Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Quick Course on Shunning

What is “shunning”?
In conservative Mennonite practice, it is the exclusion of a member of the church due to sin. This would include eating with a member or conversing with them in some groups which have very strict interpretations of the passages involved. Biblically, this practice would be some form of separation, or lack of fellowship. Some of the biblical phrases associated with “shunning” or “excommunication” are: “Treat such a one as you would a tax collector or Gentile,” (Matt. 18:17) “do not associate with” (I Cor. 5:9), “do not eat with” (I Cor. 5:11), “drive out” (I Cor. 5:13),” have nothing to do with that one—do not treat him as an enemy but warn him as a brother” (II Thess. 3:14-15) or “do not allow such a one in your house.” (II John 9-11)

The general context
“Shunning” is the last step in a whole process that believers who are guided by the Spirit use in rebuking or correcting a believer who is involved in continual, unrepentant sin (Matt. 18: 15-17). “Shunning” should never be done to unbelievers, nor should the process even be begun by those who are unspiritual, or by those who are unrepentant of their own sins (Matt. 7:1-6; Gal. 6:1; I Cor. 5:12-13).

The Process of Judgment
1. Privately confront a believer in sin with gentleness. (Matt. 18:15-17; Gal. 6:1-2; Luke 17:2; James 5:19-20)

2. If the believer repents of his sin, then he is to be forgiven and the sin is wiped away. (Matt. 18:21-35; Luke 17:2-3)

3. If the believer in sin does not repent, speak to one or two other believers who are guided by the Spirit, and make sure the one confronting is doing so righteously. (Matt. 18:15-17; Gal. 6:1-2)

4. If the confronter is righteous in his judgment, then he or she takes the one or two believers along to confront the sinning believer, to witness either his or her repentance or lack of repentance. (Matt. 18:15-17)

5. If the sinning believer has not repented, the matter is to be brought to the church, who encourages the brother to repent.

6. If he still does not repent, then the sinning, unrepentant believer is to be treated as a “gentile and a tax-collector.” This is shunning—the final step in a process of confronting an unrepentant believer.

What does it mean to treat someone “as a gentile and a tax-collector”?
While Jesus treated those who were tax collectors and gentiles well, the typical Jewish pattern was to not eat with such a one, enter into their homes or to fellowship with them in any way. The rest of the NT seems to support the idea that when Jesus was speaking about treating the unrepentant as a tax-collector, it is to treat them as a normal Jew would treat such a one—not how Jesus did specifically.

Inside v. Outside
There is one thing we need to remember in this whole discussion: Biblically, there is a clear distinction made between those who are “inside” and those who are “outside” (See I Cor. 5:11-13). In Jesus’ day, he counted the religious Jews to be “inside” at that point, but that they would unpleasantly find themselves “outside” on the last day. While, on the other hand, those currently considered “outside” would in the end be “inside,” due to their repentance (See Matt. 21:23-43). But even though Jesus turned the definitions topsy-turvy, the distinction between those in the kingdom of God and those outside of it remained.

Even so, the church in the first century continued to understand that those inside the church were those who would inherit the kingdom of God. These are not “church attenders”, but “church fellowshipers” (so to speak). These fellowshipers are those who share in the church—do the work as well as reap the rewards of the church, those who participate in it. Those who are in the sidelines of the church aren’t necessarily among the fellowshipers (See James 2:2-7 and 5:1-6 for a description of the “rich” who seem to be attending the church and yet still not a part of it).

To eat with someone in the first century is to share some close association with them—a camaraderie. To “allow into the house” in II John probably means to invite them to attend (and possibly teach in) a church service. It is also possible that if a believer refuses to accept the church’s discipline or mandates, they will not receive the social services the church offers (I Tim. 5:11-14; II Thess. 3:10-11).

