The Evil of Shunning (Part 1)

Mr. Holdeman, in his book History of the Church of God tells us that one of his criteria for tracing the lineage is checking to see who practiced the ban.  Never mind that he only guesses at the accuracy of these long ago reports, as some of the information is conflicting.  He eventually says that he cannot prove it but since he is convinced of something in his mind he will say that it is so and base the rest of his thesis upon it.  Why the love for the ban?  It seems fairly clear.  If in fact there is such a thing as a one and only true visible church, rising up like the prow of a great ship with a long line of dead saints who carried the candlestick dragging along behind it, then in fact, the ban is very important.  The ban is the only way to cull out those who practice anything contrary to what the egomaniacs have deemed to be correct doctrine.  However, this is where the ban runs into trouble. It becomes a tool of man to create an environment that man sees as being the one that he wants.  He claims that God speaks to him so directly that his voice is the voice of God.  There is huge potential for difficulty in all of this, as we shall see.

When ministers take it upon themselves to practice excommunication and shunning the way the Holdemans do it, it is an absolute necessity that they take upon themselves far more importance than is reasonable.  They have to be able to claim to be the voice of God.  They claim they know what he wants for the lives of the congregation and that they are specially anointed to carry out all kinds of tasks.  This is a situation where power tripping will spiral out of control instantly if not sooner.  No human can make these kinds of claims for himself, and carry out this kind of work without losing sight of reality almost immediately.

I’m not going to tell you the correct way to shun, if in fact there is a correct way. The terms “shun” and “ban” are not indications of any message of the scriptures.  Shunning and the ban are control measures designed to give man power over what is God’s.  The most important scripture to support shunning and excommunication comes from the 18th chapter of Matthew which we shall examine in a bit.

First of all, let us consider the meaning of the term “the Bride of Christ.  The Bride of Christ is not yet determined.  It will not be until the return of the Bridegroom.  All who are white and ready at his return will be the ones who go to meet him in the air, and return with him for the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. It cannot possibly be a predetermined group already assembled on the earth, because there are too many people whose robes are not made white. There are too many people who live with concealed sin, and God is not pleased with them, no matter what man says about them. The Bride will be made pure through tribulation.  Only those who have gone through the process of cleansing and purification at the cost of extremely great trouble will be ready.  This does not condemn all others to an endless eternity of burning in the fires of hell, but that is part of another story.  The Bride will be all those who are saved and made ready at the moment of Christ’s return. So therefore, to say that a church is “The Bride of Christ” and excommunication must take place in order to make the Bride pure, are in error.  Having established that, let us move along.

Matthew 18 is the scripture most often quoted to confirm a church’s right to handle people as though they were God. This chapter can be used to give man a great deal of authority if it is not read correctly.  First of all, let us examine the relevant verses in the proper context.  Remember, scripture must always be read in context, as part of a larger whole.  There is a problem when someone like John Holdeman teaches his followers how to shun, and forever after they go to the Bible and seek out a verse to justify their behavior.  The business of pulling a scripture out and applying it to justify any belief is very shifty.

First of all, in the beginning of the chapter Jesus tells two parables, the one of the ninety and nine, and what should be done with someone who offends one of “these little ones.”  By this he is telling us how important it is to keep the flock together, and to not hurt someone who is smaller or weaker.  This leaves no room for power-tripping leaders to abuse the flock.  Indeed, it lays a great burden upon them to treat the weaker ones with extremely great care, greater care, in fact than the ones who might be deemed to be stronger. The opposite actually turns out to be the case amongst the Holdemans. Once someone is considered to be weak in the faith, they can begin to expect harassing visits from the ministers, often with no real reason for the visits being admitted to.  Instead of tenderly lifting them up and nurturing them to health, they are frightened, targeted and eventually done away with.  I know of a man who loves to say “They need mercy, not judgment!”  How beautiful mercy is!  How frightful is judgment!  Judgment is exercised far too often, and mercy not nearly often enough.  Those who love shunning and expelling will claim that one who asks for mercy is one who tolerates sin. Not so at all.  Mercy lifts up the fallen one.  Mercy sees one through the eyes of God, looking through Christ.  Mercy is what we all need, although none of us deserve.  Judgment is for God at the very end. It is alright to judge a situation, but not a soul’s eternal destination or condition.

