19 December 2008

BREAKING NEWS: church dares to practice NT Christianity!

by Dan Phillips

Unrepentant Professors and Faith-Fabricators Hit Hardest!
Media in Panic!

Good grief. You'd think no church had ever had to discipline a member before.

Well, probably for many reporters and readers — and, possibly the woman in question — this might as well be true.

The story: last Monday, the News4Jax website reported that one Rebecca Hancock was complaining that the church she'd attended was in the process of disciplining her for an ongoing, unrepented sexual relationship with her boyfriend.

The church is Grace Community Church in Jacksonville, Florida. (Phil Johnson spoke there last September, and their site links to Pyromaniacs.) The elders of the church sent Hancock a letter appealing to her in Christian love to repent of her sin, and be restored to fellowship with God and the church. The letter lays out the Biblical teaching about sexuality and holiness, and about church discipline. It relates that she has been confronted in the past, and has rejected attempts by the elders to speak with her.

Accordingly, the elders inform Hancock that, unless she repents and deals with her sin as God calls her to do, the church will obey Jesus' command in Matthew 18:17, telling the church of her sin.

Hancock laments (to the reporter) that "my sins will be told to the church, publicly, with my children sitting in the church and my friends." To yet another reporter, Hancock said
"I am concerned about my children sitting in church with their mother being crucified by the church that they trust,” she said. “I am very concerned about how it would affect them."
Hancock's children are 18 and 20 years old.

Unwilling to repent or speak to the elders of the church she had joined, Hancock left the church, and told it to stop trying to contact her. She felt that this would end the process; she was mistaken.

And now she's complaining to the media about the church's invasion of her privacy.

The Biblical backstory: anyone who has a standard New Testament has this passage:
15 "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them" (Matthew 18)
This is the Gospel of Matthew. It's been around awhile. It isn't hard to get a copy. It isn't apocryphal; it is textually well-verified; it isn't in a special, secret, "insiders-only" edition of the Bible. To have a Bible is to have this passage, as well as
other passages where church discipline is actually enjoined and/or done (i.e. Romans 16:17; 1 Corinthians 5; 6; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14; etc.). It is rendered in perfectly clear English.

Further, to claim to be a Christian is (at bare minimum!) to believe that Christ is Lord, that His words are binding and authoritative. By definition as a Christian, you set yourself to study and learn and practice those words (John 8:31-32; cf. Matthew 28:18-20). You should already know this teaching, if you've been a Christian for any length of time. If you haven't, and
someone shows it to you, your allegiance to Christ binds you to accept it.

In disciplining an unrepentant church member according to Jesus' words, a Christian church is doing just one thing: it is being a Christian church, as defined by Jesus.

Which, apparently, is a shocking event to Ms. Hancock — and the media.

The reporters and the experts: in spite of its (faux) reputation as a right-wing shill organization, the Fox News piece is actually the worse of the two I cite. The reporter speaks of "church orders," and of an "ultimatum" (twice) from the church elders. Hancock is spared such colorful language; her letter of resignation is described as sent "in hopes of solving the dispute" — not as an attempt to elude consequences for her refusal to practice the faith she professed.

Both reporters go to "experts." The Channel 4 article refers to unnamed "[p]astors with whom Channel 4 spoke," who said discipline is not abnormal, but that it is unusual to pursue a member after she's departed.

The FOX reporter speaks to Dr. Darrell Bock of Dallas Seminary. Bock has a reputation of being a conservative NT scholar, employed by a conservative seminary (Dallas), working in the worlds of academia and literature. What would Bock contribute to a real-life, tense situation involving an actual church, actually trying to practice the book Dr. Bock has made a career teaching about?

Professor Bock is reported as faulting Grace for insufficient private interaction. (NOTE: Bock makes this criticism publicly; how many private attempts he first made to interact with the Grace elders is not reported.) Bock also piles on the church for pursuing Hancock after she severed her relationship with the church.

(Bock comments on the story in this meta; readers can determine if his comments alter the impression created in the story.)

Also, note: the elders' letter is presented by FOX under the file-name Church_Extortion.pdf.

Reflections: I wonder... well, I wonder a lot of things. Evidently, I (though not a Trained Journalist) wonder more things than these two professional reporters. Here are just a few of the things I wonder:
  1. Ms. Hancock is so worried about how hearing of her sin in church will affect her (adult) children... that she goes to the media with it? So, instead of a small local congregation knowing about her sin, now (potentially) the whole world knows about her sin. That makes sense? Neither reporter thought to ask her about that?
  2. In fact, we're to believe that Ms. Hancock thinks it would have less of a negative impact on her children to have the whole world know (A) of her sin, and (B) of her unwillingness to take responsibility for it. That made sense to the reporters? No question-marks? None?
  3. Does Hancock say that church discipline was never mentioned in her membership class? Is that possible? Did the reporters try to contact other members?
  4. Has Hancock ever read Matthew 18? What does she think it means? To whom does she think it applies, if not to her?
  5. The reporters are so busy amassing condemnation of the church for pursuing her after she left — did anyone think to ask whether the church constitution and/or bylaws deal with such a situation? Many church-constitutions expressly deal with members under discipline who try to escape the process by resigning before completion. Does Grace's? Were the reporters unable to get a constitution or bylaws? Did Ms. Hancock not have a copy? Was no member willing to share a copy?
  6. And if the reporters did not wonder this, why did not Dr. Bock wonder it (— assuming the reporting is complete and accurate)? Bock has been training men to be pastors for years. Is he unaware of churches with explicit provisions about such attempts to dodge discipline? How is it that I, a relative nobody, can know about such provisions, while Dr. Bock (to be charitable) was unable to impress that possibility on the reporter? (Or did he try, and she refused to listen?)
  7. I think it would be interesting to ask Dr. Bock's students how they feel knowing that if they do something Biblically-defensible that the world doesn't like in a few years, Dr. Bock stands ready to join forces with (or, at least, be used by) the world in faulting and criticizing them, while they are under fire?
(Update: I was a bit surprised that even the panel of conservatives at OneNewsNow expressed concern [at about 18.3 minutes] at the process continuing after her departure, without even considering that the church constitution/bylaws might have anticipated such an occurrence.)

