June 2, 2020

Where Is Church Discipline When You Need It? Part 1: A Better Approach

Down through the years, I’ve been part of a few in-church discussions about church discipline. They were all memorable. Almost everyone was against it and treated me like I was going off the deep end for bringing it up. Being against church discipline was an issue worth yelling over, and I’ve been yelled at more than once.

In my denomination and tradition, church discipline of a certain kind was common in the late 1800’s and even early 1900’s. I recall reading the business meeting minutes of a church I belonged to that was founded in the late 1700s. In the the late nineteenth century, many business meetings involved the discipline of members for things as trivial as card playing and as serious as shooting another church member.

In the 1920’s, church discipline began to disappear and today is almost totally unknown in Southern Baptist circles. The reason is clear. Southern Baptists and most evangelicals completely lost the ability to see anything positive in church discipline, at least by the measurements they now use to measure what is positive and helpful in church life.

Church discipline was punitive and exclusionary, overstepping the church’s role and destructive to the church’s mission too represent Christ.

Church discipline lost out to…

a. the church growth mentality
b. the loss of church as community and the rise of church as voluntary participation
c. the change in the role of leaders from shepherds and elders to growth facilitators and peace keepers
d. the disconnection of the life of the congregation from the integrity of the Gospel
e. a litigious and hyper-individualized society
f. concerns about insurance, media and reputation
g. the equation of tolerance with love
h. the weakening role of the pastor as compared to influential lay members, particularly those with money and power
i. the abandonment of any serious understanding of church membership
j. a surrender to the culture’s view that religious institution should not “nose into” most personal ethical issues.
k. The gutting of the Gospel to be a message without repentance or discipleship components.
l. Open communion

On the church staffs that I have worked on, bringing up church discipline was like bringing up the suggestion of running naked around the parking lot during the 11 a.m. service.

As regards church discipline, the result is now something like this:

1. Church discipline is a very bad thing.
2. Only crazy people and abusive churches do it.
3. Church discipline means embarrassing people by announcing their personal failures and issues publicly.
4. You’re mean and unloving to even discuss it.
5. The Gospel, Jesus and a loving God are all against it.
6. You’ll get sued and be on TV.
7. It will split your church.
8. People will just go to another church and become members there.
9. Growing churches don’t do it or even talk about it.
10. Churches that say they are doing it are cults.

Now in some circles of Baptist life, this is changing. Certain forms of church discipline, especially in regard to dangerous moral compromise and the issue of long-time “inactive members,” are seeing a more positive and constructive response. Liturgical gangsta Wyman Richardson has a ministry in this area, as does the well known Peacemakers ministry of Ken Sande. Pastor Kevin Hash discussed doing church discipline in his church in an interview here at IM. The atmosphere is changing.

There is still a very long way to go. Primarily in the area of seeing church discipline as a helpful and constructive ministry to God’s people.

We need to look at church discipline again. Since Jesus was the one who prescribed it in detail, and since Paul clearly lays it out as part of a healthy church, we need to understand why and how it can become a strength and source of health, life and the presence of God in our churches.

It is my contention that a church doing church discipline in a fully Biblical, Jesus shaped way will…

-save lives.
-save marriages and families.
-stop abuse.
-magnify the Gospel.
-develop shepherds and leaders who love their people.
-provide many new opportunities for ministry.
-provide an outlet for the exercise of spiritual gifts.
-demonstrate the Christian virtues of love, mercy, grace and compassion.

Where is church discipline when we need it? Especially, where is church discipline when the hurting people in your church need it?

To be continued….

Comments

  1. Interesting post.
    My long ago family was part of one of those traditions that practiced church discipline harshly. Taking communion required examination by the elders who might withhold the token that was necessary for you to take communion if your life did not measure up. I am sure that the examination was for both serious spiritual issues and personal vendettas. Many Scottish communion sets included both the cup and tray along with the token press.

    We attend a relatively large SBC (4,000 who come each week) congregation that practices church discipline. We have made some real boneheaded decisions but the result of some of our biggest errors was restoration of the marraige. We meant it for ill, but God…

    I like the notion that discipline is a function of pastoral care with the goal of restoration and fully integrated into the pastoral care of the congregation. Discipline is more focused on the leadership of the congregation than it is on the members although we do practice it in both groups.
    We are not perfect by a long shot but church discipline is still done.

