The Evil of Shunning (Part 2)

Read this carefully, my friends.  It’s complex, but it’s very important!

In the first post I wrote about the evils of shunning I exposed Matthew 18 as being a pattern for resolving personal conflict.  The word church is used in the passage because it was translated from a word that basically means “the assembly.”  Keep in mind that when Jesus was teaching in this chapter, there was no such thing as the church as we know it today.  He was speaking to Jews who went to the temple and the synagogue.  The synagogue evolved as a place of meeting and a place where the scriptures were read and taught.  The word synagogue, like the word church, is translated from the Greek word for assembly.  The synagogue was also sometimes a judicial court, where rulers (the Sanhedrin) presided, and was also used as a school.  When someone was unruly or did something that was strictly forbidden, they were put out of the synagogue. Of course it was greatly feared to be put out of the synagogue.  This is the scenario to which Jesus was referring when he taught in Matthew 18. Remember that in this passage he is referring only to the issue of a disagreement between two people and how it should be resolved.  Today those who like to shun have appropriated this scripture and now use it to do away with anyone who displeases them for any reason and subsequently place the ban on them.

The ban has evolved into a cultural control tool.  As was true in the days of the synagogue, the consequences of being put out are massive.  This is where the friends and family are.  This is where all social interaction is based.  To be cut off from the basis of one’s cultural identity is significant.  Because of this, people dreaded and feared it greatly.  Let me make another point.  I do not mean to minimize Paul, but his words cannot be used as a basis for salvation.  He was a great teacher, an educated man, and his job was to unravel thousands of years of Jewish understanding and  teach people how to receive the Messiah.  In his writings he teaches a great deal about how to live, how to conduct the business of the church, and while this is all worthy, and no doubt inspired by God, he is not teaching the way to be saved.  Jesus is the way the truth and the life. He taught the way of salvation. His way is simple and forthright. He taught humility, love, gentleness, meekness and all of the qualities we do not come by naturally. He taught a heart change.  He taught that “no man cometh to the father but by me.”  (John 14:6)  I don’t see how breaking the rules as Paul set them forth can be grounds for sending a man to hell.  His words are not binding for salvation.  He taught us how to live, it’s true, but Jesus is the only one who has the words of salvation. His teaching was so simple that people still don’t get it.  They want to add to it and embroider it and make it more difficult. In this way the present day Sanhedrin can be in control and cast people out and lift themselves up.  This should be easy to see.

Keep in mind that if you begin to work backwards from the present day understanding you will find yourself in a quandary at every step of the way.  You will say “but what about…”  All because you have the one true visible church teaching so deeply embedded in your brain that all you know is that it all falls apart if you dismiss your beliefs about shunning.  You are stopped at every step of the way.  Try to proceed with the idea that the lineage is bunk and we are simply to worship God in spirit and in truth.

With that thought established, let us have another look at Bible Doctrine and Practice.  I know that the ministers claim that even though this book is not scripture, yet it is to be considered infallible, in the same way that the conference decisions are considered binding, and disobeying them is legal grounds for being cast out of the synagogue.  The writers of this book proceed with their message of shunning, based mostly upon Matthew 18.  They are giving themselves a great deal of rope with this chapter.  It becomes the legal document that justifies any church discipline that they wish to carry out.  It matters not how random or capricious it might be, when it is questioned the same verse is always quoted; “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.”  (Matt 18:17) No further discussion is needed.  I don’t dispute that the words of Jesus in this chapter present a very effective model for dealing with unruly members.  It’s a very sane and workable pattern.  The problem arises when it is used as a cloak for unjust actions and on the pretense of “keeping the church pure.”  Keeping the church pure can be a monster that is let out of the closet if the tools to do so get into the wrong hands.