My other thought is personal. I have lived well within in the blast-zone of what happens when churches refuse to obey what Scripture says about discipline. I have seen the misery, chaos, confusion, conflict, and heartache that come from irresponsible pastors refusing to perform this miserably difficult, but absolutely necessary ministry for their sheep.

Conclusion: Ms. Hancock says, "I am a Christian, and that will never change. My relationship with Jesus has to do with me and Jesus, and he knows my heart."

No one disputes Jesus' knowledge of Ms. Hancock's heart — nor of anyone else's heart.

The issue in dispute: who knows Jesus' heart, apart from His self-revelation in Scripture? That self-revelation includes these directions regarding church discipline. Must that revelation necessarily have an actual impact on the lives of those professing faith in Him, and churches who profess to serve Him?

Grace Community Church evidently thinks so.

And so do I.

Dan Phillips's signature

73 comments:

Even So... said...

You personally know how I feel about it Dan...Count me in...and let us all say a prayer for Ms. Hancock to see the light and for Scott and staff to keep shining it...

~Mark said...

They certainly did the right things if all is as reported. It's disheartening to see churches turn a blind eye to open sin in their midst.

It's hard to confront sin, but done rightly it's the most loving and obedient thing they could do!

I do wonder though if they should continue contacting her on an official level since she has chosen to walk away.

DJP said...

If their constitution/bylaws state, in so many words, that discipline proceeds regardless of whether a member leaves the church or not — wouldn't that put it all in a different light?

As I said in the post, that was the second thing I wondered right away.

Rob said...

The thing I'm left wondering after reading this is, how comprehensive were the membership courses at this church, and how involved was the membership interview with the elders? Seems like, to slip through the membership process with this blatant of a sin unnoticed, speaks to me not necessarily of Ms. Hancock and her sin, but rather of the eldership and their qualifications for church membership.

If anything, though, this is just the mainstream media up to it's usualt tactic of finding anything that it can to use to paint negative pictures of Christianity.

DJP said...

Well, and again, I don't think anything suggests that she was in this relationship when she went through membership classes. Just another question the reporters didn't ask or relay.

Reading the stories doesn't lead me instantly to think the elders made any mistakes.

pregador27 said...

I met Phil at this church in September ( I was the one coveting his MacBook while I complained about my non-Mac laptop). I had a chance to meet some members, the pastor and some ministry staff while at the conference. I have no doubt about the integrity of this church's leadership.

In listening to Ms. Hancock's interview, I doubt she has a serious commitment to Christ. Judging by her willingness to broadcast her sin without any sign of repentance- but with plenty of rebellion.

pregador27 said...

PS- I did repent about the coveting of Phil's MacBook.

The Doulos said...

Having been involved in more than one discipline case as an Elder, my sense is that this has been handled as well as possible by the leadership of Grace. The "extortion letter" seems to bear this out, and sounds a lot like one that I had to write once.

I picked up on this story yesterday and blogged about it then. My take was similar to yours, Dan. But I was first...

Rachael Starke said...

I've been interviewed by reputable journalists before, only to be dismayed (and educated) about their tactics for "crafting" a story. I'm willing to give Dr. Bock the benefit of the doubt, but I'll bet he wishes he'd simply deferred to the church's equally well-educated pastors and hung up.

And I just love that FOX didn't even have the courtesy to black out either the address of the lady or any of the church's contact info. No doubt that was so well-wishers might avail themselves of it to offer help and prayers of support.

OTOH, given that the Catholic Church excommunicates people all the time without much public fuss, it's interesting to note that so rare is this in the Protestant church that it makes the six o'clock news... Meshes pretty well with Frank's posts earlier in the week, I'm thinkin'.

Ian Hall said...

Well done Grace Community Church. As for Bock if what is reported is correct - he needs to hang his head in shame, go and get himself some spiritual backbone, and then publicly repent of siding with the world against Christ and his church on this issue.

johnMark said...

Dan,

Amen!

I wish more churches would do as much. Sad how easy it is to just change churches to run away from sin. Maybe the new church will request a letter of transfer and she won't be able to run to easily.

Mark

dac said...

That's right, lets trust a newspaper reporter who's out to get eyeballs on thier story, rather than someone with the personal reputation of Dr. Bock. Let's pile on Dr. Bock, call him to task and sully his reputation, all based on a single newsreport and three qoutes ripped out of context.

Ya, that's what we need to do

It's not Dr. Bock that needs to publically repent

DJP said...

Well, DAC, when you calm down, perhaps you could actually read the articles, the links, my article, then offer a different context in which my carefully-phrased observations would be inapplicable?

Boerseuntjie said...

Being LESS than a nobody myself, and uneducated lone disciple of the Messiah, who seeks His heart, mind and will by His Scriptures and prayer...
I find it strange that anyone can cliam to live a life of communion with Jesus and yet stand directly opposed to His OWN REVEALED Words?

I also find it strange that some Churches would rather be so Inclusivist and Pragmatic, that they do away with Essential Doctrines, Statements of Belief/Facts of Scripture and even distictives and bylaws...

BUT:
When you see someone [Including YOURSELF], feel uneasy with the CLEAR and DIRECT doctrines of Christ and by implication His Revealed Word in both Hebrew and New Testament Scriptures... YET; ultimately SUBMIT to His Kingship, LORDship and Mastership over you, as His created being and REBORN Creation in HIM; that my friends is the ACID PROOF test. I am sure all us Grace Doctrine confessing people will submit that we can find those doctrines we love so much VERY Difficult to bear at times (Even if only at the beginning of studying them), especially when considering unredeemed family, friends or even Apostates.

There is no pride of SELF in Christ's Kingdom, only broken vessels who have been submitted to the Claymaker, who Himself rebuilds the vesseld who submit their brokenness and sinfullnes before His crown of Authority.

Soli Deo Gloria!

BTW - Could we really care less what the media thinks about anything? They almost by default opperate on lies and deceipt and we know who the father of lies is... Don't we?

