"Our action in removing members was motivated fundamentally by a desire to become a more biblically-functioning church"

Church Disciplines 575 Members

In our monthly Members Meeting, I read a recommendation that included the names of all 575 members to be excluded from membership. The recommendation was seven pages long, and we took the time to read every name on the list. It was very sobering. Our by-laws call for a ballot vote in removing members, so we voted by ballot.

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There are 29 Comments

Jack's picture

An imprecise headline, I think. The article itself uses excommunication, exclude, and remove.

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Actually, the article seems to indicate the vote was the final step in what appears to be a Matt. 18 process. Teaching was presented. Direction was indicated. Individuals were confronted. Then the vote to remove those who refused counsel was taken. Seems legitimate to me. In what way do you see a violation of Matt 18, Ted?

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Pastor Harold's picture

Amen! May it happen more often! Hopefully pastors will look into these swelling church roles and ask themselves what is causing this and then determine to do something about it. I know there will be "tares among the wheat" and we will never fully prevent this from happening but a lot of these #'s come from pastors eager to pad their stats.

Charlie's picture

I agree they needed to trim the roles. It's the pious posturing that sickens me. I disagree that it needed be handled in "church discipline" fashion. I would like to concur that discipline was not what was going on, but the pastor certainly acted as if it were, and he did not correct the interviewer when the interviewer used the word "excommunicated."

This is a clear case of projection. The church leadership over the past several years has conducted itself poorly enough that it has 500+ people that it doesn't even know where they are or what they're doing. So, to remedy the situation, they're going to put the blame on the people and tell them they need to fix the problem... or else. Then, they pat themselves on the back and congratulate each other on their commitment to meaningful membership.

The whole process is way out of line. "Reaffirm your membership." What does that mean? Baptism is my membership. This "contact us or you're out" policy is absurd. That's a far cry from a Matt. 18 process. The people at the member meeting can take comfort knowing that they're the ones who are really committed to following Jesus. I hope that makes them happy.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Larry's picture

Moderator

Quote:
I disagree that it needed be handled in "church discipline" fashion.
Church discipline is what happens when someone lives in unrepentant sin. Since the Bible commands meeting together, to fail to do so is unrepentant sin. Therefore, removing them from the membership is church discipline over the unrepentant sin of failing to assemble with the body, is it not?

Quote:
The church leadership over the past several years has conducted itself poorly enough that it has 500+ people that it doesn't even know where they are or what they're doing.
Curious as to why it is the church leaderships responsibility here. Isn't it the members responsibility to show and keep the promises they made?

Quote:
So, to remedy the situation, they're going to put the blame on the people and tell them they need to fix the problem... or else.
I missed that part of the article, I think. They said that "Sermons were preached, letters were mailed, articles were written, contact lists were published, phone calls and visits were made, time was given." That doesn't sound like putting the blame on the people.

However, more to the point, when someone habitual doesn't show up to church and keep the promise they made, who should we blame? And who can fix that problem? I think the only person to blame is the person who doesn't show up and the only way to fix the problem is to show up and keep your promises.

Quote:
"Reaffirm your membership." What does that mean?
Based on their wording about "our church's mission, doctrine, and covenant" doesn't it mean to reaffirm that you agree with our church's mission, doctrine, and covenant and that you intend to live by them?

Quote:
This "contact us or you're out" policy is absurd.
I don't think that was the policy, was it? At least I didn't see that there. They talked about how they contacted people in multiple ways and left plenty of time.

Quote:
That's a far cry from a Matt. 18 process.
How is going multiple times to people who are living in habitual sin a "far cry from the Matt. 18 process"? What do you think the Matt 18 process is?

Quote:
The people at the member meeting can take comfort knowing that they're the ones who are really committed to following Jesus. I hope that makes them happy.
I suppose this raises the question of can you be "really committed to following Jesus" if you don't show up at the church and keep the promises you made to them?

Charlie's picture

What happened is that a church remedied a record-keeping problem (in a muddled manner) and acted like it made some great stride for Jesus.