There is also no doubt that we are to be our “brother’s keeper.”  We need one another for encouragement and support, for reproof and admonition.  Back to the book…(BD&P)…the chapter (page 185) opens with a rather shocking statement; “The prosperity and preservation of the church depends upon it. ( church discipline)  Through the practice of this doctrine sin is purged from the church, and the purity of the Bride of Christ is maintained.”  Let me repeat, no man can cleanse the Bride of Christ.  Expelling someone because they part their hair in the wrong place (which has happened many times) because they drive the wrong vehicle or equipment, because they ask a question or disagree with something that happens, has nothing to do with keeping the Bride pure.  Furthermore, the first page speaks of a glorious church without spot or wrinkle. Because this is a tall order, and anyone with any sense knows that man cannot keep a church so pure that it has no spot or wrinkle, they explain how it is done. “This does not mean that the members of the church will be perfect, without sin.  It does mean that the church will not knowingly tolerate deliberate and persistent transgressors.  To do so would constitute a spot or wrinkle.”  Poppycock.  Only God can know the true condition of his church and only he can receive or reject.  Most people, when confronted with this will say “well as long as we are the true church and we are practicing the teachings of the early fathers God will cover us with a blanket of righteousness.”  The Bible does not say this.

In all of this discourse, I am not addressing grave sins that indicate a departure from God.  There are sins that take us away from God.  When this happens, a person is usually not of a mind to be worshiping with the saints.  Sin has its own reward, its own progressive nature.  It takes us away from God. These sins are not the ones I am addressing here.  I am addressing the cultural differences that are the target the executioner’s squad.  The kind of thing that gets a person called in for visits over and over, eventually put on repentance, and eventually expelled, and often the victim never really knew what he/she could do to prevent it.  When this type of thing is instigated, the charge is sometimes a foreign spirit.  This is a blanket that covers all diversity of thought or practice, and the members have a great fear of it.  They have been taught that it can infect them and they are being protected if the guilty party is burned at the stake. (yes much like burning witches at the stake.) This label also causes people to not ask questions.  They immediately assume that the ministers know best, and even though they might not have seen the thing in their brother or sister that has gotten them put out of the synagogue, it must be there.  The ministers wouldn’t do this to someone if they didn’t deserve it. Never mind that after someone begins to be tormented by visits from the ministers, they often do change.  They become fearful, the small discrepancies in dress or behavior are in the spotlight, and soon the condition fits the diagnosis.

This brings us to the 5th chapter of 1 Corinthians, where Paul teaches about how to deal with gross sin. Here he is talking about the fornicators.  Fornicators are a notch above someone who questions the one true church teaching, when it comes to sin.  Yet the same diagnosis and prescription fits all. EXPEL HIM.  SHUN HIM. Paul tells us that the leaven of this sin must be purged out.  This known, deliberate, willful sinning must be cut off or the rest of the body will be infected.  Who can find fault with this?  When one who has been a fornicator is removed from the fellowship, at least he knows how to repent and return.  No panel of ministers should have to be in  place to interview him numerous times to see if he has seen his sin and left it.  He himself feels the guilt, the shame, and he knows he has been dealt with according to scripture.  There is very likely not any bitterness or anger at how he has been handled.  He understands his sin.  How very different this is from someone who has been wanting to do what is right, perhaps they were aware of struggling, perhaps not.  Suddenly the panel of ministers swoops down and pronounces some sort of judgment.  A limited amount of time is given in which the person is to repent or be done away with.  This had never been in the heart of the church member….to leave…..the terror and insecurity that this creates is tremendous.  The ministers cease to be kind gentle shepherds and become an executioner’s squad.  Their word can never be questioned; to do so is to risk certain judgment.

