Home > Brandenburg, Fundamentalism, Methodology, The Church, The Ministry > Shameful Alternatives for Church Discipline pt. 4

Shameful Alternatives for Church Discipline pt. 4

August 13, 2009

The word “shun,” I’d think you’d admit, has negative connotations.  It now sounds like something bad that people would do.  I was talking to a Hyles-Anderson graduate recently and he was criticizing a church in the area of his own.  He said, “We don’t get along with them.”  I asked, “Why?”  One of his two reasons was: “When they discipline people out of their church, they practice shunning them.”  He said it with incredulity.  I kept a deadpan face and nodded to him.  I was preaching at a conference and he was a missionary there to get some contacts, and I didn’t want to make a scene.  I was very surprised he was even there.  I didn’t think our orbiting paths would ever cross.  My mind told me that he didn’t know what he was getting into.  I figured maybe he could get some help.  I never gave away that I liked the church he was talking about, that we supported two missionaries from that church.  However, I was thinking this:  “What do you think church discipline is?  It is shunning!”

Here’s the definition of the English word “shunning”:  “To avoid deliberately; keep away from.”  That sounds just like what we read in Romans 16:17:

Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.

And it also matches up with 2 Thessalonians 3:14:

And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.

“Avoid them” and “have no company with him.”  What is church discipline if it is not shunning someone?  The point of it is to make him ashamed, to remind him that he needs to get right with God before he’s going to be right with you.

Alright, but this is a series on shameful alternatives for church discipline.  You might be trying to guess where I’m heading with this.  Good job.  Is it the alternative of not shunning?  No . . . . . . . . it is shunning.  The shameful alternative is shunning.  Is shunning?!?!  Didn’t I just say that shunning was what we’re to do?  Yes.  So what’s wrong with shunning if it’s what we’re supposed to do?  Good question.

Shunning is the third and final step of church discipline.  It isn’t the first step.  Fundamentalists and now conservative evangelicals are the kings of practicing the shun as the first step of church discipline.  It may be called different names, but it is a kind of shunning.  So in our four part series, I come to number four of the shameful alternatives for church discipline.

The Cold Shoulder

The Cold Shoulder isn’t a scriptural form of church discipline, but it is one used an alternative in many fundamentalist churches.  I know it is used by evangelicals as well.   The Cold Shoulder is nothing more than a church discipline methodology that practices shunning while a person remains in the church, skipping the first and second steps of Matthew 18.  He hasn’t found out officially that he has done anything wrong.  I say “officially” because he may have heard through the gossip grapevine.  Information may have made it to him.

A church member receives the Cold Shoulder after other shameful, alternative forms of church discipline will have taken affect, probably a couple of the first three that I’ve mentioned in this series.  Someone has violated a church standard or scripture or an obvious desire of church leadership.  This has been mentioned to the pastor or him and his staff.  This has been whispered among church members.  The one in violation hasn’t been called on the carpet, but he is out of social and political good standing.   He may think that he’s getting mentioned in sermons.  At least it sounds like it.   Does he know it?  Maybe not.  But he might figure it out if he is able to read the tea leaves properly.  He will begin to get the idea that something is wrong.  It might be obvious to him that something is wrong.  How?  He gets the Cold Shoulder.

There are various degrees of the Cold Shoulder.  People that once talked to you are now avoiding contact with you.  Conversation with you is kept to a minimum.   Things you were asked to do—you’re not being asked to do them anymore.  People who were your friends aren’t as friendly.  When you are walking toward someone and you smile, he turns his head to lose eye contact.  Wherever you go, people seem to walk away from you.  Responses are terse, minimized to the smallest amount of information.

Often you won’t get the Cold Shoulder from everyone.  You’ll still have people that will be OK with you, although they know that if their status doesn’t change with you, theirs will with everyone else.  They’ll start getting the cold shoulder too.  There are probably some that can’t pick up on the Cold Shoulder you’re getting.  The news of this has lost them.  So they keep treating you well.   But then they’re told not to keep hanging around you.  “Why not?”  “Because he’s not a good influence.”  “How so?”  “Believe me, he isn’t, so you’d best stop hanging around him if you know what’s good for you.”

