurting people they are no longer saved, in rebellion and then kicking them out for hurting.

raswhiting
Guest

People in churches that abuse “discipline” may well be guilty themselves of the grievous sins worthy of discipline, especially the sins of idolatry and slander. They make an idol of their church and its rules, and they slander those who have been abused or deeply hurt. See 1 Corinthians 5:11, “But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister[c] but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.”

cindy burrell
Guest

Thank you for taking the time to so painstakingly outline the truth with regard to Desiring God’s experience. It is a painful but insightful exposé.

The church’s failure to emotionally and spiritually support Desiring God is a appalling – spiritual malpractice. (But God bless the woman’s friends who stood by her! People like them seem to be a rarity these days.)

What is even more disturbing is how common these and similar excommunication practices are within contemporary churches, whereby they shame and shun the hurting. I am surprised that the woman who was so grievously rejected ever found her way back to church.

There are other church victims – often abuse victims, as you noted – who want to go to church but are given the cold shoulder because they separated from or divorced their abusers. In many Christian circles, even if we are not excommunicated, we are treated like third-class Christians.

It is sad – but not altogether surprising – to discover that the Pharisees are alive and well, and they hold incredible sway in our local churches.

Louis Bacio
Guest
Louis Bacio

I can be like that sometimes. Self-righteous and insensitive to people that need compassion and consideration. I know what I’m doing wrong. I don’t understand the gospel as I well I should. When someone reminds me that I don’t understand the gospel then I begin to see how I cruel I can be sometimes. Meditation on the gospel convicts me of sin and then my heart begins to soften again. I barely understand the gospel and the more I meditate on it the more I change for the better. From what I can see both Scarlett and the people at her church needed someone to tell them about the gospel. Scarlett’s story reminds a lot of the book of Job. Scarlett is Job and the people at church were Job’s friends. My prayers are with all of them. I pray that the wisdom, comfort, strength and joy of the gospel of the Lord be given to all of us. Always keep the gospel front and center. It is God’s power.

Louis

Ken Garrett
Guest
Ken Garrett

Great article, and disturbing. I was at a church service once where an unwed, pregnant teen-age girl confessed her “sin” before the church–the father was not there. She was embraced, loved, treated with kindness, etc., but it left a particularly sick feeling in my gut to this day. Also, even though I wasn’t involved with it, I felt ashamed that day, just for being there, hearing that, and seeing a young, pregnant, alone girl endure such a public revealing of something that should have been handled in private, and with kindness and tenderhearted care. She felt she was doing the “right thing” in confessing pre-marital sex–but the church was doing the wrong thing in making her do it before a room full of adults, friends, fellow teens, etc., many of whom doubtlessly were familiar themselves with the very same sin!

cindy burrell
Guest

That poor girl. Some of us confess and are forgiven in secret; she just got caught and was publicly humiliated for it. Jesus reminds all of us of this truth, having said, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”

Velour
Guest

Thank you Rebecca for covering such a painful subject: excommunications and shunnings. This abusive practice is spreading across our churches with lightening speed, and much destruction.

I knew something was “off the rails” about my ex-church (located in Silicon Valley, California) when the senior pastor told hundreds of church members to stay after the Sunday church service for a closed door meeting. This godly, middle-aged woman who worked in finance, who volunteered with the mentally ill in group homes and the elderly in convalescent homes, was maligned before all of us because she dared to leave for another church. The senior pastor said she wasn’t “submissive” to her husband and “obeying” him. A woman I considered a friend and a dear sister in Christ we were suddenly supposed to treat terribly.

It was so confusing.

Then it was done to a doctor who is a senior citizen, married for about 50 years. He gave of his time and money to the church. He was accused of “false teaching” despite the fact he never taught at the church or even hosted a Bible study.

And finally it was my turn to be excommunicated and shunned, on some trumped up charge.

I saw, during these years, scores of people leave. When I interviewed them later, they said that they were concerned by how unhealthy the church was and how authoritarian it was. They had no outside accountability.

Velour
Guest

I am troubled that Scarlett, the author of the article linked above, thought it was ok for her church to discipline and excommunicate her at dark time in her life: her child was dying from a rare illness and she was bereft.

Maybe people used to being in authoritarian environments don’t see other solutions.