The writers of BD&P further state on page 189/190 that when they excommunicate someone they are simply taking action on what the member has already proven to be true, that the church simply does not expel those who are saved.  To prove this they quote Menno Simons.  “Wherefore brethren, understand correctly, no one is excommunicated or expelled by us from the communion of the brethren but those who have already separated and expelled themselves from Christ’s communion either by false doctrine, or improper conduct.”  True, Menno may have said it, but that does not necessarily mean that it is always carried out that way.  When someone who does not feel lost is  expelled, and they are told they are not saved, and are going to hell, this causes a terrible darkness to come upon one. This darkness is not the burden of guilt and sin, but rather the burden of hopelessness and fear that is brought on by the judgments of men.  The only way to resolve this blackness is to bow unconditionally to the light of the brethren, accept anything they say no matter how confusing it might be and give up all independent thought.  Upon doing this, a sort of false peace descends upon one, the peace that comes from resolving a great inner turmoil. At this point the victim becomes the strongest advocate for this type of discipline because he believes it has greatly helped him.  He remembers the pain of being cut off, the darkness of being told he is lost and having absolutely no recourse, and the relief at giving in to the light of the brethren.  This is all so false and so dangerous.  This puts men in the place of God.  This gives a type of power to judge and absolve sin that was never meant to be in their hands. This makes priests out of men instead of shepherds.  This makes robots out of church  members instead of Daniels who dare to take a stand and stand alone.

I hope this is not too difficult to read. I will write more, but I do not want to burden your mind with too much thought all at once.

Truth justice mercy and love,

Hiram

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12 Responses to The Evil of Shunning (Part 2)

  1. Hiram says:

    Let me reiterate: The two chapters that I have mentioned, the one in Matthew and the one in 1 Corinthians are describing two separate states of affairs. In the church, they are overlapped and intertwined and used to create a legal document for expelling, which is impenetrable. One scripture is quoted and then another, and they appear to be talking about the same thing. They are not. Paul does teach to put those away who walk disorderly and who teach false doctrine. Once again, the meaning of “false doctrine” is debatable. Any questions regarding current church practice, any debate over “rabbinical writings,” any challenge to the cruel and harsh way of doing things is considered false doctrine, and grounds for excommunication. Because people have been so brainwashed regarding the one true church, and because of the pain and confusion of unfair excommunication and shunning, it is very difficult for them to go on after the loss of everything they hold dear and figure out a way to live. This lends credence to the judgment that has been placed against them, and is pointed out to church members as the sad result of disobeying the church. Consequently, the shunning is turned up a little hotter, the expelled one is hurt and confused more and the whole thing becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Shame on those who do this! Shame on those who toy with God’s children in this way! Shame Shame Shame! Feed the sheep! Nurture them, keep them safe. Bind up the injured. Lay yourself down for them. Suffer damage yourself rather than see one of the sheep hurt! Keep the flock together! Bring them in, don’t put them out!

  2. catalyst says:

    The Bible is not a legal document to be used to find people guilty, enforce laws, and pass judgment. It is a book of love, and a guidebook to heaven. How a man uses it reveals his heart. If he has a legal and judgmental heart he will go to the Bible to get proof for his judgments. If he has a heart of love, he will use the Bible to show others how to love more effectively and how to truly follow Christ. The men who write legal documents proving their right to expel and avoid are showing that their hearts are legalistic and cruel. The are very likely unconverted.

  3. anonymous says:

    Just a few thoughts on the shunning from the perspective of one being shunned. I know that this site is primarily for Holdeman church members so I have hesitated to leave something here.
    It has impressed me on how different the shunning is practiced from congregation to congregation. Recently we traveled to my wife’s parents for their 50th wedding anniversary. My father in-law in the past had set us at a separate table so before we went I called him and said that if that was happening again we would not be coming. I was not going to travel 1400 miles to be shunned. We received the assurance that would not happen again. We were treated better then we deserved in that area. Our accommodations were a lodge and shortly after we arrived they had a storm in the area and the power went off. One of the men from the congregation brought us a generator to use. I thought it was an extra one but found out later that his home had no power either and they had went without so we could have power. The people in that area treated us as equals, shook our hands and were very friendly.
    On our way home we stopped at my parents home. We had also been shunned here in the past so I had called my father and had also received the assurance that we would be treated with respect. No sitting at separate tables, etc. And to be fair, my parents held up their end of the deal but the Holdemans in that area are hard core shunners. When we arrived at a 4th of July bar-b-que that we had been invited I walked up to the group of men sitting there and offered my hand to WH. He looked at me with total disdain and said ”you know better then that.” I’m a slow learner so next I offered my hand to LT. He refused also. Then I tried ED. No luck with him or CD. Finally RD did shake my hand, bless his heart.
    Meanwhile my wife had went inside and not a single lady had even offered her a hug. And this is the congregation I had grown up in and we had spent eight years of our married life at.
    Outside I had sat down and tried to salvage an awkward situation. My thirty four old nephew walked up to get some tea so I stood up and tried to shake his hand. He kind of ran around in circles saying, grandpa what should I do? He wants to shake my hand. So back to my chair I went, sat down looked across at my other nephew that had recently been ordained. He was totally ignoring his uncle with whom at one time had had a good relationship with.
    At that time I realized that we were not really welcome there and went and told my wife I was leaving and she could stay if she wanted too. Because of the reception she had received in the home she was ready to leave also. One of my brothers followed us out to our car and told me that unless I change he was not interested in have a relationship with me. So after being there fifteen minuets we left.
    Just a few random thoughts to sum this up. It saddens me to know that the next time I enter their church building it will likely be for a funeral. In the area we live in now the Holdeman people are kind and friendly to us and for this I am thankful. We have Holdeman friends from other areas that will call us up and want to meet us for a meal. For this I am also grateful.

  4. Hiram says:

    au contraire, my friend, this site is for anyone who has an experience relating to Holdeman life, an insight or question that is relevant to the topics being discussed.You have provided very valuable information, as it exposes the cruelty and lack of love behind much of the shunning. Apparently your loved ones no longer love you, and that is sad. There is something about having the doctrine of shunning buried deep inside of you that seems to preclude unconditional love, and mercy. There is a reason for this….the heart that shuns is one that loves to feel better than the “sinner.” The judgment that one passes upon another, even a close family member….son, daughter, parent, spouse….serves to lift up the one who is doing the shunning. It offers a great deal of solace to the one who shuns, i.e. I am better than he/she. Therefore instead of being a burden, shunning a supposed “loved one” is no difficulty, because built into it is the reassurance, the rush almost like that of a drug, of being better. As you can clearly see, this would work most effectively for people who might not be as good on the inside as the legalistic and harsh exterior might suggest. Perhaps hidden sin, pride, arrogance and an unloving heart are justified when someone can be harshly shunned, and deeply hurt. The feeling of satisfaction, of having done something that makes the shunner better, or at least appear better to fellow legalists is a great satisfaction. I believe I have effectively diagnosed the harsh shunners in your family. At the very least they are proud and legalistic. At the worst they are covering something dark in their own lives.

    Oh, how I wish that the brethren could see the damage and the harm that they do by this behavior. There are two possible outcomes for this scenario. #1. You will return to the church because the pain of being ousted in such an unceremonious manner is too much to be born. If you do this, you will be responding to manipulation and control, and because of this you will become even more manipulative and controlling yourself. Being received into the bosom of the family again will feel so warm and snuggly that you will never stop to think of the wrong of it all. You will simply say that the harsh shunning worked for you, and therefore it is a good thing, and you will proceed to implement it with further zeal in your own life. Scenario #2 is that the pain that this causes is too great to be born and something inside of you breaks. When love and family ties that formerly seemed warm and dear can turn to harshness and cruelty, the mind can’t take it in. Something has to give in order to make sense of it all. Quite often people in this category give up all belief in God, leave off going to church entirely, and thereby fulfill all of the negative prophecies that were made about them when they left. The prophecies, in a nutshell, are that if one leaves the church, there is “nothing else out there like us,” and that one will completely fall away from God. Because most of the people have turned off their intellectual capacities, they fail to make the connection between cause and effect. By treating their loved ones worse than a stray cat they have actually caused this departure from faith. Hopefully, in this scenario, after a period of time and some deep thought, and dealing with the pain, a new understanding can be arrived at.