According to the article, "Half of them had moved away, and the other half still lived in the area but never worshiped with us." So, I imagine that of the people still remaining, they were of several types. One type may have found another church. Another type may not go to church anymore and may not care what the leaders do. (In this case, the church excommunicating them is like a boss shouting, "Oh yeah, well you're fired" after an employee quits.) I imagine that those who refused to go to church ever but really wanted to retain membership were a distinct minority. The actions of the church, however, really apply meaningfully only to this group.

So, what actually happened at that member meeting? If we say the church disciplined all those people, then I'm struck by the oddness of disciplining people for moving out of town. If we say the church merely removed them, dropped them from the roll in a way that implies nothing about their spiritual status, then no discipline in fact took place and the accompanying hype and "biblically faithful" rhetoric makes no sense. If they did not differentiate between what actions they were taking regarding distinct individuals, then we have a mess. Who is excommunicated and needs to be regarded as "a Gentile and a tax collector" and who just left town or moved to another church? The last scenario seems to be what happened, and it's a mess.

At best, what we have is a church cleaning up their records to reflect reality, which is a good idea, but hardly merits the posturing they took and praise they're receiving. But I detect a darker undertone to the rhetoric. Rather than simply admit that they have a records problem and need to clean up their rolls, they decided to super-spiritualize the process. The slogan seems to me to be "Are you in or out?" The message is that those who re-affirm the membership are the biblically faithful people, and these names that are being read out are those who are not. They're not willing to do what it takes to make the grade. I wonder how much farther they will go in excluding those who aren't committed enough to the church.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Ted Bigelow's picture

Chip Van Emmerik wrote:
Actually, the article seems to indicate the vote was the final step in what appears to be a Matt. 18 process. Teaching was presented. Direction was indicated. Individuals were confronted. Then the vote to remove those who refused counsel was taken. Seems legitimate to me. In what way do you see a violation of Matt 18, Ted?

Hi Chip,

Have I missed the word "vote" in the Matthew 18:15-17? Wink

The Lord doesn't call for a vote anymore than He calls for a potluck dinner. What He does command is that the church respond to the "established evidence" of the two or three witnesses to the offender's sin and impenitence (Mat. 18:16), The church is not called to vote, but to go and confront the impenitent. As Jesus says, "if he refuses to listen to even to the church..."

Discipline is the process of making a person aware of their sin and calling for repentance from it, specifically. This church didn't do that.

Greg Long's picture

Mark Dever did a similar thing when he came to Capitol Hill. He tells the story at the Weekender about a members' meeting in which they removed hundreds of people from the membership rolls, and they voted on each of them individually. This, of course, was after multiple attempts to contact each of them.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Greg Long's picture

BTW, as a commenter pointed out, the pastor being interviewed never used the word "excommunicated." Here's the initial exchange:

Quote:
JL: David, I heard that you recently excommunicated 500 members from your church. Can this be right?

DK: What you heard is only partly true. We actually removed 575 members. (emphasis added)

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Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Larry's picture

Moderator

Quote:
The Lord doesn't call for a vote anymore than He calls for a potluck dinner. What He does command is that the church respond to the "established evidence" of the two or three witnesses to the offender's sin and impenitence (Mat. 18:16), The church is not called to vote, but to go and confront the impenitent. As Jesus says, "if he refuses to listen to even to the church..."
How does the church speak corporately? Through a vote. The fact that the word "vote" is not used is a straw man. It misses the point of a how a church speaks as a church. It's the same way any body speaks as a body.

Quote:
Discipline is the process of making a person aware of their sin and calling for repentance from it, specifically. This church didn't do that.
The article says that the preached on it, sent letters, visited, made phone calls, etc. Wouldn't you think all of that was to make people aware of their sin and calling them to repentance?

Ted Bigelow's picture

Larry wrote:
How does the church speak corporately? Through a vote. The fact that the word "vote" is not used is a straw man. It misses the point of a how a church speaks as a church. It's the same way any body speaks as a body.

