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Posts Tagged ‘church discipline’

A Biblical Church Growth Model?

Posted by Job on October 12, 2008

The church growth movement is exceedingly controversial, and not without cause. Some of the better known members of this movement are associated with false doctrines and movements, and many of them have simply added church growth practice to their already man – centered or charismatic ideologies. Because of this, a lot of people take the church growth movement to be inherently man – centered or charismatic.

The main problem is that the church growth movement is not a doctrine, practice, or movement associated with the historic or traditional church. However, we must consider the reasons for this. From the time of Constantinism until very recently, Christianity – Catholicism and Protestantism – was dominated by “Christendom.” That is, in typical countries there were state churches where all citizens “joined” by being born in a country and baptized in its church, usually as an infant. In more recent times in nations like America without a state church tradition, the huge majority of the population was nonetheless Christian. So the only place where “church growth” was a concern was in third world mission fields.

Now, we are what it is called the “post Christian era”, which is actually the “post – Christendom era.” This is one where the state churches are curious anachronisms to which less than 2% of the population of a country is a member of, and even the tiny percentages that have actually been baptized into them rarely attend. Further, in nations like America where state churches never existed but generally Christian cultures did, church attendance is declining, especially among people under 40. Therefore, the west – America and Europe – has become a mission field. 

So while the church growth movement has issues, Christians have to recognize that our environment in which we run our churches and evangelize has changed. No longer can we presume most of our neighbors to be Christian. We cannot even presume most of our neighbors to respect, support, be interested in, or have any working knowledge of Christianity. That is why so many of the broad attacks on Christians and the Bible from people like Bill Maher, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Dan Brown are so popular. It is also why the behavior of corrupt well known ministers as well as of leaders of the religious right are so harmful. 

One manifestation of this is how so many people seem to honestly believe that Christians who believe in the great tribulation and the imminent return of Jesus Christ want to provoke war in the Middle East so that the rapture will occur more quickly. So many people honestly believe that such thoughts motivated George W. Bush to attack Iraq that it isn’t funny. Another more recent one is the common charge that evangelicals are hypocrites for supporting female political leaders i.e. Sarah Palin and not female ecclesiastical leaders, which betrays a lack of not only basic Bible knowledge but a total lack of familiarity with contemporary church culture, where women hold plenty of nonpastoral positions of responsibility (how many private Christian schools would fold TOMORROW were it not for female administrators?).

So rather than reject the church growth movement because there is no long history of church practice or doctrine for it the good people of Latvia didn’t need to practice church growth when everyone born in that region was baptized into the state eastern Orthodox church, we need to investigate whether a bible based God honoring method of growing churches that can be replicated in various churches and settings can be produced. I hope that the link below represents a contribution to what can be a useful field of Christian study and practice.

Biblical Church Growth Using Biblical Church Governance and Discipline

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Carnal Church Of Judge Not Beware: Church Discipline Making A Comeback!

Posted by Job on January 23, 2008

Original link here. Biblical justification for practice: 1 Corinthians 5:1-6 Not saying that everyone who does this does it for Biblical reasons and by Biblical practice; I know that there are more than a few who want to “stone women caught in the act of adultery” to borrow from the incident of the woman brought before Jesus Christ, but their abuses are no excuse to disobey the Bible and allow lascivious antinominaism.

Banned From Church
Reviving an ancient practice, churches are exposing sinners and shunning those who won’t repent.
By ALEXANDRA ALTER
January 18, 2008; Page W1

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.

Dave Krieger/Getty Images
PODCASTS

• Hear an interview with Doug Laycock, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Michigan, about the legal implications of church discipline.
• Hear the 911 call made by Pastor Burrick.
* * *

CAST OFF

• Timeline: View a brief history of shunning and excommunication.The revival is part of a broader movement to restore churches to their traditional role as moral enforcers, Christian leaders say. Some say that contemporary churches have grown soft on sinners, citing the rise of suburban megachurches where pastors preach self-affirming messages rather than focusing on sin and redemption. Others point to a passage in the gospel of Matthew that says unrepentant sinners must be shunned.

Causing Disharmony

Watermark Community Church, a nondenominational church in Dallas that draws 4,000 people to services, requires members to sign a form stating they will submit to the “care and correction” of church elders. Last week, the pastor of a 6,000-member megachurch in Nashville, Tenn., threatened to expel 74 members for gossiping and causing disharmony unless they repented. The congregants had sued the pastor for access to the church’s financial records.