CR said...

I was wondering where the "extortion" letter part came from because I couldn't find it in the body of the report.

Okay, now, I know. You guys got good eyes.

Boerseuntjie said...

dac,

Please Read the FULL article and realize that NOBODY has attacked anybody here.

But questionmarks are valid.

For instance:
Any Christian worth defending the faith (And for that matter teaching the basics of the faith);
MUST BEWARE the wolves that ARE the media...
We all know that the media w(For the greater part), sensationalise and "make it up as they go".

They are NOT concerned with facts and with the hearts and souls of people; but with MONEY and PRIDE...

So I would lay it at your feet.

Questions are VALID, absolute statements without facts are not.

Officer said...

I love this blog; thank you for sharing that.

One reasons this is my favorite blog to follow is that you guys emphasis that it's simple ground rules to obey Christ's commandments; thanks.

But apparently this woman doesn't agree with God and wants to have it her way. Maybe she can take her spiritual "conversation" (heheheh) to Burger King or... well, nevermind where else =)

Seriously though let's pray for her, she seems rather plainly lost.

Carl said...

I visit many blogs including this one and participate with comments. One of the blogs I frequent is Hot Air and usually I agree with most of what is presented there but today's entry from "AllahPundit" concerning this incident tells me the writer is uninformed on this issue. The URL if anyone is interested is:

http://hotair.com/archives/2008/12/19/church-to-ex-congregant-end-your-affair-or-well-publicly-humiliate-you/

Some of the comments are downright hateful. For example after someone wrote of their support of the church disciplining its member someone wrote, "Christians can be scum too. You’re scum."

Scott Shaffer said...

Isn't it possible that dac was responding not to the original post, but to johnmark's comments about dr. bock?

jigawatt said...

Dan,

I feel the need to defend Dr. Bock a bit. For the record, I don't know him, nor did I ever attend DTS.

First off:

FoxNews' misspelling of Dr. Bock's name (they spelled it Block the 2nd time) tells me that this story probably didn't receive the editorial attention that other stories do.

The grammatical and spelling mistakes (church's instead of churches) make me wonder if Dr. Bock himself wrote the responses at the 9marks site.

Second off:

As far as I can tell, there's nothing incorrect about what he is quoted as saying in the FoxNews article. For example, it is definitely true that "Most churches would handle this much more privately than this particular community is choosing to do."

Bock himself said (assuming it was him) "What often happens in such an interview is some context for the response is lost in the article which is usually very short." What about all the other things he said during that 15 minute interview? He could have said lots that we would rather have seen published. FoxNews' choice to name the file Church_Extortion clearly indicates that they are taking a side on this story, so I would expect them to cherry pick quotes that could help make their case.

Dan, In point #6 you say "... (— assuming the reporting is complete and accurate)". I don't assume that. You also say "... (Or did he try, and she refused to listen?)" I think the latter is more likely - or at least that there is much more from Bock that FoxNews could have written.

I guess it comes down to this: I would rather give the benefit of the doubt to Dr. Bock rather than to FoxNews.

Solameanie said...

I am a trained journalist, and I've been of the firm opinion that true objective reporting has assumed room temperature. Now it's "advocacy journalism" and outright Goebbels-like propaganda.

The church has done the right thing, and I am praying for them.

Michael.Gabriel said...

I don't have time to read everyone's comments, but I just wanted to say, "AMEN!" to your original post. I started a discussion concerning this earlier today on Theologica, and we have had some good discussion. I am behind the leaders of Grace Community Church, and if any of them are following these comments, I'm praying for you guys and thanking the Lord that He has faithful churches out there upholding the integrity of our Lord.

Solameanie said...

LATE UPDATE:

John Kasich subbed for Bill O'Reilly tonight and had a segment on this case, with radical feminist lawyer Wendy Murphy as his guest. I've never been more disappointed in Kasich. Murphy was inflammatory as usual and demonstrated no knowledge of church discipline much less Christianity. But Kasich described himself as a believer, and then sided with Murphy against the church. "We need grace, and grace is what it's all about." Hokum and bunkum.

I fired off an email to Kasich telling him that he'd better review Matthew 18 again, especially point three where the Lord instructs us to "tell it to the church" when someone remains unrepentant. No doubt my note will probably be ignored, but I had to send it. This kind of smear job makes me so mad. I'm glad I got out of broadcast journalism.

Phil Johnson said...

There have been two or three notorious occasions where comments made by my pastor have been "edited" by the media in a way that misrepresents what he really said, so I was prepared to give the benefit of the doubt to Dr. Bock, too.

However, after reading Dr. Bock's "explanatory" comment on another blog, (assuming that's really his comment and not someone's idea of a joke) I have to say that if his comments to the reporter were as weak and ambiguous as his comment on that blog, he really isn't in a position to complain too loudly if evangelical readers opine that he came across as sounding sub-biblical.

It seems to be the besetting sin of evangelical celebrities these days that when they are talking to the secular media they become incapable of ever appealing to Scripture as their authority. Perhaps it's the hypnotic effect of so many newsroom lights--making them stretch both truth and language to the breaking point in order to be as politically correct as possible.

Speaking of which--if I have to watch one more Rick Warren interview this weekend, I think I'm going to go out to the driveway and slam the car door on my head as hard as I can.

Scott Shaffer said...

I decided to take a look at exactly what Dr. Bock posted over on 9Marks.

I said that often this kind of discipline does end up in public if there is no change.

No issue here.

That church's that do this make it clear in their membership classes first (I was told in this case, she did not believe they'd actually do it).

No issue.

I said you more often see it applied in public to leaders.

I’m not sure what he is referring to. Perhaps some of the public debacles we have had with televangelists? Certainly Paul instructed Timothy that elders should be rebuked in public (1 Tim. 5:19-20). So again, I don’t see any problem with this statement.

That it is often applied to members in the context of their small group. (They work with them. In this case, she had a mentor who was involved).

This statement isn’t very clear to me. I can see where a small group fellowship could function in the disciplinary process as described in Matt. 18:16, but I don’t see the small group functioning as “the church” in verse 17.

