English Español 简体中文
9Marks Explained : A Letter From Mark Dever

Pastors, Don’t Let your People Resign into Thin Air

Print

Does your church let people resign into thin air?

A church member simply submits a letter or has a conversation with a pastor, and then poof!—they’re gone. And your church couldn’t say whether the person has joined another evangelical church or dropped off the face of the earth.

My brothers, this should not be.

TWO WAYS CHURCHES LET MEMBERS DISAPPEAR INTO THIN AIR

An encouraging number of evangelical churches seem to be regaining meaningful practices of church membership and discipline. But I’m concerned that even some of these churches, however unintentionally, are leaving their back doors wide open.

One way churches do this is procedural. In some churches, an intent to resign, whether submitted verbally or in writing, is regarded as a fait accompli. If someone “resigns” their membership, then they’re gone. After all, the church can’t coerce people into staying, can it? (More on this below.)

Another way churches might do this is situational. Let’s say that to resign from First Baptist Smallville you have to submit a resignation, then the pastor or elders look it over, and then the congregation has to vote to dismiss you from membership. Most of the time, people are moving away and joining a church in another town. Once in a while somebody leaves to go to another nearby church.

But this time, 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.

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?

WHY YOU CAN’T LET PEOPLE 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 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.

By the way, to cite just one stream of church history, this is something that previous generations of Baptists affirmed repeatedly and emphatically. Consider the Charleston Association’s A Summary of Church Discipline (1774): after criticizing someone who wants to leave an acceptable church for one he likes better further away, the association affirms that, “To dismiss a member to the world at large, would yet be more preposterous, and ought never to be done in any other way than by excommunication” (Mark Dever, ed., Polity, 124). And Samuel Jones, in his 1805 Treatise of Church Discipline, says simply, “It is certain there can be no dismission to the world” (Polity, 153).

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. 

When a church releases a member in good standing, they are repeating their judgment that this person is a brother or sister in Christ. Even as the person is walking out the back door, you’re saying again, to them and the world, “We affirm your profession of faith in Christ.” That’s inherent in dismissing a member because apart from death, the only two ways to leave a church’s membership are being dismissed as a brother or sister in good standing and being excommunicated. If a church does accept a resignation from someone who’s disappearing into thin air, that church is telling the world that Christians are free to drop out of church with no consequences and no questions asked.

Of course a church can’t coerce people to stay. That’s not what I’m saying here. What I am saying is that the church has the responsibility to oversee the lives of its members as long as they are under its watch—which includes their trip out the back door.

The upshot of all this is that a church should not accept a member’s resignation who is not doing what Christians do—in this case, regularly assemble with a church.

FOUR PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS

Here are four practical implications of this.

1.The troubler of First Baptist Smallville needs to either reconcile with that church or join another one where he can be more content. He can’t simply resign his membership and sit on his couch on Sundays. If that’s what he intends to do, FBC Smallville’s response should be church discipline, not “See you later!”

2. Churches’ membership procedures should reflect the fact that the church, not the individual member, has authority to accept and dismiss members. A member cannot unilaterally resign. A member can submit their intention to resign to the church, and the church will either accept or reject that intention.

Different polities will work out the procedure differently, but I’d argue that Scripture gives final responsibility over the matter to the whole congregation (1 Cor. 5:4-5; 2 Cor. 2:6). This means that the church as a whole should have the final say in the matter.

3.Churches’ governing documents (constitution, by-laws) should reflect the fact that individual members do not have the unilateral right to terminate their membership. Instead, that prerogative belongs to the church. Therefore, the church has the right to refuse someone’s resignation and pursue discipline instead. It’s important to have this clearly stated in a church’s documents for both pastoral and legal reasons.

Here’s an example of the kind of language I’m talking about, from the constitution of the church I’m a member of (Third Avenue Baptist in Louisville):

“Clause 3. The church shall have authority to refuse a Member’s voluntary resignation or transfer of  membership to another church, either for the purpose of proceeding with a process of church discipline, or for any other reason the church deems necessary or prudent.”

One important note: Numbers 2 and 3 in this list should probably be well established before a church attempts to resist someone’s resignation, whatever the circumstances.

4. The pastoral specifics of how churches handle individual resignations will vary. For members who have moved out of the area, I’d suggest that a baseline requirement on this front might be something like “they intend to join another evangelical church in the immediate future.”

I’m using slightly squishy language like this because churches’ membership practices vary. Some churches only take in new members once a year, for example. And some metro areas have a number of solid evangelical churches, and it might take a while for a family to settle on one. And it doesn’t always help to keep a church that’s 3,000 miles away on the line that whole time.  

