Friday, January 18, 2008

Wall Street Journal Takes On Church Discipline


On a quiet Sunday morning in June, as worshippers settled into the pews at Allen Baptist Church in southwestern Michigan, Pastor Jason Burrick grabbed his cellphone and dialed 911. When a dispatcher answered, the preacher said a former congregant was in the sanctuary. "And we need to, um, have her out A.S.A.P."

Half an hour later, 71-year-old Karolyn Caskey, a church member for nearly 50 years who had taught Sunday school and regularly donated 10% of her pension, was led out by a state trooper and a county sheriff's officer. One held her purse and Bible. The other put her in handcuffs. (Listen to the 911 call)

The charge was trespassing, but Mrs. Caskey's real offense, in her pastor's view, was spiritual. Several months earlier, when she had questioned his authority, he'd charged her with spreading "a spirit of cancer and discord" and expelled her from the congregation. "I've been shunned," she says.

Her story reflects a growing movement among some conservative Protestant pastors to bring back church discipline, an ancient practice in which suspected sinners are privately confronted and then publicly castigated and excommunicated if they refuse to repent.

While many Christians find such practices outdated, pastors in large and small churches across the country are expelling members for offenses ranging from adultery and theft to gossiping, skipping service and criticizing church leaders.

Click here to read more.

Click here to read a great analysis of this very one sided article by one of the Pastor's who was interviewed.

Here is a link to an upcoming conference on church discipline.


Michael said...

Two things strike me here.

First you have the extreme example of the abuse of power implied here.

No, churches should not shun you for a disagreement on the authority of your Pastor. (You'd have to start setting up a major power struggle for that to qualify as the grounds). This case sounds like a power trip on the part of the pastor which should have been resolved in other ways.

Second is the implication by WSJ (and the tone of this writing) that we have some wide spread issue here. There are millions of churches in the U.S. so the whole scope of all the lawsuits and similar cases combined this issue affects less than a fraction of 1 percent of churches.

All injustice is wrong, so church discipline should only be used in the extreme of cases to avoid even the opportunity of a case like this one - however the idea that this is representative of a trend is really misleading. It amounts to an anti-christian attack to carry such an implication over such a small percentage. The fact that this case occurred is sad. The way it is being represented is sadder still.

A little background on the bible and Church Discipline:

Church discipline in the bible is best defined by the book of Matthew, Chapter 18:15-22

Jesus said:

"If a believer does something wrong, go, confront him when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have won back that believer. But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you so that every accusation may be verified by two or three witnesses. If he ignores these witnesses, tell it to the community of believers. If he also ignores the community, deal with him as you would a heathen or a tax collector. I can guarantee this truth: Whatever you imprison, God will imprison. And whatever you set free, God will set free. I can guarantee again that if two of you agree on anything here on earth, my Father in heaven will accept it. Where two or three have come together in my name, I am there among them."

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked him, "Lord, how often do I have to forgive a believer who wrongs me? Seven times?"

Jesus answered him, "I tell you, not just seven times, but seventy times seven."

You can see from this that the focus is on forgiveness, not shunning or removal of the person.

The only strong case of removal in the bible is in 1 Corinthians - where a man is kicked out of church because he would not stop bragging about God's grace for allowing him to pay to sleep with his own step-mother. In that culture temple prostitution was an act of worship of the Greek idols. He was continuing the same practice with his Dad's wife and telling the church it was okay. For this he was "handed over to satan" to be taught" not to do this evil thing which even the pagans around him would not have allowed in their temples. Paul rebuked the whole church for allowing this to even happen. The end result was that the guy stopped the practice, and was allowed back into the group. That is how church discipline should work. The bible never shows us situations of a believer being removed over mere disagreements. St. Paul even had a face to face with St. Peter but they didn't kick anyone out of the church over it.

That all being said - I have been in 1000's of churches - this case as presented in the WSJ does NOT represent common practice or belief of churches. This is not "normal" church life. The church is not here to police our morals - Jesus did not die on a cross to give us better morals. He died to make the dead live again. This reporting makes you think Christianity is about religious morals.

That is no where near the truth.

(I retain the rights including copyright on what I have written, but allow its reprint by the WSJ in this forum and by any blog or internet group that does not charge a fee for reading it.)

Shane Vander Hart said...

While I agree that church discipline needs to be practiced more and has lapsed. I don't think that brining in the police was the thing to do.

Justice said...

I think calling the police was a little crazy myself. She obviously is a danger to no one.

I believe as I think most christians that we must draw lines when it comes to personal holiness and be careful what we expose ourselves and our children to. We dare not lower our standards to those of the world. Christians are called to live a pure life, and we can't compromise that.

Second Corinthians 7:1 says, "Having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." A church must enforce that standard (see Matt. 18:15-17). That's why we implemented church discipline in chuches where I have pastored. If someone is sins, we talk with him or her for their own good and the good of the church as a whole. It is done of course privately and in the most humble way, with the goal of seeing them restored. I think Matt 18 is more about restoration than it is discipline.

You may need to think of it thisway to understand church discipline. If someone says they are achristian than they are saying they want to live life in a certain way pursuing certain things. If we notice there are hindrances to them being able to live that way,then we are obligated to say something. Let me also add that 99.9% of these conversations never lead to church discipline.

Unfortunatel in america today many Christians aren't as concerned about their personal holiness as they should be. Where is the average christian in terms of holiness and real communion with the living God? Church leaders aren't the only ones who should seek whole-heartedly to live holy lives. You can't have a half-hearted commitment to God and expect Him to work through you.

Jen said...

I'm grateful to hear that this is not a widespread problem, but to those of us who have experienced an unbiblical and unjust excommunication, it can wreck lives.

I was sold out for holiness, yet I still got excommunicated. Why? For being a woman during the last presidential election. My pastor wrote something on his blog and asked everyone to comment, so I did. I did not vote for the candidate he wanted me to, and since I wrote the comment, although it was with my husband's permission, he told me I would pay for it and he excommunicated me. Click on my name if you're interested in my story.