I did say that often resigning membership stops the process. (I have seen this result more than once)

I think this is a true statement, although in my opinion it shouldn’t stop the process.

While I can’t disagree with anything he has said, I wish he had been more forceful and biblical in his response to the reporter. Something along the lines of, “The church is just following Christ’s teachings as given in Matthew 18. It should be applied more frequently than it is.” Or something like that. However, given that it was a 15 minute phone call while he was at a Christmas party, I prefer to give him the benefit of the doubt. Furthermore, I don’t think Dr. Bock’s comments are the main issue here. I am thankful that a church is actually obeying Christ’s teachings about church discipline.

DJP said...

ScottI am thankful that a church is actually obeying Christ’s teachings about church discipline.

Right, Scott - and how many doctorates did you have to earn, how many treatises did you have to write, to be able to make that clear, simple, supportive statement?

You see my point?

Phil Johnson said...

Scott Shaffer: "While I can’t disagree with anything he has said, I wish he had been more forceful and biblical in his response to the reporter."

Well, in the first place, my complaint is that he doesn't seem to have said anything biblical (or "forceful," for that matter) at all.

In the second place, no one has suggested that anything the story or blog-comment attributed to Bock was "untrue." As I said, however, it was ambiguous, devoid of any biblical authority, and therefore a bad answer.

But of course what Bock said was "true." So is the canard I heard an angry FOX news commentator intone tonight: "Jesus said let those who are without sin cast the first stone." In fact, the FOX commentator's remark was both true and biblical.

But it's not the right answer to the questions being raised by this story. It's a misleading half-truth. And sometimes that can be even worse than an outright lie.

. . . especially when a renowned evangelical academician is basically handing ammunition to a secular news agency persecuting a church that is simply seeking to obey Christ in a culture that hates the very idea of biblical authority.

naturgesetz said...

One question:

In Matthew 18:15 it says, "If your brother sins against you …"

Who was the brother or sister against whom Rebecca Hancock sinned, who then told her her fault?

It seems to me that the words "against you" make this process apply to cases where a person who has suffered personal harm from another takes the matter to the church if the one who offended him does not listen so that the church can tell the offending party to make satisfaction to the injured party. It does not appear to apply to situations where "the church" is the person sinned against.

Romans 16:17, 1 Corinthians 5, and the passages from 2 Thessalonians support shunning in this sort of situation, but 1 Corinthians 6, like Matthew seems to be dealing with private disputes rather than other forms of misconduct.

Jason said...

The thing that gets me in this story is this: Yes, if Ms. Hancock had stayed in the church then she should have repented, BUT there are also issues that are questionable.

1) The use of Matthew 18 as the premise for discipline. That section of Matthew in context was when one brother has wronged another in the gathering. Ms. Hancock did not sin against another member of the Church. Her boyfriend was not a member of the Church and no one had sinned against Ms. Hancock. So, the use of Matt 18:17 is not valid.

2) She was discussing this in private with a church mentor. The mentor broke the trust of Ms. Hancock, but also revealed this to other female members of the congregation. In the context of Matthew 18:15-17, the mentor is someone who has wronged another member by betraying her trust.

3) She did not submit to the elder of the gathering. Instead she resigned from the gathering and that should have ended the discipline there. She is no longer of their community, and they cannot discipline someone who is not their member. To continue with this discipline of "publicly rebuking her and revealing her sins" would be equated with slander.

They should have handled this differently. If they had followed their actions to the scriptural references then Ms. Hancock would have been asked to leave the community, she did in her own initiative. They should have acted lovingly, not harshly as it is reported that they did.

Also,the use of 1 Corinthians 5 is out of context in this matter. It is deals with the sexual immorality of a member of the Corinthian church who has a relationship with his step mother.

CR said...

PJ: Speaking of which--if I have to watch one more Rick Warren interview this weekend, I think I'm going to go out to the driveway and slam the car door on my head as hard as I can.

Hey Phil, if you do happen to watch another interview of RW and you do go out to your driveway and slam the car door on your head as hard as you can, can you slam one for the rest of us that are outraged with his inability to ariculate the gospel on national TV when given an opportunity to do so?

Jon said...

Jason said, "To continue with this discipline of "publicly rebuking her and revealing her sins" would be equated with slander."

Slander: a malicious, false, and defamatory statement or report.

I'll leave the rest of your statements to more worthy minds to rebuke, but are you seriously saying that any church that has to go to these measures is wrong? Is there no basis in scripture for discipline? And how may I ask is this not loving for the church to go to these final steps to seek her repentance?

If she has felt no shame for her sins when talking between just a few, then wouldn't it follow that shame could come from being revealed to the whole congregation? Now the whole world has access to her sin and she is still not repentant. So, in this case it seems clear to me that she sees no wrong in what she is doing and now feels the need to have somebody back her in her sin. Doesn't it seem as if her former church is extremely concerned about her sin and wish her to come to repentance even after she's left? Isn't that more loving? Or do you think that they're "malicious" in their actions?

~c. said...

"Let those without sin cast the first stone."

greglong said...

Jason said:

Also,the use of 1 Corinthians 5 is out of context in this matter. It is deals with the sexual immorality of a member of the Corinthian church who has a relationship with his step mother.

So, the only application of 1 Cor. 5 in your view, Jason, is for dealing with those who are immoral with their step-mothers? There is no broader application?

Or maybe it only applies to citizens of the city of Corinth who commit immorality with their stepmothers.

This is a strange view. 1 Cor. 5 directly applies here and to all examples of flagrant, unrepentant sin in a church body.

UinenMaia said...

My husband and I are attending an Orthodox Presbyterian Church and will begin the process of becoming members in January. A month ago, the bulletin announced that there would be a meeting after the service the following week to discipline a member.

The pastor took the time to speak to us and several others who are new to the church and not yet members. He told us that this was a meeting for members only, offered to answer any questions we might have about the process, and very politely asked us to leave after the service as usual. He also said that we were welcome to stay for any other type of congregational meeting.

