Tag Archives: church

Some Thoughts on Church Discipline…

Okay, I know I’m a bit late.  The Driscoll hysteria has passed.  But I was asked in a final exam for one of my seminary classes about the concept of Church Discipline.  And having been on the pointy end of that stick myself in the last year or so, I thought I might share my two cents here as well.

There are many varying views of the subject, and, in my opinion, there are many abuses of the idea going around in the contemporary church.  Let us begin with the words most commonly used to describe how we ought to carry out discipline in the church.  Those words are the words of Jesus in Matthew 18.  Jesus says,

“If your brother or sister sins,go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

So, what we see here is that Jesus tells us a sort of hierarchy for how to carry out Church Discipline.  We first go individually.  Then we take one or two others.  Then we tell it to the church.  Then we treat them as the pagan or the tax collector.  In contemporary church circles – specifically that of the neo-reformed movement exemplified by Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill in Seattle – this has come to mean that we ought to call people out harshly.  If that doesn’t work, we send in the church’s elders in to beat them up a bit tag-team style.  If that doesn’t work we kick them out of the church and tell anyone who is a member that they ought not talk to them anymore.

Instead of this scenario, I think we ought to approach this subject by taking these verses in their context.  Prior to Jesus speaking these words he had been talking about who will be first in the Kingdom.  He says that children will be first.  He says that whoever wants to be first in the Kingdom ought to become like a child.  And he then continues to say that anyone who causes one of these children to stumble, it would be better for that one if they had never been born.  Then he further gives a parable that illustrates God’s love for those children.  He shows God pursuing the lost child like a shepherd pursues the one lost sheep while leaving behind the 99 to do so.

Then he gives the statement of “church discipline” as a way of preventing abuse by religious leaders.  He lays out a way of dealing with those who “offend” by doing it in a loving and kind way.  After laying out the loving way to deal with “one who sins against you” Peter – apparently looking for a loophole – asks, “how many times do I have to forgive one who sins against me?”  And Jesus answers by telling the parable of the unmerciful servant.  In this parable a servant of the King is forgiven an unpayable debt.  The servant then goes out and demands payment by one of his fellow servants for a minor debt.  The unmerciful servant is then punished because he would not forgive little when he had been forgiven much.

So, the idea of Church Discipline, in this light, consists of lovingly and privately calling out the offense.  Then taking a few people as witnesses if that doesn’t work.  If that doesn’t work, we then involve the church community.  If that doesn’t work we treat them as tax collectors and pagans.  However, this doesn’t mean we kick them out and avoid all contact.  Instead we treat them the way Jesus treated tax collectors and pagans.  We leave the 99 and pursue the 1 who is astray.  We love them and love them and love them no matter what.  We have dinner at their house.  We ask them to change their ways.  But we also never stop inviting them into community.  In no way do we shun them until they get on board with our way.  It is not our job to convict of sin.  That is the job of the Spirit.  It is our job to show love and forgiveness.  And if we must call out sin, then we do so in a loving and forgiving and understanding way.

So, instead of kicking people out who disagree or offend, we love them back into the group.  One of the greatest offenses that Christianity has committed against a dying and lost world is that we have systematically removed ourselves from society by segregating ourselves, and by kicking out anyone who doesn’t fit the mold.  If we follow the model of Jesus then we will draw people to us.  Without compromising Truth, we can at the same time not compromise Love.  Our witness to the world consists in our being the type of Christians who the watching world will see and say, “Wow…look at how they love…I need some of that!”  Instead I’m afraid that they know us by who and what we oppose.  When Jesus ascended into heaven he left us one final legacy.  He said that the world would know we are his and that he was sent by God if we love one another.  At one time the Roman historian Tertullian said, “See how these Christians love one another!”  When you ask someone today what they think of when they think of Christians, that is not the first answer you will get!

So, the challenge I issue today to you and to myself is to make an intentional effort to love someone you disagree with.  Find someone who has harmed you and make an effort to forgive them.  Make every effort to reconcile with them.  And even if you can’t, make every effort to let go of the hate.  Make every effort to be the sort of person who others will look at and say, “Wow!  Look how that person loves!”

Love is the Word,

Believe,

-a

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if i kick out my devils, my angels might leave…

“If I kick out my devils, my angels might leave.” – Iggy Pop

I once heard a preacher say that we should deal with our sins like we are weeding a garden. What I think he meant was that we should be diligent in plucking out the weeds one by one.  We ought to constantly be looking for anything that isn’t what we want to cultivate, and we ought to rip it out.  I agree that we ought to approach sin like weeding a garden, but I think that we need to reevaluate how we weed our gardens.

