Friday, December 19, 2008

Church Discipline in the News (Again)



This is one of those stories that just doesn't pass the smell test.

According to Fox News, a woman by the name of Rebecca Hancock (pictured) is upset that Grace Community Church in Jacksonville, Florida, is "threatening to make her sins public" as they carry out church discipline.

You can read the Fox news account through the hyperlink, but the gist is this - Ms. Hancock is alleged to be in unrepentant sin. The church followed the biblical guidelines for church discipline laid down by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 18. Here's what the Lord said:

If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector (Matthew 18:15-17).

Ms. Hancock refused to repent, and so the church began the discipline process, which incensed Ms. Hancock to the point where she left the church. She has now helped stir up an outcry in the general public about this mean old church threatening her reputation and the sensibilities of her children, who are still allowed to attend the church.

It goes without saying that the church is right in this matter, and the carping critics in and out of the media are wrong. As a member of a church, you agree to follow its bylaws and procedures, and are made aware of that when the church accepts you as a member. Ms. Hancock claims ignorance of those rules, but I'm not buying it.

For someone who is so concerned about her "sins being made public," don't you find it odd that she has no trouble talking to national media about the matter, including the situation that got her in trouble in the first place? The church wasn't about to go to the news media with this story. It's an internal matter in the congregation. But now that she's gone public herself, the story is fair game.

This isn't the only time something like this has happened. Numerous churches have been sued (another sin between believers) because they exercised church discipline according to the demands of Scripture. It's a classic example of unrepentant and likely unregenerate people trying to force a church to abandon biblical integrity rather than changing their own behavior. I for one am not going to sit silently and watch when this happens.

The media feeding frenzy has begun, and the church is facing withering criticism. I hope and pray that the leadership of Grace Community stands firm. I also pray that Ms. Hancock will do what she's supposed to do if she is a true Christian. Repent!

LATE UPDATE:

John Kasich subbed for Bill O'Reilly tonight and had a segment on this case, with radical feminist lawyer Wendy Murphy as his guest. I've never been more disappointed in Kasich. Murphy was inflammatory as usual and demonstrated no knowledge of church discipline much less Christianity. But Kasich described himself as a believer, and then sided with Murphy against the church. "We need grace, and grace is what it's all about." Hokum and bunkum.

I fired off an email to Kasich telling him that he'd better review Matthew 18 again, especially point three where the Lord instructs us to "tell it to the church" when someone remains unrepentant. No doubt my note will probably be ignored, but I had to send it. This kind of smear job makes me so mad. I'm glad I am out of broadcast journalism

31 comments:

Phil Perkins said...

Kind of makes a nice case for house churches since their informality, if handled correctly, will make it very hard to sue.

Phil.

lee n. field said...

Interesting. The FOX piece links to a scanned copy of the letter from the church. The file name on that is "http://www.foxnews.com/projects/pdf/Church_Extortion.pdf"

Extortion?

Not at all. Who named that file?

The letter itself didn't seem objectionable at all, to me.

Points -- she's been a member since 2007 (per the letter). Not a long time. Either her affair is a very new thing, or somebody goofed or was sloppy in the membership process.

Point -- this isn't "public". This is still an internal church matter.

This kind of thing has come up before. How have courts come down on this?

Ron said...

I watched as well; so much for "fair and balanced."

Phil

House churches are still under the authority of the elders, so I'm not certain the result would/should be any different.

I'd be more concered that these types of circumstances will lead to more churches shying away from formal memberships, and employing that as an excuse for not addressing uncomfortable situations such as this.

crownring said...

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A divorced Jacksonville woman said her former church has threatened to "go public with her sins" and tell the congregation about her sexual relationship with her new boyfriend.

Rebecca Hancock said harassment from Grace Community Church in Mandarin over her sex life caused her to leave, but she said that didn't put an end to the problem. She said she received a letter from the church's elders telling her the church plans to make her personal life very public.

"I'm basically run out. I'm the church harlot," Hancock said.

The 49-year-old said she has been dating a man for a while and she said members of the congregation at Grace Community Church haven't been happy about the relationship.