I took two things away from that conversation. First, the church cared enough about the privacy of the offender to close the meeting to visitors, clearly keeping the matter within the church itself. As I read in the article, neither the elder nor the pastor would comment on the specifics of the situation. It seems, as Dan says, that they care more for her privacy and her children's wellbeing than she or Fox News.

The second thing that I took away from the conversation is that this is exactly the right church for us. It does not offer a fluffy gospel, neither does it shy away from the uncomfortable things we are called to do.

I am glad to see that Grace Community is following scripture to the letter and I will add them and Rebecca to my prayers.

mag said...

I have a few questions for anyone kind and thoughtful enough to respond.

1) Is it biblical for a church to not have any formal membership at all?

2) If a church has no formal membership, how is it determined who is a "brother"? Length of attendance? Profession of faith? Small-group participation?

3) If a long-term church attender sins [continuously] against another long-term church attender, does this command to discipline apply?

4) If the leadership of said church judges that there is no biblical basis for rebuke in the above case, should the sinned-against believer even stay in that church?

Jeff and Abi said...

I have been a member of three churches that practice church discipline - Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, CA.; Mission Road Bible Church in Prairie Village, KS.; and my current church, Parkers Lake Baptist Church in Plymouth, MN. In all cases when church discipline has been carried out, while it has been gut-wrenchingly grevious to hear of a professed brother or sister unwilling to repent of sin, it has given my wife and I sublime confidence in our church and its leadership, and their willingness to be biblical even when it is difficult or painful to do so.

I applaud this church for their action for the same reasons.

Everyday Mommy said...

To be perfectly frank, I've heard enough about people's "hearts" to make me want to hurl my breakfast. "God knows my heart" is the standard, snappy comeback from the vapid "I-just-love-Jesus-that's-all-I-know" crowd. Here's to the church who doesn't say, "got vapidity?"

DJP said...

Amen. I think that statement alone is going to be the subject of its very own post.

Marie said...

I agree that the church's leadership handled the matter correctly, and wish more churches cared enough about their members to follow biblical instruction for discipline. The blatant hypocrisy of seeking the media while claiming "concern for privacy" struck me, too. There was, IMO, nothing wrong with the letter as written - either in tone or biblically.

However, as Jason alluded to, in one of the links she described being pulled aside and taken to task in a separate room by her 'mentor' and a bunch of women, with whom the mentor or discipler or whatever had shared the information. This was somewhat off; sorry to the church for saying so. I can clearly see their intent is to rebuke and restore, and respect is due them for it, but that way of handling it was wrong.

Speaking as a Bible study leader, that comes dangerously close to gossip. In cases like this, discretion AND respect of church authority has to be followed. Obviously, we don't know exactly the position of the mentor in the church or the content of previous conversations she had with the woman who was shacking up (sorry; I forget her name), but if she needed to escalate, she should have done so to either the pastor's wife, the head of women's ministry, the pastor himself, or the elders (depending on exactly what the authority structure is in their church). I cannot give you a verse for that, and I agree they were trying to follow the Matthew 18 process, but it seems like common sense/common courtesy. You don't just corral someone into an intervention in a room full of church ladies who only know your about your sin (no, I did not call it a "mistake") because someone betrayed your trust. NO ONE put in that position is going to receive it in a spirit of love and concern.

I absolutely think the church was in the right to try and schedule a meeting for her to come and talk to the elders; that's how it should have been handled in the first place. The element of surprise is not going to help restore a wayward brother or sister - even if she had already been warned. There simply was no reason to involve the other women - unless they were somehow in authority over her, which the article doesn't mention.

Tom Chantry said...

One reason this woman is doing what she is doing - she hates the church and has no other way to hurt it. She has probably discovered that the actions of the church are entirely legal. Courts have consistently upheld the rights of churches to discipline their membership - provided that the system of discipline is explained from the moment of joining, that the rules which are written are followed closely, and that discipline is conducted within the church - not in public. Of course those are good laws and reasonable, and every church should follow them regardless of what the courts say.

This church has done all that, so she can't effectively sue them. She's trying to hurt them some other way. Of course, if they were to crack under the strain and talk to the media, she could sue them. She can say all she wants - they are wise to stay quiet.

Her talking to the press has nothing to do with a sense of grievance at all, nor with a worry that her children will be hurt. It has to do with the hatred of Christ and His bride.

Tom Chantry said...

Regarding the idea that the "mentor" did wrong in talking to others - that is utter, unmitigated nonsense.

First, we ain't Catholics, and none of us hold "confession." The whole idea is utterly unbiblical. This should be a constant refrain from every pastor/elder/teacher/counselor in the church: when someone says, "I want to tell you something in secret," we need to respond, "I'll keep it a secret if I ought to, but I have many higher obligations than the one I have to your sense of privacy.

That protects the church in all sorts of ways - the counselee who admits to the pastor that he robbed a liquor store the night before, the teenager who tells the Sunday School teacher that she's having suicidal thoughts, etc. We don't do "confession," and we don't value privacy above morality, legality, or life.

Furthermore, if the church did indeed teach about its disciplinary process, one of the things it must have taught was the duty of every member (whether in authority or not) upon hearing of a serious sin in another. Every member has a responsibility to first confront those in sin, and then to confront with others if there is no repentance. That is exactly what the mentor did.

And don't be influenced by specious claims of "persecution" - some sisters who probably wanted to be doing anything else in the world involved themselves because they loved this woman enough to try to save her soul.

Tom Chantry said...

And yes, Dan, if those under discipline could simply opt out of membership before final steps are taken, there would be no need of final steps. The purpose of discipline is not just to get the offender out of the church (although, honestly, that is part of it). The greater hope is that she will repent, and the final step is part of that. Consequently, most churches with a stated method of discipline include a statement to the effect that, once discipline has been initiated, mere resignation does not end it.

DJP said...

Marie (and all with similar reservations), here's what I think about that:

At present, we have only her word that it went down like that. And honestly the most charitable thing I can say is that, on the basis of every story I've read, she is not a credible source.

So I'll withhold judgment until I know more.

David Mohler said...

