Dissecting Church Bylaws: Conduct of Members

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small__3451232619When my lawsuit went viral, quite a few people took it upon themselves to look up the name of my church on the internet.  They found and read the church by-laws.   A number of them questioned why we would even attend such a church because they could tell something was clearly off by what they had read.  Now, looking at it, I can see it, too

Someone recently sent me a link to a church constitution.  Beneath the subsection of Membership, I copied the “Conduct of Members” section to discuss here.

Many people have no idea what to look for in a good church or what would stand out as red  warning flags.  Let’s go through this portion of the church document together.  Would you go to this church?  Why or why not?   I have removed Section “c.” on tithing because I would like to cover that issue separately.

(I have changed the real identity of this church to “Grace Church.”)

4. Conduct of Members
            a. Each member is required to punctually attend all stated meetings of the church unless providentially hindered.  The stated meetings of the church are all those on the Lord’s Day – morning service, second hour prayer service and evening service – and other special meetings in which the whole church is called upon to gather as the elder(s) deem necessary (Ex. 20:8-11; Isa. 58:13, 14;  Heb. 10:24, 25). As resources allow, Sunday School classes, taught by qualified Grace Church members, may be held during the second hour prayer service, under the indirect supervision of the elder(s).

            b. Each member is to make disciplined use of the means of grace. This includes regular reading of the Bible, prayer both privately and with their families, corporate worship, fellowship with the saints, the Lord’s Supper, and evangelism

            d. It is the duty of each member to conduct themselves according to the precepts of the Word of God so that the name of Christ and the church be not justly criticized by those without.  This behavior extends to family government: the husband ruling over his household with gentleness (Eph. 5:25; 1 Tim. 3:4, 5; 1 Pet. 3:7), the wife being in respectful  subjection to her husband    (Eph. 5:22-24; 1 Pet. 3:1-6), and children obeying their parents as the parents exercise watchful care and discipline (Ex. 20:12).

            e. Members are to guard themselves from unbiblical alliances which hinder the faith, the doctrine, the work of the gospel, and the reputation of Grace Church (2 Cor. 6:14-18).

            f. Each member is to endeavor to be useful in the extension of God’s Kingdom to the full measure of his peculiar gifts and calling (Isa. 54: 1-3;    Matt. 28:19; Acts 1:8).

            g. In covenanting together, it is the duty of each member to seek the welfare of all other members: to cultivate their acquaintance (Eph. 4:25;  1 Cor. 12:26); to pray for them and their children; to be responsive to their practical necessities (Gal. 6:10; James 2:14-16; 1 John 3:16-18); and to refrain from all gossip, murmuring, and evil speaking (Prov. 11:13; Matt. 18:15;  1 Thess. 5:14, 15; Heb. 3:12, 13; 10:24, 25).

            h. All members of this church are expected to recognize and submit to the authority of its elder(s) and deacon(s) in their respective spheres of responsibility (1 Cor. 16:15, 16; 1 Thess. 5:12, 13; 1 Tim. 5:19; Heb. 13:17).

          i. The elder(s) may call for an advisory vote at their discretion. When advisory votes are called for, all members may vote.

            j. For reasons of providence, members may be excused from membership, but only at the discretion of the elder(s)

            k. Finally, members shall keep in strict confidence those matters which concern the private business of the church. Officers may exercise discretion in seeking and giving godly counsel inside or outside Grace Church.

photo credit: (aka Brent) via photopin cc

66 thoughts on “Dissecting Church Bylaws: Conduct of Members”

  1. To me, the above laws look written first and then proof-texted. I’m going to dig o it the constitution of our old church. I should send you a copy of my circumstances, are you interested?

    This week we declined membership in our current church because of this phrase in the bylaws:
    15. Family relationships- We believe that God has ordained the family as the foundational institution of human society. We believe that men and women re spiritually equal in position before God but that God has ordained distinct and separate spiritual functions for mean and women int the home and the church. Men are to be the leaders in the home and church and accordingly only eligible for licensure and ordination by the church.
    No one I know in real life agrees with me, but I need to stand on principle. Although it won’t make a difference to anyone but me and God. And of course, you guys!


