" 'I just want to continue to worship there,' said Dr. Nan Hawkes, who may be asked to leave Second Presbyterian Church....Hawkes said she realizes it would be easier to leave Second Presbyterian but doesn't believe she should have to. "It's not Sandy Willson's [the pastor] church. It's not my church," she said. 'It's God's church.' " From article "Unchurched" in the 2/16/11 Commercial AppealOn the front page of the Commercial Appeal (Memphis) newspaper Thursday was the story of a long-time church member, Dr. Nan Hawkes, who is being barred from her mega church and subjected to the church's disciplinary process and possibly excommunicated from the church for "slander, bickering, and gossip", and for "offenses of immorality and contempt for the established order of the church".
What was her "crime"? She said disparaging remarks about her pastor and one of his family members. And apparently the church doesn't tolerate people being friends of the pastor's critics either as Dr. Hawkes' friend at the church has also been barred from serving in the choir after she sent a letter stating her support for Dr. Hawkes.
As I included in the quote above from the newspaper article, Dr. Hawkes realizes she could have just left her church, but she decided to stay. She is a believer in Christ and feels compelled to worship at this church despite her differences with the pastor.
And of course Dr. Hawkes could have avoided all of this and just left the church if she had disagreements with the pastor, right?
Not so fast, my friend, as Lee Corso likes to say.
Even the act of leaving a church is now seen by some reformed pastors as being in sin - or worse, not even a believer - requiring corrective church discipline and excommunication. Let me explain.
Mark Devers' is a reformed Southern Baptist and pastor of Capital Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. He has spoken before at the FBC Jax Pastor's Conference, back in 2009 or 2010. Devers started an association of churches called "9Marks" churches (formerly known as "the Center for Church Reform") and there is a website that provides resources to pastors who wish to incorporate the "9 Marks" of a healthy church.
One of the "marks" of a biblical church - Mark Number 7 - is biblical "church discipline". Bobby Jamieson, is the assistant editor of the 9 Marks website and seminary student at SBTS, and he posted an article recently stating that the act of a cranky church member simply leaving a church is an act of open sin requiring churches to exercise discipline and excommunication.
Jamieson writes in his article "Pastors, Don't Let Your People Resign into Thin Air":
"....a cranky troublemaker who’s been giving the church headaches for years has finally had enough and decides to throw in the towel and resign. In a huff, this person says he’s just giving up on church—at least for now.The arrogance in this is astounding. A pastor and his 501(c)3 organization consider the question of whether they can "allow" someone to resign? It gets better:
It would be tempting to simply stand aside and allow this troubler to cease troubling your church. The last thing you want is to invite more trouble by detaining him at the back door.
But should the church simply allow this individual to resign into thin air?"
"I think the biblical answer is a resounding “No.” Here’s why: When your church made that person a member, you were declaring to the world that this person belongs to the kingdom of Jesus (Mt. 16:18-19). By regarding this person as a member, your church affirmed that he is indeed a “brother” in Christ (1 Cor. 5:11-13)."So your church "membership" isn't just that you decided to link with a fellowship of believers because the Holy Spirit led you as a Christian. No, it is much deeper than that apparently. Apparently the church has the responsibility to "affirm" that you are a "brother", and thus they can't just let you "resign". I guess when you join a Calvinist congregation like Mark Devers' church, you are checking in to the "Hotel Calvinista": you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.
But it gets even better, much better:
"So what’s the problem? Hebrews 10:24-25 commands us not to forsake assembling together. Therefore, any professing Christian who quits going to church is living in habitual, unrepentant sin. And the way a church addresses unrepentant sin is not by merrily sending that person on his way, but by removing their affirmation of “member” and “brother” (Matt. 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 5:1-13). When the player quits showing up on game day, the team has to take back his jersey."These churches are hell bent on making the gospel "bad news"! Don't tithe, and you're cursed. Quit going to church because you've been hurt or spiritually abused, you are in "habitual, unrepentant sin". Darn, I just can't measure up to the pastors' standards after I accepted Christ. I'm not tithing, and I'm not an active member of a church - who will deliver me from my torment? Is it any wonder why people are fleeing these churches?
And so if you quit attending and are in "unrepentant sin", your church must "remove their affirmation" of you as a "brother". Do you understand what this is saying? That as a Christian we are "affirmed" by the church, and if we leave on terms not suitable to the pastor ad his holy men they take back that "affirmation" as a "brother". That is code for saying you are not a Christian any longer and the holy men of your church play a role in making that determination.