For members who intend to go to another church within the same metro area, the standard should probably be a little bit tighter. This will help to ensure that the member doesn’t fall through the cracks before they’re safely tucked into another sheepfold.

KEEP AN EYE ON THE BACK DOOR

So pastors, just as you pay careful attention to the front door of your church, keep a close eye on the back door, too. Make sure that the sheep can’t simply open the gate themselves and disappear from sight. Refuse to allow people to resign into thin air, both for the sake of your church’s witness to the gospel and for the good of every single sheep—especially those who tend to wander off. 

Comments   |   RSS Subscribe

"Churches’ membership procedures should reflect the fact that the church, not the individual member, has authority to accept and dismiss members. A member cannot unilaterally resign. A member can submit their intention to resign to the church, and the church will either accept or reject that intention."

While I think this is the way it should be, there are practical problems. In the UK, this will not work - by law you cannot refuse the resignation and, I believe, churches have been sued for trying to do so.

Our church has a clause in the rules that people assent to on becoming members to say they will not resign to avoid discipline, but we were advised it may not hold up in law, even though the person agrees to it freely.

Stephen,

I was not aware of the situation in the UK on that point. Is your church Anglican? Or does that law even extend to dissenting/free churches?

Thanks,

Bobby

We are an independent free church. We belong to the FIEC (Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches) which is not a denomination with an authority structure but a coming together of like minded churches to help one another, They provide much help in terms of legal matters which small churches could never manage on their own.

Stephen

I wonder what case you have in mind, Stephen? I am not aware of any that directly address this issue. Is the advice you received from the Charity Commission? I suspect the position will differ depending on whether your church is constituted as a charitable company or as a charitable trust (most are the latter and the problem will be less acute for trusts). For our American friends, it's worth pointing out that the complications in the UK are due to charity law - most churches are registered as charities. In any event, the legal problems with refusing resignation do not prevent the church from taking disciplinary action against a member who announces his intention to resign and shows no willingness to unite to another church - which is the main thrust of Bobby's blog.

You are making some assumptions here that are unrealistic. There are plenty of situations arising in churches where it is the leadership who have behaved poorly towards a member. They may also be using the disciplinary process to continue their poor behaviour. For such churches to say that a member cannot resign indicates an abuse of power and need for control. For this reason, I would say that it is inappropriate to refuse a resignation from a member. At some point we have to accept that each member is responsible for themselves before Christ and that we, who administer the discipline, are liable to be at fault as well and we won't even see that we are.
You may say that all leaders should be accountable - but the people they are accountable to are usually chosen by them or involved in the church so they are not independent or impartial. The approach you are advocating potentially traps people into an abusive spiritual situation. Let such members go with your blessing and pray for them.

I totally agree, and this article has little Biblical basis, as membership of the church was not a formal contract in the early church, it was a matter of people choosing to gather together, leaving when they moved location, or leaving under church discipline to be treated as an unbeliever, or of their own free will as not actually saved! There are perhaps many reasons why one would choose to leave a local church for another fellowship, and to bind membership into a commitment that leaves no freedom for spiritual growth in decision-making makes for a strong possibility of abuse or shunning when a mature Christian moves on for reasons that need not be sinful.

Excommunication is something that seems to be rarely practiced within the historical Christianity. Fallible human reasoning and other limited abilities should make this practice rare. Everyone goes through times where they simply don't have in them the gumption to go to church.
Restoring someone with gentleness, even one caught in a grievous act, doesn't necessarily involve excommunicating them. We all commit perpetual sin and none of us have the ability to know when we cross over into "practicing a sin." This article sounds more like the re-institution of a damocles, threatening to "kick one out if they screw up."
As a side note... you sound like a Calvinist.

Your idea sounds great in theory but in practice, there needs to be intense accountabilty on the pastor. Especialy in recent years, many believers, including my father-in-law who is the most godly man I know, have left churches over financially irresponsibily. Many senior pastors are feeling their expensive buildings and high salaries are more important than keeping staff and ministries that actually serve the people the church needs to be serving the most. This particular church decided to cut several staff pastors because the demographics they were serving tended to be poorer and much less likely to give finanically to the church.

I hope that you are aware that a church could be in violation of the civil law if it attempts to contact/pursue a member who has resigned in writing. Did you or 9Marks consult an attorney before writing this post?