"Because I have a boyfriend that I'm involved with … to not be married to that person is a sin," Hancock said.

She said the issue caused her to leave the church. However, she said the church has not let go of her.

The letter Hancock received from the church states that because she has refused to end her sexual relationship with her boyfriend, "you leave us with no other choice but to carry out the commands of the Lord Jesus Christ" … "In accordance with Matthew 18:17 we intend to 'tell it to the church.'"

"On January 4, my sins will be told to the church, publicly, with my children sitting in the church and my friends," Hancock said.

The pastor of Grace Community Church, Dr. T. Scott Christmas, told Channel 4 he had no comment.

Pastors with whom Channel 4 spoke on Monday said announcing a sin to a congregation is not abnormal. They said it's written in the Bible to punish sinners who continue to sin.

The difference in Hancock's case is that she has left the church, and the pastors said that's is usually where punishment ends.

Despite the church's letter stating its biblical backing, Hancock said she has backed out of the church and they should leave her alone because she is no longer a member.

"I am a Christian, and that will never change. My relationship with Jesus has to do with me and Jesus, and he knows my heart," Hancock said.

The book of Matthew does have three steps that the church talked about in taking action against a member who is in sin.

Hancock said she is now attending a different church, and said she is planning to send a letter to Grace Community Church to make sure it's understood that she no longer a member.

What a mess. This woman has indeed brought well-earned scorn upon herself by her actions, including apparently engaging in fornication. However if she is no longer a member of Grace Community, there really is no point to announcing her sins from the pulpit of a church she no longer attends, especially since she's already announced them to the world herself!

Solameanie said...

I think we get way too hung up on this idea of "membership," as if the church is a club like the Fraternal Order of Eagles. While someone might well be a part of a local congregation, they are still part of the church universal, and Matthew 18 applies. The church still must carry out the discipline process whether or not someone decides to pack their bags to try and evade the discipline process.

I am also so tired of this "Jesus knows my heart" crap. Yes, He does. "The heart is desperately wicked." If this woman really had Christ in her heart, she'd repent. Instead, I begin to think she's really a child of the devil planted to sow discord and strife in the body of Christ.

crownring said...

Sola, the last part of Matthew 18 is that if a sister or brother in the Lord refuses to repent, we should treat them as we would a pagan/non-believer. Somehow I don't think you or any pastor would stand at the pulpit and pronounce condemnation on Joe Blow who has never called himself a Christian and has never darkened the doorway of any church building, particularly not when there are young CHILDREN and strangers sitting in those pews.

Do I think Hancock should be invited to leave the congregation if she refuses to give up sexual sin? Yes. Do I think her sins should be publicly announced on Sunday morning from the pulpit? NO....not unless your sins, my sins, and the pastor's and all the deacons and deaconesses' sins are to be announced as well. There really is a difference between informing the church about sin in their midst and using a P.A. system to announce it to a several hundred (or more) people.

Solameanie said...

Crownring,

It also says "tell it to the church." If they refuse to listen to the church, THEN they are to be treated as unbelievers. In most church discipline matters where the congregation is told, it is usually in a members-only congregational meeting called for that purpose. It's not like the thing is broadcast on national television.

In addition, we are also told by the Apostle Paul, "those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning.

Our touchy-feely, unbelieving culture doesn't like this, but it's what Scripture says to do. Are we going to obey God's Word or disregard it?

I don't understand the Joe Blow reference. This woman was supposed to be a believer, not an unbeliever.

Ron said...

Crownring

It's an announcement of unrepentant sin. See the difference? This also brings up an issue we have so readily fallen into; what parts of Scripture can we ignore or consider not relevant? Some that are difficult, or none at all? It's a slippery slope into apostasy and subverts the authority of God's word.


interesting verificationword; lesses

CD-Host said...

I run a blog dedicated to church discipline and did an analysis. The church's actions regarding discipline seem fine. The issue is one of membership. I disagree strongly with Solameanie / Joel Griffith's comment. A person's relationship with a church must at all times be consensual. If Miss Hancock clearly attempted to sever her membership the church must either excommunicate or record her as someone who erased themselves during a disciple process. What they may not do is engage in non consensual pastoral acts, and if they so choose inform the congregation of her status. Assuming she was clear in her intent to resign (which isn't clear to me) they had no more right to continue a discipline process than a Mormon church does to discipline you.