  2. My Church has a formal disciplinary process, but the onus of instigating it is that the person has to go ask to be given the discipline — which we are encouraged to do, but not forced to do.

  3. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    It’s still amazing to me that Christian churches can have uglier political struggles than the Gentile world. — Treebeard

    Not surprising to me.

    When it’s a Church struggle, the God-Talk gets layered on and elevates everything to (literally) Cosmic Importance.

    And when EVERYTHING Is Of Cosmic Importance And Every One of those Things Determines Where You WILL Spend Eternity…

  4. My response to most of what I’m reading here:

    Good grief. Do pastors read their Bibles anymore?

  5. Aliasmoi, trust me here I did not mean to endorse the dating of non-believers. I certainly just couldn’t see myself doing it. I agree with you in saying that it probably is not very wise the majority of the time, however, it is NOT sin.
    There are numerable immense hermeneutic issues concerning the passage you brought up in 2 Corinthians. What exactly does it really mean to be yoked? I’ve heard it applied even to business: Do not go into business with people who aren’t saved.
    It is on differing issues of interpretation like this one that I think have cause many churches to just throw up their hands in despair because it’s easier to just not do church discipline than have to debate and decide on all these numerous issues.

  6. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    I find it interesting that when talking about church discipline the discussion always goes immediately to sexual issues and false teaching. — George C

    That’s because when you add the word “sexual” to just about anything, people go crazy in just about every way imaginable.

    (Hey, I have one foot in the Church, one in D&D, and one in Furry Fandom; I’ve SEEN most of the ways people can go sexually crazy. And Christians are no different, though they often go crazy in the opposite direction from everybody else.)

  7. SearchingAnglican says

    As part of a small Episcopal church in rural America, it’s probably not surprising that we’ve not had much in the way of church discipline over the years. We can’t even manage to defend the most basic tenets of orthodoxy at a national level, so I suppose that’s not a big surprise to anyone on this blog.

    Luckily, I am under the leadership of an orthodox, evangelical priest, who has discipled a number of us, and we have a new community being born within a church that has been long filled with anger, gossip, manipulation and many examples of misuse of power. Tragic. As part of this intentional group, I have learned first hand about responsibility and accountability within Christian community, but that could not have happened without a firm grounding in the principals of a Christian community, Matt 18 included.

    At several points in the last two years, we have privately, with prayer and in love, approached inviduals who were doing damage to the Body through their bad behaviors that had never been called into account. Always seeking reconciliation first, and the healing of relationships.

    What has happened? Half the church has left. No willingness to consider their actions, or the effects on the rest of us, and certainly reconciliation was not in their vocabulary. Painful experiences on all sides. But worth it for the Gospel.

    From where I stand, it’s much easier to be disciplined when you are already in a community where relationships based in mutuality, love, accountability and…Christ, of course. It’s not about legalisms, it’s about relationships.

  8. Lindsey Williams says

    imonk,

    Here is the official wording from my denomination (Presbyterian Church in America) on church discipline. In many ways, I liken church discipline to parenting children. True love for a child is shown by one’s willingness to pursue their sanctification even at the expense of temporary discomfort. I have seen church discipline handled poorly and I have seen it handled in the most beautiful and redemptive of ways. Accountability even for those doing the discipline is key! I think the wording from our Book of Church Order is good.

    CHAPTER 27

    Discipline – Its Nature, Subjects and Ends

    27-1. Discipline is the exercise of authority given the Church by the Lord
    Jesus Christ to instruct and guide its members and to promote its
    purity and welfare.
    The term has two senses:
    a. the one referring to the whole government, inspection, training,
    guardianship and control which the church maintains over its
    members, its officers and its courts;
    b. the other a restricted and technical sense, signifying judicial process.

    27-2. All baptized persons, being members of the Church are subject to its
    discipline and entitled to the benefits thereof.

    27-3. The exercise of discipline is highly important and necessary. In its
    proper usage discipline maintains:
    a. the glory of God,
    b. the purity of His Church,
    c. the keeping and reclaiming of disobedient sinners. Discipline is
    for the purpose of godliness (1 Timothy 4:7); therefore, it
    demands a self-examination under Scripture.
    Its ends, so far as it involves judicial action, are the rebuke of offenses, the
    removal of scandal, the vindication of the honor of Christ, the promotion of the
    purity and general edification of the Church, and the spiritual good of offenders
    themselves.