Hi Larry,

Kindly go back and read the passage. Please focus on the Lord's terms, "refuses to listen." Notice they are used of both the witnesses, and the church, in Mat. 18:17. Therefore, our Lord is commanding the church to do precisely the same personal confrontation as the witnesses.

No church in the NT, Larry, ever spake corporately through a church vote. So for me to correct that assumption, based on Scripture, is not building a straw man. Isn't it those who claim that "churches patterned after the NT speak through votes" who erect a man of straw?

Quote:
The article says that the preached on it, sent letters, visited, made phone calls, etc. Wouldn't you think all of that was to make people aware of their sin and calling them to repentance?

No, becasue they didn't identify the sin(s) of these people as such in those communications. They were merely calling them to come back to attend religious services. The process in Matthew 18 is explicit about this, since the purpose of discipline is repentance from sin, not attendance upon religious services.

Thanks for the questions.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Quote:
Please focus on the Lord's terms, "refuses to listen." Notice they are used of both the witnesses, and the church, in v. 17. Therefore, our Lord is commanding the church to do precisely the same personal confrontation as the witnesses.
So how does that happen? How does the church personally confront an individual differently than a witness would? How would that take place.

Quote:
No church in the NT, Larry, ever spake corporately through a church vote.
I think that is incorrect. Consider the idea of "selecting from among yourselves" in Acts 6. The most reasonable way (the only way?) to take that is that there was some sort of congregational voice. In 1 Cor 5, the church is to put out from among them. AGain, the most reasonable way (the only way?) to take that is there was some sort of congregational voice. If that's not a vote, then how does the congregation make that voice known?

If there is no vote how would the church do anything as a church? How would they call a pastor, or a deacon?

Furthermore, you note that in Matt 18 there is a difference between the 2 or 3 witnesses and the church. Is your position that the whole church body must physically go en masse to the person? Do you envision that as X hundred people standing at the front door or crowding into a living room for this congregation? Or a conference call during a church meeting? How exactly does the confrontation of the witnesses differ from the confrontation of the church?

Quote:
No, becasue they didn't identify the sin(s) of these people as such in those communications.
REally? How do you know this? Did you see them? Because I didn't see them. If you have a copy, I would love to see it to confirm that you are correct. If they did not identify abandoning the body as "sin," then you are correct.

Quote:
The process in Matthew 18 is explicit about this, since the purpose of discipline is repentance from sin, not attendance upon religious services.
So would you say that abandoning the body is not a sin?

Ted Bigelow's picture

Great questions. I don't have time to answer them in the detail they deserve. Please forgive me. Perhaps when my book, The Titus Mandate, comes out next year you'll pick it up.

How does a church confront an impenitent member? Personally. Those in the church who know the person go to him/her and ask him/her to repent. What's to vote on? The matter is already established as fact (Mat. 18:16). The Lord doesn't bear witness to the "voice of the congregation" but to the witnesses (Mat. 18:20).

I understand your view of Acts 6 and 1 Cor. 5 - I used to think of them the same way. Acts 6 is selection based on pre-set criteria (number, gender, qualifications). It wasn't up for vote, but recognition. Notice all the names are Hellenistic, not Hebraic. In 1 Cor. 5, what's to vote on? Paul is commanding them to put the man out, not asking them to vote on it. The voting position means that Paul shouldn't have commanded the church to put the man out, since they are the "final authority." What if they had voted, but had voted to retain the man? They were already leaning this way.

Lastly, I am basing my assertion that the non-attenders of this church were not confronted for sin based on the interview I read. Nor were they charged with "abandoning the body" - perhaps we should put a biblical term on that - like, "hatred?" :cry:

Larry's picture

Moderator

Quote:
How does a church confront an impenitent member? Personally. Those in the church who know the person go to him/her and ask him/her to repent.
It is hard to see how "church" equals "those in the church who know the person." You are equating "church" with "part of the church." I don't think that is warranted. It seems to me that the church as a whole are the ones who are supposed to speak to them, not the part of the church that knows them.