Hey Bobby, just an FYI. You are now the target of a couple bloggers who have no fond affections for your boss (and probably you therefore by association), your church or those you associate with. Your post is being thoroughly fisked on their site. And it won’t be long I’m sure before you are the object of derision by their commenters. I hope you can ride it out. Best of luck.

This is one of the most troubling ideas I've ever seen proposed for Pastors to implement. It seems to place the complete authority over a believer's life directly to a local congregation whom they have voluntarily joined as a free association.

The power structure that this enables is frightening whereas now you are proposing what amounts to "you can check-out anytime you want but you can never leave."...this is a recipe for perpetuating spiritual abuse and defacto anointing the local church body with the office of St.Peter to decide who's in and who's out of the body of Christ.

Really, think this through. Look at the situation at SGM and the recent accusations at Mars Hill regarding discipline, now you're proposing to put policies in place that would prevent people from leaving situations for which they believe they have been seriously wronged by those who have "authority" over them.

The very real tendency towards abuse of power and the sinful nature which we all share should lead us towards humility and the level ground at the foot of the cross, not make us create new laws and new magesterium. I've seen far, far too many churches fail when the leadership changes and/or changes direction, suggesting that they be empowered with greater control is a terrifying thought.

I think that sometimes if we are members of really great churches with amazing leadership that we can naively believe that this is the situation at the majority of other churches, and far too often this isn't the case and concepts like this in the wrong hands can and would literally destroy people's lives under the guise of "discipleship and discipline."

A marriage is also a covenant commitment that believers " have voluntarily joined as a free association." So, do you believe in no-fault divorces too? Christians are supposed to take their commitments very seriously. But you are right about one thing: when any Christian leader in America begins to seriously teach what scripture says about taking our commitments seriously and respecting our leaders, they get accused of being cultic. Such is how deep individualism and consumerism has sunk into our shallow Christian culture.

For those of you who have raised questions about the legal propriety of my counsel, I'd refer you to Ken Sande's article on our website about informed consent, and to the relational guidelines Peacemaker Ministries has drafted to enable churches to practice discipline in a legally protected manner.

Here's a link to Sande's article: http://www.9marks.org/ejournal/informed-consent-biblical-and-legal-protection-church-discipline

Thanks,

Bobby

So you're saying we've run this by our lawyers and found some legal wiggle room to assert our spiritual authority over people.

Madness. Absolute madness.

If the church in America views your perspective as having any sort of value.... then it has become what Jesus came against in his earthly ministry.

Jesus did not humble himself into the form of a man in order to come against the world, sin, sinful behavior, idolatry and spiritual depravity..... HE PAID THAT DEBT IN FULL. He looked out among all the pastors, and deacons and elders who wanted to inflict "discipline" on a broken member of the flock and said "Let him who has not sinned cast the first stone"

He came to earth to come against the religious power brokers of the age who had taken the church and turned it into their own government and source of income and power through which they could exert control, demand submission and financial support and make themselves the intermediaries between God and mankind.

Sad, utterly sad.

Your comment comes from American individualism and consumerism and is completely contrary to the goal of discipleship which is the purpose of the church in the New Testament. The one passage in which the Lord Jesus explicitly tells the church what to do is Matthew 18:15ff which is all about discipleship and discipline. Further, the Lord Jesus inspired the following passage: "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you." (Heb. 13:17.)

At best, I find this entire post laughable. I can't believe Christians who actually have a Bible in their possession are this far off vase from Scripture. Proof text all you want, Bobby. But this is completely what Scripture warns us against--those wishing to exercise control and authority over us.

The interesting thing is that a person who has the Holy Spirit can decide for themselves what is best for them. They do not need the local churches blessing or affirmation or confirmation about their standing in Christ. You seek to replace the judgement reserved for God and the place of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer and it is wrong.

I am so glad I left your church when I did. I saw you heading down this path and it has become the very thing that I saw. Christ came to set the captives free; to set those free who were enslaved to bondage. And yet, your interpretation and view of Scripture seeks to undo the victory already won for us.

I hope all churches like yours make this information clearly known, as you are doing now. It will help the rest of us who seek to know Christ in a community of free believers that much more easier.

well said. this article is inexcusably off-base, encouraging controlling environments- exactly the sort of thing that Satan loves to use to keep Christians from growing upwards and outwards.

Do you actually mean this?? Or are you being extreme on purpose to attract readers?

1 Peter 5:1-3 The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being examples to the flock.

The clergy/laity system is to blame for those seeking to escape through the back door and the "cranky troublemaker" is most likely the person bucking a system that is the problem. Those of God’s heritage gifted with discernment are discerning the unbiblical role of the professional pastor. The responses to this post are right on and this post is a clear indication that the institutionalized church is not the church and never will be the church.

