“Mr. Smith” Goes to Church, but Should He Be Allowed To? (When Should Churches Exclude People?)

“Mr. Smith” Goes to Church, but Should He Be Allowed To? (When Should Churches Exclude People?)

            Raise the possibility of excluding anyone from church in the circles I move in and you’ll get push back immediately. “Church is for everyone; we welcome all.” That’s the attitude of a lot of well-meaning Christians in America today. Even membership is often held as “open”—to anyone who affirms Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior—regardless of other beliefs or lifestyles or practices. The result is what used to be called a “mixed assembly”—a collection of people who little to nothing in common beyond the bare bones of belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior—whatever that may mean to them.

            This is usually only a theoretical attitude, however, and it weakens the moment someone mentions: racism (e.g., White Supremacy), sexual abuse, blatant heresy (e.g., rejection of the deity of Christ or the Trinity), aggressive divisiveness, etc. It may not melt away, but it weakens. I find many contemporary American Christians claim (even to themselves) to want an “open church” and recoil at the words “church discipline,” but have never given the matter serious thought.

            I grew up in a church that practiced church discipline, but it was often just a matter of the pastor and elders meeting with someone and cautioning them about their openly held opinions that were contrary to the church’s teaching or their lifestyle or behavior. Occasionally, though not often, someone was “churched” which meant stripped of their membership and possibly told not to come to church at all. The latter only happened in extreme cases.

            Some churches still practice that. But many do not. Even many churches that consider themselves “conservative” or “evangelical” have no mechanism for disciplining members. But can there really be discipleship without discipline? And can there really be community without commonality?

            I know some people will immediately suppose that I am calling for uniformity. I’m not. I’m only raising the question whether we American Christians, by and large, have gone to the opposite extreme and embraced sheer pluralism such that “Christianity” is whatever an individual church member decides it is. The condition I’m calling into question is not diversity but total lack of consensus.

            If Christianity is compatible with anything and everything, it’s literally nothing.

            If Church membership is compatible with anything and everything, it’s worthless.

            So let me offer some real life anecdotes to illustrate my concern. These might make you think again about whether church discipline ought to be reinstituted. I think it should be.

            Over the years I’ve been involved in many churches—as member, faithful attender and supporter (when I lived away from my home church temporarily), officer (deacon, executive council member), staff clergyperson (youth pastor, Christian education director, associate pastor, interim pastor), parish associate, etc. In all, if I count up the number of individual congregations where I have been one of the above, the number comes to eleven. But I have been involved in many other churches less directly—as consultant, speaker (in multi-Sunday adult Sunday School or multi-Wednesday evening Bible study series), frequent visitor (when visiting friends or relatives in cities distant from my home). I have also, of course, studied churches as part of my professional life as a theologian.

            Many years ago, when I served on the pastoral staff of a “mainline” Protestant church, I became very well acquainted with an elder (in both senses) named “Mr. Smith.” (I am changing the name to protect his living descendents and friends.) Mr. Smith was the typically “church pillar”—devoted to the church throughout his long life (he was in his eighties), having served in virtually every lay capacity (especially ruling elder), and faithfully supporting and promoting the church in the community. Mr. Smith was also known to most church members as “The Candy Man.” He always brought candy to hand out to children when he came to church. They flocked around him to receive his little gifts. He was beloved and influential in the church.

            I was in charge of the church’s “food pantry.” The church stood in a very poor, inner city neighborhood. Part of my job was to take sacks of groceries to individuals and families who could not come to the church to pick them up. I also taught Mr. Smith’s adult Sunday School class—a class of about twenty men and women who considered themselves confirmed Christians. Mr. Smith was the most outspoken member of the class. Others tended to either agree with him or be silent when he spoke. I don’t recall any member of the class (other than me) expressing disagreement with him.

            One week I had the privilege, sad as it was, to take two sacks of groceries to a new family in the neighborhood. They did not have transportation, so could not come to the church. I put the sacks in my car and went looking for their abode. It turned out to be a one room “apartment” in what looked like an abandoned corner grocery store. The ground floor was completely empty with broken out windows. The upstairs contained several one room “apartments.” The family consisted of a woman in her thirties and two little girls—about four and six. They had no furniture other than a mattress on the floor. I checked their cupboards (in the tiny kitchenette) and saw immediately there was no food in the apartment. One of the little girls was holding a moldy orange and asking her mother if she could eat it. They were obviously all hungry. The woman said they had just moved to town and her husband was out looking for work. The whole situation felt like something right out of a Charles Dickens novel. I left the groceries and promised to check back with them in a few days.