I think one of the other solutions would have been for a small group of people to gather and pray for Scarlett, her husband, and child…and whatever was going on in their lives. To expect nothing of them. Not even church attendance. Maybe have a few people show up to comfort them, like the Jewish practice of “sitting Shiva” and meeting with the grieving without saying a word.

To call her loss, and anger with God, “rebellion” as she calls herself (because her church did) seems a bit strong. Doesn’t God who made us understand us? That when we’re lost, confused, hurt, and inconsolable and we don’t know how to pray…that He will intercede for us?

I think God showed up in those 5-years and He understood that she wasn’t capable of showing up. It would take time for her to heal. God understood that. If her church hadn’t excommunicated, she would have healed and come around.

And what does being heavy-handed and excommunicating people teach others who witness it? In my view, it teaches people to lie. That it’s not safe to be real in a church community. You have to pretend. You can’t ask for help. You have to instantly get better from [name your problem]. This isn’t how life works. We’re supposed to love one another.

I will not go to a church that practices excommunications for these kinds of things. I remember one man that I hadn’t seen at a church in years. I prayed for him every day. Years later, he showed up at a church we both attended. I smiled, hugged him and said, “I’ve prayed every day for you for years since you left. I am glad to see you and I hope you’re ok.” He was shocked anyone had prayed for him. And for years.

Bunkababy
Guest
Bunkababy

Well. I have been sexually abused by a pastor and deacons as a child. At 19 I went to ywam and on our outreach, was accused of absurd charges. Myself and an 18 yr old new Christian a man of about 26 yes old who had been suffering greatly with mental illness were all charged with being rebellious.

Our sin? Praying. Praying for people for their wellbeing. The 26 yr old would raise his hand to God when he prayed.
They took all three of us in a room put us individually in the middle of the room and we were told we had demons. They prayed for hours to get rid of them.

They told us to renounce the spirit .
When the young man prayed for forgiveness they slapped his arms down.
They traumatized all of us for hours. I wasn’t falling into their weirdness and confessing for praying for people. This made them so angry.

I got kicked out of ywam.
The 26 year old left bruised, beaten mentally to an already fragile mind.
The 18 yr old was allowed to stay but was crushed.
When I got back to the ywam base I went to leadership.Told them everything and was still sent home.

Two years later, I confronted the group leader in charge of our dts. He was shocked I was still in a very confused, damaged state, and admitted he should not have sent the leadership in charge of our group. But he didn’t want to go.

He knew our leadership was ill prepared, and not equipped to lead.
He had me sent home to save YWAMS face. He had me sent home to save his reputation. He lied to the other groups who went elsewhere, and told them I was rebellious.
He asked me what I need him to do. I said write an apology letter to each ywam member telling the truth. He did. But I never sent it out. I felt God would deal with them later, and I didn’t need vindication.
A few years later we moved and I ended up going to church with members of my ywam group who married. It was awful to live under the stigma of being rebellious. I told them what really happened. They were shocked. They told me the leader had said I was the cause. And I was kicked out.

We became good friends. I met soon after with the leadership who was at our outreach which was a couple of years later.
They had zero memory of what they did to us.
Nothing. It was as if it didn’t happen.
I quoted back to her everything she said to me. About how I was going to be a terrible wife and mother, how evil I was, etc. I WAS ENGAGED at the time. She said I would get divorced because I was rebellious.

I told her she was reading a book on deliverance, and how she used that book against us. Again no memory.
I know I infuriated her.at the time because I was not going to renounce the Holy Spirit and praying for people who were sad, and hopeless. And praying for their salvation.
I got an apology.

The whole thing traumatized me to the core. I was already bashed and brutalized by church. My friend the 18 yr old was more resilient. Confused, but she went to school, graduated from Yale in religious studies and became an espisopalian priest.
The 26 yr old, I don’t know what became of him.
My take on pastoral care?
In my experience for the last 30 yrs ? Very few pastors or leaders care for the sheep. They care about themselves, their reputations, money, ability, and they don’t love God. I know. Because the love of God is not in them.

The Bible says we will know if they are of him by their fruits.
Selfish ambition. Lusts for power. Arrogance. Anger. Sexual immorality. Hatred.