Neil,
Your comments are contradicted by the passage you quoted. First, 1 Peter 5:1-3 shows that there are "elders" (and Peter was one) who are called especially to "feed the flock of God"; further, these elders have special "oversight" over the flock and intervening when a sheep strays away from the flock (as in the article) is a responsible part of this oversight. Further, what kind of "shepherd" is going to go and intervene in the life of a trouble-making member who is leaving? Not one who is simply doing the task for "filthy lucre" because such a member is causing more problems than he is worth (and is likely not giving much to the church). Intervening in such a person's life is for their sake; it is being a responsible shepherd. The passage therefore clearly shows us that the elders have authority ("oversight") and therefore than you're assumption that any authority is being "lords" is baseless and likely a product of your own individualism and consumerism: as though the elders are waiters to cater to every desire of the "customers."

John,
The whole point of my post is to show that the current clergy/laity system today no way represents the first century church. The church is the body of Christ and that includes all believers spiritually gifted in ways that edify the church. (Eph 4:11-15) Elders (and this is a plurality of Elders) are always those men who are examples to the flock because they are not novice men. (1 Tim 3:6) Unfortunately, the definition of an elder today include a degree from a particular university or seminary and the “senior pastor” label is applied for approval. This pastor position is filled with 20 or 30 something’s who may not even be spiritually gifted for the role of "shepherd'.
The qualifications of the elder in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus are substituted with this unbiblical position (senior pastor) that has a high burn out rate and is also susceptible to egotism. This result is frustration of the layperson gifted with discernment and since they are forced into passive roles as “laity”, the “clergy” label them as a “troublemaker”. Sure, there needs to be steps taken to deal with those who sin,(Matthew 18:15-20) but in this current clergy/laity system, the Protestant pastor mirrors the Catholic priest in many ways and the problems of those leaving the church runs much deeper than wondering why pastors are letting people resign into thin air.

Hi Neil,

In the New Testament church there were overseers/elders/pastors (all different names for the same office, I believe). You're right that these men are not to be novices (1 Tim 3:6) . They should be old enough to have been tested; but we're not given a specific age. These men are to "lead" (or "rule") the church (1 Tim. 5:17). They are not to lead "with all authority" and not to allow themselves to be "disregarded" (Titus 2:15). The members of the church are to "obey" and "submit" to them (Heb. 13:17). Not every Christian is called to be a pastor/teacher (Eph. 4:11, James 3:1). These distinctives then clearly show us some kind of division, however you want to label it. I don't personally like "clergy/laity" as, you're right, it encourages passivity among the members. But the shepherds do have a responsibility to lead the sheep. To fulfill the ministry of the word adequately they will likely need some degree of advanced education; they should know Greek (so they can read the New Testament on their own and not be at the mercy of the translators) and have some knowledge of Hebrew; they should know basic church history and systematic theology or else they will be vulnerable to many of the errors of the past. I would also add that if a man isn't willing to invest a few years in full-time study, then we should question whether he has the level of commitment to be a pastor. I agree that "egotism" is a problem, in that some men crave to "preach" simply so that they can have people listen to them; if they are not willing to give themselves to learning how to exegete scripture, there is a high likelihood they are not seeking the pastorate for the right reason.

I agree with you that the qualifications listed in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are often ignored in favor of other, usually "worldly" criteria. However, I'd remind you that men do not install themselves in pastorates. They are chosen by the members. If the layperson has so much "discernment", why did he participate in the call of an unfit man to the pastorate in the first place? So if the wrong kind of men are being chosen for the pastorates, the blame belongs with those doing the choosing. Likely, they lack discernment; perhaps they are the ones filled with "egotism" and are becoming offended when the gospel exposes their sins. Further, you're right that there is a "high burn out rate." Often that is because of the ways that pastors are abused by congregations. Today, any attempt to exercise power by a pastor provokes accusations of "dictatorship", "tyranny", "cultic", "egotism", etc. They are often under-payed, over-worked, and treated with a level of disrespect no one would think to dish out their doctor or a lawyer. And, if they protest, the immediate retort will be: 'you're supposed to be a servant!'

John,

You said: "To fulfill the ministry of the word adequately they will likely need some degree of advanced education; they should know Greek (so they can read the New Testament on their own and not be at the mercy of the translators) and have some knowledge of Hebrew; they should know basic church history and systematic theology or else they will be vulnerable to many of the errors of the past."