When I belonged to Rotary International, if we missed two meetings in a row without making up the attendance at another Rotary club, our membership was in jeopary. Every month, one or two members' names were read publicly, and attending members were encouraged to pursue them. Eventually, the absent ones were dropped from the rolls.

The analogy is sufficient to demonstrate that the world is not unfamiliar with these kinds of accountabilities. What they despise is that there is, in fact, a holy line-in-the-sand established by an immutable authority.

But even then, the world is not unfamiliar with holiness ("separateness"), as long as that holiness benefits their pride. One cannot, for example, join certain professional associations without the requisite education and experience. And memberships in those associations can be revoked on the basis of conduct. Outside of the Church, human beings have no problem maintaining the integrity of their association through established disciplinary procedures.

Marie said...

Marie (and all with similar reservations), here's what I think about that:

At present, we have only her word that it went down like that. And honestly the most charitable thing I can say is that, on the basis of every story I've read, she is not a credible source.

So I'll withhold judgment until I know more.


Yes, Dan, I thought about that when posting. It's entirely possible that she put her own "spin" on the event, so I qualify my statements with that fact.

Tom, I am NOT saying that the mentor was in the wrong for saying something; she clearly needed to escalate the issue, for the reasons you mentioned. What I'm questioning is the wisdom she used in WHOM and HOW she disseminated the information assuming that the confrontation took place as the woman described.

My position at church as a small group leader is somewhat analogous to the mentor's. Now, let's suppose the same scenario: a lady discusses her extra-marital lifestyle choice with me, I tell her what the Bible clearly says; she rationalizes and gets snippy (while continuing to come to Bible study). I have an obligation, but it's not to get a bunch of other women together, tell them the story (unbeknownst to the woman in question) and plan a little clandestine confrontation. In fact, if I did it the way she described in the statement, (again, taking her word at face value), I'd have some serious explaining to do and would probably be asked to resign as a Bible study leader.

Between myself and the elders, there are at least two levels of authority: my direct supervisor, the head of women's ministries; and her higher-up is the pastor's wife and the associate pastor. (All three are trained and certified nouthetic counselors, who would be in a position to confront the woman biblically and together of necessary, if my counsel had failed).

There is a big difference between rebuking someone in love, and gossiping or ganging up on someone to hurl accusations. The church did a lot of things right, but if a group of her peers were used for this type of confrontation rather than church authority discreetly handling it, I believe that was wrong, and fleshly-motivated. Some are all too quick to bare their teeth when someone else is caught in sin - not that that in any way excuses what the woman was doing, or her rationalization. I'm sure, however, if it was broadcast before the congregation, there were wuite a few members who were glad they weren't the ones who got caught.

This church has done all that, so she can't effectively sue them. She's trying to hurt them some other way. Of course, if they were to crack under the strain and talk to the media, she could sue them. She can say all she wants - they are wise to stay quiet.

I think this is absolutely true, unfortunately. I can't help wondering how it would have all turned out if the leaders had just handled it themselves talking to the woman, rather than involving a group of women (who can be brutal. Sometimes church ladies are terrible gossips. Sorry to say, but it happens.)

Of course, the actual scenario may have been quite different - for all we know, there may have been only two other women there, both in an authoritative position who kept the matter confidential. As Dan said, we really don't know. But that "I was at your house and you didn't come home" comment was a jaw-dropper.....what was she doing, parking outside with binoculars? Come on.

Tom Chantry said...

Marie,

To be clear, I wrote in response to Jason's accusation of slander before I even read your comment.

Different churches have different polities, and we could in another context have a discussion about what is the best way to "take one or two others," but it certainly seems on the face of it that this was a well-meant attempt to do exactly that. If you read the letter which the church sent privately to her (and which she scandalously publicized), the elders wrote: "...certain members of Grace Community Church have carried out the first two steps of the discipline process by reproving you in private (Matthew 18:15) and reproving you in the presence of witnesses (Matthew 18:16). This was part of the stated policy of the church. While other churches may have other ways of applying that scripture - some better ways and some worse - these women appear to have been fulfilling an obligation within the parameters of church policy.

As for "I was at your house and you didn't come home...", I can think of many explanations short of an amateur stake-out. It even could have been that the woman in question dropped by the home after they were together at a church function, hoping to speak to her in private and spare her a public scene. Isn't that at least possible? That she said, "Hey, are you going to be home in a bit?" and then, rather than calling, dropped by to try to reprove her in private? And might not she have raised this and said, "You told me you were heading home, but you didn't come. I tried to call you early the next morning, but you weren't in. Did you stay out all night? Where were you?" Obviously that's speculation, but given that this woman has accused the church of persecuting her when they have tried to apply a fairly obvious biblical standard, I find it more likely than any spin she might put on it.

Phil Johnson said...

DJP: "At present, we have only her word that it went down like that. And honestly the most charitable thing I can say is that, on the basis of every story I've read, she is not a credible source."

Furthermore, even by her own account, These "several women that [she] never told [her] business to" were sufficiently involved in her life to know her "business," because her "business" evidently involved the sort of flagrant sinning that a woman who is sincerely concerned for the welfare of her "children" doesn't normally indulge in. She says, "One of the ladies was even saying 'I was at your house when you didn't come home all night.'"

Ummm. Yeah. Wow. Is everyone paying attention here?

So what should a group of Christian women do if someone within their circle of fellowship persists in blatant sinning even after private admonition? How long does "private" admonition need to continue before the woman is confronted by two or three witnesses? How many private admonitions are first required by Scripture?

Class?

What if her sin had involved an addiction to alcohol or drugs? Would anyone have considered such an intervention uncharitable? Why does deliberate and prolonged sexual immorality deserve more kid-gloves treatment than any other kind of self-destructive behavior?

Why does it always seem to stir an extra dose of cultural outrage--even from people who profess to be Christians--when someone is publicly confronted for fornicating, as opposed to, say, shoplifting? In fact, I guarantee that if this woman's sin had involved a similarly-flagrant act of littering the environment, marginalizing some oppressed people-group, or using intolerant language, she would have been admonished publicly by the evangelical scions of political correctness without a tinge of hesitation or compunction. Suddenly, however, because her sin is adultery, people in the church are expected to tiptoe around the shamefulness of it, while FOXNews and CNN make a spectacle of trying to shame the church before the whole world.

