Friday, February 09, 2007

Church Discipline

Cold’, so Lady Whiteadder rightly asserted in the theologically sensitive television series, Blackadder, ‘is God’s way of telling us to burn more Catholics’. Sadly, such theological insightfulness as this is lost on today’s politically correct ‘Christians’. Nothing like a good heretic roasting to warm up a chilly winter evening.

But there is a ray of hope. Inquisitor Jim West, for example, keeps talking about reintroducing church discipline for the Baptists, which has got me thinking. The traditional method of church discipline has tended to focus either on the environmentally friendly method of burning to death, or the slightly more lenient approach of public humiliation and the command to ‘leave and don’t come back till you’ve repented’.

While I’m obviously, naturally, all in favour of both of these golden oldies in most cases (‘saved, but only as through fire’ - and it can helpfully function as something to grill your sausages on), isn’t it time for the church to be more creative in its disciplinary methods?

  • For example, why not suggest to the sinner the option of non-stop ‘Chinese burns’[Fn 1] until they recant? ‘So you won’t see differently, Gerald? OK. OK. But for now, it’s just you, me, and a time of pain’. Heretic looks confused but Pastor ominously closes his office door and calmly notes: ‘No, nobody is coming to rescue you now’. Pastor rolls up offender’s sleeves, and applies Church Discipline.
  • Or perhaps an arrangement involving the threat of weekly prayer meetings with the extreme-charismatic-demons-everywhere fringe of the congregation would serve to bring forth the fruit of repentance?
  • Or what about a day of forced listening to loud and especially tacky Christian Rock music? That would work with me.
  • Then there is the possibility of suggesting the old schooldays classic of lines: Tell them to write ‘I will not be a stinking heretic Beelzebub loving sinner again’ a thousand times. Write ‘I was wrong, the pastor was right; I’m reaping what I sowed, and I was told so’, ‘I’m ugly, the Pastor is handsome, and I’m in league with the devil’, or ‘I deserve to be burned alive. No more demon shagging antics for me’ etc.
  • While on the school discipline themes, why not send the offender to ‘face the wall’ for a whole service, with a ‘heretic’ hat on.
  • We could pull out the eyelashes of the offender – one for every sin: ‘Not being paying you tithes either, eh? OUT comes another’.
  • A favourite idea of mine is to suggest we keep on jabbing the ‘funny bone’ of their elbows for half a day (each home group on a rota, taking it in turns to poke).
  • Or what about this for a real horror of a threat: Force the offender to read the entire ‘Left Behind’ series - until they recant. Goodness, there are so many possibilities to explore, especially in our ‘postmodern’ congregations.

Failing all of these we still have hundreds of years of church practice and wisdom to put into practice, i.e. burning and drowning. But it would be best to ‘deny everything’ when it comes to the questions of snooping police officials.

But what suggestions could you make that would profit a revival and reformation of ‘church discipline’ in our congregations? Any ideas?

[Fn 1] A Chinese Burn: ‘A basic form of causing physical pain that is usually experienced for the first time in infant school. It invloves gripping the top of somebody's forearm with both hands then rotating the hands in opposite directions, thus stretching the skin. Tolerance to this increases with age, unless a meathead tries it and mangles not only your skin, but your muscles, ligaments and bones also’ - from the informative Urban Dictionary. See here for a picture of the effects of a Chinese Burn, but make sure no children are around to see it.

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At 2/09/2007 10:32 PM, Anonymous Jim said...

Evidently fear has gripped your readers hearts and, in quite un-Reformed fashion, they haven't the stomach for it all...


Now where's Calvin? Let's roast a bit of Servetus for some heat.

At 2/10/2007 5:45 AM, Anonymous Rev. Paul Beisel said...

On the humorous side, how about forcing the unrepentant sinner to eat an entire potluck made by 80 year-old ladies by himself?