I disagree on several counts. First, the bibles we have today are translated from Greek and Hebrew. If the canon of the bible is through the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit, the translations into English should be all the reader needs. Unless the reader has accepted the gift of God through the Lord Jesus Christ, they will not be able to translate God’s word even if they went through several decades of schooling. (2 Peter 1:20-21) Those who have accepted the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ can understand the things of God because we have the Holy Spirit inside of us. (1 Cor 2:14-16) Are we to trust the commentaries in our study bibles or are we to pray for the Holy Spirit's guidance to scripture? What you are saying is exactly what the bishops of Rome said. Since the people were unable to read, only those with spiritual insight were able to translate scripture. This is bogus too because the oral traditions of the Gospel were enough for spiritual transformation. The Holy Spirit is the power within us and saying otherwise is false teaching. Today we have bibles everywhere and the words in those bibles are the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
If people studied the history of the church, they we be appalled how the body of Christ is being led by man-made doctrine and human philosophy. The “pastor” today is equivalent to Greek orators who spout rhetoric to an audience. If the Gospel is not preached every Sunday, why even preach on Sunday?
The passivity in the pews is the fault of those who have some unknowingly and some knowingly latched onto the one-pastor system that is a direct offshoot of the Roman Catholic Church. There are many men in the church who should be teaching God’s word but are stuck on the milk of scripture because the Holy Spirit is doused in their lives.
I admire those in this system who are pressed to correct and change the cultural Christianity we have today, but we need to look at ourselves and test if we are in the Word and if the pastor system is of itself the real problem.

In Christ’s love,

Neil

I think the writer of this article presumes that the leadership of churches practicing the proposed policies (all of which have been historically practiced in the church) are themselves submitted to Jesus Christ, the Chief-Shepherd. That being said, I think the two following passages (with surrounding context) answer most of the negative responses here:

Heb 10:24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Heb 13:7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.

Heb 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. 18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things.

I wonder how folks we react to this post if we thought about the message from a little different perspective.

If you consider that we are to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, then how can we just let them leave without trying to understand why they are leaving?

If we love our brothers and sisters in Christ, then even if they do leave, how can we let them go with no concern for whether they connect with another body of believers?

If we love our brothers and sisters in Christ, how can we not confront them in love when they are in sin and try to help them?

This is not about control, it is about the duty of the body to care for and about its members.

Church discipline is more about the disciplines of body life than about the excommunication of members.

Elders are called to love and lead, to guide and defend, and to protect. Sometimes protecting does involve separation. When it does, it should break the hearts of the elders to have to separate a member from the body. The same way losing an arm or a leg might feel.

There is a lot to learn here. Yes, there are pastors who act in wrong ways, but there are also Godly men leading churches who love the flock they have been called to.

This make sense to those men.

Hi Doug, Excellent comment from you! Thanks for it. What the individualists and consumerists who think this idea of discipleship don't understand is that what is being proposed here is only simple pastoral responsibility. A loving shepherd doesn't just let his sheep wander off.

Doug
Do you think that many of the people who resign from churches are doing so because they are fleeing from "loving" elders? In fact, many people resign because their churches have become a morass of legalism colored by pastors who emphasize sin over grace.

I think most people would jump up and down to find a church like you describe. In the current authoritarian climate, they are difficult to find. And from the tenor of this post, i would say it may be hard to find in this system as well.

And never forget that elders and pastors are sheep as well. 3 years in an M Div and a year as an intern does not promote a guy out of sheep status.

I think many people who resign from churches are fleeing a number of things, including poor leadership.

Maybe the reason I see this as I do is because our elders are striving to do exactly what I described, and as a result we often hear comments like- "wow,I never saw anything but te this in a church before". That is sad, but true.

I just wanted to offer a different perspective on the whole idea of "discipline"- focused on love instead.

By the way, none of our elder team, including our lead elder, have been to seminary.

Thanks brother for the comment.

To intervene with a sheep who is straying away from the flock is focusing on love.

With all due respect, Bobby, I couldn't disagree with your article more. This is nothing more than a power grab by men to exercise authority over others. It is, quite simply, madness.

No church should have this kind of authority over another individual. Your article is moving dangerously towards a revival of the 1970's "Shepherding Movement."

The kind of authority you are talking about has ruined many lives. You may want to re-think your position.

Respectfully, Pastor (retired) Randall Slack

Wow!! For those of you quoting scripture in defense of all this...here's some back at you. Acts 17:10-11... Where are the Bereans I ask? Do they exist? Or do people attend some of these places, check in their brain on a shelf and let someone else do their thinking for them? Where are the Bereans?

