Monday, February 13, 2012

Excommunication was only the beginning

I have been reading some Facebook discussion of a church discipline situation at Mars Hill, which is a large church in the Seattle area.

The basic story is that a prominent church member, Andrew, was engaged and acted immorally with a woman he used to date. He told his fiancee and other church members, and Mars Hill began a discipline process to, as they put it, bring Andrew to repentance and reconciliation with the church. You can read what appears to be Andrew's side of it here, in a couple of linked blog posts. I encourage you to read them, including the documents from the church.

There are two details that make this case stand out. As a condition of discipline, the church asked him to sign a contract saying, among other things, the following, quote:

* Andrew will not pursue or date any woman inside or outside of MH
* Andrew will write out in detail his sexual and emotional attachment history with women and share it with XXX.

He refused to sign it, and essentially walked away.

Then, the church sent a memo to its internal social network telling them not to associate with Andrew, to the level of refusing to share meals or participate in activities with him. Conversations are to be held strictly to the topic of Andrew's church discipline.

This all feels totalitarian to me. And whatever else it is, it's turned the church into a barren desert for this guy. In my eyes, it is damaging their witness. Having heard this story, I would never join Mars Hill.

They have their reasons. Here is the church's response:

I know that we do not know all the circumstances that surround this church decision. I also agree that the church is within the boundaries of Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5 to demand that he either part ways with them or submit to discipline.

Where I get off the train is the church telling its members not to eat with him or go out with him. As in, for example:

I don't think that is scripturally supportable. Matthew 18 says "treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector". Those were the people that Jesus partied with! So I don't agree with the Mars Hill interpretation, which I can find no support for, that "This means we no longer have normal, casual fellowship with the believer but instead use any encounters to bring the gospel of reconciliation to him and lovingly urge him to repent and turn back in obedience to God."

For me it seems that this is less about Andrew and God and more about Andrew and Mars Hill.

And this from the same section is off the deep end:

"If someone under discipline begins attending another church, we notify the leaders of that church that they are unrepentant and have been removed from fellowship in our church. We ask that they also deny that person fellowship in their church so that we can continue working to bring the sinning one to repentance in a holy fashion."

To me it sounds like they don't understand when someone is just not that into them.

Having read the contract the church wanted this guy to sign and the letter sent to its internal social network, the passage that comes to mind for me is not about church discipline, but about Pharisees. Matthew 23: "do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them."

1 comment:

Travis said...

1Cor 5:11 - I wrote to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber -- not even to eat with such a one.

2 Thes 3:6 -- Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not on accord with the tradition that you received from us.

2 Thes 3:14-15 If anyone refuses to obey what we say in this letter, note that man, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not look on him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.

Dan, I think the theme here is apparent, and it sure seems like Mars Hill acted in accordance with scripture. It's pretty sad that the church is being accused or having a poor witness by following scripture!