“Tell It to the Church”

You have to love litigation as the cure-all for ecclesiastical problems. In Dallas, two members of a church called “Watermark” are suing to prevent the pastor from talking to other people about their sins, which, according to the story, they “thought they had revealed…to Watermark’s pastor confidentially.”

I don’t know all the details of how Watermark works things out. Some things seem a little strange, like “Watermark’s bylaws say a member ‘may not resign from membership in an attempt to avoid such care and correction,'” and “Watermark’s next step would have been to send more than a dozen letters to people who know “John Doe” – half to Watermark members and half to members of other churches who know and have worked with him.”

“The basis of the lawsuit was the church wanted to go outside of the church and the community at large, including potentially even their employers,” said Jeff Tillotson, attorney for the man and woman.

But this story raises the larger issue of church discipline and what kinds of risks congregations take in actually exercising it. I kind of doubt that the pastor of Watermark was engaged in private confession and absolution. It sounds like they just told him their sins and he felt like he had to begin the discipline process. It also sounds like the man refused to repent of the behavior for which he was called to account.

It’s always a little risky to draw conclusions from newspaper stories, when all the details are not known. This will be something to watch, especially for pastors and congregations who take church discipline seriously.



One thought on ““Tell It to the Church”

  1. If a church member wants to leave the church, we should let them. What the article is showing is just plain harassment. The guy may be legitimately unrepentant. For example, what if you wouldn’t repent of baptizing your infant child?

    Basically this church is saying that you cannot “short-circuit” the correction process by leaving. Well, why the heck not?

    If I had a disagreement with my church and I told them I didn’t agree with their correction and I was leaving, they should let me. The church has the power of the keys, so they can employ those if they feel its necessary.

    This kind of reminds me of the Mormon church, which if you try to leave, you get visits afterwards, ostracized and to boot, you have to insist in writing that the church formally remove your membership and not contact you or harass you anymore.

    In a Christian church, if you leave and don’t want to be contacted by those people anymore, you should be able to also.

    I worked with a group that was ostensibly Christian, called the International Churches of Christ and once I found out what they were about, I wanted them to stay the hell (and I mean that) away from me and I would’ve resorted to legal action if I had to.

    I think we need to recognize Christian liberty and even the freedom to not believe or not receive correction and not dog people after they’ve said “take off, okay?!”. You can always excommunicate them and inform them of that in writing without harassing them.

    And the point of church discipline is to take away from the member the membership and fellowship that that member desires. To deprive him of it until he makes amends and repents. My understanding of church discipline is that it is dependent upon members not wanting to lose fellowship.

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