Why do you suppose that is?

And why is it OK to condemn the elders of this church without even hearing their side, while complaining in a public forum that the major error in this woman's case was that some women in the church had too many witnesses involved in the stage-two admonition?

~Mark said...

"If their constitution/bylaws state, in so many words, that discipline proceeds regardless of whether a member leaves the church or not — wouldn't that put it all in a different light?

As I said in the post, that was the second thing I wondered right away."

~Oh yes, that would DEFINITELY change things! It would mean she'd agreed to abide by that rule.

SolaMommy said...

DJP - I received the link to the actual article this morning from a friend...and then was pleasantly surprised to see your Pyro post. Thanks for jumping on this story. I'm very glad Grace Community Church did the "uncool" thing by obeying Christ.

~Mark said...

"OTOH, given that the Catholic Church excommunicates people all the time without much public fuss, it's interesting to note that so rare is this in the Protestant church that it makes the six o'clock news..."



~Unless their name is Kennedy... 8-O

Janet said...

Press on Grace Community Church and may God be glorified in the process! I am so proud of these brothers in Christ who are not afraid to practice Biblical disipline in this church. My husband and I know the pastor (and his wife) and we are not surprised by the Godly leadership and counselling he and his elders are giving.

We should be very diligent to pray for these men and their families and the church body.

~Mark said...

"And why is it OK to condemn the elders of this church without even hearing their side, while complaining in a public forum that the major error in this woman's case was that some women in the church had too many witnesses involved in the stage-two admonition?"


~Superb point!

Marie said...

I hope that I didn't give the impression that I was condemning the elders or attacking the church. What they did was right - I fully support church discipline.

As several posters have pointed out, the woman (and the media's) testimony is biased and suspect at best, so perhaps I should have given the benefit of the doubt to the group of women. Tom envisioned several scenarios where a biblical confrontation could have legitimately occurred. We don't know the whole story there; so I probably shouldn't speculate on motive.

So, FTR - I agree that the action ultimately taken was biblical, and the letter the elders wrote her proves it. Just to be clear.

Phil, I know you weren't trying to be funny but this cracked me up:

I guarantee that if this woman's sin had involved a similarly-flagrant act of littering the environment, marginalizing some oppressed people-group, or using intolerant language, she would have been admonished publicly by the evangelical scions of political correctness without a tinge of hesitation or compunction.

Amen!!

John Haller said...

Dan: While your working on the "Jesus knows my heart post" perhaps some comments on "God loves us just the way we are" that usually follows would be appropriate.

Tom Chantry said...

Yeah, and don't forget their prooftexts, as rendered by the Sub-Christian Pseudo-Pious Version:

"Don't judge anyone ever!" Matthew 7:1, SCPPV

"Quit throwing stones at me!" John 8:7, SCPPV

DJP said...

I thought Matthew 7:1 read, "Only judge people who judge people."

Or, "People.... people who judge people... are the judgiest people in... the... worrrrrrld...."

greglong said...

John Haller said:

Dan: While your working on the "Jesus knows my heart post" perhaps some comments on "God loves us just the way we are" that usually follows would be appropriate.

And don't forget...

...but God told me to!

...well, that's just your interpretation.

...doesn't God want me to be happy?

trogdor said...

You guys are being so harsh and unloving to the "Jesus knows my heart" crowd. That's just the way God made them.

It's not like God will find fault with them, for who can resist his will?

CD-Host said...

A quick comment on this idea bylaws staying in effect after a member leaves.

You are not allowed in US law to permanently consent to any religious practice. Consent is always temporal and can be withdrawn by the member at will. Churches have no more legal right to conduct discipline against an x-member than wiccan covens have a right to bleed x-coven members. When a member chooses to withdraw the church can excommunicate right then and there, but better is to simply record it as an erasure under discipline and leave it at that. Jehovah's witnesses, Mormons, non denominational Protestants, Scientology have all made the claims of permanent grants of authority and every time the courts have sided against them.

Boerseuntjie said...

Leviticus 19:15
"‘You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In [The LORD's] RIGHTEOUSNESS YOU SHALL judge your neighbor."

And for those who read the Red letters only:
John 7:24
"Do not judge according to appearance, BUT JUDGE WITH RIGHTEOUS judgment.”"

Acts 4:19
"But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you MORE THAN TO God, YOU JUDGE."

It seems that the LORD would have us Judge by His Righteousness and perfect standard; NOT our OWN.
We judge in accordance with His word and Authority given to us by the Spirit of grace and truth in the Scriptures alone.

For instance see how Jesus Judged by the Law the Pharisees, Scribes and Hypocrites:

Matthew 5:27-29
"“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’BUT I SAY to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell."

It would seem that He judges with His righteouss and good standard in the Law of the heart, and would have us even excommunicate our personal members lest they lead us to destruction by sin; how much the more the members of His Body?

Matthew 19:9
"And I SAY TO YOU, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, COMMITS ADULTERY; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”"

If it is good enough for THE Christ; it is good enough for the "little christs"/Christians...

Enough said.

To the King of kings, LORD of lords and Master over all His own creation be all the glory, honor and praise foever alone.

keithandchristina said...

To Marie:

You said "But that "I was at your house and you didn't come home" comment was a jaw-dropper.....what was she doing, parking outside with binoculars? Come on."

I don't know what the circumstances were regarding that being said. However, please remember that Rebecca does have 2 children. Maybe the person who said that was staying with her children, inside the house. That statement alone doesn't mean that the woman who said that was stalking her or in some way being a detective.

Also, you said "I have an obligation, but it's not to get a bunch of other women together, tell them the story (unbeknownst to the woman in question) and plan a little clandestine confrontation."

Again, maybe the mentor told the head of women's ministry and the pastor's wife and not some other women from church. I don't think this mentor would just gossip about the matter. For goodness sake, the rest of the church had NO IDEA this was even happening until she went to the media.