So Jamieson and 9Marks gives their solution to these pesky reprobates, the "troublers" who simply walk out the door:
"A quick way to get a handle on this is to consider church discipline. If someone tries to resign mid-process in order to “escape discipline,” should the church just let them go? Of course not. That would defeat the whole point of church discipline. Instead, the church must retain the right to refuse someone’s resignation and send them out another way—through excommunication."A "quick way"? To "get a handle on this"? Do what? A church retains the right to refuse someone's resignation? How is that even possible?
Keep in mind that the man writing those words is a seminary student at Al Mohler's Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. They are speaking of "excommunication" of church members. I never thought I would hear that word in the Southern Baptist Convention, but that is the direction of the reformed pastors apparently.
For more analysis of Jamieson's article, read the Wartburg Watch's excellent commentary here. They raise the point that Jamieson's advice to pastors in rejecting a member's resignation for the purpose of continuing church discipline has already been deemed by the Oklahoma Supreme Court as potentially tortious in the case of Guinn v. Church of Christ of Collinsville. So for Jamieson to offer this advice to pastors with no mention of the legal ramifications that might arise in particular applications shows how out of touch with reality these power-hungry preacher-men can be.
Christians, we have to wise up. While our pastors do their best to get us to fear the government, preaching that Uncle Sam is going to take away their rights to proclaim the gospel - we need to realize that a bigger threat to Christianity is from WITHIN the church and it is not the bloggers. It is narcissistic, power-hungry pastors and their underlings who view themselves and their churches as the bestowers of God's grace and your good standing with God. They want to tell us we must give a minimum portion of our money to their church to receive God's blessings, and they are beginning to tell us that we must stay with the church to be "affirmed" as a believer. This unbiblical nonsense is nothing less than spiritual abuse and is a much larger threat to the body of Christ than a particular president or his political party.
And here is a little anecdote for Jamieson and his boys to consider:
I look back at the discipline process exercised against me and my family after they found my identity as the author of the FBC Jax Watchdog blog in 2008. When they trespassed me and my wife for "church misconduct" in December 2008, we were forced to find a new church home. We immediately began visiting a new church and when FBC Jax heard that we sought to join that fellowship, the FBC Jax church discipline process cranked back up in February 2009. The pastor preached about "Kingdom Killjoys", and what churchmen are to do with complainers and criticizers is "shut 'em down". A week later the church administrator went to the deacons to tell them what a bad person I was for owning the blog, and he told the deacons I had been investigated by the state attorney (when actually it was their own discipline committee member who did the investigation!) for possible crimes.
A week later the deacons ratified and brought the infamous "deacon's resolution" to the congregation for a vote on a Wednesday night in February 2009. My wife and I watched at home as they streamed this resolution live on the Internet. I'll never forget my wife bursting into tears as she watched on the Internet the honorable A.C. Soud slowly reading that resolution like some sort of criminal indictment, and watching as our former friends stood and ratified it. They even proudly displayed their "Deacons Resolution 2009-1" on their church website using a corner hyperlink banner. Their resolution condemned my actions in particular, and condemned "unjust criticism" in general, and stated I left the church only after I was told they were taking my disciplinary case to the deacons. That was a flat-out lie uttered by the good judge A.C. Soud in his attempt to paint me as a coward. Soud and his band of holy men at FBC Jax conveniently left off the resolution that they had trespassed both me and my wife three months earlier, and THAT is why we left our church of 20 years.
But there is a strange irony in the actions of FBC Jax seeking to exercise their church discipline on a church member and his family who already left the church. It is amazing how God works. It was the church's pursuit of me through their disciplinary process in February 2009 - after we had already left FBC Jax - that led me to discover the subpoenas pulled by a Jacksonville Sheriff's Office detective who was himself an FBC Jax deacon and discipline committee member.
In their arrogant attempts to punish and humiliate me, they ended up disclosing the secret of what the JSO detective/discipline committee member had done to find my identity.
Soon after that the church was embarrassed on the front page of the newspaper for "teaming up" with the sheriff's office in outing a blogger and subpoenaing two other critical church blogs when it was discovered that the investigating officer was a church member and employee of the church. And to top it all off, when the pastor was interviewed by our paper's religion writer for the story, he made false, slanderous statements about my mental health that were published in the paper and he then ratified them in front of the congregation the following Sunday. He claimed that what he did he did out of duty to the "resurrected Jesus Christ" in protecting the flock.
So go ahead, pastors. Pursue critical church members before they leave, pursue them after they leave.
But whatever you do, don't use police detectives in your congregation to pull subpoenas to investigate your critics, and please pastors - don't issue slanderous statements about the mental health of the people you are "lovingly" trying to discipline.