Vendors 28 yrs later my friend went to a ywam reunion, my leader’s wife was at her table. My friend who knows me since high school, came to my defence at that table. The woman was complaining about my emotional state at ywam, how I cried all the time. How I was needy. How I was always asking for prayer.

She shot her down immediately, and rebuked her for even 28 yrs later for still being callous and cold. Then she explained who sexually abused me.

This woman has remained in Ywam with her husband all these years, knew all of what happened. Knew her husband was responsible and still pointed the fingers at me mockingly.
You will know them by their fruits.
I know she is no Christian. The love of God is not in her.

People just don’t care. They don’t let the power of the Holy Spirit convicts them and bring them to repentance. It’s outward appearances that count.

God can and does change an honest heart. He does the work in us to change us from image to image glory to glory so we can be like him.

A title, a position mean nothing to me. Love melts the most rebellious heart. Love binds up a wounded heart. Love changes a hard stubborn heart into a malleable clay.
It’s not hard to see those who are his.
The church needs to be reminded, taught, and demonstrated to, that anything less than this is not truth.

Anyone pastor or deacon who does not go after the lost sheep, and draw them in to safety like a shepherd would is not a Shepherd but a wolf.

Pastors don’t teach on this. They don’t remind the people who to look for. They don’t teach them how to discern.
That’s my story.

Elizabeth
Guest
Elizabeth

This issue is troubling. I couldn’t help but think about how Hebrews 10:25 is often quoted when someone “quits going to church,” for whatever reason. But the last part of the verse is overlooked, how we are to ENCOURAGE one another as we meet together.

“Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:25 ESV

Velour
Guest

Many churches now take ‘attendance’ of members and attenders, who are called for being ‘no shows’ (illness, family event, etc.). My ex-church did this. It was insufferable and controlling.

I can meet with other Christians anywhere and encourage, and it doesn’t have to be in a church.

Sarah
Guest
Sarah

This is such a good analysis. The perspective of this DG post is so skewed. She mentions the “undeniable failure of a church body to minister to a hurting family.” But then she says “they had acted consistently. They stayed true to their biblical convictions” and they “stayed faithful to the one that mattered most.”

So how can they stay true to their biblical convictions, while at the same time fail to minister to a hurting family? It only makes sense if discipline is more important than love. Does Scarlett Clay really believe Jesus values discipline more than love? I don’t see that in Jesus. At all.

Peter Roise
Guest

I left this comment on Claire Roise’s facebook share:

This happens. I think that abusers sometimes avoid discipline because they are not committed to truth. They are happy to say whatever words they need to say to avoid consequences. The victims eventually get fed up with the gross injustice of their church authorities honoring holy words that are completely at odds with the wicked oppressions they experience at home.

The same churches that excommunicate seem to be the ones that put a high value on spoken repentance. They are uniquely susceptible to the willingness of the abuser to say what they want to hear.

It was very frustrating to me that the state of Idaho was willing to prosecute a crime while the church hadn’t exercised it’s authority of excommunication in the case that showed Claire Roise and I the problems with how abuse is handled in
churches. Additional salt in the wound in these churches is that if the victim is trying to stay and be submissive they are often faced with waiting on church elders to decide whether or when they can divorce. Or even waiting for answers to other minor questions. Prompt, thorough, and competent answers tend to be scarce, while control is automatic, enforced, and pervasive.

Leslie Hatton
Guest
Leslie Hatton

Amen, Rebecca! We have eternity to love one another, but only a few years to let unbelievers see that Love.

His
Guest
His

Bravo! I agree wholeheartedly that “callous disregard and lack of care” are the very root of the problem. It is callous disregard for God’s moral law (disobedience) and lack of love. This is unbelief (one of the most enlightening truths I ever learned is that belief=love=obedience).

All the callous disregard and lack of care that permeates society fills me with such anxiety (terror, really) and I know that is somewhat illogical because I know that we are living under a curse and anxiously awaiting Jesus’ return. But I think much of my terror is due to the fact that I just can’t find any relief from these attitudes anywhere in my community. I seek my true family at church, but I have been most profoundly betrayed by the leadership of churches. Those who purport to uphold the law, flagrantly disregard it.

I long for the fellowship of fellow believers, but even if I think there might be some actual ones in these churches, the fact that they don’t see or object to the disobedience of their leaders is alienating to the point of making true fellowship impossible.