Steve Scott said...

I'm looking at this from the other side of the ecclesial railroad tracks. Rather than being surprised at a church practicing biblical discipline in the first place (churches that don't practice discipline is foreign to my experience), I'm surprised to hear of one out there that might be practicing merely biblical discipline.

Here's a Reformed-ish Baptist-ish type of church that actually might be disciplining somebody for a real sin (fornication) instead of a man-made one (a woman having a job, disagreeing with a point in the confession, letting one's kids play video games, etc.). There might actually be no gossip, slander, back room secrecy. They maybe might just not even be pitting their kids against the kids of the "offender" in cruel shunning wars. Here's hoping for some good.

pregador27 said...

CD-Host said: "When a member chooses to withdraw the church can excommunicate right then and there, but better is to simply record it as an erasure under discipline and leave it at that."

If I understood Rebecca Hancock correctly, she said that she would be sending a letter to the church to inform them she has found another church. She may well not have informed them that she left the church.

CD-Host said...

pregador27 --

No question she didn't follow a complete process. From what I've seen she sounds like an incompetent hot head.

But, she did a pretty good job of making her position know. When confronted, "I cannot believe you people are doing this. I’m not going any further — I’m never coming here again". Now I will certainly agree that might have been understood as not to be taken literally but.. “The pastor kept calling her, and I informed him that she [Hancock] would appreciate it if neither he nor any member of his church contacted her ever again” seems pretty clear. In fact it does well beyond quitting the church.

Besides AFAIK it was never a point of dispute that she had quit the church. They simply didn't want to acknowledge her right to do so. Had it been in question the December letter should have said that her continuing membership was in question and discussed erasure not her spiritual state. Reread the December 8th letter, they clearly are aware that she is refusing to be under their continued pastoral care.

beowulf2k8 said...

"Unwilling to repent or speak to the elders of the church she had joined, Hancock left the church, and told it to stop trying to contact her. She felt that this would end the process; she was mistaken."

So, what, they're now following her around yelling "God is Sovereign"? How funny for Calvinists to even care about her sin, since their god made her do it according to their twisted definition of Sovereignty = micromanagement of everything.

Come on guys. You don't have to follow her around telling her that god made her do it and that she can only repent if he makes her repent anymore. She left your church. Give her a break already.

DJP said...

You know, Beowulf, you might consider a little policy I find useful. It really keeps me from making an absolute barking, drooling fool of myself, most of the time.

If I don't know the first thing about something — like you evidently don't know the first thing about the Bible, Calvinism, church polity, or this situation — I either limit myself to asking questions and listening, or I just shut up.

I commend that to you.

Ian Hall said...

Agreed DJP.

Michael said...

I suggest anyone interested in this subject to read Gregory Wills' book, "Democratic Religion; Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South 1785-1900". This book is a great picture of how church discipline had been practiced before Baptist churches were overtaken by liberalism and "efficiency". It opened my eyes to the passion the church had for purity over pragmatism.

What is more, Darrell Bock is a dispensationalist and not to paint with a broad brush (though I am going to), their ecclesiology and polity is a lacking. A perfect example would be that Dallas Seminary serves the elements of communion at chapel services. I find it interesting that they would search out quite possibly the one institution which has no denominational history or inherent ecclesiastical praxis to speak on this subject!

pregador27 said...

Michael said: "A perfect example would be that Dallas Seminary serves the elements of communion at chapel services."

Why is this a problem- I am assuming the Seminary is for committed Christians.

Michael said...

Pregadore27 asks, "Why is this a problem- I am assuming the Seminary is for committed Christians." This in regards to a seminary serving communion at chapel services. Without getting into a long theological discussion I will try to boil it down, there are two options when it comes to the sacraments and their purposes. First, they are given to the believer to indulge and practice in remembrance or they are given to the church to administer to the believer. Historically, it is evident that believers have practiced these ordinances in the context of the church. Paul addresses this in 1 Corinthians 12:18, prefacing his rebuke of the Corinthian churches administration of the Lord's Supper by stating "For, in the first place, when you come together as a church...".

So the questions becomes, is it right to administer these sacraments "outside" of the church? I would surmise that Dallas would not think so but rather claim some sort of obfuscatory entitlement because of membership in the "universal" church. This is evident from their own doctrinal statement which reads both of the following:

Article XIII: We believe that all who are united to the risen and ascended Son of God are members of the church which is the body and bride of Christ, which began at Pentecost and is completely distinct from Israel.Its members are constituted as such regardless of membership or nonmembership in the organized churches of earth.

Article XIV: We believe that water baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the only sacraments and ordinances of the church and that they are a scriptural means of testimony for the church in this age.

These statements are consistent with their overall theology which places a relatively low view on the church, indeed dispensational theologians have described the church as nothing more than a "paranthesis" and believe that this church age is riddled with apostacy.

The ultimate question then becomes...what is the purpose of the church with relation to the sacraments? The New Testament shows that they are given to the local church so that its members (who are in good standing) have fellowship with Jesus Christ and for there to be complete oversight by it's elders to ensure that its practice is done diligently so as to avoid judgment(1 Corinthians 12).

The question is deeply theological but suffice it to say that both reformed and dispensational theologians would claim that the ordinances are for the "church" and not individuals, so is this notion of the "universal" church convincing?

pregador27 said...

So, Michael, (and possibly others) you feel that only the local church should be celebrating the Lord's Supper? When among fellow believers it is not proper to share in communion; not within the family setting either?

I understand that you have a theological reason for believing in such a way, but I cannot say I agree. Maybe I am not as strong a Baptist for believing that the church is more important than my local body or my denomination. Jesus said that whenever we partake to do it in rembrance of Him, I did not see it closed from other believers or from certain settings. The quaification I see is a real communion between God and brothers in Christ (the exclusion of unbelievers).

beowulf2k8 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
DJP said...

What a sad comment this story is, on the folly into which sin necessarily plunges us, when we cling to it rather than to the Savior. But what's uglier is her rationalization, that she has a relationship with Jesus — a relationship that evidently doesn't embrace His Lordship.