            The next Sunday I asked the adult Sunday School class to take an offering for the woman and her children and shared my experience with them. I wanted to buy them some items not in our food pantry—fresh meat, milk and eggs, for example. (Our food pantry contained only non-perishable items.) And I wanted to give them some cash to buy clothes if not furniture. Most of the people in the class were eager to help and I raised about $200 (which thirty-five years ago was worth more than now) that morning.

            However, I had to contend with Mr. Smith who spoke up most vehemently against helping the woman and her children in any way. He spoke long and passionately about how charity makes people dependent. He made clear he was opposed even to the church having a food pantry. I asked him whether he thought there was a legitimate place in society for The Salvation Army and similar charitable groups. He said no. He was in principle opposed to all charity of any kind. Then he went on a rant about the Ku Klux Klan, saying his grandmother was a founding member of the Klan in her city and how he witnessed a lynching when he was a child and thought it was a good thing. Then he spoke warmly about Hitler and said the Jews “got what was coming to them” in the “so-called holocaust.”

            I sat stunned. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The rest of the class members just sat silent during Mr. Smith’s diatribe. He left no doubt that he was a “white supremacist” and anti-Semite. I finally closed the class session and left—after making my disagreement with Mr. Smith clear. I queried some of the class members about this later—hoping that perhaps Mr. Smith had lost his mind or that his “speech” could be chalked up to senility. They said that he had always held and expressed such opinions.

            Mr. Smith came to church, but should he have been allowed to?

            More specifically, my question is whether someone, the pastor and elders would make good candidates, should take someone like Mr. Smith aside and exercise some “pastoral care” toward him and tell him that his beliefs are inconstant with the church’s beliefs and with Christianity and that he must change them or at least keep them to himself or else resign from the church and stop attending?

            I wouldn’t want to be in that pastor’s shoes in that or a similar situation. But I also don’t want to be a member of a church that permits a “Mr. Smith” to express such heinous opinions openly within the church—especially as an official of the church! (And, just for your information, I was not actually a member of that church. I worked for it without ever officially joining it as it was of a different denomination than my own.)

            I’m sure someone is thinking my example is extreme, that there are very few “Mr. Smiths” in Christian churches in America. Perhaps so, but my point is that every church ought to be prepared to deal with someone like Mr. Smith whether that person be a racist or cultist (many religious cults are not exclusive and even encourage followers to join churches to infiltrate them with their distinctive message or practice) or abuser or exploiter or whatever.

            Wait! “Exploiter?” What do I mean by that? Up until I said “exploiter” many people were probably agreeing with me—even if they normally think they don’t believe in church discipline.

            So let me offer a hypothetical “Mr. Smith” to illustrate what I mean by “exploiter.”

            Suppose a member of a Christian church named Mr. Smith isn’t a racist but does own a “Payday Loan” operation in or near a poor neighborhood that charges 30% interest on loans to poor individuals and families and repossesses their car when they can’t pay back the loan plus interest? He’s living a life of luxury based on selling repossessed cars. Meanwhile, poor families who took out loans to feed their children have no transportation.

            Is this “Mr. Smith” any better than the first one? Personally, if I had to choose, I’d rather go to church with the first Mr. Smith than this one! And yet, I suggest, in most American churches, if they practice any kind of church discipline at all, the first Mr. Smith is more likely than the second one to be called in for a conversation with the pastor and deacons or elders.

            But I’m not just talking about Payday Loan operations. By “exploiters” I mean people who engage in any business practice that takes advantage of weak people.

            But wait! Even that’s too soft, too easy. I would lump into the category of “exploiters” not only people who actively take advantage of the weak but those who justify taking advantage of them or even just ignoring them—leaving them to their own devices. To my way of thinking Social Darwinism is that—an ideological justification of leaving society’s weakest members to their own devices without help. Churches ought to step up and openly oppose Social Darwinism which is increasingly rampant in our society. Like the World Communion of Reformed Churches (then the World Alliance of Reformed Churches) that declared Apartheid apostasy, Christian churches should declare Social Darwinism heresy if not apostasy and make clear that it will not be tolerated among them.

