We have mentioned that a shaky foundation results in a building that cannot stand. Let us look at some of the present day problems in the church and see how they relate to the foundation. The true church teaching resulted in a group of people who were related by birth, immigration and hardship. This created an extremely tight-knit cultural group, which was then bound together by religion. Because these people were a group of poor immigrants, in the beginning they were quite odd and kept to themselves. The religion that Holdeman presented them with allowed them to remain intact as a cultural group. Many years of inter-marriage and close community life style eliminated all outside influences from their lives. The people became more and more dependent upon the group for all aspects of their lives. Marriage to an outsider was often a sad disaster, as it separated the former member from family and all that was familiar. In this way the “avoidance” became a powerful social tool. I am not making any comment here about the validity of some type of avoidance, but I am pointing out how avoidance Holdeman-style evolved into a control tactic that has a twisted and very damaging aspect to it.
When being “avoided” means that you can lose your family and sometimes even your livelihood, it takes on a different dimension from what was originally intended. Many many people have returned simply because they could not bear to be disqualified from the family. Shunning, as practiced by the Holdemans, is one of the most bizarre practices around. Here is a quote from a story called “500 Years Later,” a story about slavery and the black people being taken out of their natural environment in Africa…”To take someone away by force from their community is one of the most savage acts you can think about.” Here is another one….”If you are not embraced by your community, then you are just an outcast.”
Scriptural avoidance was not meant to be a social/cultural control tool. When it takes on this aspect, it loses the spiritual quality it is supposed to have. Avoidance should never be a “savage act,” and yet all too often this is what it becomes. When this is what it has evolved into, the positive spiritual meaning is destroyed and it becomes a means of controlling people. Members have been known to “shun harder” in order to force a loved one to return. Furthermore, after someone has been shunned, and then they return, there is a cruelty to them regarding others who are being shunned that is completely out of context. There is almost a hatred to it sometimes. I have an example to relate which explains that phenomenon.
In the Nazi prison camps, the guards were cruel and heartless. The prisoners were completely at their mercy. Brothers suffered together in the cold, in the hard labor, in the starvation. In their hearts they hated the guards, and the bond they had together in their suffering was the only thing that kept them alive. The idea of turning on their fellow sufferers was unthinkable. But the Nazis were diabolical. From time to time they would select a prison and give him responsibilities as a guard. In return he was offered an extra blanket, an extra bowl of soup and a chunk of bread. The temptation to better one’s condition was irresistible In return for a morsel of food, a little more comfort and perhaps a chance at being allowed to live, he took the position. Now instead of having mercy on his fellow prisoners, those with whom he had once suffered, he began to hate them. The hate he had formerly focused on the Nazi guards was now focused on his fellow prisoners. This is because that hate energy did not dissipate, but so it had to be redirected. Instead of hating the guards, which would have been counterproductive for him, he bonded with them, identified with them, and hated his brothers. The prisoner-turned-guard was the cruelest of all the guards. His joy at no longer being unbearably desperate was overwhelming. He would do anything to keep from being returned to the state of hopelessness that he had formerly endured.
This dynamic is often seen at work when it comes to Holdeman shunning. When someone returns to the church for the sake of a little more comfort, a morsel of food, a place at the table, he refocuses the anger and resentment he had formerly focused upon the brethren towards those who remain on the outside. He can become the most scathing in his judgment of them, the most relentless in his avoiding of them. Never again does he want to risk being treated in that manner. It does not always happen this way, sometimes there are those who have mercy and are genuinely kind. Perhaps they are the ones who were on the outside because they had sinned and they knew it, they repented and returned because they were truly penitent. Perhaps this is a way of judging which ones are which. This is somewhat the type of thing we see when we mention that John Holdeman was a sinner who suddenly became judgmental and punitive. His version of avoidance and excommunication has a far more punitive and cruel aspect to it than might be realistically expected. Excommunication and shunning is for one purpose, and that is to restore and heal. It is not to be a psychological tool to force someone to another’s desire for them, or as a means of keeping an organized body intact. Far too often it has been misused, people have been caused devastating hurt, and it has driven away more people than it has drawn back.