First Baptist Church of Muscle Shoals, Ala., a 1,000-member congregation, expels five to seven members a year for “blatant, undeniable patterns of willful sin,” which have included adultery, drunkenness and refusal to honor church elders. About 400 people have left the church over the years for what they view as an overly harsh persecution of sinners, Pastor Jeff Noblit says.

The process can be messy, says Al Jackson, pastor of Lakeview Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala., which began disciplining members in the 1990s. Once, when the congregation voted out an adulterer who refused to repent, an older woman was confused and thought the church had voted to send the man to hell.

Karolyn Caskey was expelled from Allen Baptist Church after clashing with the pastor.
Amy Hitt, 43, a mortgage officer in Amissville, Va., was voted out of her Baptist congregation in 2004 for gossiping about her pastor’s plans to buy a bigger house. Her ouster was especially hard on her twin sons, now 12 years old, who had made friends in the church, she says. “Some people have looked past it, but then there are others who haven’t,” says Ms. Hitt, who believes the episode cost her a seat on the school board last year; she lost by 42 votes.

Scholars estimate that 10% to 15% of Protestant evangelical churches practice church discipline — about 14,000 to 21,000 U.S. congregations in total. Increasingly, clashes within churches are spilling into communities, splitting congregations and occasionally landing church leaders in court after congregants, who believed they were confessing in private, were publicly shamed.

In the past decade, more than two dozen lawsuits related to church discipline have been filed as congregants sue pastors for defamation, negligent counseling and emotional injury, according to the Religion Case Reporter, a legal-research database. Peggy Penley, a Fort Worth, Texas, woman whose pastor revealed her extramarital affair to the congregation after she confessed it in confidence, waged a six-year battle against the pastor, charging him with negligence. Last summer, the Texas Supreme Court dismissed her suit, ruling that the pastor was exercising his religious beliefs by publicizing the affair.

Allen Baptist Church
Courts have often refused to hear such cases on the grounds that churches are protected by the constitutional right to free religious exercise, but some have sided with alleged sinners. In 2003, a woman and her husband won a defamation suit against the Iowa Methodist conference and its superintendent after he publicly accused her of “spreading the spirit of Satan” because she gossiped about her pastor. A district court rejected the case, but the Iowa Supreme Court upheld the woman’s appeal on the grounds that the letter labeling her a sinner was circulated beyond the church.

Advocates of shunning say it rarely leads to the public disclosure of a member’s sin. “We’re not the FBI; we’re not sniffing around people’s homes trying to find out some secret sin,” says Don Singleton, pastor of Ridgeview Baptist Church in Talladega, Ala., who says the 50-member church has disciplined six members in his 2½ years as pastor. “Ninety-nine percent of these cases never go that far.”

When they do, it can be humiliating. A devout Christian and grandmother of three, Mrs. Caskey moves with a halting gait, due to two artificial knees and a double hip replacement. Friends and family describe her as a generous woman who helped pay the electricity bill for Allen Baptist, in Allen, Mich., when funds were low, gave the church $1,200 after she sold her van, and even cut the church’s lawn on occasion. She has requested an engraved image of the church on her tombstone.

Gossip and Slander

Her expulsion came as a shock to some church members when, in August 2006, the pastor sent a letter to the congregation stating Mrs. Caskey and an older married couple, Patsy and Emmit Church, had been removed for taking “action against the church and your preacher.” The pastor, Mr. Burrick, told congregants the three were guilty of gossip, slander and idolatry and should be shunned, according to several former church members.

“People couldn’t believe it,” says Janet Biggs, 53, a former church member who quit the congregation in protest.

The conflict had been brewing for months. Shortly after the church hired Mr. Burrick in 2005 to help revive the congregation, which had dwindled to 12 members, Mrs. Caskey asked him to appoint a board of deacons to help govern the church, a tradition outlined in the church’s charter. Mr. Burrick said the congregation was too small to warrant deacons. Mrs. Caskey pressed the issue at the church’s quarterly business meetings and began complaining that Mr. Burrick was not following the church’s bylaws. “She’s one of the nicest, kindest people I know,” says friend and neighbor Robert Johnston, 69, a retired cabinet maker. “But she won’t be pushed around.”