As the chapter moves along, in verse 15, Jesus says “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.”  This is a continuation of his earlier speech. Here he speaks of how to resolve personal conflict.  This verse has to do with conflicts between two individuals only.  This is not someone who has sinned against God, or the “Church.”  Really, how can you sin against the church?  The church is the people. How do you sin against the people?  Jesus goes on to say this about the resolution of the conflict; “But if he will not hear [thee, then] take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.  And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell [it] unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.”

Here Jesus explains how to go about setting things right when there is a disagreement.  Make every effort to be reconciled, and be sure there are witnesses to back up everything that happens.  If all fails, after following these very reasonable steps, then set the person aside.  The Bible says “let him be to you as a heathen and and a publican.”  Many people will point out that Jesus sat down with the heathen and publican, so therefore he was telling people to go ahead and fellowship with this lawless person. I think it doesn’t take a lot of deep thinking to realize this is not so. Why would he tell them to try to resolve the conflict, and when all else fails, to continue to fellowship with the person as usual?  That doesn’t make sense.  True, Jesus did fellowship with the roughest of the society, but the Jews had been taught not to keep company with those outside there culture.  In this case, Jesus identifies them as the heathen and publican.  It makes perfectly good sense that if someone is a rascal and impossible to get along with, irreconcilable, trouble making, that one would withdraw from close fellowship.  There is a world of difference between withdrawing from trouble-making individuals who cause disruption and division, and shunning people who love God but may have somehow gotten crosswise of the ministers, or who have a difference of opinion.

Let’s examine another point….the meaning of the word “church” in this passage.  Remember, this speech was made during Jesus’ ministry, not after his death and resurrection.  Let us check for the Greek meaning of the word “church” in this passage.

Ekklesia:

1) a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly

a) an assembly of the people convened at the public place of the council for the purpose of deliberating

b) the assembly of the Israelites

c) any gathering or throng of men assembled by chance, tumultuously

d) in a Christian sense

1) an assembly of Christians gathered for worship in a religious meeting

2) a company of Christian, or of those who, hoping for eternal salvation through Jesus Christ, observe their own religious rites, hold their own religious meetings, and manage their own affairs, according to regulations prescribed for the body for order’s sake

3) those who anywhere, in a city, village, constitute such a company and are united into one body

4) the whole body of Christians scattered throughout the earth

5) the assembly of faithful Christians already dead and received into heaven

I think it is fairly clear that when Jesus says “the church” in this passage, he is not saying (4) the whole body of Christians throughout the earth or (5) the assembly of faithful Christians already dead and received into heaven. I suppose it could be any of the other definitions, but the first three are most likely….

1) a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly

a) an assembly of the people convened at the public place of the council for the purpose of deliberating

b) the assembly of the Israelites

Even so, we cannot be dogmatic about it.  It is only when we come to the chapter with a preconceived idea of something we want to prove or justify, do we begin to misread and mis-apply the chapter.  We read it to say what we want it to say, and not what it really says.  It is simply saying here that if someone acts out and won’t be corrected, take proper steps to resolve the conflict and then dismiss them from your circle of friends.  Why would you continnue to associate with someone who is irascible and difficult to get along with?

The church of God in Christ Mennonite uses this scripture to justify excommunication for all kinds of things. It is only in the case of personal conflict.  It does not say “if someone disobeys the church do this to him.”  It doesn’t say here that this is for the case of gross sins or disagreeing with the teachings of the church. It doesn’t say it’s for the case of a Christian becoming lukewarm and drifting a bit. NO, it is only describing one situation, and that is resolving personal conflict.  Lets say I own sheep and my neighbor claims they have gotten on his property and grazed his pastures and I owe him for the loss of the pasture…..that is the kind of situation this passage is addressing. I hope I have stressed that enough.

In verses 18-20 he is explaining that he will accept their judgments of these things as binding, if they follow the steps he has outlined. He tells them that as they gather together to hold this kind of court, if there are several of them together and they make sound decisions according to the order he has laid out, he is in the midst of them, and the decisions will be binding.  I am sure you can see the ways in which these verses have been misused.  After this their discourse continues with Peter asking how many times he should forgive, and later on in the chapter, the parable of the talents.  Do you really think that Jesus and his disciples are having this very nice conversation, one that is all about mercy and love, and helping people get up when they have fallen, about forgiving over and over if someone wrongs you, and suddenly in the middle of it, for a few verses, he begins to teach John Holdeman to shun and play God? I doubt it.  There is a great deal more to be said about this, but this post has gotten long enough.

Peace, forgiveness, truth justice mercy and love!