I am extremely thankful for the good works of you and other believers such as those at A Cry for Justice, they are sources of merciful relief from among humanity. Only in the truth, is there mercy. Come, Lord Jesus!

Robert
Guest
Robert

My only concern re your own opinion would be that there is always the other side of the story. So, whilst this person was contrite and appreciative of God’s discipline, you also say that you know of many cases where church discipline has been misused.
Not knowing the details of those cases myself, I might here make the same error that I’m suggesting you might be making: that of making a judgement about discipline based solely on the testimony of the one disciplined. But it’s entirely possible that a person who’s been disciplined may not have the correct view of things. When they disagree with the discipline it doesn’t mean that the wrong call was made by the church.
In this case, had Scarlet not reacted well to the discipline and been healed by it, in all probability you would have condemned it. Yet we can’t judge discipline only on its results, because not everyone responds to it in the way they should.
No doubt there are mistakes made by pastors and elders in this matter from time to time. But I think we need to guard against presumtuousness by not making judgements about the decisions of those who are tasked to protect the flock when we don’t have all the facts.

Velour
Guest

There are a variety of authoritarian groups that are pushing ‘church discipline’. They are claiming that they have recovered the ‘True Gospel’. They have simply re-released the 1970’s Heavy Shepherding Movement whose Florida founders repented for its abuses and un-biblicalness.

These men lack love and maturity. They have done much damage, all while proclaiming that Jesus ratifies their abusive conduct. They bear no resemblance to the Good Shepherd.

Robert
Guest
Robert

Be that as it may, I still think that each case must be taken on its own merits. It is dangerous and presumptuous (that is if one accepts that a church is a true church) to make assumptions about specific cases unles you have all the facts at hand.
Please know that I’m not saying I believe everyone claiming to be a Christian really is one, or every church really is approved of by God. OR that miscarriages of justice don’t occur.
My argument is simple: Ecclesiastes 12:13 says that Solomon made his statement after hearing ALL things. We should take a similar approach.

Velour
Guest

We will have to agree to disagree, Robert. To call these abusive, authoritarian, heavy-handed churches ‘true churches’ is giving them far too much credit, that they simply don’t deserve. I was excommunicated from an abusive church on trumped up charges, like the doctor before me, and the woman in finance before him. I don’t know need ‘hear all things’ from people who are committed to dishonesty and seem to have no humble relationship with Jesus Christ.

Robert
Guest
Robert

Velour, I’m not sure we are disagreeing. I believe that there are more churches that are not really blessed by God than most people are willing to admit. If there are genuine Christians among the congregants of such churches, they would do well to move to a congregation that displays the fruits of God’s spirit.

The problem is that marriage is sacred. It’s not a problem, of course, and I don’t mean it like that. Some marriage mates leave their spouse because the spouse has been unfaithful, violently abusive or wilfully neglectful. Each spouse must answer to God for the decisions they make, as must we all in all areas of our lives. God is compassionate and will not make us go through things that we genuinely cannot bear. But separating from a partner is definitely not something that should ever be taken lightly because marriage IS sacred.

The reason I urged caution is because I know of cases where a partner has exaggerated ‘abuses’ to seek a way out of a unhappy marriage. An unhappy marriage is not of itself a good reason to separate, in the same way that a parent doesnt cast of his young children because they make him unhappy.

And these cases I refer to do not include charges of physical violence or sexual abuse. It’s difficult to ‘exaggerate’ violence or a abuse without there being at least some truth in the accusation.

So with these things in mind, knowing that people sin in all sorts of ways. Some are abusive partners, some plot to get out of marriages they wish they hadn’t got into.

Regarding excommunication for non attendance and other ‘non-serious’ sins, this would most definitely be wrong. But here again I have personally witnessed Christians committing serious sins, refusing help from their pastors, getting ex-communicated and then publically claiming (different) reasons for their excommunication which put their pastors in a bad light. These ones sounded very convincing and, were it not for the fact that I actually knew they were lying, I might have been inclined to believe their stories.

for these reasons, it is often best to follow the advice at 1 Thes 4:11 which, in part, urges us to “mind our own business” and not meddle in matters that don’t involve us. This too is not an attack at you. The oppressed need someone to look out for them. The primary responsibility for that care lies with the shepherds, and they will have to stand in front of the judgment seat of God if they hurt his flock.