With the Cold Shoulder you are now receiving, you may or may not know why you’re getting it.  You may have an idea, but it isn’t clear.  You’re probably right about what it is.  It is likely whatever comes to mind when you ask yourself why it’s happening.   It reminds you of getting benched by a coach who is a poor communicator.  Suddenly your playing time has shrunk and no one has told you why that’s happened.  It’s supposed to be obvious, you guess.  Whatever it is you have done, it isn’t being dealt with properly, because if it were, it would start with telling you exactly what it is that’s wrong.  There would be attempts a reconciliation.  None of that has happened.  You are in somebody’s doghouse, everyone’s doghouse maybe.

The practice of the Cold Shoulder is a particular favorite of fundamentalists even outside of the church.  You’ll find out that you are no longer in good standing in several different ways.  You aren’t being invited to speak any more or very infrequently.  You won’t get mentioned in a positive light.  You don’t get your comments answered or responses to your emails.  People stop talking to you.  You’ll have to figure out why this is on your own.  You might notice that you get some derogatory references in what people write.  All of this occurs without one conversation explaining what is wrong.  There is no resolution to whatever is the issue.

For whatever the real reason that you get the Cold Shoulder instead of a scriptural treatment, what you’ll hear is that you are someone who doesn’t listen.  You are someone past dealing with.  It’s a waste of time.  They’ve got too many other things to do than to be chasing you down and explaining something that is obvious.  What’s the real reason?  Faithlessness.  Cowardice.  The flesh.  A pattern of not handling things the right way, and it doesn’t matter, because after all, no one can be 100% consistent anyway.  It’s too much of a hassle for their time.  You aren’t contributing to them in a way that would make it worthwhile to continue a relationship.   If something financial was at stake, maybe you’d get an opportunity.  Or if you are popular, they may see a need to do something in the way of returning to a right relationship with one another.

Doing the right thing really isn’t that difficult.  You talk to someone, laying out from scripture what he’s done wrong.  If he hears, then you have regained the brother.  If he doesn’t, you get witnesses.  It may be at that point that you find out that you’re the one who doesn’t have evidence.  He really may be innocent or at least not guilty.   Others are able to judge whether something wrong has actually happened.  It could be that you find out that you were mistaken when more witnesses are involved.  If the witnesses corroborate, then it goes to the church.  If it is outside of the church, once he won’t listen to witnesses, you have a basis for separation.

No one wants to be shunned, except for certain eccentrics.  No one especially wants this shunning without the due process that everyone should anticipate before a shunning occurs.  Giving the Cold Shoulder without any kind of possibility of repentance or reconciliation is as bad or worse than the behavior resulting in that treatment.  Let us all together decide that we will not be the individual or the church that uses shameful alternatives for church discipline.  Let’s follow Christ in what we do and allow His Words to regulate our lives out of love for Him.

  1. Anvil
    August 14, 2009 at 5:46 am

    Although this series is more about wrong ways of doing church discipline, I hope it eventually will lead to being able to put together the various scriptures on discipline into some kind of cohesive whole. The “mark and avoid” and “note and have no company with” passages still need to work together with Matt 18 if all of those passages are dealing with church discipline. If you treat someone who will not hear the church as a “heathen and a publican,” it certainly means that no Christian fellowship is possible, but heathens and publicans are still to be ministered to with the object of bringing them to Christ — we don’t avoid them. It’s always seemed to me as if the application of Rom 16:17 is more to those teaching contrary to what the Bible teaches (not usually church members, though it can happen) and II Thess 3:14 applies more to those clearly disobedient to the Bible (this seems to happen more often in a church than false teaching), but neither seem to have any “due process” associated with them, making them seem (to me at least) to apply more to outsiders than those within the body. Are those two passages speaking clearly of church discipline? If so, do they require a similar process to what is described in Matt. 18?

  2. August 14, 2009 at 11:38 am


    I gave a basic presentation in part one on what to do. That’s what I started with. I did not go over all those other passages in that presentation. I think it is true that Romans 16:17 doesn’t apply to everyone regarding church discipline, but some people don’t cause divisions, etc. My point was “avoid.” But you still have all your bases covered if you add 1 Corinthians 5:11, ” But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.” And 2 Thess 3:14 is a church discipline passage. The practice of church discipline ends in a loss of company. That loss is supposed to motivate the one under the discipline. Not shunning them is to allow them the same fellowship they had before. They aren’t to be receiving that. It isn’t superior love to allow someone under discipline to keep the same company he had before. And it disrespects God.

    All the teaching on discipline need not be found in every passage dealing with discipline.

    I’m not assuming that you don’t believe what I have written. Thanks for commenting.

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