Let me explain…

Most people I know charge into their garden with pesticide.  They take these chemicals that are formulated to kill off the weeds, but let the plants grow, and they spray them all over everything.  And the chemicals do their job.  Don’t get me wrong.  These chemicals will choke down every single unwanted weed in your garden, and they will allow your vegetables to grow up big and strong.  This is especially true if you use them in conjunction with a few chemical fertilizers.

So now we’ve got no weeds, and we’ve got giant tomatoes…what on earth could my left-wing hippie mind find wrong with that?  Well, if you have to ask, then you obviously don’t know any left-wing hippies…we can find something wrong with anything.

Here’s the problem:

Most of the weeds we have killed are medicinal or are better for food than the plants we are putting in their place.  The lambs quarters you sprayed down and ripped up are way better for you than the spinach you planted in their place.  And the chemicals we spray on the weeds are now in our food.  The soil we are growing the plants in has been monocropped for so long that it has no nutrients left.  The chemical fertilizer we sprinkle on the ground will make the plants grow, but it won’t give back those nutrients.  So, we can make perfect little flavorless, nutrient-free tomatoes that look nice on the vine, but that beyond that will do nothing but cause heartburn and cancer.

And once…

several thousand years ago…

this hippie named Jesus said that a plant is known by its fruit.

So, what if we are doing something very similar in our churches today?  What if we are monocropping in dead soil?  What if we are spraying down and ripping up weeds that might just be better for us than the plants we are trying to force to grow?  What if the fertilizer we are putting down is just making pretty fruits that are flavorless and devoid of nutrition?  What if these fruits that we are growing look perfect on the outside, but they’re really causing heartburn and cancer?

I would argue that this is exactly what we are doing.  We are monocropping in dead soil.  Our denominational politics are seeing to it that nobody with a different viewpoint can speak up in any church.  When they do, they are sent out to find a church where people agree with the things they are saying.  This is not good for the people, and it is not good for the the churches.  It turns churches into echo chambers in which everyone sings the same tune, or at least they learn to fake it really well.

We are spraying down and ripping up weeds that are better for us than what we are trying to grow.  We discourage questioning, doubt, and ambiguity in favor of answers, facts, and rules.  By doing so we cram God into a box.  Anytime God climbs out of that box, we explain it away.  If we are in a “spirit” church, and something intellectual comes along that challenges our thinking, we chalk it up to the devil making those who claim to be wise into fools.  And if we are in a more reformed, cessationist church, then when the Spirit shows up we say, “um…excuse me…can you go sit in the back…it’s just that we have an order of worship here, and you make it difficult to stay on task…”  Sometimes it is the very thing that challenges the core of all the we believe and cling to that we ought to be embracing.

And this fertilizer we put down is making pretty fruit that is empty.  We study all the books that affirm our beliefs.  We listen to music that always has an uplifting message.  We say things like, “scripture interprets scripture.”  But what we really mean is that the scriptures we believe are used to interpret the scriptures we don’t really believe.  Everything is set up so that what we are growing in is pure, bright, white, and clean.  And we produce fruit that is as bland and flavorless as those genetically modified, chemically grown tomatoes.

In actuality what makes a real, delicious, nutritious fruit is something completely different.  We take heirloom seeds, passed down from generation to generation.  Seeds that have seen abundance, but also drought.  Seeds that have survived through good times and through times when it looked like those seeds could never grow.  And we put them in soil that is full of death and decay.  Soil that is mixed in with rotten, decaying, used up things.  These are the things that give the soil its substance.  The things that have been sacrificed.  We give them pure water and bright sunshine.

And sometimes we pray for rain.

And there are “weeds” we allow to grow.  We mix flowers in amongst the plants.  We don’t put things in straight lines, because that’s what the predators are looking for.  We let things be messy and sloppy, and not technically correct.  And the fruit we produce may be ugly.  It may have lumps and dark spots.  It may have a place where a worm had lunch.  So be it.  Cut it off, and enjoy the rest!

This imperfectly perfect fruit will be the greatest you have ever tasted.  It will give you life which springs forth out of death.  It will give you joy that springs out of the pain of labor.  It will surprise you.  It will shock you.  It will leave you standing in gape-mouthed wonder at the beautiful flavors that can come from something so plain.

But it will never…

ever…

be bland.