Velour
Guest

Thanks for your response, Robert. I agree that faithful Christians should move on from bad churches.

If your point is that church membership is on par with marriage, that is incorrect. In fact, it’s a false teaching that is being quickly spread. “Oh we’re the only ‘true’ church and it is a betrayal to leave.’ Nonsense. The appellate courts in the U.S. have also ruled that belonging to a religious group is voluntary and that people can leave whenever they wish. The pastors/elders making claims across the U.S. that people can’t leave if they are “under discipline”, don’t have the “pastors/elders’ blessing”, etc. are in violation of the U.S. Constitution and the state constitutions permitting religious freedom. They have perpetuated legally incorrect advice, and obviously never sat down with with constitutional and litigation attorney to properly advise them. Churches, pastors, and elders are endangered of being sued for this dangerous advice, and so are the pastors who tout it.

It is cowardly, in my opinion, to say that I’m not going to get ‘involved’ and mind my own business, and perpetuate wrong-doing by pastors/elders who harm God’s flock.

Take care.

Robert
Guest
Robert

No, my discussion about marriage was not a metaphor for church membership.
I would say that the Bible’s principles have often touched on the idea of not interfering with other people’s affairs. That was highlighted in the scripture I mentioned. Let’s imagine that someone was disciplined in a church that you consider is a good one, with a good pastor. Let’s say the pastor is approached by someone undergoing marriage problems. The pastor will try to help the couple to apply godly principles in their marriage in an effort to repair the rift. It is not the business of the congregation in general to interfere or take sides, it could very well be that God is working through that one, and the person who meddles runs the risk of standing against God . Marriage is sacred, and if a marriage CAN be repaired, then it should be. The only situation in scripture that specifically allows an innocent partner to divorce is sexual immorality. Matthew 19:9. If the actions of a partner do not include sexual immorality but are intolerable nevertheless, then it is up to the affected mate to make their own mind up about whether to separate, but they would not be free to remarry.
Now, clearly if a partner has suffered abuse and has made the difficult decision to separate then of course the pastor should be compassionate.

On the subject of interfering: Obviously, if a person seeks your help then you cannot be said to be interfering. So in cases where a person has a legitimate cause for complaint then of course it’s natural that they would reach out for help and natural that others would want to give it. But the person giving help should be careful to make sure that the help is firmly based on bible principles, not on personal feelings. James 5:14 should move you to direct them to the ‘older men’ of the congregation., or to a congregation whose pastor you trust.

I don’t believe such a course is cowardly, I believe it is scriptural.

Velour
Guest

Do you mind if I ask how old you are? Are you attending a NeoCalvinist church?

Robert
Guest
Robert

I don’t mind: I’m in my 40s and no. 🙂

Velour
Guest

Thanks, Robert. I just part company with you on how you see church. I’ve seen those destructive practices in their full glory destroy the Body of Christ and the reputations of godly men and women.

