Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Kickin 'em to the Curb: More Fun With Admonishment

Is the church actually called to excommunicate people?

The term "excommunication" denotes something very... Catholic... in our mind. We like to think that us Protestants (at least us "emergents") don't "kick people out" of the church.

I've had spiritual discipline on my mind lately. Maybe not "spiritual discipline," per se, but at least the topic of church leadership trying to run people out of church. Granted, it's probably not easy to do in a big, seeker-sensitive church -- it's unlikely anyone is going to file a restraining order to keep people away on a Sunday morning. But multiple people have pointed out that it can be done in other ways. Psychological ways. Cutting them off from participating in different groups. Perhaps not letting them sing on the worship team anymore, not letting them lead small groups or Sunday school classes, or just generally ostracizing them from the community.

I think most of us would agree that is probably NOT the ideal Biblical model of admonishment, by the way.

As much as I dislike the notion of "kicking someone out" -- people already have such a negative view of the church as an exclusive club -- there is plenty of scripture and historical basis for it. We could find plenty of writings of Paul in the New Testament (Titus 3:10, I Corinthians 5, I Timothy 1:20, etc) where he encourages churches to cast people out of the fellowship in certain situations. (Paul was all about the church discipline!) And we often use Jesus' model of admonishment in Matthew 18.

The question becomes, how do we fine the line between a relational, loving church model, and upholding the Biblical standards of church discipline?

When do you actually cast a brother out of the community of believers?


Joe B said...

Wow. No comments on this one??

I suppose one set of questions is how do you tell someone they may not come to church, and how do you enforce it.

But the second set of Q's that you focus on is "can you excommunicate someone unofficially", like can you "run them off" just by making them unwilling to stay.

In this second case I suppose you can make someone unwilling to stay either deliberately or incidentally.

If someone goes to church expecting a community of love and faith, but instead experiences cold stares or averted eyes, they will find no more reason to continue. Since cold stares and averted eyes also tend to anger people, it does not take a large number of actors to make one decide to fade from the picture.

The smaller the crowd, the more acute the sting of things like this. In a large crowd there may be enough sympathetic or clueless people to make the environment tolerable.

Joe B said...

I sort of wonder whether these mega-church-environments have enough depth, intimacy or accountability that the "Mt 18 Protocol" is workable or even applicable. We call these outfits "churches" but in many respects they do not actually function as churches. They are more like towns/cities with Christian constitutions than actual churches of the New testament pattern. Could it be they try too hard to do things they are not actually constituted to do?

Maybe they really SHOULD be mainly concerned with infrastructure issues and politics, like a city council would be. Maybe we are placing false expectations upon them if we look to them as a source of spiritual leadership or vision or discipline. I have wondered if a megachurch is actually several poorly defined churches-within-a-church. All badly led and poorly disciplined (since there is no acknowledgement of legitimate leadership outside the upper level's inner circle.) Maybe great big churches (and the wannabe's) should just structure for multinodal leadership within the megachurch and just accept that there will be a huge amount of diversity. (Did you know there are scads of Charismatics running around Crossroads, doing their thing?) Maybe tribalism within a huge church is actually a good thing, if it means that there is actual, accessible, accountable, responsible leadership thoughout. (Not that those leaders would be better people, just better situated. The mega-structure erodes the ability of leaders to function meaningfully vis a vis the masses.

scott said...


Yeah, I don't think "going tribal" within a big church is a bad thing. I think that's pretty much what people that want something "deeper" have to do, and that IS what I (we) have done, to some extent. What would be ideal, however, would be for the town council to actually FOSTER the idea and add some structure to it. Encourage it. Once that happens, perhaps you can have some pastoring and some accountability.

Joe B said...

I would think most such town councils wul dsay that they DO foster it. You now. Small groups, sunday School. It seems like a different animal to me, but what do you think? How is that different?

Joe B said...

I would think most such town councils wul dsay that they DO foster it. You now. Small groups, sunday School. It seems like a different animal to me, but what do you think? How is that different?

Joe B said...

Ditto I guess.

scott said...

I would say that some small groups MAYBE can serve this function, to an extent, although I seriously doubt that 90% of small groups actually do. Plus, just HAVING small groups isn't the same as fostering and encouraging their usage.

As for 95% of Sunday School classes, not a chance. That's not a tribe or a community, that's a group that meets once a week in a classroom.

It's like the difference between a college calculus class, and my family. There's not a small gap between "what they are." It's a chasm. I wonder if many in church leadership circles even have the same understanding of the words COMMUNITY and ENVIRONMENT and LIFESTYLE that I do.

Joe B said...

"It's like the difference between a college calculus class, and my family."

What a brilliant slice of brain!

And I do wonder whether MANY concepts are defined the same way in church leadership circles. It is almost as if a stick drawing of a body suffices for the body of Christ, and a sheet over the head suffices for the Holy Ghost.