Hiram

 

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6 Responses to The Evil of Shunning (Part 1)

  1. Godfather says:

    Actually, Hiram, it doesn’t even have to apply to actions taken by an organized church, but according to the definition you give it could be conflict resolution carried out by a town hall type of thing. Nothing to keep it from being carried out in a church, but it doesn’t have to be exclusive to the church.

    • lotsaquestions says:

      So true, Hiram. Many are being expelled for things that do not constitute “sin”. Witnessed it often. I cringe when I see young innocent youth who have been captured in a private misshap being brought up before a congregation of several hundred ears and eyes. Many times these poor souls are honest and want nothing more than to do whats right. Their case is published before the people and it’s often spread to the winds for all to know. All in the name of love and keeping the church pure. But it does so much damage. This goes for older people too. No one is exempt if you are in the firing line.I have wondered about it many times. You have put it correctly.

      • That is true, and so sad. Who is the one who decides when these private mishaps are serious enough for expelling? Do you really think that these young people always come forward with the details, or are there strange and somewhat perverted men who call them in for visits, and then commence to probe and pry, asking questions that are none of their business, particularly when it involves young girls. Youngsters who had no idea they had crossed some sort of an invisible line suddenly find themselves publicly shamed and “disciplined,” all in the name of keeping the church pure. These youngsters often are in need of mercy, of nurturing and support, not judgment and exposure. The shaming is often of a nature that the young person feels greatly chastised and thereafter commences to be judgmental and legalistic, and I suppose the ministers then think their purpose has been served. All of this is so wrong. Only the Holy Spirit can convict of sin, can forgive and cleanse. After an episode such as this, people often feel cleansed by the humiliation and expelling and they get altogether the wrong idea of God’s grace, mercy, justice and love. Lotsadquestions, your assessment of the situation is very accurate and yet sad.

  2. justwonderin says:

    I have found a treasure, I would like to share it. http://www.biblesforamerica.org/
    Please contact us with your comments and questions.
    E-mail:info@bfa.org
    Toll-free phone:888.551.0102
    Mail: Bibles for America
    PO BOX 17537
    Irvine, CA 92623

    Order one of their free New Testaments and read the footnotes and references for John 9-10
    9:341b cast – John 9:22, 35
    To cast him out was to excommunicate, to ostracize, him from the Jewish synagogue. This was to put him out of the sheepfold, as spoken by the Lord in 10:3-4. Religion’s persecution of the Lord’s called one did nothing but fulfill what the Lord intended for him.
    10:91a door – John 10:7
    Christ is the door not only for God’s elect to enter into the custody of the law, as did Moses, David, Isaiah, and Jeremiah in the Old Testament time, before Christ came, but also for God’s chosen people, such as Peter, John, James, and Paul, to come out of the fold of the law now that Christ has come. Thus, the Lord indicated here that He is the door not only through which God’s elect may go in but also through which God’s chosen people may go out.
    10:92 pasture
    The pasture here signifies Christ as the feeding place for the sheep. When the pasture is not available (e.g., in the wintertime or at night), the sheep must be kept in the fold. When the pasture is ready, there is no further need for the sheep to remain in the fold. To be kept in the fold is transitional and temporary. To be in the pasture enjoying its riches is final and permanent. Before Christ came, the law was a ward, and being under the law was transitional. Now that Christ has come, all God’s chosen people must come out of the law and come into Him to enjoy Him as their pasture (Gal. 3:23-25; 4:3-5). This should be final and permanent. Because they did not have such a revelation, the leaders in Judaism considered the law, on which Judaism was based, as permanent. As a result, they missed Christ and could not participate in Him as their pasture.
    John 16:21b kills – Acts 26:10
    In this Gospel religion is revealed as the enemy of life. In the Gospels, Judaism opposed and persecuted the Lord Jesus. In the Acts it continued by opposing and persecuting the apostles and the disciples (Acts 4:1-3; 5:17-18, 40; 6:11-14; 7:57-59; 26:9-12). In subsequent history the Catholic Church persecuted the Lord’s followers. All organized religions, of whatever kind, persecute those who seek the Lord in life. All these religions consider their persecuting of the Lord’s seekers a service offered to God.
    Consider Galatians 1:6-12 KJV I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: (7) Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. (8) But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. (9) As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. (10) For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. (11) But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. (12) For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.

    And then think of the preaching from the BDPH which is the work of men in the last few years. (John 8:36 KJV) If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.

  3. Not So Certain says:

    “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. What can make me pure with-in? Nothing but the blood of Jesus!” (Christian Hymnal # 115) Any other effort on my part or the part of a group of people makes a mockery of Jesus sacrifice.

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