Solameanie said...

CD,

Please give me that from Scripture. Your position sounds more like a modern secular legal argument than a biblical one. You're talking about the church of Jesus Christ, not the Lion's Club. This whole thing of "membership" and "bylaws" seems to me to be a more modern invention. You don't see such concepts in Scripture.

A person might well withdraw from a particular congregation in a huff, but if they are a true believer, they are still part of the church universal and cannot evade the demands of Scripture.

Furthermore, in my view, if the unrepentant goes to another fellowship, the former church leadership would have the obligation to make the leadership of the new church aware of the discipline problems in question because the sin would likely continue and have a potential impact on the spiritual welfare of the new church. It's all part of accountability. If the new church elects not to do anything about it, it's their problem. But the disciplining church has done the right thing if they've fulfilled all the steps.

After stage three in Matthew 18, the person is to be considered an unbeliever until they repent. The Apostle Paul said that we're not supposed to even eat with such a person. The design is to get the person to repent. Paul didn't indicate anywhere that because a sin took place in the church at Corinth, the sinning believer can chassee off to the church at Ephesus without any consequence.

As for the Mormon church, that doesn't hold water here. That's a cult, not a true church, and as such would have no jurisdiction over a Christian. I can have Christian brothers and sisters who are Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian etc. We're all part of the church universal as well as our individual congregations.

I am part of the Evangelical Free Church. If I saw a friend from the Baptist church in sin, I would be obligated to follow Matthew 18 whether we fellowshipped in the same church or not.

Solameanie said...

BTW, for anyone interested. This subject is being discussed at TeamPyro. It's a much more through laying out of the case, and the comment threads of the two posts in question are enlightening.

CD-Host said...

Solameanie --

Almost every passage dealing with discipline is specific to a church. For example Rev 2:20 the condemnation for the false teacher is only against the church of Thyatira and not against the church universal. 1 Cor. 5 is directed at a specific church, "responsibility to judge those inside the church".

As for their being no consequences I never said that. The congregation she is now attending could (and probably should) refuse to receive her. But if they do receive her (understanding the issue) she is either:

1) Been reconciled via. a true church
2) Joined a false church and thus outside the fold

So absolutely membership is specific to a governing institution. Moreover excommunication is quite specifically separation from a church not separation from God which is anathema. I cover this with citations in Does excommunication prevent me from going to heaven?. Let me pull the first quote out:
For when our Saviour promises that what his servants bound on earth should be bound in heaven, (Matth. 18: 18,) he confines the power of binding to the censure of the Church, which does not consign those who are excommunicated to perpetual ruin and damnation, but assures them, when they hear their life and manners condemned, that perpetual damnation will follow if they do not repent. Excommunication differs from anathema in this that the latter completely excluding pardon, dooms and devotes the individual to eternal destruction, whereas the former rather rebukes and animadverts upon his manners; and although it also punishes, it is to bring him to salvation, by forewarning him of his future doom. If it succeeds, reconciliation and restoration to communion are ready to be given. Moreover, anathema is rarely if ever to be used. (Calvin)

Do you disagree with Calvin's understanding here and argue that a licit excommunication is damnation? I would argue that Calvin is correct and that excommunication is separation from the society of the brethren which she (assuming she is joining an unbiblical church) is already engaged in.

So in other words once she severs her relationship they need to either excommunicate immediate or record that she erased herself under discipline. What they are not entitled to do is continue to minister to her when she has terminated her relationship with that group of brethren. To assert otherwise is to confuse excommunication with anathema.

crownring said...

Sola,

I have seen you complain about youngsters being exposed to undue sexual content on TV and through other news venues on this blog multiple times. Would you want to have to explain to your eight year old neice or nephew that you just happened to bring to church with you that morning what fornication is because Ms. Hancock's sin was announced from the pulpit on Sunday morning?