I think those quoting scriptures lack significant understanding of badly wrong even well intentioned godly leaders and congregations can behave. This inability to acknowledge their own capacity to sin leaves them convinced of their rightness to administer discipline on someone who has parted company with them. Those quoting the scriptures think that they are the Bereans and the rest of us are being disobedient. Truth is, many of them will only recognise this is a potential situation for spiritual abuse when they are the victim of it.

Eagle, this is not about "quoting scripture," but about Biblical doctrine established early on in church history (that is, the letters of Paul, and even the Gospels). The Bereans understood the Bible, and by it the could discern the spirit and the message of the preachers.

Bobby says nowhere in his post that the pastor or the elders "lord it over" a member of the local body, but only that there should be concern shown to the reasons one might wish to resign. Someone who is living in sin but gets caught and refuses discipline is not helped by just allowing them to go out t he door without comment.

Those in this string that feel that the "legality" of this is in question do not understand the real purpose of the 'separation' clause in the US constitution. The government cannot tell the leadership of a church that church discipline cannot be administered.

If a member is a believer who has been excommunicated as a "power play" then the next church he joins might not even ask about it. And if they do, an investigation would prove whether there were grounds for such action. Those excommunicated on Biblical grounds seldom join churches that check on those things anyway.

Bottom line. Church discipline IS a mark of the church that is almost unknown in most Christian circles. But such actions are sometimes necessary and are almost always very painful for the church officials that have to make those decisions.

That is not completely true henry. If a church choose to impose discipline warranted or not, it has no protection under the constitution to pursue discipline the moment the member breaks association. Memberships contracts are not contracts and hold no weight in a court of law beyond mutual consent. The moment a believer no longer consents to the course of action taken by a church, the church no longer has grounds to pirsue discipline..... The moment they try to act in any way shape or form after the believer has stated in any way that they no longer consent to the course of action.... Regardless of any membership contract they may have signed...The church is open to Tort law for violating civil rights of the 1st amendment. There are multiple cases that have set precedent.

If you discipline a member and they concur... That is fine. But this article is about people leaving. If you try to impose discipline or demand submission when they have stated they no longer wish to pursue a relationship with that church.... You are subject to the laws of the land if you attempt to continue discipline. . If you seek to inform other local churches of the situation you have moved outside of the seperation clause and are now subject to tort law and with multiple precedent set could be charged with libel or slander.... America was founded by people fleeing totalitarian churches who wanted the freedom to worship without a synergy of government enforcement and church conduct.

John calvin had the weight of the government behind him and so did the church of england. This is why people were burned at the stake, beheaded and made to walk the city streets pleading for forgiveness.... Because when the churchbfelt someone had sinned, it had the full weight of government behind it.... America is a nation founded on liberty and the founders were very thoughtful about the powers a church could hold in the new world.... That is why everything....EVERYTHING in American churches is founded on CONSENT.

You try to push past consent, you have moved into a place called a human beings civil liberties. That is not a good place to be treading.... At least not in America.

Bobby,
I'm deeply troubled by your article on many levels. Do you have time and inclination for a little more careful dialogue about this? I'd just like to know you'd be willing to take a little time to answer my concerns, and I would take as long as needed to go through each point with you. For example, I would begin with your 1st word and target audience, "Pastors". Even if all your counsel past this word were good, for it to be carried out primarily by this specific group is, I think, unhealthy. Email me if you'd prefer to converse outside of this forum.
David

I am stunned. This does remind me of the 70's shepherding movement but it also reminds me of the Catholic Church during it's most grievous reign over its people.

You can't own people, Bobby. You can't own their souls. There is nowhere in the bible that it says that the people are OWNED by the church. We are all owned by Christ, it is He who paid the price on the cross, it is He who holds us in His hand, it is He who disciplines.

God help the young people who did not see what the Shepherding Movement did to many folks (and I'm assuming, Bobby, that you didn't see it either), who don't know the Scriptures well enough to escape this madness, and who blindly love those who lord their power over them.

May God help you all. You're going to need it.

The pilgrims came to america to avoid this exact type of overstepping. The first amendment of the constitution states that the practice of religion is at ALL TIMES consensual. A persons relationship with a religion or church ends the moment they say it ends. See Marian guin vs. the church Of christ colinsville.

http://church-discipline.blogspot.com/2008/01/marian-guinn-vs-church-of-christ.html

Membership contracts are recognized by the courts as informal agreements of mutual consent and the moment a person no longer consents the agreement is null and void... At no time in the history of this country has a membership CONTRACT been viewed as such. Binding commitments to churches have NO effect of law.