  9. Kenny Johnson

    “As for living together. It is not a sin for an unmarried and unrelated man and woman to live together outside of wedlock. You’re right in assuming that the assumption would be that they’re having pre-marital sex. I think generally this would be something that someone would be talked to about as being a bad idea (especially if the man/woman in question are dating). ”

    Catholics are told to “avoid the near occassion of sin” as we put ourselves in situations where we are **likely** to sin. Not that we **will** sin, or that it’s merely a **possibility** but the probability is high enough that we’re likely to succumb to sin. With sex, it’s pretty high probablility for some of us. It’s the Church’s way of saying, don’t set yourself up for failure.

  10. Ky Boy but no now says

    “Good grief. Do pastors read their Bibles anymore?”

    Taking a line from “A Fish Called Wanda”

    “Sure they can read it, they just don’t understand it.”

    Personally I and others have come to conclude that many Christian pastors are very selective in their reading of what their roles are.

  11. As a Catholic who has converted from evangelical Protestantism, my mind vacillates on this issue. I completely understand it, but have trouble relating from a Catholic perspective. And it comes from the differing definition on the word “church,” I think.

    There is very little of this kind of management of the congregation on a parochial basis in the RCC, which — I believe — is what is meant in the post. I’m sure religious get this kind of discipline all the time, but for the most part we lay persons never hear about it.

    The kind of correction being discussed here among Catholics is of the personal spiritual “confession/direction” mode; the “discipline” is called penance. It is always available — scheduled for walk-ins Saturday afternoons and by appointment all other times, in this diocese.

  12. As a Baptist I saw church discipline handled pretty well, as far as it looked to a non-involved member. Both were at the same church, involved lower level church leaders (one was the organist, the other recently ordained by the church as a preacher, was a Sunday School teacher.)

    While the announcements were public, the information shared was vague enough that the average person wouldn’t know the details.

    Naturally, I don’t know if it worked or not.

  13. George C, I think it’s because sexual issues are the most glaringly obvious. You may not be in a position to know if Joe is swindling his employer or Mary is abusive to her employees, but you certainly know all about it if Joe leaves his wife and moves in with his new girlfriend or Mary gets pregnant outside of marriage.

  14. Anna A.

    Actually, I find vague information to be scandalous. That was part of the smoke screen used in the situation I described in my first comment.

    If the leadership is not willing to lay it all out on the table, then there is no way for the congregation to even know if there is a valid reason to discipline someone.

    When pressed for details, the pastor refused to give any and tried to construe it as caring when nothing was further from the truth. The reason the congregation was never given any real reasons was because there weren’t any.

    Everything revolved around interpersonal conflict, not sin.

    If Church leadership is going to discipline, they should be obligated to share exactly why they are disciplining the member.

    No hiding behind vagueness.

  15. How does the privacy of the bedroom become this lurid, obvious thing, but when it comes to tithers just being mean-spirited, lying, or encouraging bad stuff, we never manage to have a thing to say to them?

  16. Being that the only time Jesus ever got really ticked off was at the money changers, who most historians identify as precursors to the modern world financial system —

    Don’t see much of that being disciplined in church circles these days. Just a lot of chatter from TV talking heads ….

  17. Tim Van Haitsma says

    What about gluttony or envy? As a church discipline issue? Why just sex?

  18. I NEVER SAID JUST SEX.

  19. Of course you never said just sex imonk.
    That doesn’t mean we didn’t hear it. 😛
    As evangelicals, we are naturally just obsessed with sex. Almost by definition…

  20. Well given I run a blog on church discipline I’m happy you are starting this series. It is very hard to do Church discipline in a mainstream church.

    You seem to have a pastoral focus so Rules for due process may be helpful, as well as Discipline procedures

  21. Teenage Mutant Ninja Tertullian says

    I have absolutely no experience with “discipline” in this sense, though I have run across references to people being “churched” (kicked out of the church) a century ago for cussing, fighting, etc. I do know a bit more about equivalent practices in “other” religions that practice shunning or what have you.