There are ways of letting the church know about sin in the camp without resorting to public announcement. The First Century church did not have large congregations or P.A. systems and they certainly did not have open services like we do today. They dealt with sin strictly within the conregation because gossipmongering was considered just as SINFUL and destructive to the church as sexual sin. And trust me, gossipmongering WILL start the moment that announcement is made. In fact, it already has because Ms Hancock decided to turn the tables of public humiliation back on Grace Community.

As for my Joe Blow statement, that comment was about treating Ms Hancock as we would a non-believer. I assume that would mean treating her with the same kindness we would give Joe Blow. I'm not talking about establishing any sort of emotional closeness or intimacy with her or inviting her to spend the weekend at the cabin. Confronting sin is one thing, but engaging in open humiliation is another. We best be careful when we decide to throw stones because Someone just might come along and write in the dust with His finger.

CD-Host said...

I put together a more detailed response which address the legal, traditional and moral issues.

Gilbert said...

CR:

"Sola,

I have seen you complain about youngsters being exposed to undue sexual content on TV and through other news venues on this blog multiple times. Would you want to have to explain to your eight year old neice or nephew that you just happened to bring to church with you that morning what fornication is because Ms. Hancock's sin was announced from the pulpit on Sunday morning?

There are ways of letting the church know about sin in the camp without resorting to public announcement."

Wrong question, wrong answer. She sinned. She continues to sin. She refuses to repent. The question is: how should the church handle it? Answer: by what the Bible teaches:

15 "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

--Matthew 18:15-17, ESV

There it is. IF they have followed the Biblical discipline procedure above, and every indication is that they have, then what they did was correct. If she didn't want her kids to hear about fornication, then the answer is simple: she should have repented. And, by taking this to the media, not only did her church hear, but so did the whole world! Think about it: she'd rather bring worldwide disgrace on the church than repent of her sin. Bottom line. And unless she repents of all of this, she will be standing before God in a horrific position of judgment, as outlined above.

Gilbert said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gilbert said...

CD-host,

Legal, traditional and moral be hanged: What is the BIBLICAL position? What did God or through his inspired Apostles say about it? God cares *only* about the latter. My previous post--and Joel's---reveal the final authority of God on how this and any matter like it should be handled in the church. Not Calvin, or any other great or lesser preacher. The Bible is the final authority on church discipline. It expressly and clearly spells it out.

CD-Host said...

Gilbert --

I gave two pieces of scripture in my earlier responses.

Are you asserting that scripture indicates that churches have authority over non members? Your passage doesn't apply "If your brother" being used in the sense of your fellow church member (since Rebecca Hancock is no one's biological brother). But she wasn't their fellow church member at the time they "told it to the church". Those verses don't address directly the case at hand, where the person's status alters during verse 16 so that by verse 17 they no longer even claim to be a brother.

Solameanie said...

I'll have to comment very quickly this morning. Crownring..again, I doubt very seriously if the church leadership intends to make any announcements at Sunday morning worship with young children in the audience. That is probably a media distortion, and this woman has little credibility in my view. It would likely be done at a special congregational business meeting, which would not be open to anyone walking in off the street. Big difference.

CD, I hate to say this, but you seem to be parsing words in Clintonesque fashion, i.e. "if your brother" and Rebecca's "biological" status. You are hung up on this idea of "membership," which again is some modern concoction. Now, I will grant you that the primary spiritual responsibility for a person rests with local church leadership, but in keeping with the idea of the church universal, we are all accountable to one another as believers, if we claim to be believers. Decamping hastily from one church because you're mad and going to another congregation does not absolve you of your accountability before God or to your brothers and sisters in Christ. After step three in the process, in essence the church is giving the unrepentant over to Satan to reap the consequences of their choice. If that person is in another congregation, it's the other congregation's primary responsibility, but the former church has the obligation to do what Christ commanded up to and including step three.

If the person has abandoned their faith altogether and declares themselves to be non-Christian or unbelievers, it's a different matter.

Solameanie said...

Gilbert: Think about it: she'd rather bring worldwide disgrace on the church than repent of her sin. Bottom line. And unless she repents of all of this, she will be standing before God in a horrific position of judgment, as outlined above.