Quote:
What's to vote on?
On putting them out--treating them as a sinner. The church makes the statement as a body. It is not "Those who know them" (something relatively easy to say if it had been intended) who makes the statement that they are to listen to, but the church itself.

Quote:
The matter is already established as fact (Mat. 18:16). The Lord doesn't bear witness to the "voice of the congregation" but to the witnesses (Mat. 18:20).
And the church, based on that fact, is to speak to the person. The two or three witnesses is to confirm it to the church not the Lord. He already knows the facts.

Quote:
Acts 6 is selection based on pre-set criteria (number, gender, qualifications). It wasn't up for vote, but recognition.
Then why doesn't it say "recognize"? It says "Select." I assume that there were more than seven qualified men (else, why specify seven?), and that seven must be selected from among the qualified. How did that selection take place? Or how would a congregational "recognition" take place if not by some corporate statement?

Quote:
In 1 Cor. 5, what's to vote on?
On putting the person out. When Paul says "You should have done this," he is referring to what the body should have done, not what an individual should have done.

Quote:
Paul is commanding them to put the man out, not asking them to vote on it. The voting position means that Paul shouldn't have commanded the church to put the man out, since they are the "final authority." What if they had voted, but had voted to retain the man? They were already leaning this way.
Then they would be disobedient. Paul was exercising apostolic authority. But the church was to put them out. How does the church do that? What mechanism does the church have to put someone out of the church?

I think that is the question you are not answering here in any of this. You are kind of beating around the bush. How does the church body do anything? You have said they should "recognize" deacons. But how does the body do that? It certainly isn't "pick them out of a lineup" is it? You say that Paul commanded them (meaning the church) to put them out. But how does the church do that? What means would they use?

Quote:
Lastly, I am basing my assertion that the non-attenders of this church were not confronted for sin based on the interview I read. Nor were they charged with "abandoning the body" - perhaps we should put a biblical term on that - like, "hatred?"
I don't think "hatred" is a biblical term that is ever used as you use it, but perhaps I am forgetting something. Hebrews 11:24-25 was cited, so I think to say that they were not confronted with sin is reading far more into than is warranted. You may be right, but you certainly have no basis for saying that based on this interview. You are assuming the worst, aren't you?

Ted Bigelow's picture

Hi Larry,

I believe a church is to be led by elders, who have the final authority, as granted by Scripture. I do not believe the congregation has that final authority. Therein lies most of our differences.

A lot of your questions and comments assume that the congregation has ultimate authority. My statements reflect a different understanding.

Have you interacted with the Scripture on Mat. 18 - the "refuse to listen" comments I wrote above? If I understand the Lord's words correctly here, the church is to go in the same manner to the impenitent as the witnesses do. While applying that is always a challenge, it resists the idea of a vote.

I like to discuss these things with men like yourself. I always learn things, so thanks. You are correct in your statements on "hatred" above. I was just searching for a good biblical phrase. "Hatred" seems too strong, like I'm assuming the worst (as you rightly say). The problem here is that the sin of non-attendance is one of omission, not commission. Any other thoughts on identifying the sin with a biblical name?

And here's another thought for you, just to keep your juices flowing. Wink Just like the texts cited don't refer to votes, Acts 6 doesn't refer to deacons. You have to read that into the text. The word for "deaconing" is used in Acts 6:2 and 6:4, but refers to the apostles. Surely if Luke wanted to identify the 7 as deacons, he had the vocabulary. Yet, as led by the Holy Spirit, he did not.