    There is another factor in play here, and it involves children. You refer to a wife, but you don’t mention children. Allow me to be so forthright as to make another prediction for those who have children. Children especially teens will begin to act out and the Holdeman family will be very condemning of the parents of the child and claim that it is because the parents left the church, and are therefore substandard parents that the children are struggling. Something quite different is true. When close family begins to shun a child’s parents, the child is extremely disoriented and hurt. They had formerly loved the grandparents, aunts and uncles, very much. The relatives may still appear to dote on the children, even to the point of going behind the parents back and trying to lure them out of the family home and back into the home of a Holdeman relative. They believe they are doing a good and noble thing with this. However, this is extremely disorienting to the child. To see the parents suffering, perhaps even crying, to see the grandparents who were formerly on a pedestal being unexplainably cruel, is too much for a child’s mind to process. They may be angry at the parents, but not exactly for the reasons that the church members claim. It isn’t so much that the parents left the church, but it is rather that all relationships have fallen apart and the relatives are still the same, and so since the parents have changed, it must be their fault. The child does not consciously always process it in this way, but it simply comes out as anger, rebellion, lack of interest in God or church, and what seems like a hatred for all things holy. This is a complicated explanation, but read it carefully. I have seen it play out countless times and I can see what is behind it. When grandparents and other family shun the parents of a child, and a child who is not yet a member is set at the big table with the rest of the extended relatives, the grandparents think they are doing a kind thing for the child. Self-righteously, they believe they are being a witness for truth. In reality, they are putting the child in an extremely difficult position. The child feels relieved to be allowed at the big table with everyone else, but also feels extremely guilty because he is also shunning mother and father. His anger has to be directed somewhere, and because he doesn’t want to direct it at the loving grandma, or his very own mother, it is often directed at himself and shows up as a very angry, rebellious and confused child. This then, is the evil of shunning.

  5. Godfather says:

    Sometimes shunning might actually make a person repent. Not very often, but sometimes. If someone is in sin, and it is an easily understandable sin, and their family members are being hurt because of it, a certain amount of shunning might make them stop and take a good long look. It might make them reevaluate their life and realize it is time to make a change. Even so shunning is not right. I heard a man tell an interesting story recently. He said he drove a truck long distance and he was listening to the radio. God spoke to him one day and said TURN THAT RADIO OFF! He ignored it and after awhile it came again. TURN THAT RADIO OFF! Finally it came a third time, and then he turned the radio off. If he was a man whose church had a rule against listening to the radio, he would have been doing it anyway, and maybe he would have felt guilty, but he wouldn’t have heard God speak to him like that. But when no man had ever told him that it was wrong to listen to the radio, God could speak to him and when he heard GOD speak, he paid attention. God got his attention and God wanted him to turn the radio off so that they could visit while the man was driving truck. Now the man tells that he and God have great conversations and he loves to talk to God on long drives. The same thing is true about shunning. It might occasionally work, but that doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do. It is much better when God can speak to a man and say COME BACK TO ME, I MISS YOU, I WANT TO TALK WITH YOU! But when shunning stands in the way, men are doing the calling instead of God, and the result is always less than what God could have done.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Godfather mentioned that sometimes the shunning works in the sense that it forces a member to rejoin the Holdeman church. I believe that the only time it works (I hate using that word because it really doesn’t work) is when a person believes that the Holdeman church is The One True Visible Church. I was excommunicated because I no longer believed this and no amount of shunning will ever force me to rejoin.
    Brother Hiram. You hit the nail on the head when you mentioned that many that are shunned no longer believe in god. Many of my friends that have been excommunicated including myself are either agnostic or atheist. For several years I grappled with feelings of knowing that the avoidance was wrong and consequently a sin. But there was no way I was going to condemn my Holdeman family to hell for practicing it.