  • Tim Reisdorf

    Hi Roger,
    I agree that Churches should both welcome all to come as visitors and be selective about membership – certainly about leadership.
    I must defend the “Payday Loan” business – at least on principle. Who will give a loan to those who are a great risk of default? It is good that somebody does because many banks would not! However, in order for the business to remain in business, there must be a plan that keeps this business above water – so it charges high interest. But the same is true with any kind of business where there are different levels of risk – the lower risk customers get the better deals while the higher risk customers get the poorer deals. It actually gives both parties dignity to agree on terms where they both feel that they are winners – and this is the humanizing principle of the free market. It is preferable that businesses get and stay engaged with those of poor credit – how else are they going to get better credit?!? If not for these businesses, then the poor would be reduced to charity only – and that would be a sad state indeed.
    There is a place for charity, but the Church does the poor no favors by enabling them to remain – or worse – to block avenues of escape.
    -Tim

    • Roger Olson

      We disagree. I see this business as pure exploitation. There used to be (and still are in some places) legal limits to usury. That’s what “payday loans” are–usury. Christian should not engage in usury.

      • Tim Reisdorf

        But who will make a loan to them? Surely people need loans to get started on their own enterprises. If you started a financial business to make loans to people with poor credit, what interest would you charge that would 1. not make you go bankrupt, 2. give the poor access to money via loans, and 3. pass muster in your usury contention?
        Your accusation of exploitation and usury may well be widely accurate in reality, and I will not contest that. But there must be some kind of business model that provides capital to credit-poor people without dooming the business to fail. If you feel like this is not possible, I would think that you might be trampling on real “good” when striving for an unattainable “perfect”. Charity is a terrible long-term solution, methinks.

        • Roger Olson

          These payday loan storefront businesses are not loaning money to people to start businesses. And I don’t believe it ever requires 30% interest for a bank or the Small Business Administration to loan a small amount to a smart business person to start his or her own business. We’re talking apples and oranges here. My complaint is ONLY against those businesses that are exploiting the poor by making 30% interest loans with the INTENTION of taking away their cars when they cannot pay back the loan with interest. It’s a legal scam and becoming extremely common. As I drive down the main business avenue between my home and my office I pass at least twenty of these storefront “cash stores” that cater to desperate people only.

      • Tim Reisdorf

        Roger,
        According to your definitions, those who have poor credit don’t deserve loans that are adjusted for the real risk. You would condemn them to live off charity.
        Yes, we disagree, but my ideas (at least in principle – I cannot condone those who go beyond bounds to exploitation) actually give the poor a chance to get a loan to better their lives. According to your ideas, they are condemned be beggars.
        But while we disagree, I would have you not classify me with my ideas as those worthy of Church Discipline. Those who believe in Free-Market principles and who also believe in personal charity don’t deserve your scorn. It’s almost as bad as saying we don’t believe in the redemptive power of football!
        Have a fine weekend in TX – its supposed to snow in MN.
        -Tim

        • Roger Olson

          You over interpret me. I didn’t suggest that people who believe in usury should be church disciplined–only those who are getting rich from it.

    • Gary Snowden

      There is an outstanding article about predatory pay day loans on the CBF blog. Here’s the link: CBF blog on pay day loans

      • Roger Olson

        Thanks. I saw that. It’s what sparked my comments.

    • Thursday1

      1. There are real problems with this business in that they may take advantage of those with poor impulse control. “Get your money now!
      2. On the other hand, it is very true that people get the interest rate that matches their risk to the lender. Artificial ceilings on that simply mean such people will get no loans, period. So, a high interest rate per se isn’t necessarily unjust.

      • Roger Olson

        I disagree. Nobody needs to charge 30% on any loan.

        • Tim Reisdorf

          You say that with an “I know this to be true” attitude. So why hasn’t another entrepreneur undercut this with 25% loans? They would attract the business . . . or maybe they would go out of business because the risk is too great. They call it a marketplace because (with competition and without undue interference from government) it will find a proper balance on its own.
          When you say that nobody needs to charge 30% on any loan, I imagine that you haven’t done the math and that you really don’t know; you just want to believe that what you say is true. Show me the math or business plan that would back up what you are claiming.