And those among the “fellowshipers” are those who continually repent of their sin. They may repent seven times in a day (Luke 17:3), but confess their sins, seeking to revoke them. Those who do not forsake their sin, especially when confronted by a loving brother or sister in the Lord, do not belong to be a part of the fellowship. To fellowship with God—to remain repentant before Him—is to share in the church; to not remain confessed, “walking in the light” is to not share in the Lord, and thus to not share in the church (I John 1:3-9).

And so it is necessary to cease fellowship with those who call themselves brothers—an “insider”—but are unrepentant in their sin, thus looking like an “outsider”.

So how far do we take this?
On the one hand, there needs to be a clear break with those who are unrepentant believers (or false teachers, such as in II John 9-11). There cannot be the fellowship/sharing as there would be for a normal believer. I believe that we can biblically support the following separations:
• No social help except that which is offered to anyone who walks in off the street.
• Not allowing participation in the Lord’s supper.
• No camaraderie or intense friendships.
• No inviting to fellowship meals or event specifically geared toward “believers only”.
• In severe cases, such as false teaching, not allowing to attend a service.
On the other hand, Paul says that a brother under discipline shouldn’t be treated as an enemy, but warned as a brother (II Thess. 3:14-15). I take this to mean that we shouldn’t treat such a one with hatred, but to remind them that this treatment is only temporary until their repentance. We ask, even plead for their repentance in order to save their souls from death (James 5:19-20).

And this is the other main point. Shunning is only temporary until repentance, which is the goal of the whole process. If we continue to separate from fellowship after repentance has taken place, then the Lord has some severe words to say to us (Matt. 6:14-15). The final step, we pray, in any process of discipline, is forgiveness and full acceptance of the believer back into the fellowship of God and the brethren.

Types of Christianity

Jewish Christianity
Determining that Christianity is best represented by the race or culture of Judaism. Salvation is found by being joined with the Israel of God.
Examples: Ebonites, Nazarenes, Messianic Judaism
Positive points: Jesus was Jewish and expressed his teaching and lived his life in a Jewish context. An understanding of that context is necessary to understand Jesus.
Critique: Jesus, although a Jew, can be expressed just as well in a non-Jewish setting. Also, modern Judaism is far removed from the various Judaisms of Jesus’ day, both culturally and in their values.

Nicean Christianity
"Christianity is best expressed by the earliest creeds—especially the Nicean and Apostolic. Salvation is found through faithfulness to the foundational truths about God and Jesus."
Examples: Christian Research Institute, as well as many other cross-Christian parachurches.
Positive points: The early creeds were and are well used to protect the Church against false teachers. These creeds express some important basic points of belief in all Christian beliefs.
Critique: Jesus expected not only to be believed in, but obeyed. The Spirit of God does more than the creed-based churches give him credit for. Some aspects of the creeds go beyond Scripture, but they are still expected to be the basis of salvation.

Byzantine Christianity
"Christianity is best expressed by the various Eastern Churches, which date themselves to the beginning of the Jerusalem church. Liturgical worship, Trinitarian theology and the writings of the church fathers are emphasized. Salvation is found through joining and remaining faithful to the Orthodox church."
Examples: Eastern Orthodox churches—Antiocian, Syrian, Greek, Russian Orthodox.
Positive points: The simplicity of worship and understanding is welcome to everyone, no matter what economic or education level. Their focus on human sinfulness and the necessity of humility is essential to Jesus’ teaching.
Critique: The Byzantine churches were influenced by cultural changes and Platonism long after the apostolic period. They best represent the Eastern church of the 8th century, not the church Jesus began.

Roman Christianity
"Christianity is best expressed by the traditions held by the Roman church, including honor and obedience to the Roman pontiff. Usually includes some form of honor and exaltation of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Salvation is found by joining and remaining faithful to the Roman Church."
Examples: The only example is the Roman Catholic Church—but that’s enough!
Positive points: The Roman Church has remained flexible enough in recent years to welcome many who want to “just follow Jesus.” The leadership of the Roman Church has exercised enormous humility in repenting from evil actions of the past.
Critique: The Roman Church’s tradition has strayed from focusing simply on Jesus’ teaching, to also welcoming various doctrines concerning Mary, the pontiff, the apostolic succession, liberation theology and other non-Biblical traditions.