It is scary that a group like yours with ties to the gospel coalition is espousing ideals of authority poorly supported by scripture and even worse deemed unconstitutional with multiple precedent in federal courts by both conservative and liberal supreme courts.

Your brain storm is jjust words and hasn't hurt anybody but almost certainly would if some knucklehead chose to run with them.

Its all the same to me, but i would urge you to issue a retraction to minimize the egg on your face. That would be the best choice if you dont feel any sort of conviction to apologize or need to repent.... at least save face.

I would hope the backlash has got you thinking... And i will pray for you. God knows i have no right to look down my nose.... And probably was earlier But understand just how far off this idea is

The answer is simple. Don't sign any contract with a church. Period.

You're same mindset, if applied to marriage would read: "The answer is simple. Don't sign any marriage license or take any wedding vows. Period." When this is applied to marriage, we call it "cohabitation" and sinful. When applied to the church, we call it business as usual. Indeed, the opposite (meaningful membership in a church covenant) is what many find so shocking now. So worldly are we.

To equate attending a church and not signing a membership covenant with them with living in sin by cohabitating outside of marriage just shows how ignorant you are of the Bible, and Christianity in general. You can't be taken seriously with comments like that.

Mark (2.4.2012) said: “The answer is simple. Don't sign any contract with a church. Period.”

I wholeheartedly agree. I would not sign any contact with any church or synagogue which gives the said church or synagogue the right to make public judgments about the status of my relationship with Mashiyach Yehoshua.

Nowhere does Biblical Scripture give the local Assembly of Messiah the authority to determine the status of the believer in Mashiyach Yehoshua’s relationship with Mashiyach Yehoshua before YHWH Elohiym.

John (2.6.2012) said: “You're same mindset, if applied to marriage would read: ‘The answer is simple. Don't sign any marriage license or take any wedding vows. Period.’ When this is applied to marriage, we call it ‘cohabitation’ and sinful. When applied to the church, we call it business as usual. Indeed, the opposite (meaningful membership in a church covenant) is what many find so shocking now. So worldly are we.”

There is no basis by which to equate joining a church with entering a marriage.

Nowhere does Biblical Scripture make other believers in Mashiyach Yehoshua a third party to any covenant which exists between believers in Mashiyach Yehoshua and YHWH Elohiym.

John (2.5.2012 [Comments Page 2]) said: “The New Testament compares the church to a ‘household’ (i.e. a family), a Body, and a temple. All of these emphasis [sic] the connectedness of the members. In none of these metaphors can members easily go from one to another. To understand who is part of one household/Body/temple is the role of church membership. (9 Marks has a lot of useful stuff on this.) The church covenant formalizes the commitment that is plainly part of a household/Body/temple relationship, just as a marriage covenant is formalized in the vows of a wedding. “

These metaphors are not meant to be applied to the local Assembly of Messiah as we understand it today. To do so would mean characterizing the Assembly of Messiah as multiple households, bodies, and temples.

The only way in which these metaphors make sense is if you apply them to the universal Assembly of Messiah alone. This is mainly because believers in Mashiyach Yehoshua cannot leave the universal Assembly of Messiah without ceasing to be a believer in Mashiyach Yehoshua.

But the same cannot be said about the local Assembly of Messiah as we understand it today.

Perhaps if Christians in general defined the local Assembly of Messiah as the Apostle Saul did (see my post about Hebrews 10:25 on page 2 of this comment thread), then your point would be viable. But, unfortunately, they do not.

BTW, my apologies for the broken RefTagger pop-up. It automatically inserted itself into my post against my wishes.

eahaddix,

Interesting observation, I had not considered this view. Another view that many here may not have evaluated follows.

A degree of hypocrisy may exist at the most foundational premise underlying the condemnation of what some would lament as the disease of the "individualistic, consumeristic" mindset.

The community I have lived in for nearly a decade, has a population of approximately 230,000. At last count, (over five years ago), there were more than 500 churches in the area.

Since my arrival, there has been a steady stream of new church plants ("religious merchants?") whom are flooding the "market" with a glut of "spiritual products" that compete for "marketshare".

Everywhere I go, I see "promos" and "come-on's" that adjure the "consumer" to "try their product". Stationary billboards strategically placed on busy intersections, Buses and mobile advertising trucks with scrolling banners carry the "religious retailer's" message. Television and radio spots vie for the attention and affections of their "targeted demographic".