  2. In the world system relationships are organized on the basis of authority enforced by coercive power. In Christ, relationships are organized around the power of love, which does not insist on it’s own way. 1 Cor. 13:5. The by-laws in your article attempt to impose a false view of Godly relationships using the world’s principles of authority, which must ultimately be enforced by coercive power. I would be surprised if church members are not subjected to coercive tactics such as shaming and shunning. Manipulative proof texts notwithstanding, these by-laws exude a particularly totalitarian stench. Assuming “church” life is in fact conducted according to the principles set forth in the by-laws, and you can know it is, add one more principality to the kingdom of the cults.


  3. I must have missed the part about loving God and loving each other….. Eh maybe not important enough to show up in this important list…


  4. I see nothing but legalism, an attempt to force members to follow this churches own twist on on biblical commands (though I don’t see much in the way of biblical commands in there in the first place), authoritarian power in the hands of the church leaders, and attempt to control the environment and type of information that the members get from the outside. Sounds like religious mind-reform to me. Reminds of me Dr. Lifton’s 8-point model of thought reform. I’d say run from this church.


  5. Seth: I only included one part of the “Membership” section. I did, however, look for the word “love” in the other sections and it is not there. I do see the word “commitment” to God and church, etc. The word “love” does not seem to be part of the membership agreement.


  6. JA-

    Without a drastic change in heart by the leadership, the only place from there to go is down. So sad.


  7. I like (not) item J myself. I guess this means that if you want to leave, they will not remove you from their roles or stop being in authority over you unless the elders agree that you are leaving for a *good* reason. I’m guessing that if you want to leave due to doctrinal disagreement or some kind of mistreatment, they probably won’t agree to excuse you from membership. I have seen that happen at churches near me. So then when you go to another church and want to join, the elders at the old church make an issue with your new chuch leadership letting them know that you are not a member in good standing. I have a big problem with the whole “transferrence of membership” deal that even “normal” churches practice anyway. Seems rather controlling.


  8. Lisa – – I wonder how they determine “for reasons of providence?” How does that play out? This is not a charismatic church, btw.


  9. Lisa, JA,

    That thought had crossed my mind as well. I was attending a church prior to getting married. After getting married, my wife and I decided to find a new church. Although the church was a decent fit for “me” at the time, it wasn’t a good fit for “us.” Somehow, I doubt this church would accept that as a good reason to leave. Why should a church get to tell you where you go to church?


  10. It amazes me some of the lengths to which some congregations will go to exert power over their “members.” They should really be calling their members “subjects” or “serfs.” I just checked out the website for the church in which I grew up, and they now require people to fill out an application and be interviewed for their duty assignments. Of course, this church, and many of the sectarian congregations in the Church of Christ denomination give, and expect to receive, letters of recommendation to people who are moving to different places. Of course, few of them would even consider me to be a “real” Christian these days, as I now attend a congregation of what I once heard referred to as “liberal schismatics”, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

    So, to answer the question, no, I would never be a member at a church with such a set of rules, and would quit visiting once I found out about such spiritually and intellectually oppressive rules.

    “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…” Until a spiritually sick congregation puts the shackles of legalism back on your leg.


  11. I always find it curious when a church leadership tries to coerce people into attending church every time the doors are open. I like it much better when the leadership focuses on doing their job and treats
    the members like adults who can make their own decisions.


  12. Katie – We’d have been banned within the first month due to my daughter’s sports schedule. Well, since it was only my daughter and me gone, I wonder if they would allow the rest of the family to attend or do they view the whole family as one unit? hmmm


  13. These by-laws indicate we would have to get to know everyone in the church and pray for everyone. Okay, but I’m gonna need more hours in my day and days in my week. That’s just not practical.

    I have to say that I snuck off to a liturgical service yesterday. What we noticed this time was that there seems to be a lack of guilt (the kind that says do more, more, more… and a noticeable focus on celebrating Jesus Christ! There was a palatable difference in this area. There was much more of an impression at this particular church of the leaders being servants and the people being accepted where they were on their journey of faith.


  14. JulieAnne, that’s an interesting point. Can part of the family attend if not all can come? To even have to ask this questions is silly.

    Trying to control what people say about your church is also a waste of time and effort. One simply has not ability to control that. One’s time and efforts are better spent on just doing what’s right instead of trying to control the narrative about it.

    Where do we see Jesus controlling his disciples like this? or any example of this of any sort in scripture?


  15. Ha! Many in our church that I know are appreciative that people take the time and effort to open their eyes to what else exists within the pale of orthodoxy. I’ll be able to tell them about it next week in Sunday School class. It’s also a class that has existed for decades and they watch people come and go for missions, for local outreaches, to help new churches, or whatever. They don’t fear that we won’t be dedicated enough or of what we will say about them. They seem to just focus on what they need to do and are happy to be interrelated with one another.