Evangelical Christianity (Three types)
Christianity is best expressed by the attempts to find an apostolic tradition by emphasizing salvation by faith and grace alone, and each person’s obedience understanding and obedience of Scripture. Rooted in a religious reformation begun in 1519 by Martin Luther.

a. Lutheran Christianity
"Christianity is best expressed by retaining all Roman traditions except those that directly oppose a Lutheran interpretation of Scripture. Salvation is found in faith in Christ."
Examples: Lutherans, Anglicans, Episcopalians
Positive points: Simplicity in gospel message.
Critique: Not warning their congregations against greed and other sins that would keep them from God’s kingdom. Too much emphasis on the personal nature of religion, and so neglecting the necessity to evangelize or to be bold in one's faith.

b. Calvinist Christianity
"Christianity is best expressed by emphasizing a Calvinist interpretation of theology, especially predestination and God’s complete control over all events in the universe. Salvation is found by the choice of God, demonstrated by faith in Christ."
Examples: Presbyterians, Reformed
Positive points: Strong organization and emphasis on Christian education.
Critique: Having human theology, not the Bible, as the basis of their salvation. Teaching that obedience is responsibility, not mercy.

c. Anti-nomian Christianity
"Christianity is best expressed by faith in Jesus, with no manner of obedience to God being necessary (except perhaps a few cultural mandates, such as gainful employment and heterosexual impulses). Salvation is found through confessing Jesus as Savior alone."
Examples: Dallas Seminary, Campus Crusade for Christ. Anti-nomian sects existed before evangelicalism, but after the Reformation, almost all anti-nomian sects joined with evangelicalism.
Positive points: Simple, easily accepted presentation of some important points about Jesus. Good focus on evangelism.
Critique: Not actually teaching the gospel of Jesus. Jesus is salvation to those who obey him as well as those who believe some doctrinal points.

Heterodox Christianity
"Christianity is best expressed by an interpretation of Scripture other than the accepted, Orthodox position. Salvation is found by believing the non-Orthodox teaching."
Examples: Arians, Unitarians
Positive points: The Orthodox presentation of Christianity is weak at points when looking at the Scripture, especially in their philosophical explanations of the trinity and the nature of Jesus.
Critique: Just taking an alternative view from the Orthodox does not make one any more Scriptural. Sometimes the Scripture does not answer the questions we want to ask, and so we must limit ourselves to that.

Philosophical Christianity
"Christianity is best expressed by a human philosophical construct, such as Marxism or human reason, which is used to tie together all understanding about God and the spirit world found in the Bible."
Examples: Aquinan Theology, Marxist theology, Liberal theology. Jeffersonianism, most academia.
Positive points: Jesus does communicate to the various philosophical viewpoints, and philosophy often is a needed critique of various Christian positions.
Critique: Ultimately, these positions replace Jesus with human reason or a philosopher. Many of these also deny any real spirit world, which Jesus proclaimed as being very real, and effecting humanity.

American Christianity
"Christianity is best expressed by God’s recent focus is on the United States, which is chosen by God to represent his kingdom. Whatever failings that are in the United States—as determined by certain central values (such as heterosexuality and a pro-family focus)—will need to be corrected and then the United States will be blessed by God. Salvation is found by supporting and reviving the chosen nation."
Examples: Revival churches; Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, some Southern Baptist
Positive points: Certainly high divorce statistics, general acceptance of homosexuality and sexual immorality in general are indications of moral decay.
Critique: Causing those who sin to lose their rights or to be considered sub-human is not loving in Jesus’ teaching. Also, the United States cannot be a Christian nation, for there is and only will be one—the Kingdom of God.