    One key question, which one other poster brought up, is–what sins are covered? Hypocrisy? Back-biting? Surely not. We all do that, and besides, a lot of the time it boils down to personal judgement. But can we really say that getting pregnant out of wedlock is a worse sin? (Come on, the only difference between her and 2/3 of the church is…visibility. Perhaps you should be praising her instead, for not having an abortion?)

    Historically, the Church has been much more concerned about heresy than relatively pedestrian vices, yet it seems surreal to make such a big deal about airy theological issues, as opposed to behavior that hurts real people in some practical way.

    For comparison’s sake, the Mormons specifically target sex and the drinking of various illicit beverages. Catholic confession is mostly left up to the conscience of the penitant, as regards subject matter brought up. (Does that count as “discipline”? They don’t get kicked out unless they’re public figures.) The Baha’is take away voting rights and/or expel members who “flagrantly” violate Baha’i law (sex or alchohol, typically) or challenge their religion’s authorities.

    A few more questions, which I hope future installments may address:

    1. Who watches the watchmen? In other words, what mechanisms are in place to rein in those doing the disciplining? To whom are they accountable? (Examples of ministers etc. getting into trouble are not difficult to find, and this is one area where greater discipline could solve a lot of problems.)

    2. To what extent is “discipline” compatible with individual conscience? For example, if a member sincerely believes that x is moral, but the elders (or what have you) do not, do the elders automatically prevail? (Richard Nixon avoided censure from his fellow Quakers on this basis.)

    3. How public is this process? For example, do you announce the sins in church, have a quiet inquisition, or just a personal visit?

    On the issue of inactive members, one issue is that people move away, go to college, etc., yet may wish to maintain ties to their old church.

  22. @ Teenage Re Quakers:

    You get a lot of variation according to what Yearly Meeting you’re under. In my meeting, if someone is violating something covered by the Book of Discipline (notice what it’s called) and saying, “Well, I don’t believe it’s wrong,” then that person is considered to be out of unity with the rest of the body – and the question becomes to you want to come into unity or be cut off.

  23. terri,

    I really enjoyed your comments. I pastor (excuse me, preach) in a Church of Christ and the disciplinary situation you described centered around vague information and possibly a desire for revenge, is all too common. I hope we’re moving past that.

    As iMonk asks, “How many pastors read their bibles anymore?” I find, at least in the CoC, that people who are quick to suggest church discipline don’t have a scriptural background for the practice; they have a theoretical-pragmatical background based on what they *think* scripture says about something.

  24. Ky Boy but no now says

    “Being that the only time Jesus ever got really ticked off was at the money changers, who most historians identify as precursors to the modern world financial system –”

    I have a hard time with this way of connecting the dots.

  25. Teenage Mutant Ninja Tertullian —

    One key question, which one other poster brought up, is–what sins are covered? Hypocrisy? Back-biting? Surely not.

    In principle all of them, so yes backbiting should be covered. Any sin a person doesn’t repent of is a stumbling block and they need support. As Screwtape put it “why use murder when cards will do”?

    During the 19th century there was church discipline for issues like gossip as well as issues like dancing. One of the most famous excommunication cases from the turn of the century the charge was failure to discipline someone for slander. In practice unfortunately it tends to be sins that the weak members (i.e. those who don’t control finance or political connections) commit. So in evangelical churches there is a focus on drugs, sex, disobedience to parents (i.e. sins of children). In more controlling churches the focus tends to be on issues of control: gossip, pride, division etc (i.e. sins of non leadership).

  26. Teenage Mutant Ninja Tertullian –

    1. Who watches the watchmen? In other words, what mechanisms are in place to rein in those doing the disciplining? To whom are they accountable? (Examples of ministers etc. getting into trouble are not difficult to find, and this is one area where greater discipline could solve a lot of problems.)

    Depends on the organization structure, which means denomination. In an episcopal structure it goes up the hierarchy. In a congregational structure or Presbyterian structure the pastor is an employee not necc. so the church discipline and the employment member so it is not even handled via. church discipline. In the best situations though the actual acts of discipline require broad consensus. This is an area where I disagree with Internet Monk’s original article. I think the vote of the whole session is extremely important to maintain safeguards against abuse.

    2. To what extent is “discipline” compatible with individual conscience? For example, if a member sincerely believes that x is moral, but the elders (or what have you) do not, do the elders automatically prevail? (Richard Nixon avoided censure from his fellow Quakers on this basis.)