Greg Long's picture

Larry, I've been back and forth with Ted on this as well and agree with your assessment of the NT evidence. The clearest verse for me is 2 Cor. 2:6--"For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough..." Somehow, the majority made known its desire to inflict punishment on this individual. How did they do so? The most natural way is by some kind of vote, whether by voice, hand, or ballot. If there are other alternatives, I'm certainly open to hearing them.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Larry's picture

Moderator

Quote:
I believe a church is to be led by elders, who have the final authority, as granted by Scripture. I do not believe the congregation has that final authority. Therein lies most of our differences.
I assumed that was the case. Here's my quick response to that. Matt 18 says "let him hear the church" not "the elders." There is (as you know) a great Greek word for "elders" and Matt 18 doesn't use it. 1 Cor 5 also makes no mention of the elders. It is written to the church. I don't see any biblical support for the elders determining who is in and out of the church. The only places I can recall where it is explicitly mentioned, it is given to the church body.

Quote:
Have you interacted with the Scripture on Mat. 18 - the "refuse to listen" comments I wrote above? If I understand the Lord's words correctly here, the church is to go in the same manner to the impenitent as the witnesses do. While applying that is always a challenge, it resists the idea of a vote.
I don't think so at all. I think the listening is the same. The question is, how does "a church" speak in such a way as to be refused to be heard? In your scenario, what is the difference between two and three who go privately (not individually) and the church? You seem to be suggesting that those who know the person equals "the church" (first mistake, IMO), and that they should go individually not together (I don't want to misread you there, but I don't imagine you envision several hundred people doing this at once, though that in itself would be a vote). So how would a church speak in a way as to be heard? You can switch that to "elders" in spite of the word "church" being used.

I think Jesus' commands envision four steps: Individual, two or three, church, eviction.

The individual, witnesses, and church each speak as one. The witnesses don't speak as "two or three" but as one in agreement. the church likewise speaks as a body.

BTW, to me, the better argument IMO is to argue that Jesus was speaking pre-church. That is an argument that, IMO, is harder to answer. But my suspicion is that you think there was a church there and so you can't make the only argument that is difficult.

Quote:
The problem here is that the sin of non-attendance is one of omission, not commission.
I have never found that distinction particularly helpful in my thinking. I know it's a common one and I don't want to minimize it too much, but I don't see how that helps. It is still a sin: You made a promise to the body in light of the biblical injunctions and are failing to keep it. Whether that's omission or commission hardly matters, so far as I can see.

Quote:
Any other thoughts on identifying the sin with a biblical name?
I would say failing to assemble is the biblical description for it. Failing to keep your commitments is another one, provided the church covenant is emphasized as a summary of biblical commitment.

Quote:
Just like the texts cited don't refer to votes, Acts 6 doesn't refer to deacons. You have to read that into the text. The word for "deaconing" is used in Acts 6:2 and 6:4, but refers to the apostles. Surely if Luke wanted to identify the 7 as deacons, he had the vocabulary. Yet, as led by the Holy Spirit, he did not.
That is certainly an interpretive point about which there is some division. Whatever the conclusion that, I think Acts 6 does at least one thing very clearly: Put the choice of whatever it was in the body of the congregation. The elders did not choose. It was given to the congregation.

As for "deacon," I think the description in Acts 6 is that of the work of deacon. I am fine with objection, because the rest of the NT makes clear that there is an office of deacon. Apart from Acts 6, there is no real description of what they might do, however.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

The only objection to the article that I felt strongly was the headline, which frames the entire conversation inaccurately IMO. It primes us to view the action of the church as being a church discipline, which it isn't. The folk whose membership was removed have committed no immoral acts and have not been disfellowshipped. Their names were erased from a database.

What concrete evidence do we have in Scripture for mandated church membership as we use the term today? People can attend a church faithfully for years without ever becoming a member, while others get their name on the books and seldom darken the door. Who is really 'right with God'? Church membership is a utilitarian formality more than anything else.

So on the one hand I can understand the need for cleaning up the membership rolls, but not the decision to frame their actions in this way. And it just dawned on me- I think what I'm doing is agreeing with Bro. Charlie.

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Susan R wrote:
People can attend a church faithfully for years without ever becoming a member, while others get their name on the books and seldom darken the door. Who is really 'right with God'?