          • Roger Olson

            As you already know, we fundamentally disagree about the marketplace’s ability to regulate itself.

          • Tim Reisdorf

            And you would regulate it? That might work well for a time, but who would regulate it after you’re gone (or too tired)? Are they to be trusted? It would devolved into a tyranny soon after you pass the baton.
            Should committees of politicians regulate it?
            Should economists regulate it?
            Ethicists? Theologians? Pastors? Bricklayers? Ballet dancers? Veterans? Who would best pull the strings for the economy? Who would best choose winners and losers in their regulated economy?

            For myself, I don’t trust any of those more than someone who wants to do business with me and I am free to take or reject their offer.

          • Roger Olson

            I trust government to regulate the economy more than I trust them to wage wars.

        • Thursday1

          If there is sufficient risk to themselves, perhaps they do. Have you ever heard of the just price fallacy?

        • Luke Breuer

          But, but, grace might be free, but money sure isn’t!

  • Donald Bufford

    I’m currently taking a class reading liberation theologians that really challenged me to think about whether there can be Christian unity when Christians believe in a God who justifies (or is not concerned about) oppression. An obvious example is racism in the deep south, which was once the Christian consensus there unfortunately. I’ve come to think a huge issue now in these regards is also our views of the poor and immigrants. Most Christians I know have a very negative view of the poor–they’re just moochers, people who our lazy, etc. No one wants to talk about how different the prophet’s, Jesus, and James’ view of the poor are in comparison with ours today–or the possibility that unrestrained capitalism and Social Darwinism can serve as ideologies manipulating Christian’s theological beliefs (I mean that only happens when liberation theologians make use of Marxist analysis right–not to bible-believing evangelicals). Somehow I think talking about this openly, though. in many evangelical churches (especially in the solidly republican, bible-belt) might just be the key to getting me censured.

    • Roger Olson

      You are probably right. So go at it carefully. Don’t use scare terms like liberation theology, redistribution of wealth, etc. Talk about the Bible’s and Jesus’s love for the poor and how even the “deserving poor”cannot all be fed by charity alone. Strictly avoid the scare terms that will simply turn most conservative Christians in the “Bible belt” off to your good message.

    • Luke Breuer

      Something that has changed in the last two centuries is that we actually can feed everyone. It is no longer the case that a person can barely provide enough to feed himself and his family. We’re no longer a subsistence-based economy. I’ve not heard much in the way of good theology which takes into account this shift, although I’m not particularly well-read in theology either…

  • Andrew Dowling

    If it’s a strong healthy church, IMO it shouldn’t (in most cases) come down to the pastor/hierarchy having to do something . . .the social stigma and ostracizing of the church members should let anyone know those kind of attitudes/actions are not welcome.

    • Roger Olson

      Most church members are now conditioned not to ostracize or stigmatize anyone–regardless of their opinions. I think they would prefer something be done about such people by the pastoral staff and lay leaders of the church. Who said “hierarchical?” That’s certainly not what I intended. It’s a matter of pastoral care. And what about Paul and the man living in sin with his step mother? He said to put him out. He didn’t say “ostracize him” (within the church).

  • Rob

    I feel a lot of sympathy for expanding church discipline to beliefs like SD but at this point churches don’t even know what to do about blatant adultery. Still, the conversation about sub-religious beliefs that stand inconsistent with the gospel is one that should be had.

  • Rebecca Trotter

    Love you. Love your willingness to clearly and faithfully stand against the tide on from all sides. I was just in a conversation with a Christian last night who was promulgating Social Darwinist views. At one point I challenged his claim that living wages were not desirable because they would allow people who were well “below average” mentally or functionally (bottom 25% was our hypothetical group) to more.easily have families. He didn’t think people who are below average should be having kids who will also be below average. When I challenged him, he said he’d have to go pray about it. At any rate, a strong, Christian denunciation of social Darwinism was something I needed to hear today.

    • Roger Olson

      Thanks for your affirmation and illustration. I think most people don’t realize how prevalent Social Darwinism among Christians.

      • Jack Harper

        Roger, social Darwinism had and may still have the thought that some people are not good enough to have children(eugenics), or produce effectively for the good of society. I’m sure you are right how prevalent it is in the church, could you give an example?