    Burden is on the prosecution in good systems to prove the charge is biblical. Here is a good example case involving John Calvin himself.

    3. How public is this process? For example, do you announce the sins in church, have a quiet inquisition, or just a personal visit?

    Excommunication has to be public. The first two stages are private. The third stage “tell it to the church” varies greatly. In the better systems these are private but very official.

    On the issue of inactive members, one issue is that people move away, go to college, etc., yet may wish to maintain ties to their old church.

    They form a membership with a new church and maintain associate membership with their old church. Not a problem.

  27. Ky Boy but no now says

    An example the process should not work.

    There’s a lot to read going back over a year. And even if the blogger is presenting just his side the facts and external links give a lot of credence to his claims.

    And then there’s .

    The phrase that comes to mind is “rule by divine right”.

  28. Ky Boy but no now says

    An example of how the process should not work.

    http://fbcjaxwatchdog.blogspot.com/

    There’s a lot to read going back over a year. And even if the blogger is presenting just his side the facts and external links give a lot of credence to his claims.

    And then there’s http://www.sgmsurvivors.com/

    The phrase that comes to mind is “rule by divine right”.

  29. Ky boy — No need to do that — but it wasn’t just an “in church” parochial act of officially sanctioned larceny that got Jesus’ hackles way up for the one and only time. The whole nation had to participate in this “fee based” system.

    The “connecting of the dots” is that in order to participate everyone had to gain access to the acceptable currency — which, we are told by the experts, is the beginnings of the world monetary system. I connect these Scriptural “dots” to the imagery in Revelations where the system comes down to accepting the “mark of the beast.” Also “you cannot worship God and the unrighteous mammon” and “the love of money is the root of all evil.”

    My point in bringing this up in regards to this thread is that much of this kind of sinfulness, which is the focus of much of Scripture (and what really got the Lord “consumed with zeal”) is glossed over at best, ignored and even encouraged, at worst, from many pulpits.

  30. Terri,

    In the cases that I mentioned, I knew some of the details that caused the disciple, but when it was announced to the congregation, they were omitted the details. I honestly don’t remember whether the class of sin was mentioned or not. I do believe that there had been work to restore the men to fellowship before the public announcements.

  31. Martha et al:

    Church Discipline is one of the things I think the RC do correctly. In RC America, however, I do not think they implement its use enough i.e. denying communion to politicians who openly support and encourage abortion.

    I went to parochial school for grammar school. I have spent many tuition dollars to send my children for a Christian education in private, Christian schools. I would not have wanted them to have a teacher who was living an openly, repetitive sin, lifestyle. Oops, that reminds me that I need to go and lose 50 pounds. 🙂

  32. Anna A

    I understand the desire for people to show discretion, but if we’re talking about the use of public church discipline, then everything must be made public.

    In a way…that’s the whole point…public exposure and confrontation of an unrepentant, sinning church member

    If the leadership of a church is hush-hush on exactly why a person is being removed, they are not doing anyone any favors. Besides the potential for abuse with a ready-made defense of “discretion”, it puts the congregation in the position of wondering what happened, fueling gossip, rumors, and conspiracy theories.

    People can invariably create a reason for the dismissal that is far worse than the actual violation. If leadership doesn’t have the stomach to be completely open and honest, not only in the reason for discipline, but also what has occurred up to that point to try and reconcile the member to the church….then they have no business implementing discipline in the first place.

    If leadership is going to have the guts to put someone out, then they have to have the guts to lay bare the entire process.

  33. It is curious, is it not, that this issue USUALLY comes down to sexual sin. Several churches we were part of in the past had situations arise where the leadership decided they must implement discipline. Frankly, they were ill prepared. The immediate response was that the persons they were attempting to discipline hired attorneys.

    I served as the go-between for these churches and the persons they were attempting to discipline. In all cases, neither party wanted the details made public. The churches did not proceed with the discipline, the persons quietly departed and the legal action was stopped. In each situation, the churches involved became very gun shy about disciplining people from that point on.

    In a more recent case, the leadership told an unmarried couple who lived together that they must not live together if they wished to attend the church. Neither were members or held any position. They and their several relatives in the church all left.

    I suspect that many churches are afraid to practice any kind of discipline, and do not know how to fairly, Biblically and even-handedly do it.

  34. Terri —

    Agree 100%. There should be specific charges and specific findings.