Bingo! That's one key element that seems to have escaped many people. If she was so concerned about her reputation and children, why in thunder was she talking to Fox News? Who tipped them off to the story?

CD-Host said...

You are hung up on this idea of "membership," which again is some modern concoction.

I did an extensive interview on discipline with the largest church that has a fully non membership structure (Xenos). I'm familiar with the notion of discipline in a non membership church, but such churches generally see excommunication as a breach in fellowship from that church not something of global effect.

Lets take a perfectly good example. You've clearly asserted that after "tell it to the church" the person is excommunicated. The vast majority of churches consider that excommunication requires another step, often a vote. In fact most believe the point of the telling is so that the church can broadly intervene, bring them to repentance and avoid excommunication. Now you are entitled to your opinion but without membership if a person has gone through 3 stages in my church, halts the sin and repents but is never formally restored (since I don't believe restoration is necessary) should you or should you not consider them to be an unbeliever?

It seems to me that in a world without membership, but with excommunication being considered globally valid excommunication ceases to be anything meaningful at all. Some people think X is not a Christian, some do. Some people believe X has repented others don't agree. It seems to me this creates a situation where excommunication becomes no different than a personal spat between two Christians.

Moreover, I think you are taking this argument in a direction having to do with a personal philosophy. Miss Hancock, her former and current pastor all believe in church membership, speak in terms of membership and are involved in churches that distinguish between attendance and membership. That is everyone who is part of the Hancock dispute agrees in a notion of church membership, so debating whether membership is biblical or not at length strikes me as an irrelevant distraction.

Finally I disagree with you factually that membership is modern. Do you have any evidence that membership is modern? We have writings from late 1st century and early 2nd century Christians and they seem to be aware of a notion of membership and congregation. They talk about election, governance, congregational funds. And I assume you believe that the pastorals were authored by Paul then these writings are even earlier and of divine origin. Who is under the authority of a given elder? Who makes the determination if they are or are not good at teaching, above reproach, rule their own house well? Obviously someone has to make those determinations. Who makes them, Christians worldwide?

Solameanie said...

Let me clarify. When I say "membership" is a modern concoction, I am referring to "membership" as it is understood and constituted today. It seems to me that people think the church is something you can join, pay dues and leave at will just like a social club. We're a little different than that, I think.

I have no doubt that early congregations had a mode of governance, but I would surmise that whatever they did would be more in line with Scripture than a lot of formally constituted "bylaws" now, which seem to be in the end more for some sort of legal protection. I don't think many first century churches would have given much concern to the opinion of the state as to how a church ought to be governed. Many churches today don't exercise proper church discipline because they're afraid of being sued. Is that right?

All that said, I will grant you your point that most churches today do indeed believe in church membership and draw distinctions between attendance and membership. In my mind, I think of the difficulty when you have someone who is an official "member" of a church, but is not regenerate. If they're not regenerate, they are NOT part of the true church, the body of Christ, no matter how long they've been on the "membership" roster. That issue brings up a whole can of worms in and of itself.

If someone has been excommunicated in a church for unrepentant sin, is it right, proper and biblical that they are in good standing at another congregation if they are still in sin? Do Scriptures apply at some churches, but not in others?

This is why this issue is such a big bugaboo with me. At the heart, it goes back to the true unity of the body of Christ being around truth. If we're not unified around biblical truth, then it's ollie ollie oxen free.

Solameanie said...

Here's another good question. What if the church where the erring brother or sister has fled to is in itself apostate?

The final point really is, once a person has left a congregation and Matthew 18 has been followed in entirety, ending up with the excommunication of said person from the congregation, the ex-"member" is now in the hands of the Holy Spirit, and in the worst case scenario, has been delivered over to Satan for the destruction of their flesh, that their soul may be saved. I don't think it's necessary for the former church to pursue their ex-congregant. Paul indicates that they are to be treated as an unbeliever, and that fellowship between the two parties is restricted until there is repentance. I don't think Grace Community is pursuing this woman, but instead is carrying out biblical church discipline.

Phil Perkins said...

