>An article in the Wall Street Journal (Banned From Church – WSJ.com) tells of a growing trend of churches practicing “church discipline.” My first thought is, good. Those who covenant to live life together in the Body of Christ should submit to the accountability and discipline of the Body. The failure of most churches to practice church discipline has led to a spiritual and moral laxness in our culture that surely grieves the heart of God, no matter how many people we pack into our seeker-friendly megachurch services.
Unfortunately, this article does not signal a positive movement in the area of church discipline. In fact, the sort of thing described in the article could do serious damage to the Church in general and to the legitimate practice of church discipline. The problem is that many of the situations described in the article are less issues of church discipline than they are the abuse of power by apparently insecure leaders in an attempt to shield themselves from the scrutiny and accountability of the Body.
The key case in the article is a 71 year old retired woman in Michigan. According to the article, when a new pastor arrived at her church in 2005 she began to encourage, and later to press, him to appoint a board of deacons. The pastor rebuffed her, saying that the church was not large enough to require deacons. Fair enough, I’m thinking. After this, the woman raised the subject at church business meetings from the angle that the church constitution and bylaws required a board of deacons. At this point, the pastor sent her a letter stating that the “This church will not tolerate this spirit of cancer and discord that you would like to spread.” When she continued to press the issue and insist that the church’s constitution be followed, the pastor sent out a letter to the congregation stating that this woman and another couple had been removed from the fellowship for failure to repent.
Now, let me first of all express that, as a pastor, I understand that there are always two sides to these stories. However, I cannot see anything but a blatant abuse of power in this pastor’s actions. I actually agree with his initial assessment that the church was too small to warrant deacons. That being the case, he should have brought before the congregation an amendment to the church’s constitution to bring the body’s rules in line with their current practice. But to accuse a woman who seemingly just want to follow the establish rules of the body of spreading a “spirit of cancer and discord” and then to unilaterally remove her from fellowship? This is nothing more than blatant spiritual abuse masquerading as “church discipline.”
For the sake of those churches who practice legitimate church discipline, this sort of abuse must be called out and condemned. It is unbiblical, un-Christlike, and unworthy of the Body of Christ. One of the purposes of church discipline is to call the Body of Christ to a higher standard of conduct than the surrounding culture. Leaders who abuse the practice make it a farce and an object of derision rather than a useful tool to elevate the life of the Body. They carelessly wield a double-edged sword, wounding the immediate victims as well as the reputation of the whole Church.