Karolyn Caskey reads her Bible.
In April 2006, Mrs. Caskey received a stern letter from Mr. Burrick. “This church will not tolerate this spirit of cancer and discord that you would like to spread,” it said. Mrs. Caskey, along with Mr. and Mrs. Church, continued to insist that the pastor follow the church’s constitution. In August, she received a letter from Mr. Burrick that said her failure to repent had led to her removal. It also said he would not write her a transfer letter enabling her to join another church, a requirement in many Baptist congregations, until she had “made things right here at Allen Baptist.”

She went to Florida for the winter, and when she returned to Michigan last June, she drove the two miles to Allen Baptist as usual. A church member asked her to leave, saying she was not welcome, but Mrs. Caskey told him she had come to worship and asked if they could speak after the service. Twenty minutes into the service, a sheriff’s officer was at her side, and an hour later, she was in jail.

“It was very humiliating,” says Mrs. Caskey, who worked for the state of Michigan for 25 years before retiring from the Department of Corrections in 1992. “The other prisoners were surprised to see a little old lady in her church clothes. One of them said, ‘You robbed a church?’ and I said, ‘No, I just attended church.’ ”

Word quickly spread throughout Allen, a close-knit town of about 200 residents. Once a thriving community of farmers and factory workers, Allen consists of little more than a strip of dusty antiques stores. Mr. and Mrs. Church, both in their 70s, eventually joined another Baptist congregation nearby.

About 25 people stopped attending Allen Baptist Church after Mrs. Caskey was shunned, according to several former church members.

Current members say they support the pastor’s actions, and they note that the congregation has grown under his leadership. The simple, white-washed building now draws around 70 people on Sunday mornings, many of them young families. “He’s a very good leader; he has total respect for the people,” says Stephen Johnson, 66, an auto parts inspector, who added that Mr. Burrick was right to remove Mrs. Caskey because “the Bible says causing discord in the church is an abomination.”

Mrs. Caskey went back to the church about a month after her arrest, shortly after the county prosecutor threw out the trespassing charge. More than a dozen supporters gathered outside, some with signs that read “What Would Jesus Do?” She sat in the front row as Mr. Burrick preached about “infidels in the pews,” according to reports from those present.

Once again, Mrs. Caskey was escorted out by a state trooper and taken to jail, where she posted the $62 bail and was released. After that, the county prosecutor dismissed the charge and told county law enforcement not to arrest her again unless she was creating a disturbance.

In the following weeks, Mrs. Caskey continued to worship at Allen Baptist. Some congregants no longer spoke to her or passed the offering plate, and some changed seats if she sat next to them, she says.

Mr. Burrick repeatedly declined to comment on Mrs. Caskey’s case, calling it a “private ecclesiastical matter.” He did say that while the church does not “blacklist” anyone, a strict reading of the Bible requires pastors to punish disobedient members. “A lot of times, flocks aren’t willing to submit or be obedient to God,” he said in an interview before a Sunday evening service. “If somebody is not willing to be helped, they forfeit their membership.”

In Christianity’s early centuries, church discipline led sinners to cover themselves with ashes or spend time in the stocks. In later centuries, expulsion was more common. Until the late 19th century, shunning was widely practiced by American evangelicals, including Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists. Today, excommunication rarely occurs in the U.S. Catholic Church, and shunning is largely unheard of among mainline Protestants.

Little Consensus

Among churches that practice discipline, there is little consensus on how sinners should be dealt with, says Gregory Wills, a theologian at Southern Baptist Theological seminary. Some pastors remove members on their own, while other churches require agreement among deacons or a majority vote from the congregation.

Since Mrs. Caskey’s second arrest last July, the turmoil at Allen Baptist has fizzled into an awkward stalemate. Allen Baptist is an independent congregation, unaffiliated with a church hierarchy that might review the ouster. Supporters have urged Mrs. Caskey to sue to have her membership restored, but she says the matter should be settled in the church. Mr. Burrick no longer calls the police when Mrs. Caskey shows up for Sunday services.

Since November, Mrs. Caskey has been attending a Baptist church near her winter home in Tavares, Fla. She plans to go back to Allen Baptist when she returns to Michigan this spring.

“I don’t intend to abandon that church,” Mrs. Caskey says. “I feel like I have every right to be there.”

Write to Alexandra Alter at alexandra.alter@wsj.com

Posted in Christian hypocrisy, christian worldliness, Christianity, church hypocrisy, church scandal, church worldliness | Tagged: | 25 Comments »

 
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