Love,

-a


frankenstein’s monster and the greatest con…

Francis Schaeffer teaches in “A Christian Manifesto” that Christians have been busy fighting symptoms.  We attack abortion.  We attack sexual issues.  We attack divorce.  We attack pornography.  Granted, all these issues, and in fact all issues period, need to be addressed in a loving and truthful way based on what God’s Word tells us.  However, we have failed to address the cause of these symptoms.  The underlying cause of these symptoms is a shift in world view.  We have experienced a shift from a world view in which, however vaguely, most of us believed that God was the ultimate reality of the universe.  The shift that has occurred is to a materialistic view of the world.  I do not mean “materialistic” in the sense of consumerism, though consumerism is one of the symptoms of the type of materialism I am addressing.  I mean materialism in the sense that the ultimate base of reality is impersonal energy.  We have dissected the universe, attached a label to the parts, and when we put it back together again we find we have created a corpse!  Like Frankenstein’s monster, we have assembled mankind (and the universe) out of parts from a graveyard, and expected that somehow man was no more than the sum of those parts.  Then we stand amazed when the soul-less monster we have created begins to wreak havoc!

Traditional Chinese Medicine teaches that when you treat a symptom rather than a cause, you drive the cause deeper into your body.  It then manifests itself as something much worse than you began with.  If you get a cold and simply suppress your cough, then it drives deeper into your chest and becomes pneumonia.  If you treat only the symptoms of pneumonia, then it drives deeper and eventually becomes cancer.  I would argue that we as the Church have been treating symptoms for so long that this materialistic worldview has spread like a cancer through our very bones!  We are wholly unprepared to deal with the reality of a God that is here and now.

A Christian brother sent me a link to a blog by Father Stephen.  I wholeheartedly recommend reading what both of these men have to say.  Father Stephen says that the problem of Christianity is not that we don’t believe, but that we ship our experience off-shore.  We behave as if all real spiritual activity takes place somewhere other than right here and right now.  He continues to say:

Thus salvation is something accomplished in history (on the cross) or in the mind of God (a forensic or legal atonement) or anywhere other than here and now. Sacraments become memorials, a testimony to Divine Absence rather than Divine Presence. Initiation into the Church is accomplished by an “ordinance” which is simply viewed as a sign, a public act of obedience in which nothing happens (except perhaps in the off-shore location).

We have a schizophrenic view of God.  We see a God of Holiness in the Old Testament.  Then we see a God of Grace and Love in the New Testament.  We can’t seem to wrap our heads around the fact that God’s Holiness is His Love and His Love is His Holiness!  Even when we do manage to get the full image of God, we are still left with this idea of Him as our really big friend who lives a long way away, but who promises to make things good for us one day.  We treat prayer as a last resort; a desperate act that only works on television or in Guideposts magazine.  We think of angels as tiny little bits of our conscience, sitting on our shoulder arguing with a devil in red pajamas.  We think of demons as subjects for scary movies, but not much more than that.  As the French poet Baudelaire first pointed out, “la plus belle des ruses du diable est de vous persuader qu’il n’existe pas!” (“The Devil’s best trick is to persuade you he doesn’t exist!”).

A friend of mine made a very good point about this.  He said that this is, in a lot of ways, a problem of the American view of God.  We have, as a nation, experienced unprecedented wealth.  So, we view God as a God who gives us stuff.  We base the worth of a person on the number and the cost of the things the has.  We are obsessed with things we can touch.  So, even though God is the God of all of reality, we think of Him in that off-shore location that Father Stephen spoke of.  What’s more, we have a really difficult time with the Gospel.  We want to add rules to follow.  We want to make it about our own effort.  We live in a nation that prides itself on the notion that anyone can, if she works hard enough, rise from poverty.  A person can work, and sweat, and slave, and make something of himself.  So, this idea of submitting…this idea that no matter how hard I try, it’s not good enough…this is nearly impossible for us to grasp.  How could it be that the result of pride, and doing it myself, never asking for help, ends up with hell?  How could it be that the result of saying, “I can’t do this!  I need you!  Please save me!” is really what makes us fully human?  But it is.  It is the beautiful paradox of the Gospel.

So what do we do about this?  I feel like I’m being very harsh on the Church.  But it is because I love the Church.  And I believe that we have so many things right.  But because of this love, I cannot help but draw attention to the places we find ourselves lacking.  We are being taken to school by the new agers, the modern pagans, the taoist-witch-pantheists, when it comes to this understanding that we are separated from Divinity by only the thinnest of veils (and a veil that is really our own blindness to the fact that the veil was torn when Christ died on the cross).  It is a shame.  We have in God’s Word, the manual.  We have the key to understanding how to navigate the supernatural.  We have the key to understanding that the supernatural and the natural are not really separate.  As E.E. Cummings so aptly wrote of humanity, we as the Church are “perpetually putting the secret of life in [our] pants and forgetting it’s there and sitting down on it.”  We hold the keys.  It is high time we dig them from the cracks in the sofa where we’ve lost them, and begin to put them to use!

John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” – Luke 3:16