    ____

    Sam —

    That sounds like in out of process erasure. That’s one of the possible outcomes, “left under discipline”. Essentially the person has excommunicated themselves there is no reason to continue and it never should have gotten beyond the point of the person leaving Why not to keep going on with discipline after a member leaves.

    As for expelling non members that is very questionable biblically. But you aren’t really providing details. If they had a walkout in support of them the pastor did not have the congregation’s support which is what the 3rd stage is supposed to establish. They skipped steps. They may very well have skipped the 2nd step as well.

  35. Regarding modern era Catholic discipline, excommunication does not equal being barred from the Church, just, as the name suggests, being barred from the sacraments, esp. communion. I have a cousin who divorced and remarried without benefit of annulment (probably couldn’t get one) who faithfully attends Mass every Sunday and holy days of obligation.

    Perhaps the most interesting story of Church Discipline is the disciplining of Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV, who, in the winter 1077, knelt for three days in the snow, in the Appenines of Italy, in wait for Pope Gregory VII to remove the excommunication from him.

  36. “Church discipline or any other type of personal care”

    Reason #4235 that the mega are an abomination.

    How can you care for/discipline people in a “flock” of 5 or 10 or 15,000?

  37. Hello, I recently found your site, and am enjoying this discussion, and your take on issues such as this one. Mainly because I missed “evangelical” Christianity (and Roman Catholicism) and landed right in Confessional Lutheranism.

    Interesting perspectives, thank you!

  38. treebeard says

    Rob,
    I’m not an apologist for megachurches, but the church I now attend would fit the category. I honestly don’t know how they handle church discipline issues, but the care is provided by dozens of small groups, both general and topical (including “recovery” issues). There are also multiple pastors, leaders, and professional counselors. My impression is that the care for people is much stronger and healthier than the congregation I left (which was comparatively small). I think it’s a bit much to call megachurches an “abomination.” Be careful, because the Lord might approve things you disapprove. Without question He led me to where I am now, and it has been a place of healing and restoration for me and many others I know.

  39. Rob —

    In all fairness to the mega churches, some of them do an excellent job. Discipline is handled by the small church groups but the leaders have access to much more experienced pastors for advice. Moreover, the appeals process goes through large church committees. That means that mega churches can quite frequently offer some of the protections that Presbyterian structures offer in terms of due process.

  40. Great series, iMonk. In our membership class, I tell folks (and I think I got this from Joshua Harris’ “Stop Dating the Church”, or at least the inspiration), “never join a church that is unwilling to kick you out.” Not that we relish it; not that it’s fun, but it’s necessary.

    Without sounding like I’m bragging, can I share a quick story? I pastored in PA for 13+ years, and a year ago, I returned for a Sunday there. During my pastorate, we had initiated church discipline against four members. One quit; one was removed from church membership (and a couple years later, repented), and two responded to the discipline with repentance, remaining in the church, though stepping out of leadership for a season of restoration. After I left church that day (the day I returned), I realized that all four of those individuals were present that day. I nearly cried, realizing that for all the screwups I’d made (and still make in my new pastorate!), it seems like we’d done a reasonably-good job of “hating the sin/loving the sinner” church discipline. It’s essential for a church to stake any claim to being a New Testament church, IMHO, and I’m enjoying the series.

  41. treebeard and CD I am glad that it orks for you.
    However if it is the small group that is doing th ministry then what is the reason for the giant congregation? the giant buildings? Wouldn’t this be better as several small bodies?

  42. works. I probably said orks because I was thinking of treebeard.

  43. DreamWings says

    I’ve just got to delurk for this post (apologies if its over-long)…

    Rick Shipe

    “If the church doesn’t do the painful and hard thing of stepping in to make the truth known than the church is essentially putting their arms around the offending parents at the expense of the children.”
    My immediate response is unprintable for this site. So here’s something a bit watered down. This isn’t the only post I’m responding to; but its the most direct and egregious example. And yes I recognize your response only mentions small children; but you seem to want to apply this rule in all cases. And unless I am mistaken you (and definitely several others)seem to want discipline applied in public for everyone to see.

    My parents (Seventh Day Adventists) divorced when I was seventeen. A good friend’s parents divorced a year or two later (unrelated). Both cases involved adultery; and in my case I was more than happy to see my father go; due to his verbablly abusive behavior towards me and disrespectful treatment of my mother.