        • Roger Olson

          I did: “Mr. Smith.” Others have in their comments here, too.

    • Roger Olson

      You missed my point about the legal issue of having a limb cut off. I know of no doctor who would, could, or should (legally or morally) amputate a limb of a patient just because the patient doesn’t want that limb and finds it inconvenient for some reason. I’m not talking about a diseased limb.

    • Tim Reisdorf

      Hi Rebecca,
      Market wages are better than Living wages. If one can only produce $7/hr worth of work, why should/would an employer pay them $10/hr. It punishes the employer by forcing them to lose $3/hr. Afterwards, it punishes the worker because the employer loses their business and there are no jobs available. If we don’t have $7/hr jobs by force of law, how are $7/hr workers going to find a job? You will end up hurting many people with your good intentions.

      • Roger Olson

        So, Tim. Imagine a social condition in which there are so many unemployed people that a business owner who lives in luxury can hire good workers for only $1 an hour with the result that those good workers (and their children) must live in hovels made of cardboard. Do you really think a government should not have something to say (and do) about that?

        • Tim Reisdorf

          I don’t have to imagine it. There are millions of people who live in squalor and whose only opportunity for employment is dismal. Should the government chase away the business so that there are no opportunities? Perish the thought! Governments should attract other businesses to come and do business and work with the cheap labor and invest in the community and raise the standard of living and eventually lift the whole region. Having only 1 business owner is monopolistic (and leads to a parasite-host relationship), and capitalism works best with competition. It is competition for the best workers that drives up wages.
          So, to answer your question, government should be kind and inviting, not mean and bullying.

          • Roger Olson

            Should government be compassionate?

          • Tim Reisdorf

            Governments should get out of the way so people have the opportunities and freedom to do what is right and good.
            Governments ought not play favorites with any special interest group. Whomever they give favors to only receive what the government took from a different group. Compassionate? Rather, government should be blind.

          • Roger Olson

            Again, Tim, this sounds so much like Nozick!

        • Andrew Watson

          You don’t have to imagine that, go to South America, Africa or Asia and you can see that in person

      • Andrew Watson

        There is something else we have to consider here when it comes to the idea of the morality of the living wage. Just because you are trying to be loving and compassionate does not mean you are exempt from math. As an employer I only have X amount of dollars which I can pay employees and still remain profitable. Is it better for me to pay 10 desperate single mothers 6 dollars an hour, 6 desperate single mothers 10 dollars an hour, or 3 desperate single mothers 20 dollars an hour (for the same Job). We could theoretically exceed X and pay all 10 moms 20 dollars an hour, but then I go out of business and all 11 of us are unemployed.

        • Roger Olson

          Or you could simply pay them all that it is possible for you to pay them and still have a decent human life for yourself and your family. The problem is, as I know from personal experience, that many business owners live in luxury while paying their employees wages they cannot live on.

      • Luke Breuer

        You forget to mention a way of ensuring that folks can still live alright, and especially ensuring that they can improve their condition if they so choose. I agree that minimum wage laws distort the market, but if we don’t replace them with something like a negative income tax, we allow institutional evil as well as plain old market failure: monopsonies.

        If the Christian does not care about life, he or she is at odds with Jesus, who “came to give life, and life abundantly”. I would rather not be at odds with Jesus; I know I won’t come out will in any such venture.

      • Rebecca Trotter

        Actually the idea that market wages are set by the value of the work performed is 100%, completely, utterly and totally false. Market wages are determined by what an employer can get away with paying an employee and have no relationship with the value of the work that employee produces. If the value of the word produced by an employee were related to their income, then very profitable businesses like Walmrt would also havee very high income employees. The fact that many employers can accumulate vast wealth while paying their workers very little demonstrates that there is a complete disconnect between employee pay and the wealth that their work creates.

        Also the dip in employment created by increased wages is hotly contested and not statistically demonstrated with any certainty. Especially in economic situations like ours where soft demand is hindering growth, excessively low wages, which decrease demand, are counter-productive. And morally, the same reasoning was given for continuing slavery, child labor and sweat shops. In addition to being morally repugnant, each time we ended such practices, the economy ended up expanding and standards of living went up. The fear mongering about the danger of treating workers properly has never been justified by results.

