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,