It's not an either-or situation. Independently, both are falling short in their relationships to with body.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

I'm not trying to set up a false dichotomy- I'm just thinking about how much 'stock' we put into membership sometimes. But really- if someone attends a church faithfully for years, but never officially adds their name to the rolls, on what Scriptural basis would you say that their relationship to the body has fallen short?

Jack's picture

If there is no membership,
- how do the elders know who they will be held accountable to God for?
- who does the church retain the ability to discipline?
- who does the body care for?

If a church takes membership seriously, why would someone persist in attending without joining, are they
- unwilling to commit to others?
- in disagreement with the doctrine? Why not find a church they can join?
- hesitant to shoulder responsibility? (including the responsibility to elect or affirm leaders and discipline the wayward)

I can maybe understand being a "regular attender" in a church that doesn't value membership, but have a hard time seeing why a believer would not commit in a church that takes these things seriously.

Ted Bigelow's picture

Greg Long wrote:
Larry, I've been back and forth with Ted on this as well and agree with your assessment of the NT evidence. The clearest verse for me is 2 Cor. 2:6--"For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough..." Somehow, the majority made known its desire to inflict punishment on this individual. How did they do so? The most natural way is by some kind of vote, whether by voice, hand, or ballot. If there are other alternatives, I'm certainly open to hearing them.

Hey Greg, here's a snippet from my book, regarding 2 Cor. 2:6:

"...for nothing is said about a majority vote. It would be just as fair to claim that a majority of the church closed a door in his face, issued a restraining order, or stayed away from his meat business. It’s all conjecture. The claim that a vote was taken only reads into the text what one hopes to find.

But there is no need for conjecture, for Paul tells us exactly what the majority did. They gave a “punishment” (v. 6). The word translated “punishment” occurs 30 times in the New Testament and always refers either to a strong spoken reproof or to a strong spoken warning. It never refers to a written reproof or warning, and certainly not a vote. The meaning is simple. The majority of the congregation church gave the man a spoken reproof. This reproof accords perfectly with the Lord’s command in Luke 17:3: “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.”

Greg, this interpretation also goes with the view that the man being punished is not the immoral man of 1 Cor. 5, who was put out of the church. This man was only in the 3rd stage of church discipline.

Ted Bigelow's picture

Larry ][quote wrote:
I think the listening is the same. The question is, how does "a church" speak in such a way as to be refused to be heard?.... So how would a church speak in a way as to be heard? You can switch that to "elders" in spite of the word "church" being used.

Thanks for replying to my question, Larry, and thanks for thinking through the text. However, I'm still left unsatisfied.

Its pretty obvious to me you are trying to squeeze two differnet things out of the same words: "listen to them"(Matthew 18:17). You want the personal confrontation of the witnesses to be the same as a vote from the church. They aren't the same.

First, you claim a vote to be a voice. That's just a little strange. A vote is not a voice. Its a vote. A voice is something spoken. You are reading into our Lord's words your own presuppositions about voting - that they are a "voice." Sorry, its just a vote.

Second, the two or threes witnesses have spoken to the offender of his sin. That's a voice. That's why the Lord says, "that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established" (Matthew 18:16). The word "mouth" refers to something spoken. It does not refer to a vote.

Then He uses the words, "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-gatherer" (Matthew 18:17). Jesus equates the two. The offender not listening to the church is equated to the offender not listening to the witnesses. Since Jesus just explained that the witnesses use their "mouth" to speak to the offender, and then uses the exact same phrase to describe the church, it too must be by mouth. Do you see my point?

Yes, the church goes to the unrepentant. This takes time. It is done in line with biblical principles of confrontation, which never use voting. Voting never elicits repentance, but personal confrontation does. And that's the context here - trying to bring the offender back, as a lost sheep. Yes, it is better done individually, or perhaps a few at a time. And in the church, all who wish to comply with the Lord's words are encouraged to do so. Both those who do know the offender, and those who don't.