        Finally, it should never be forgotten that human beings do not exist to serve the needs and demands of an economy. Rather, the economy must exist to serve the needs of human beings. At the point that human beings cannot get their needs yet, the economy is distorted, broken, inhumane and wildly immoral. It is neithr necessasary nor proper for us to elevate the working of the economy over actual human beings.

        • Tim Reisdorf

          Rather, market wages are determined by an agreement between the employer and employee. They must enter into the agreement voluntarily or else it is not a free market. There is downward pressure on wages by an employee-pool abundance. There is upward pressure on wages by competition, employee-pool scarcity and on higher local cost-of-living rates. But if a contract is signed freely by both, why should either side complain about what they agreed to? When Jesus told a parable about people working in a vineyard earning similar amounts (at vastly different wage rates), people complained – feeling they were cheated. Jesus corrected them and pointed back to the agreement that they “signed”.
          Walmart does have highly paid employees. They have many. They also have many more lowly paid employees. These groups do not do the same work and did not agree to equal compensations. Are you saying that they really deserve similar compensations?

          • Roger Olson

            I have to ask, Tim. Have you been reading Robert Nozick? This sounds so much like him.

          • Rebecca Trotter

            People who take advantage of the vulnerable and weak always do so in the name of freedom. The war to protect slavery was fought in the name of freedom as well. To claim that people choose to spend all of their waking hours working to make another person rich while not making enough money to support his own basic needs because freedom is denial at best, manipulative dishonesty at worst. To claim that we taxpayers must subsidize the low wages of millions of working poor while the corporations become fabulously wealthy because freedom is an insult to anyone’s intelligence. The only freedom involved in this equation is the freedom of the powerful to take advantaghe of the less powerful in order to enrich themselves. There’s no freedom in taking the only work you can find despite the fact that it does not provide enough money to provide for your basic needs! The very idea is absurd. That’s a false form of “freedom” which discredits the word and is wildy immoral. To say to a man, “if you don’t like the wages being offered, find another job paying better and when you find that there are none, you can always choose to starve on the streets” isn’t offering a man free choice. Any choice in which your options are to be taken advantage of or die isn’t a free choice. That’s a disgusting, reprehensible proposition, not an example of freedom.

            And, again, the question remains: do people exist to meet the needs of the economy (or some crazy notion of “freedom”) or does the economy exist to provide for the needs of the people? Any economy in which people can not provide for their basic needs is by definition, inhumane, immoral and broken. Even when it’s done in the name of “freedom”.

          • Luke Breuer

            Read up on monopsonies and how Walmart temporarily depresses prices when they open a new store in order to drive other businesses out of business. Furthermore, read up on Walmart depending on government hand-outs to some of its employees. It’s not clear that what is going on is nicely ‘free market’.

            Furthermore, it’s difficult to say that someone who could get a tiny wage or no wage freely picks the ‘tiny’ option under any meaningful definition of ‘freely’. If I left you on an island for a week and gave you the option of muddy water or no water at all, which would you ‘freely’ choose?

  • michelle

    Good points.
    Before it gets to the point of ‘be quiet or be gone’, the congregation’s leadership (and rank and file!) should already be telling Mr Smith that he is wrong, why he is wrong, and that his remarks aren’t acceptable in this place.
    If one of my preschoolers starts hitting in Sunday School, I don’t ignore it or push little Timmy from the class. I tell Timmy that we don’t hit here; that Jesus loves us all and wants us to love each other; and that he can sit outside the circle if he needs time to get himself under control.
    Badly-behaving grownups aren’t much different from preschoolers, after all.

    • Roger Olson

      Of course. I said that. The person should go through a pastoral care process first–before being excommunicated. Most often, though, nothing at all is done by anyone.

  • Mark Kennedy

    Regarding the family living in the ‘apartment’ with no food or furniture: Jesus–the guy the Christian church is named for, seems to me to have spent a lot of time correcting the unfairness (in modern terms, lack of social and economic equity) of his day. Without attempting any kind of comprehensive treatment, a couple of things come to mind.

    I think of John the Baptist preparing the way for Messiah Jesus, proclaiming a baptism of repentance leading to forgiveness. He tells the one with two tunics to share with the one who has none; likewise with food.

    I see Hebrews 1.5, 8 as explaining this theologically: “Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever; A scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.”