Ron,
I didn't say that house churches shouldn't have elders ruling over the flock. Why do you think so?

I'm not wishing to do away with church discipline. No, I'm a proponent of it.

What is different with house churches is that they present a much smaller legal target for those who wish to persecute us. And persecution is exactly what this church is getting. And they're getting it for practicing biblical discipline. This lady's church is exactly right, as you know.

In countries where persecution is rampant, house churches are used for that very reason. Our forefathers did it, so it's not a nutty idea. In fact, the current traditional churches with buildings and ties to government are not the biblical pattern.

Answer this: In the traditional churches, which endeavor receives more man hours and more dollars--Evangelism in their communities or builings and lawns?

We all know the answer. That's upside down.

In Christ,
Phil Perkins. PS--I've only attended traditional churches. I am going to change that, though.

Phil Perkins said...

Sola,
You said, "Here's another good question. What if the church where the erring brother or sister has fled to is in itself apostate?"

Biblically any church who receives a member from another church who is under discipline from that other church IS apostate. That is true unless the first church is wrong.

The reasons I say that are Jude 4 and the "has been bound" passage of Mt 18--for starters. Also, Mt. 18 is a general command to the whole church. If the sinner remains unrepentant, then she's unworthy to bear the name of Christ and the entire assembly ought to shun her until she's righted the wrong. Mt 18 wasn't written to a particular church in a particular situation.

It was written to the apostles and thus to the entire church. It is for the entire church.

In Christ,
Phil Perkins

Solameanie said...

Phil,

Amen, and with that, I think you hit the nail on the head of this whole dispute or discussion. Do the Scriptures apply to the whole church, or does being in a denomination with different rules or official "bylaws" take precedence?

We can see in Scripture that "letters" were circulated between churches. In one instance that comes to mind, Paul directed that his letter be read in all the churches. We also know from the Apostle John's testimony that leaders in some congregations were in rebellion against apostolic authority (i.e. Diotrephes).

crownring said...

Huuumph.........I could be far more uncharitable in my comments here, but it would serve no good purpose.

I have to ask though.......how much unrepented of sin do you all have in your life? Would you like it if someone decided you needed to be disciplined for it by announcing it to the whole world in front of your friends and children on a Sunday morning? Sexual sin is sin, but so is cheating on your income taxes. After all, Jesus did say we should render unto Ceasar what is Ceasar's, did He not? The difference is that Ms Hancock got caught and the IRS didn't catch you. However God sees all and your sin seperates you from Him just as much as Ms Hancock's sin does. Jesus also said we should treat others as we want to be treated. So if you are willing to be publicly humiliated by having YOUR sins announced from the pulpit on Sunday morning in front of your family and friends, feel free go ahead and humiliate others in like fashion. As you sow, so shall you reap.

Stan McCullars said...

Yeah. Let's toss out the Bible and not hold people accountable. All have sinned. Why should pastors have to discipline members? It's so awkward for all parties concerned. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry. (Luke 12:19)

On second thought, perhaps we should obey God rather than attempt to please people who are so easily offended by obedient Christian living.

CD-Host said...

Sola --
Let me clarify. When I say "membership" is a modern concoction, I am referring to "membership" as it is understood and constituted today. It seems to me that people think the church is something you can join, pay dues and leave at will just like a social club.

I think you need to 3 in terms of 3 separate domains.
1) Attitudes within denominations (think of independent churches as mini denominations)
2) Attitudes across denominations
3) Attitudes with regard to the law.

In terms of secular law, a church is exactly like a social club with respect non members. Essentially the same restrictions and protections apply. They are totally different towards members and all sorts of first amendment protections apply. That for example is why the mentor could not be sued for defamation. But, and this is key, secular membership is defined in terms of ongoing consent.

Now within a denomination, churches have an enormous range of their attitudes towards a person's relationship towards a particular church. Some see the relationship as very casual some see it as an almost unbreakable bond (for example the Catholic church). So, IMHO, it doesn't make sense to approach this issue broadly we need to speak about it within the context of a particular governing structure since they vary so widely on this.