You also assume that a church vote means the church speaks with one voice. C'mon! What about those who vote against the censure/excommunication? The vote doesn't represent them. Its just another assumption that if the majority vote one way, it represents all. A false assumption. Or, what about this. The church votes to not discipline the man, but his sin is established by the "mouth of two or three witnesses." Now you have tow different judgments. Who is right? In congregational polity, the congregation is right. But if the man is indeed impenitent, the congregation voted sinfully.

For the role of elders in church discipline, we use the letters of the NT for additional light. Since they are given authority over the body in many texts, this authority carries through in the matter of discipline as well.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

I'm not opposed to church membership, and I do believe that there is a NT Biblical pattern joining oneself to a local body- what isn't defined is what the act of 'joining' entails, and what requirements that places on the member.

For example- requirements for membership can range from making a profession of faith and being Scripturally baptized, to signing off on the church doctrinal statement and constitution, to taking 6 weeks of membership classes. And once someone has become a member, what is required of them as far as attendance and participation before they forfeit membership status?

Questions that come to mind- does it 'count' if one ministers in one's neighborhood and not through a recognized church ministry? If someone regularly attends the church who is not a member, but is living in unrepentant sin, why can't the church disfellowship the wayward brother whether they are a member or not? What if someone attends (but does not join) who is immersed in false doctrine and tries to spread their teachings- do they have to be a member before they can be asked to leave? Is church leadership somehow restricted to ministering only to those who formally join the church? Some churches have their leaders appoint deacons and teachers instead of having the congregation vote, so that isn't always an aspect of membership.

I'm pulling a Steve Davis here- trying to ask questions to explore the topic without making declarations.

While I believe most can agree that one should join a local church, I doubt very many can agree on all the requirements and ramifications.

Greg Long's picture

Ted Bigelow wrote:
...Voting never elicits repentance...
Really? I know of instances where the official action of the church to remove a person from the body did bring about repentance.

Ted Bigelow wrote:
You also assume that a church vote means the church speaks with one voice. C'mon! What about those who vote against the censure/excommunication? The vote doesn't represent them. Its just another assumption that if the majority vote one way, it represents all. A false assumption. Or, what about this. The church votes to not discipline the man, but his sin is established by the "mouth of two or three witnesses." Now you have tow different judgments. Who is right? In congregational polity, the congregation is right. But if the man is indeed impenitent, the congregation voted sinfully.

For the role of elders in church discipline, we use the letters of the NT for additional light. Since they are given authority over the body in many texts, this authority carries through in the matter of discipline as well.

These are no arguments against using the church as the final authority. The same arguments could be made against having the elders as the final authority. What if some of the elders didn't want to continue the process of discipline, but the majority did? What if two or three witnesses accuse the man, but the elders decide not to continue the process of discipline?

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Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Ted Bigelow's picture

Greg Long wrote:
Really? I know of instances where the official action of the church to remove a person from the body did bring about repentance.

No. Conviction of sin brings about repentance, which is preceded by some form of ordinary confrontation. You are claiming something anecdotally; I am referring to the ordinary providence of God who speaks in Scripture. In Scripture He commands personal and spoken conforntation. He never commands, or intimates a church vote.[/quote]

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These are no arguments against using the church as the final authority.

That wasn't the context of the argument in the first place, Greg. Let's interact on the point on hand - Mat. 18:16-7's relationship to confrontation as opposed to voting.

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What if two or three witnesses accuse the man, but the elders decide not to continue the process of discipline?

That happens, and Scripture leads on how to respond. It may be that the accusation is not "established" (Mat. 18:16, Deut. 17:6, Deut. 19:15) and hence it would be wrong to proceed with discipline. Or, there are others valid reasons not to proceed. If there is not unanimity among the elders, the discipline doesn't proceed. Eldership submits to the principle of unanimity, not majority rule, in line with 1 Cor. 1:10, Phil. 2:1-4, Rom. 15:5-6 and many other Scriptures.