    Both John, the last Old Testament prophet who also preceded Jesus, and the book of Hebrews, which was subsequent to Jesus, quote and allude to the OT. I would like to have space and time to extrude some of the cogent points made by Amos, Micah, Nahum, Zephaniah, and Zechariah, for example, as well as the better known ‘major’ prophets, but will just close with Jesus’ own words in Matt. 25:

    “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my
    Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation
    of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty
    and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I
    needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in
    prison and you came to visit me.”

    Jesus had no problem with us being dependent upon one another and helping the one in need. In fact, he expected it of us.

    • Tim Reisdorf

      Well said. We should all do this.
      Can you imagine Jesus or John calling on you to enforce this of your neighbor – to share his tunic with another? This is a different matter entirely and should not be viewed as Biblical.

      • Roger Olson

        Just out of curiosity, Tim. When you imagine what life in the Kingdom of God will be like, do you picture it as including differentiating wealth? Do you picture it as including poverty? If not, how will that be the case?

        • Tim Reisdorf

          Sometimes, I think the “Kingdom of God” and I think of heaven. There is no need there – and if there is any difference in wealth, none care for they now are satisfied.
          But I think that you are getting the “Kingdom of God” on earth – in the “now, but not yet” time and place. Obviously there is differentiating wealth. Jesus’ own parables show that it is proper that there is differentiating wealth (story of talents) – and that the differentiating wealth is a result of how they use what they have.
          Poverty? I assume that there will be some type of poverty (the poor we always will have with us, Jesus again!). The task for the members of the Kingdom of God is to help those that we can help – to alleviate suffering, to give opportunities for the poor to help themselves. The very best example I can think of is from Hugo’s “Les Mis” – when JVJ was a business owner and (while he was generous personally) he did his most good by providing jobs for people that multiplied the good throughout the region. He helped them help themselves and allowed them to provide for themselves by earning their salary. There is much dignity in this all around.

          • Roger Olson

            I was thinking of the Kingdom of God as described in Isaiah–for example Chapter 65:17-25.It’s obviously not about heaven as it mentions people dying.

      • Mark Kennedy

        But that’s my point. We can’t imagine it. The ‘Christian’ church has veered so far from the biblical rails that it would require a few ‘radicals’ in a congregation to practice these biblical concepts for them to break in to the church’s consciousness. From there it might catch on as the new normative culture–or at least as a possible norm–and then we might be able to imagine the leadership being able to take aside and counsel those who were uncharitable in their Christian living. I think this is biblical.

    • Mark Kennedy

      But that;t my point. We can’t imagine it. The ‘Christian’ church has veered so far from the biblical rails that it would require a few ‘radicals’ in a congregation to practice these biblical concepts for them to break in to the church’s consciousness. From there it might catch on as the new normative culture–or at least as a possible norm–and then we might be able to imagine the leadership being able to take aside and counsel those who were uncharitable in their Christian living.

  • Sam

    The majority of church members are sheeple and are not prepared to intelligently discuss and think about Social Darwinism or other more complex ideas. The best we should seek would be the most blatant, disruptive sins. I’ve got a little list….

    • Roger Olson

      My point is that church leaders should talk about and educate the “sheep” about things like Social Darwinism. It’s not difficult to explain and when I explain it to people they usually recognize it right away as a prevalent view held by many Christians they know.

    • Tim Reisdorf

      “The majority of church members are sheeple”? and they are “not prepared to intelligently discuss and think about Social Darwinism or other more complex ideas”? These are very unkind things to say – not worthy words of one who follows The Way.
      Is there no room in your mind for disagreement or are you more “fundamentalist” in your approach to Biblically-informed economics?

  • Matt W

    I once heard that after Wilberforce worked to abolish Britain’s slave trade that he had plans to rally society against the Lottery. In light of this no doubt classic evangical voices (Wesley, Whitefield, Newton, Wilberforce) would rail against PayDay loan operations, not to mention the roll of the lottery in our society. Thank you for your post and thank you for articulating the need for opposing social darwinism. I cannot help but to think about social darwinism in our society and the current debate over the name of the Washington Redskins football team.

    • Timothy

      As lotteries were illegal in Britain at the time of Wilberforce, it seems unlikely that he would have campaigned against them.