In the 12th chapter of Numbers there is related the story of Moses’ sister Miriam. She had spoken against Moses, and consequently she became leprous. The people were ready to move, but because Miriam was leprous, (unclean) she was not able to move with the people. In verse 12, Aaron pleads on her behalf: “Let her not be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed when he cometh out of his mother’s womb.” Then Moses said “Heal her O God, I beseech thee.” Then God replied to Moses, “If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be ashamed seven days? let her be shut out from the camp seven days, and after that let her be received in [again].” Verse 15 says “And Miriam was shut out from the camp seven days: and the people journeyed not till Miriam was brought in [again].” The entire camp was delayed until Miriam was able to travel with them. For them to go on and leave her behind was too horrible. She was not expected to bear that kind of punishment, even by God himself.
You might argue that some people don’t repent, they don’t want to return, and the whole works can’t be expected to wait for them while they go about pursuing other interests. It is no secret that many people are put outside the camp who did not commit grave sins. They might still very much wish to be a part of the company of believers, and yet have no way of finding their way back into the fold, due to the politics involved. People are excommunicated for reasons that the Bible never addresses, bringing on many hard feelings and unbearable pain and damaged relationships. People are put out for not endorsing the belief of the One True Church. People are put out because the ministers feel a strange spirit in them. This spirit can take the identity of anything the ministers want to suggest, as long as it suits their purpose. From time to time a “cleansing” takes place, and people are put out without their consent or desire never to be allowed to return. There is a myth among church members that anyone who is on the outside is there by their own wish. All they would have to do is to repent and return. Often the word “repent” is a euphemism for “bend” or “break.” If a person has shown a penchant for questioning or independent thinking, sometimes they are tortured until they give up. Some people will do or say anything for that extra blanket, that morsel of bread, just a little comfort. These are the ones who are then heartless towards their brothers who are still suffering.
In the second chapter of 2 Corinthians we have another example of the unacceptable nature of leaving someone alone while the rest of the camp moves on….Earlier we have been told the story of a man who had been caught in a moral sin. The congregation was told to set him aside, to remove him from their fellowship as long as he was in this sin and impenitent. Apparently they left him there, and forgot to reinstate him into their fellowship. When Paul comes to see them and he sees the situation, he reproves them. He says. (verses 5-8) “But if any have caused grief, he hath not grieved me, but in part: that I may not overcharge you all. Sufficient to such a man [is] this punishment, which [was inflicted] of many. So that contrariwise ye [ought] rather to forgive [him], and comfort [him], lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm [your] love toward him.”
Here we see Paul telling the church at Corinth that it is too cruel to cast someone out and leave them there. He admonishes them to forgive him and receive him again, lest he be “swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.” Not only did this man have to suffer for the shame of his sin, but the lack of forgiveness and acceptance from his fellowman was unendurable. Quite likely there were hypocrites among the church who had committed such sins themselves and were cruel in their judgment of him.
You may ask, “what about the people who do not want to return?” Is it possible that this is part of Holdeman’s faulty foundation? He now has a faulty tower? Perhaps the one true church structure has some inherent faults built into it that permit terrible problems. Perhaps because of the premises that he originally set forth, excommunication and avoidance are done and carried out for wrong reasons. If a person is a vile sinner, such as a drunkard, fornicator, etc. it is common sense that one would withdraw fellowship from such a person while he remains in his sins. However, it is quite another matter when someone wishes to be a Christian and serve God, but the ministers proclaim that he is serving a false God, and they cut him off and set him outside the camp. This individual still wishes to have fellowship with his brethren and family members. He has no idea what he is supposed to repent of. Often, for him to repent means that he would blaspheme and deny the work that God has done in his life. This presents an unbearable dilemma for some people. This blasphemy is unthinkable, and yet the alternative is also unbearable. This is the type of excommunication and shunning that has created a monster in the Holdeman church. There are many people on the inside who are in serious disagreement with the leadership, but remain silent and bow to the whip because they cannot bear to face the loss of everything. There are others who are wanting to serve God with their whole heart, but they are held on the outside because they have a view that is different than the status quo held by the leadership. This creates a breed of church members whose conscience has been seared because they compromised to have the favor of men.
More will be written about this later.