    • Well, I can’t imagine anyone re-joining the Holdeman church, once they are out, if they no longer believe it is the One True Church! I’m saddened to hear that you are atheist/agnostic, but perhaps it is part of a journey to a more honest and realistic truth. Before you can move on to truth, you must discard ALL that you formerly believed. I’ve seen people who were then able to start from scratch and comprehend who God really is, and that understanding is so different from what they had believed that it isn’t even close. Perhaps it’s RELIGION that you are doing away with. Religion is the thing that displeases God. He says we are to worship him in spirit and in truth. Religion is a set of man made rules and beliefs about the right way to know, worship and come to God. To truly know God means that you remove man completely from the picture and deal with God privately, just you and him. When yo do this honestly, he will lead you on a straight path. No bells and whistles, no frills, just you and God. It can be quite exciting. I’m not sure I followed the last line of your comment, are you saying that there was a time when you wouldn’t have condemned them to hell for practicing the avoidance, but now you would? Or that you will allow them the right to do this if it is what their conscience tells them, no matter how wrong it is?

  7. Anonymous says:

    If there is a hell (which I seriously doubt) I have no desire to see my Holdeman family there. What I was trying to say is that when I tried to believe in a god so many things did not make sense. How could people who claimed to be Christians turn and be so abusive to fellow human beings?

    • There is a simple answer to the question you ask in the last line. It is a RELIGIOUS SPIRIT. We see it all over the world. Wars are fought because of it, separation and division on every hand. What these people are doing (the shunners) has nothing to do with God. God tells us to love our brother. He tells us that if one is struggling, we are to leave everything and go after them. We are to seek them and not give up until we have found them. We are to draw them with love and kindness, with encouragement. Now obviously, as I have said before, there might be a time to exclude them from certain elements of fellowship, but if they are cold and indifferent, those things won’t matter to them. There is a rule of thumb, and that is that we should always fellowship with ANYONE at the level at which they are capable. To deny fellowship of any kind to someone who is capable of it and desiring it is WRONG. If the individual is not of a mind to engage in Christian fellowship, then they won’t be hurt by this exclusion. If in fact, the church member is the more mature, stable and spiritually awakened, then he in fact is the greater, and the greater always condescends to the lesser. They have already labeled you as lesser, and yet they expect you to reach up to them in their lofty perch. Instead they should reach out to you from where they are and draw you in. They have labeled you the one who is needy and broken. Is the one who is needy and broken required to mend himself and draw himself in? These are very important questions to ask yourself. By the way they are treating you, they are almost admitting that they see you as capable of fixing yourself. The only way that shunning “works” is if the pressure is so great and the exclusion so painful that the excommunicated one lays aside all reason and intellect and reacts on a purely emotional level. But as I have also said before, this means he is acquiesing to the manipulation and control and then he swallows a very large dose of the potion of legalism and control and from thereon he is the worst of the worst.

      Blessings to you,friend, I believe God will show you his love and mercy in a way you could not have imagined. This is all part of the journey. I also believe he is going to use you in a mighty way.

      Hiram

      • And FURTHERMORE my friend, you say you doubt there is a hell, and obviously, so do they. IF THEY REALLY BELIEVED THERE WAS A HELL AND THEY THOUGHT YOU WERE GOING THERE, THEY WOULD REACT IN QUITE A DIFFERENT MANNER. UNLESS OF COURSE THEY ARE FULL OF THE DEVIL AND ACTUALLY WANT YOU TO GO THERE. PONDER THAT.

  8. catalyst says:

    I know a non Holdeman pastor who will fellowship with absolutely anyone. He says “If we don’t love them, who will?” I think this is a very good way to look at it. Makes you stop and think.

  9. Hiram says:

    Mercy is what it is all about. Mercy, not judgment. Love, not shunning. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that shunning is about love. There is no love in it. When they say it hurts them of course that is true. A person would have to be an inhuman monster to not feel pain at what they are doing. The pain is more for themselves though, than for the one who is being shunned. They want you to give up and come back so that they will no longer have to do this repugnant thing, not so they can be at ease over the thought of your soul’s salvation.

    yes?
    Hiram

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