Local newspaper advertisements and mail-outs inundate the populous with commercials to encourage "consumption". While at the movie theater recently, a giant size image of a pastor on the "silver screen" invited the purchasing public to "try their wares".

Seemingly NO LIMIT to the use of modern marketing ("worldly?") methodology has been wielded to generate "revenue" in a oversaturated "religious market".

YET, I seemingly am being told, that when a pastor, (ostensibly) in obedience to divine directive, plants ANOTHER church, amongst the preexisting 500 plus "religious retailers", we cannot presume that the underlying motives were anything other than by the sovereign hand of God.

Furthermore, if a pastor determines later, (by the same divine directive that BROUGHT them there), that they are being "led" to leave for another location, this TOO is unquestionably the will of God, and not to be mistakenly interpreted as the result of "individualistic, consumeristic market forces".

However, if the laity attempts to leave the fold for another one, THIS is something "different", and such reckless manifestations of "sin" requires pastoral intervention and warrants adminstration of the disciplinary process.

Seriously? CAN we have it BOTH ways? The world is watching this, and are "more shrewd in dealing with their own KIND, than people of the light".

John (2.5.2012 [Comments Page 3]) said: ”[T]hey're returning to their roots in which Baptists understood that membership was a covenant commitment, not to be broken lightly. That's why the Bible compares the church to a ‘household’, [sic] a Body, a temple.”

John (2.6.2012 [Comments Page 2]) said: “If a church is careful about admitting members and clearly holds that entering into membership is a covenant-commitment, then to walk away from that is sinful and the church can't just go along with their choice.”

To this, I would respond by asking the following questions: As a believer in Mashiyach Yehoshua, if one is a member of the universal Assembly of Messiah (ref. 1 Corinthians 12:13, cf. Ephesians 4:4-5), then would one not automatically be a member of the local Assembly of Messiah as well? If so, then why would a believer in Mashiyach Yehoshua need to officially join a Christian church? And by what basis would a Christian church exercise the right to determine the terms under which a believer in Mashiyach Yehoshua could join the said Christian church?

BTW, my apologies for the broken RefTagger pop-ups. They automatically inserted themselves into my post against my wishes.

I love the ministry of 9 Marks but this is not your best work. This presumes a foundation that most churches don't possess.

I know the policy advocated in this article probably appeals to a tidy mind (and perhaps a tight behind), but it's clearly light on Scripture.

Submission to leaders in the church is always voluntary throughout the NT. The same goes for church associations.

There are times when brethren might choose to part ways related to a variety of things where sin or disobedience is not a factor: doctrine, polity, teaching style, personality clashes, job relocation, health, desire for a spiritual sabbatical, etc.

Believers in Christ must obey their consciences as a matter of Christian liberty, purchased by the blood of Christ, and not surrender this freedom to heavy-handed taskmasters.

Is this kind of like the old "I quit, no, you can't quit, you are fired!". All kidding aside, this is a serious topic and there seems to be no valid Biblical solutions presented in the comment section. So how is the church to respond biblically and Christlike to those that fade away? Thanks

Well, if they're only going down the street to another Bible preaching church, you say, "God be with you, brother. We'll miss you. You're always welcome here."

We recently had a couple (long, faithful service) leave our church because we cannot provide a choir at this time. They are getting older, and deeply miss singing in a choir. They have joined a large church with a beautiful choir. I wrote them a warm affirming letter, thanking them for their friendship and service, wishing them the best, and said we would be singing in the heavenly choir one day together. They thanked me profusely for that letter, "It's a keeper" and they still come for some events. I believe that is the Christ-like response, not chiding them for breaking their "marriage vows." How foolish is that? I would not have made their choice, but who am I to rob them of their liberty in Christ?

It is simply bizarre to suggest they are somehow "married" to our local congregation, and to go sing somewhere else is some kind of adultery. Believers are the bride of Christ, not the bride of the local church.

The whole thesis of this article is not based on Scripture. It uses the word biblical, but provides no support for some of the more extreme ideas in it.

If someone leaves a church they made an intentional commitment to -- especially clearly understanding that there is no choir -- and whose ministry is sound, the teaching is Biblical, just so they can sing in a choir elsewhere, they first have warped priorities and second they are being unfaithful to their covenant. Christians are to be faithful, like our covenant-keeping God.

We have a church covenant, which is pretty standard. It does not require lifetime service to our church, but to Christ. How many church covenants and membership applications require a lifetime commitment to a particular local church? I've never heard of such a thing. Such an idea is cultic.