On the more serious side, church discipline seems to be lacking in many of our Lutheran churches too. How do we Lutherans get around it? We have never seen the practice of church discipline as being a mark of the true church. I'm a parish pastor, and I know for certain that all my members, including myself, sin daily in thought, word, and deed. Should there be a public and impenitent sinner in our midst, we would deal with him/her in a Scriptural fashion (Matt. 18). Sorry, I know this was not much of a serious post, but just thought I'd add my $0.02.

At 2/10/2007 10:18 AM, Anonymous vynette said...

"Inquisitor Jim West, for example, keeps talking about reintroducing church discipline for the Baptists..."

There are two kinds of influence that the Creator may exercise over creation - moral persuasion or physical persuasion.

These are the forces of love as opposed to the forces of compulsion.

Humanity was constituted free. God has refused to exercise compulsion over creation as yet so I suggest that immediately any ecclesiastical authority commences to use compulsion, it arrogates to itself the prerogatives of God.

It ceases to represent God, and becomes instead the representative of anti-God forces.

Humans must make choices of their own free will, using those reasoning powers with which they have been endowed. "Come now and let us reason together..."(Is.1:18)

At 2/11/2007 3:46 PM, Anonymous Jim said...

It would have been useful to support your theological statements with scriptural evidence. So i'll offer one: "I deliver them over to Satan for the destruction of the body". Don't care for that one? How bout Jesus' "so go out into the highways and hedges and compel them to come...". Not a fan of that one either? How bout "then you must treat the erring brother as an unbeliever". Haven't discovered one to your liking? There are plenty of passages urging Christians to separate themselves from persons who have betrayed the faith. Whether we like them or not.

At 2/11/2007 9:59 PM, Anonymous Rev. Paul Beisel said...

How about, "Mark those who cause division among you...Avoid them." St. Paul

At 2/12/2007 4:21 AM, Anonymous vynette said...

Regardless of Pauline theology, no person who claims the title "Christian" can ignore the precedents and examples set by the life of Christianity's founder.

Jesus of Nazareth did not scorn to associate with the social outcasts, rejects and downtrodden of his day. He did not brand as 'heretics' those who did not ascribe to the views of the religious establishment. Rather, his followers were drawn to Jesus by his "grace and truth."

In stark contrast to this drawing power of love, the doctrines imposed on the Hebrew scriptures by the Graeco-Roman church fathers have held countless multitudes in bondage through the coercive power of fear for almost two millennia.

At least Paul could claim a measure of Apostolic Authority for the sometimes judgemental but hastily-repented tone of his letters, written as they were whilst undergoing a theological transformation of seismic proportions and a simultaneous litany of physical sufferings.

No Christian church today, however, can claim the least measure of Apostolic Authority or Apostolic Succession.

Any groups or individuals can of course choose the company of like-minded persons. But no church that preaches damnation for unbelief of doctrines has the authority to teach or to 'discipline' in the name of Jesus.

The only commandment for Christians is all that has ever really mattered - to live according to the Gospel of Love, the only doctrine preached by Jesus and the Apostles.

At 2/12/2007 9:13 AM, Anonymous Rev. Paul Beisel said...

See, but you separate doctrine from the person Jesus. In Lutheran theology at least, our "doctrine" flows from the person and work of Jesus.

Yes, Jesus was inclusive in His mission, for "The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." But he also recognized the danger of having an impenitent (unbelieving) person in the midst of the Christian congregation. In the sermon on the Mount for example, Jesus tells his disciples what to do "if you right hand causes you to sin." "Cut it off." "Better to go into the Kingdom of God with one hand than for your entire body to be cast into hell." What is this but a metaphor for the Holy Christian Church. St. Paul uses the body as a metaphor for the Church, with many members. Jesus' words may be an instruction to deal with the offending member of the Church rather than for the whole Christian community to be led away from Jesus. "Cut it off" may be an early formula for excommunication. REad the Didache.

At 2/13/2007 12:12 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Well, my silly post has generated some spirited and inteligent discussion! Thank you all for turning my levity into something worthwhile!


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