    I know in my friends’ case; the church elders and pastor threatened to call him on the carpet so to speak, in public, and reveal his behavior to the congregation if he didn’t mend his ways. The only reason this never came up with my parents is that they were much more private and I doubt many people at their church knew what was going on.

    I was seriously angry at my father at the time. And rightly so. As my friend was at his father for similar behavior. But when my friend revealed his father’s treatment both of us were enraged.

    And I can guarantee that if such nonsense had been used against my father I would have left the SDA church much earlier than I did. Because you see, having your families’ problems dragged out in public is not helpful. It doesn’t heal. It would have been humiliating. It would have been violating. Over a decade later, just the thought makes me want to vomit. But such things must not have have crossed your mind. Or the minds of several others in this thread who seem, for all the most ‘righteous’ of reasons, to want to drag other people’s behavior before the court of public opinion and church judgment.

    If my father had been hitting me; or my friend’s father abusing him; would we have wanted our church to intervene? Absolutely. Just as we’d have wanted our teachers or other authority fitures to do something. But we’re not talking about child or spousal abuse. We’re talking about families’ breaking up. It happens and people have to deal with it. What they shouldn’t have to deal with is a whole group of outsiders shoving their way in and waving they’re pain in front of a group of people who presume the right to pass judgment on the lives of others.

  44. When I was in middle school my parents took over as pastors of a relatively small church in the mid-west. One of the first things they realized was that an elder was having a not very secret affair with the girl that babysat for his kids (he was married, and the girl was over 18, but not by much). My Dad had a private meeting with him and his wife and removed all of this gentleman’s priveledges and opportunities for leadership in the Church pending a change in behaviour. It took a while, but full repentance did result.
    About 10 years later I ran into another gentleman from this same church. He had been a regular attender at the time, although only because his wife was a Christian. By the time I ran into him he was a pastor. He told me that he credits this act of Church discipline and the turning point in his coming to Christ. It showed him that Christianity was more than a wishy-washy be nice to everybody faith, but intead could involve hard love to really help people and make situations better, and that’s something he wanted to be a part of.

  45. Dream,

    I’m sorry for your pain, I really am, but I have to stand with Rich on this one. Perhaps a clarification on how discipline ought to rightly work would help.

    Let me first be clear, and then explain: in our church, if a member were to pursue a divorce for any reason that is not Scriptural, that member would almost certainly face church discipline. That may astound some readers, but the fact is that one of the leading reasons why the contemporary evangelical church is so anemic, and has such a high rate of divorce, is that churches weenie around this, and it ought to be as plain as the nose on our faces: when divorce takes place, church discipline of one or both parties ought to almost certainly take place. If there is a case of adultery, then the offending person ought to be brought before the elder leadership in order to be called to account. If adultery has not taken place, then the person pursuing the divorce ought to be called before church leadership. Now, I’m not getting into other issues in marriages; I just use these as examples. It is important to add, by the way, that our members must acknowledge that they understand our practice of church discipline, and submit themselves to the church’s leadership–including the possibility of discipline–as a condition of membership.

    But what’s important to remember is that church discipline, undertaken properly, is always done in a spirit of loving concern, and always done for the purpose of reconciliation and restoration, never for the purpose of airing dirty laundry, or embarrassing anyone, or getting into anyone’s “private business”. Further, it’s not about “outsiders”: when a person voluntarily joins a church, he is placing himself under the authority of its leaders (or should be, if it’s taught correctly), as well as acknowledging that he is an “insider”, if you will, a functioning part of the body of Christ (that’s what “member” means). It’s about loving restoration; it’s about the integrity and testimony of the church; it’s about the glory of God and the name of Jesus Christ, and when it’s done correctly–and it can be done correctly, ’cause I’ve seen it–there isn’t any gratuitous airing of dirty laundry.

    But for a church to fail in its responsibility to exercise appropriate, restorative discipline in such situations is to fail God, and if it comes to failing God or failing to suit people’s fancy, well, that’s not a hard call at all.

  46. Rob —

    That seems to be more of a general issue about whether mega churches should exist at all. And to some extent it boils down to how much you want small institutions acting mainly independently or tightly coordinated. I’m think that may be more of a what flavor of ice cream is better kind of question.