Finally across denominations the issues are complex. In general though almost denomination claims appellate jurisdiction over every other one which means discipline cases get essentially retried as people move from church to church. Combine this with a membership that has a very loose relationship to their denominations, and there is no meaningful earthly global effect.

Many churches today don't exercise proper church discipline because they're afraid of being sued. Is that right?

Most churches today don't exercise church discipline because the exercise of church discipline requires a strong connection between a person and their church. People with weak affiliations can't be disciplined. Your shoe store can't discipline you, because you'll just buy your shoes elsewhere. On the other hand, you neighbors can because moving is expensive and difficult.

On the other hand fear of being sued provides a very convenient excuse when it comes to discipline for Protestant churches. But it is an excuse. Jehovah's witnesses, Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, Orthodox Jews have maintained active discipline structures all through the last hundred years and after some minor adjustments don't get sued. That doesn't mean they can ignore the law, but rather they have made minor adjustments so that they are in full conformance with law. But note, they usually have strong bonds between persons and the church. As Mormons have become more geographically diverse, their church is having a much more difficult time with discipline.

That's my $.02 on the topic.


In my mind, I think of the difficulty when you have someone who is an official "member" of a church, but is not regenerate. If they're not regenerate, they are NOT part of the true church, the body of Christ, no matter how long they've been on the "membership" roster.

That in my mind is the purpose of excommunication. Most churches want a regenerate membership or at the very least not an openly unregenerate membership.

If someone has been excommunicated in a church for unrepentant sin, is it right, proper and biblical that they are in good standing at another congregation if they are still in sin?

Generally there are 3 types of relations between churches:

1) They are in the same hierarchy. That is if you go far enough "up" you'll find a body which has actual authority over both of them.

2) They have fraternal relations. That means they agree that each other's discipline processes are valid.

3) They have no formal relationship and there is no obligation to recognize one another's disciplinary processes.

Case 3 I think is the case you are focused on. Here most modern day churches believe the receiving church has appellate jurisdiction (they have the final say) but the originating church should be given respect. Very few that believe in church discipline would just ignore a situation like Miss Hancock's.

Do Scriptures apply at some churches, but not in others? This is why this issue is such a big bugaboo with me. At the heart, it goes back to the true unity of the body of Christ being around truth. If we're not unified around biblical truth, then it's ollie ollie oxen free.

Being unified around the bible doesn't help, Lerins on perspicuity.

Here's another good question. What if the church where the erring brother or sister has fled to is in itself apostate?

Then they have committed rebellion and schism by fleeing to them from your perspective, and have found the "real truth" from the receiving church's perspective. Though very few non liberal churches are casual regarding fornication.

I don't think Grace Community is pursuing this woman, but instead is carrying out biblical church discipline.

That is the point of dispute. I don't think they are carrying on biblical church discipline. IMHO the bible is very clear on the importance of fair judging. Being casual about issues of standing and status by definition show contempt or ignorance for God's law. In their case I believe ignorance.

Solameanie said...

Crownring, I don't see why you're being so stubborn on this, and there's no need to get uncharitable about it. You're reacting emotionally to this, and I hope you can see that. You've pretty much ignored every Scriptural point I've made, which is uncharacteristic of you.

Please tell me what Matthew 18 means in your view. Those are the direct words of the Lord Himself. When Paul said to rebuke those who are unrepentant in the presence of all so that they might be fearful of sinning, what does that mean? Are we to simply ignore what Scripture says?

I would tell you that this is one reason why the church is in such trouble today. I should also remind everyone to remember one of the original points of this whole affair. If this woman was so afraid of her reputation being compromised, why was she so free to talk to international news media to try and bring shame and reproach on the church, not to mention threatening legal action, which would make it all a matter of public record?

By the way, her children in question are not children. I found out yesterday that they are actually young adults.

Solameanie said...

As a corollary to the above discussion, I cited 1 Timothy 6:20 where Paul talks about "those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning."

The immediate context of that passage is dealing with elders, and apparently the discipline of elders. However, if you couple that with what Jesus said in Matthew 18, I don't think it's inconsistent if that practice is also followed in the general fellowship IF the individual in question is unrepentant.

Discuss.