Most of us remember getting grounded or spanked or our car keys were taken away. Everyone has one event when they really really got into trouble.
But have you ever been in trouble with your church?
A well known church and pastor that will remain nameless here are causing a stir because one of their members is in trouble. And when they gave him the proverbial “spanking,” he quit the church. And the church sent out a detailed letter to members giving instructions on how to ostracize the offender. Yeah… You can catch up on all the details at Matthew Paul Turner’s excellent blog (including the letter sent to thousands of church members).
And virtually everyone’s reaction has been to excoriate the church. How dare they try to “control” this guy? What right do they have to discipline him? What ever happened to “grace?”
Turns out, the church got it wrong. Very wrong. But so did all the bloggers who bristled at the church that would dare to discipline its members.
You Can’t Tell Me What to Do!
I want to ask you something. Would any of you submit yourselves to church discipline? My guess is no.
We spend a lot of time picking a church that suits us just right. The church’s job is to entertain us for an hour on Sundays, give us some inspiration, make us feel like we’re making a difference, and give us a place to pretend we’re better than other people.
We think the church works for us. The pastor is our employee. After all, we pay his salary. The church certainly has no authority over us. Everything we do is “between us and God,” and no one can tell us what we can and can’t do.
It started when we were kids. When teachers “give” a kid a bad grade, a lot of parents blame the teacher. Then that kid grows up to be a rebellious teenager. Then he gets his first job, but quits when the boss “gives him crap.” Then he lives a mediocre existence under the illusion that he is his own man and does not need to obey anyone. Then he puts a “He ain’t my President” bumper sticker on his Honda Civic.
And so when a church calls us out on our crap, we rarely say, “You are right. I am sorry.” We say, “Screw you, church!” After all, why would we put up with a church that gives us crap when we can just shop for a new, entertaining, inspiring church where we can pretend to be good people down the street.
And for all you people sharing stories about how church discipline “hurt” you: yeah, getting in trouble hurts. That’s the point of a spanking. And just because we’re adults, we’re not above getting spanked. If your church disciplines people, (like the church in question) and you step out of line, you have no one but yourself to blame when the feces hits the fan.
We Can’t Tell Them What to Do
Churches, you’ve really made a mess.
The only reason a case of church discipline is news is because churches don’t do it, outside of the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. When the only “church discipline” is a Witness being disfellowshipped, yeah, it sounds crazy and cultish.
We have no moral authority to discipline people anymore. Here’s why:
The only way discipline works is if it’s consistent. How can a church consistently discipline 10,000 members? Here’s a hint: it can’t. Every one of your church members is screwing up in some way right now. You’d be better off just disfellowshipping everyone and seeing who comes back.
Discipline only works if members expect it. The average church is a weak-kneed, limp-wristed, spineless, impotent shill when it comes to teaching right and wrong. We don’t even like taking peoples’ names off our lists who haven’t attended in five years. Most churches are so stuck on gooey, sappy love and acceptance and politics and social justice, that people are blindsided when the church actually says, “What you’re doing is wrong!” If your church doesn’t have clear lines and consequences, you have no right to haphazardly punish members.
And for God’s sake, when you spank a child, you don’t tell your other children to spank that child too. Nice going, idiots.
You Will Regret It
If your church does not have a system of discipline in place, you will eventually regret it. One day, you will find your church attended by a doctor that, for example, sells aborted fetus organs on the Mexican black market, and you can do nothing about it. I’m sure glad my church followed Matthew 15 when we needed to.
What do you say? Does the church have the authority to discipline its members? Or is keeping butts in the seats and money in the offering more important?