Robert
Guest
Robert

Ok, well I’m sorry about that. It was good to exchange views. Take care

Ken Garrett
Guest
Ken Garrett

I don’t mean to throw a fly into the honey, here, but have followed this discussion–as a pastor who is very interested in the health of his church, issues of destructive behavior that hurts the church members is very, very important to me.
There are few points that have had a big effect on my thinking and practices in our church that I would mention.
1. “Excommunication” is defined as “the action of officially excluding someone from participation in the sacraments and services of the Christian Church.” The word has only been routinely used by churches for the past six or so centuries–and is derived from the Latin form. I do not believe it is found in the bible, although practices that appear to be “excommunication” certain do, such as in 1 Cor 5, Matt 18, etc. But there’s a nasty side to excommunication, in its historic sense: it deprives a person of community, of receiving the Lord’s Supper, baptism, etc., the very sacraments whose power we say is life-changing and spiritually transformative. Even deeper, those very sacraments, esp. communion, are actually viewed by more than a few faith traditions within Christians as in themselves conferring the grace of God to the believer. In other words, the physical act of taking communion was the only way to receive the grace of God. So, for a church leader to deny communion is (in those traditions) for him/her to deny grace, something that is really God’s job–alone. That’s ominous, and most pastors I know shudder to think a human would ever undertake excommunication with that denial in mind.
2. This reformation-based word, excommunication, arises from an era in church history when there were the great State Churches of Europe and the east (Lutheran, Catholic, Presbyterian (to a degree), Orthodox, etc.), and so when someone was excommunicated they were cast out of the only physical church they could possibility belong to, anyway. And, their excommunication was enforceable by the state government itself. (Think of Calvin’s Geneva, where a man was executed under Calvin’s reign and partnership with local government, for “heresy.”) Today, we simply cannot physically remove anyone from our churches. Part of receiving the benefits of 501c status is the expectation that we don’t do those kinds of things to our fellow tax-paying citizens, who (presumably) have helped to fund churches through their tax contributions. At the end of the day, we simply can nicely ask them to leave–and they really don’t have to. We could call the police, I guess, but we’d end up looking silly, and I don’t think I like the idea of our police enforcing church discipline!
3. Finally, this old school “excommunication” model simply isn’t practiced often, consistently, or with the effects promised by its proponents. I wonder if sticking to the old tried and true, formulaic approach isn’t simply evidence of leaders’ lack of creativity, or real understanding of the persistence and corrosive nature of sin in their churches.

Robert
Guest
Robert

Hi Ken
So how should serious sin be handled in the congregation when the sinner doesn’t display any signs of repentance?

Ken Garrett
Guest
Ken Garrett

Hi Robert, Are you referring to an actual experience you’ve had, are having, or speaking hypothetically? Also, what sin(s) would you consider to be “serious”?
In my experience, people who are privately, respectfully confronted regarding sinful behaviors (that threaten or harm their families, fellow church members, etc.) do not choose to remain in the church, and when it becomes clear to them that their harmful behavior is known, and will not be tolerated–they don’t really want to be in church anymore.
Besides that, if the said behaviors/sins, etc., are legal crimes, my policy is to report to the police immediately.

Robert
Guest
Robert

Hi Ken, I did reply but it seems to have disappeared into the ether. So. It sure if that was a problem my end or of the moderator hasn’t cleared it yet.

Lamar
Guest

My experience over the past 60 years of Church life is the majority of the Churches I have attended except “two” do not even consider exercising Church discipline (training, restoration, love and compassion) which has a final limit of no restoration comes about – i.e., excommunication. Certainly anyone knows it is a sin for the elders and staff of congregations to NOT visit a person and work toward (if public sin is known of) a restoration process which brings about a healthy body of Christ functioning. But it just doesn’t happen unless it is some very gross outward sin which the Bible certainly expects such, but He also expects those other sins which people falsely allow as if they are just small items and issues, and they are NOT. It only took one rebellious sin “biting into a piece of fruit” to bring the curse and the fall of mankind! Sin is rotten, very much a plague as it is committed in the body. If all of the saints are not practicing repentance and faith in the Gospel every day about their own personal failings, things can become very damaging to a Church body over all. Keeping things under cover when known about is NOT an option for a healthy body of Christ at all. No better than Achan and his booty hidden in the camp of Israel. May God help us to LOVE others enough we do engage in bringing about such repentance and faith over outward known sins we observe in others and love them so much we tell them and then if they are not saved perhaps God will save them, or if they are saved, they will confess and return back to a right relationship with our Lord Jesus and the body of Christ. Let not proper Biblical discipline continue to be ignored but pray it will be restored for the spiritual health of all concerned. But most of all for the glory and honor of HIS name!

Joe
Guest
Joe

I seen a problem when a church would be policing for people who were not actually sexual predators to kick off the property of a church [ when they were not guilty at all or innocent ] , and this was even back in early 1995 !
And some will tell you if you have problems not to show up in church or ‘their church’ that you have issues and you are not allowed to come to visit their church . Not ever . That group was of one I started in many years ago [ i didn’t want to name it ] and even said they will keep me out of all their churches if i ever talk to them again or find reasons to kick me out by me being guilty of something they can find about me ( when I talked to them on the phone ). Assuming I am guilty by their idea . I still want to love God as saved by Jesus on my way to heaven .
But I hope i can seek and carry on with the Lord while elsewhere outside other places . I read a lot of good solid literature written by old authors like preachers even from before the 1700s and other biblical writers and Scripture I keep my head or heart into .