Church discipline and individual rights.

From John Stackhouse’s blog:

…one can also mourn the loss of anything even resembling church discipline nowadays in many communions…Churches have been sued for removing people from office for blatant sexual, financial, and theological transgressions. Student groups are being barred from university campuses because they insist on their officers (forget about the rank and file) actually believing and practicing the faith they were formed to promote. Homosexuals, yes, but also people of other denominations and even non-Christians are all insisting on their putative “right” to join and even to lead Christian groups whose fundamental ethos they do not endorse in important particulars.

…What do critics of the Watchtower Society expect them to do? Let anyone belong and remain in good standing who wants to do so, no matter their profession or practice? Would it make sense for the Roman Catholic Church to allow members to pray to Krishna or advocate the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism? Would it make sense for Muslims to have to accept a Sikh or a Jew as their imam?

Would it make sense for PETA to have to accept an omnivore as chapter president? Would it make sense for a hockey team to have to keep on the roster four guys who insisted on setting up a bridge table at centre ice?

We must not push individual rights so far as to make group coherence impossible…Not everything comes as a smorgasbord to be picked over by the sovereign, consumerist self. Some things come as packages. Most groups, in fact, come that way. (link)

7 thoughts on “Church discipline and individual rights.

  1. jim

    This may be a little off the trajectory of this post but it is what struck me and crossed my mind. (It’s also 10 to 1 in the morning) The guys that want to set up a bridge table at centre ice… they are hockey players right? They are saying instead of all the fighting, rivalry and self-aggrandisement lets play cards. They are hockey players that feel like the game isn’t being played right, fairly or in the spirit of Christ. In the name of “Church discipline” these guys might be banished from the game. I can relate to these guys.

    (And no this isn’t an anti-hockey rant, if I have the time I may watch some of the playoffs this year ?)

    I’m also thinking about that last paragraph. Is “individual rights” a threat to “group coherence”? Grouping is inevitable and the individual has the right to choose or change groups. And in the process maybe we’ll all be challenged, learn, and grow.

  2. Marc


    I think I see your point. Perhaps to put it in broader perspective (in case you didn’t read the Stackhouse piece), his post comes out of the BC court’s decisions regarding a JW family who is refusing blood transfusions. Of course, they will be excommunicated if they change their minds. Critics rile at this notion, that someone can’t just do as they please, no matter how it fits into their group’s ethos, and still remain a standing member of whatever group they belong to. Groups, by nature, have certain expectations and standards they set up in order to be who they are, and people are generally aware of these things when they join—should people be allowed to flout these standards and still remain members? I think it’s a fair question and Stackhouse seems to give a fair response.

    (For the record, I’m not defending any particular group or stance, just the notion of group/community “discipline” of some sort.)

  3. jim

    That makes sense. I was totally unaware of the specific context, I guess I should get out more. I had a sense that I was “off the trajectory of the post”.

    Not surprisingly it has to do with some of the stuff I’m presently experiencing as a result of changing convictions (my context). I am an Evangelical of 25 years and have been a leader/pastor/teacher. I no longer believe in the doctrine of everlasting punishment (as much as in my finiteness I can say I’m sure of that). Universalism is making sense. I have an appreciation for preterist eschatology. So, should I be allowed to “flout these standards” (lovingly and graciously of course)and remain an evangelical? It is my right to believe what I want to believe… but for some in the group it does seem to be a threat. Can a person practice Generous Orthodoxy in a package/group oriented faith system? I think that there are a lot of us that are trying to figure that out.

    Well, I’m still somewhat off the trajectory of this post but it has drawn this out of me I guess. You can see why I’m interested in MacDonald. Is he an example (trail blaizer) of an individual that can remain a member of the group (Evangelicals) while not holding to a key point of its fundamental ethos?

    Thanks for humoring me (and to all engaged in these discusions, its helping ?)… now back to the things of this day.

  4. Marc

    That’s a good question you ask, Jim. I’ll have to think of that more. I guess I was only thinking about this in terms of action, rather than thought, but you’ve made a good point.

    In practice, I suppose it depends on which denomination you belong to. “Evangelical” is not a label that can really be removed from you. We are members of a denomination that is quite open to a variety of non-creedal beliefs (i.e. I assume they won’t block membership from a universalist that otherwise accepts the traditional creeds of the church).

    MacDonald manages it, I think, by arguing that his position actually works (and better) within the traditional Evangelical Protestant framework.

    Anyway, good question. Perhaps it should be posed to John Stackhouse?

  5. Andrew

    I think Stackhouse makes a good point about membership or participation in a group and explicit/implicit expectations that go along with it. Each game has rules, and one has to play by the rules to continue the game. The questions becomes what are the rules? What rules are flexible, and which aren’t?

  6. Marc

    Isn’t this one of the issues that the Anglican Communion in Canada is dealing with right now? Not only whether to bless same-sex unions and appoint openly gay bishops, but how to deal with those churches that will bless and appoint them regardless of what the communion ultimately decides?

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