  • steve rogers

    In principle I agree with you. In practice I have seen “church discipline” employed to protect the power and egos of the leaders applying it more often than serving the best interests of the individual needing the discipline or the congregation. I have also seen it inconsistently administered out of favoritism for some. There may be a need to apply some form of church discipline in the most extreme cases of blatant immorality, divisiveness, criminal behavior or persistent disruption, but only as a last resort after making every effort to resolve the matter relationally and prayerfully… and always with the door left open for restoration should repentance become evident.

    • Roger Olson

      Did I say anything different than that? I agree completely. But most churches I’m familiar with have no such process so anything goes.

  • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

    I will be extremely politically incorrect: openly teaching that God predetermined people to commit crimes before punishing them eternally for this.

    But this is just me…

  • John C. Gardner

    It would seem that most(many?) will not take actions against a church member for either personal sins(e.g. adultery) or systemic sins(e.g. participating in usury, exploitation of the lower 40% of workers). However, do we as Christians take stands to support our pastors and leaders when there are public sins? Are we trying to be too user friendly to members? All churches must maintain a balance between church discipline, holiness and God’s love. We also must remember that all of us are sinners. These goals may be in tension but must be maintained.

  • AHH

    My compliments on your bravery in calling out Social Darwinism as an Evangelical. I remember being appalled the first time I saw a car in our church parking lot with a “John Galt for President” bumper sticker. But with the rise of the vocal Tea Party, it has become clear that not only in my church but in much of American Evangelicalism the Social Darwinism of people like Ayn Rand is idolized by many.

    I agree that few if any churches today would exercise church discipline for somebody advocating that, as opposed to something like adultery. Education from the pulpit is probably the most important tool in reforming the church in this area. But even among preachers who see how anti-Christian Ayn Rand’s philosophy is, Evangelical preaching seldom specifically calls out that sin, settling for vague platitudes about being unselfish and caring about the poor and marginalized. Which is better than nothing, I suppose.

  • M85

    Isn’t it just normal human decency for a society to provide some basic services for the poor and less fortunate, i’m not talking a “nanny state” or socialism, but basic education, a minimum of health care, a minimum wage, food for the hungry, housing for the homeless…..?

    • Roger Olson

      Not according to Social Darwinists.

  • Paul

    Growing up in an extreme Pentecostal movement, I saw “church discipline” used regulary as punishment or excommunication. If you were involved in any form of sexual sin or considered “rebellious”, the Pastor would be after you. Very unhealthy environment, pure madness.

    Now, I’m in a more “normal” church – discipline is practiced rarely, only in extreme situations, and always for the purpose of helping the individual.

    • Roger Olson

      That it is practiced at all is unusual today. Of course it should be for the purpose of helping the individual (offender) but it should also be for the purpose of keeping the church from being infected if the offending individual refuses to submit to loving pastoral care and correction.

  • http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/ Russ Slater

    Amen. Well said. My fundamentalist background gave witness to public church disciplines and protestant “excommunications.” I was always opposed to them even as a child. They were humiliating and often unproductive. Later, at evangelical churches I attended, these activities were conducted in closed-door sessions that basically amounted to the same thing. The word they liked to use was “reconciliation” but it was a profoundly non-reconciliatory process unless the errant congregationalist submitted back into the ranks of the church’s perceived creeds.
    The latest observations I’ve had were by heavy-handed pastoral staffs pointedly removing “subversive” members both publically, and privately, from their “reforming” or ‘enlightened’ churches. Those churches were both mega-church size, contemporary, and crude to their own testimony of what a church was supposedly all about. In neither case could I join those organizations as a member though I attended each. It has left me greatly disappointed with any church that has grown out-of-bounds to their calling of ministry and shepherding of souls. Not in size but in vision.
    No wonder there are so many people doubtful of church and refusing its ministries. Preferring the idea of agnosticism or atheism to outright Christianity. If God cannot be found in the church than why bother if the result is the same on the outside? Many of Jesus’ ministries were to these same people conflicted by temple and Jewish law. Inside the temple Jesus was blasphemed. And outside of it He was worshipped. It is a wonderment that God’s church serves at all beyond its own interests. The answer is not in giving up but in challenging the serpents in the pulpit with the truths of Jesus’ love and passion for strays and sinners.


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