Christendom Christianity
"Christianity is best expressed by the rule of an authoritative, Christian nation. Salvation is found through belonging to and being faithful to the Christian nation."
Examples: Some Greek Orthodox, some Roman Catholic, some American Christians.
Positive points: Attempt to improve morality in a nation.
Critique: Jesus is the only king of God and the kingdom of God is God’s only nation. True Christendom can only be found when Jesus returns to earth to rule himself. Everything else is just a sham, and the wars they declare are in opposition to Jesus’ law to love one’s enemy.

Pentecostal Christianity
"Christianity is best expressed by those who have faith in Christ and who display their baptism in God’s Spirit by speaking in tongues."
Examples: Assemblies of God, Foursquare, Youth With a Mission
Positive points: Good emphasis on Jesus, obedience and guidance by the Spirit.
Critique: Too much focus on tongues as being “the” gift. As Paul says, there are various gifts, and not everyone who is guided by the Spirit has the same gift.

Prophetic Christianity
"Christianity is best expressed by a modern prophet whom God has chosen to interpret the Scriptures, or to give a new Scripture. The prophetic witness determines what is significant to believe and obey. Salvation is found by obeying the prophetic witness."
Examples: Mormons, Christian Science, Jehovah’s Witness, Shakers, Seventh-Day Adventist (which is not a cult), some Charismatic.
Positive points: They are all attempting to speak the gospel anew in a new place and time.
Critique: Jesus as interpreter of the Scripture is replaced by a prophet. Jesus alone is our salvation, and no prophet can replace him, for there is no other teacher that has been risen from the dead.

Pluralistic Christianity
"Christianity is best expressed by a Spirit that communicates differently to different individuals and peoples. There are multiple ways to gain God’s favor, and Jesus is only one of them."
Examples: Conversations with God, Buddhist interpretations of Christianity, Bahaism.
Positive points: Emphasizes love for all people, no matter who they are.
Critique: The various religious authorities of the world contradict each other. Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, Krishna and others cannot all be right, nor can they all be obeyed. Most of the teachers also require exclusive faithfulness. To accept them all is to accept none of them.

Peace Christianity
"Christianity is best expressed by a moral position that includes: no violence, mutual aid, and simple living. Salvation is found in believing and obeying a peaceful interpretation of Jesus."
Examples: Mennonites, Quakers.
Positive points: Faithfulness to Jesus includes both commitment to him and obedience. Those who obey these moral positions will be living something very akin to the Christian life.
Critique: Violence in and of itself is not wrong, for God can, and does use it. Jesus’ teaching itself needs to be emphasized, not a politicized interpretation of it. A way of life is not, in an of itself, following Jesus—evangelism and endurance through suffering are also necessary to obey Jesus.

Holiness Christianity
"Christianity is best expressed by communities that have at its head those who have reached a state of “perfection”, where sin isn’t a concern for them any more."
Examples: Wesleyan church, Holiness churches.
Positive points: The Scriptures emphasize that their people need to be holy, pure of sin.
Critique: Those who think that they have no need to repent anymore are arrogant, and no longer listen to the Spirit who convicts the world of sin. The leadership of Jesus are humble enough to admit their sins and mistakes and to confess them and have them forgiven.

What is the Truest Christianity?

Jesus Christianity:
Christianity is best expressed by communities that are committed to Jesus as their only leader and teacher. They are willing to sacrifice themselves for Jesus, no matter what the cost to their relationships, finances or lives. They listen to the Spirit and are guided by him through visions, dreams, gifts and Bible interpretation to be like Jesus in all their ways. They hold allegiance to no nation or denomination, but honor God the Father above all, are fully committed to Jesus and live by the Spirit in all their lives. They are bold in their faith, loving all people, doing no one any harm, welcoming all, especially the needy and those seeking the Lord.

Communities like this can exist in almost any of the groups above, but they are often considered to be “strange”. These communities can never be accepted by the world, and ultimately—at one point or another—they will be rejected by the Christianities that care more for their traditions than for Jesus. But even in this, they are like the Lord.