Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Excommunication, exclusivism and discipline

I am collecting a few links on these topics. It has nothing to do with women, but quite a lot to do with being in the Exclusive Brethren. I don't see how you can understand your upbringing in an exclusive fellowship, it you don't have a good angle on how and why you were excommunicated.

Of course, by then you have left, you don't sit there and listen to yourself being excommunicated, that is not what happens. I don't even know how and if we were 'read out'. But the 'who can eat with who' conversation hung in the air. It was a borderline kind of thing. Maybe some people don't remember it that way. I do.

Someone who grows up in an exclusive fellowship, unlike someone who has entered it later in life, is bound psychologically in a particular way. The boundaries are firm, you are either on the inside or on the outside. At the table of the Lord, or the table of Demons. But some part of your brain says "oh, come on."

I can't say that is the whole picture, but a segment, a slice of the reality of living in a closed fellowship.

Here are a few links.

Is Fermented Mare's Milk Unclean? Three Hierarchies
The Obligation To Assume Challies
Obligation To Assume: Church Discipline Challies
The Heidelberg Catechism: On Excommunication Jim West
Bullinger: On Excommunication Jim West

The Heidelberg Catechism concerns me.

    Thus: when according to the command of Christ, those who under the name of Christians maintain doctrines, or practices inconsistent therewith, and will not, after having been often brotherly admonished, renounce their errors and wicked course of life
Note how doctrinal 'errors' are interwoven with a 'wicked course of life'. Does it make it legitimate to excommunicate those who do not explain the creed in exactly the same terms as the rest of us, along with those who have immoral relations such as incest?

Bullinger sounds less rigid, but consider this.

    In the Passover, no one was excluded because of moral impurity; rather, all were welcome (except those ritually impure). (Jim West's comment on Bullinger)
Finish reading that post and then scan the article on Three Hierarchies.

    The Eastern Orthodox treatment of fermented mare's milk as unclean was not some theologically unreflective folk opinion. William of Rubruck's statement that the Greek and Ruthenian priests treat koumiss "as sacrificed to idols" shows that they were using New Testament categories to analyze this cross-cultural issue, but coming to conclusions exactly opposite of what Paul was saying.
So three categories of cause for excommunication are found here; doctrinal error, ritual uncleaness and immorality. Excommunication easily becomes an instrument of exclusion - exclusion of those who have in some way trod on the feet of those with more influence, those who fear the erosion of their influence.

There are extensive notes in the comment section of Challies' post so this is a good resource, complementing Jim West's recent posts. I wonder if these people are interested in thinking about this from the point of view of those who have been excommunicated wrongfully. And yet, their arguments do seem persuasive, as long as it isn't happening to you.

Excommunication gives opportunity for an abuse of power. On the other hand, Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? At what cost? To whom the cost?


Kevin Knox said...

And yet, their arguments do seem persuasive, as long as it isn't happening to you.


Matthew Celestine said...

Excommunication is vitally important. However, I think Exclusives really ought to have been more reserved in their use of it.

God Bless


Matthew Celestine said...

The Taylor Brethren have of course gone to notorious extremes in their use of discipline.

The practise of excluding excommunicated teenage children from family mealtimes is particulary disturbing.

Every Blessing in Christ


CPA said...

"but coming to conclusions exactly of what Paul was saying"

That was a typo -- the word "opposite" should have been added after "exactly" (I've got it right on the blog now).

Thanks for making the correction.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Got it - I'll correct that. Funny how the brain supplies the missing word. I didn't even notice. That was a very interesting post.

God's Woman said...

the practice of excommunicating a teen who wants to wear his hair long or a daughter who gets pregnant while supporting the abusive father(because he is the head, the priest, etc., of the home)is especially disturbing.

It seems that there is an emphasis on the excommunication and not restoration.

God's Woman said...

Suzanne, my firther comments were so long that I decided to blog about it myself. Many thanks for the inspiration--it has led to healing for me and answers to long unasked questions.