    I like them. I like the class. I like to go back. I also like to peek outside to get fresh perspectives. I also see negative evangelical/cultural issues the creep in as the church ebbs and flows throughout the years. Nothing’s perfect, but some things are way healthier than others. 😉 Some things are so bad they truly should be avoided.


  16. JA-

    Just read your tweet reply. I must say, that response deserves an, “oh snap.” So here you go….



  17. JA-that is indeed a great answer. Unfortunately, I find myself asking this about everyone and everything. Is there no one and nothing to trust? This goes to the heart of my problems with the concept of spiritual authority.


  18. Yes, VelvetVoice there are those whom you can trust but they are few and far between. I still struggle with the trust issue from time to time after coming out of a church with horrible spiritual abuse and damanding spiritual authority. God is also with you at the heart of all your problems and he will show you the way. He will send your way those who you can trust and by God’s wonderful Grace you will from your heart trust again. praying for you, Jamie


  19. Hi Julie Anne! Well, obviously the gulag-procedures at your old church seem pretty controlling, and overly-detailed (to me, anyway). The issue is important, and very relevant: What are the expected behaviors, commitments, and social contracts that those who are considered members should agree to, in order to effectively communicate their ongoing commitment to membership in that community? Every group has some sort of contract, really and broadly speaking. To join a bowling league, you’ve got to agree to some rules, such as weekly payments, behavior at the lanes, attendance, keeping bowling rules and etiquette, etc. There are rules observed if one wants to join an academic institution, such as grade maintenance, attendance of classes, payment of tuition, etc. Heck, there are even rules for riding on a streetcar–“Must have valid ticket,” “This sections is reserved for those with disabilities,” etc! The distinctions that Paul makes between those who are members of the churches, and those who are not (“outsiders,” or, “the rest” cf. Col 4:5, 1 Thess 4:13ff), are often tied to behavioral commandments. Yes, there is a vast difference between apostolic, biblical command and the rules made by a little FT in a church today, but nonetheless–both present the expectation that there are rules to be followed that go along with membership.
    In my experience, the pendulum swing of leaving the rule/shame/control-based group I was in led to a type of moral anarchy: a disdain and rejection of all rules of behavior imposed by any church, and I sense that I am not alone in that response to an abusive church past. That was expected–most people leaving abusive churches do not join other abusive churches, if they attend church at all! But is is a big deal to the kids: when they grow up in a system of obeying rules that are arbitrary, hurtful, and robbing of personal value and creativity–they often enter into the culture with a disdain for all rules, all authority and all leaders. Add to that the experience of not being protected from bad leaders and their bad rules by their parents, and you’ve got a real horrible situation. I’ve seen more than a few get themselves into some difficult and painful situations, because of this desire for unfettered living–no demands made, not social contracts, etc, as an expected response to haveing been betrayed by a place that promised that keeping the rules really made God, their parents, their pastors, etc.–happy.
    I sense a number of postings in spiritual abuse ministry sites and blogs that suggest to me that part of the healing and recovery process involves having to decide, “What ARE the rules I will agree to follow, along with the expectations that I expect others in this church (esp. its leaders) to follow?”
    So, at the end of the day, I think we do need a good, biblical, loving structure of covenant/rules/agreement, etc., to adhere to in our churches. The questions is, what should that structure include, and how does it go over the line in its demands on its members? Interested to hear what you think… I’ll send you our church’s covenant of membership, to. You can post if you like–but I don’t think its anything too surprising or earth-shattering!
    Another long one–maybe I should tape a couple of fingers together so I don’t type so much. 🙂


  20. Ken,

    In a sense, I think you are right. There often are rules, sometimes unspoken rules, in which would end up excluding somebody from membership within a local church body. I would say there is a difference between that and the kind of bylaws that are mentioned in this blog post. The ones mentioned in this blog post are arbitrary. They are not an admonishment for people to live morally, but rather they are written in such a way to control the members behavior. Definitely a difference in admonishing behavior and controling it.


  21. JA, if you don’t mind my asking — why DID you join the church after reading these by-laws? Or were they not made clear?

    Just curious. My tendency is to over-react with those kinds of requirements, rather than under-react. Doesn’t make me a lot of friends in certain groups, but maybe that’s a good thing? 🙂


  22. VV– maybe looking for “spiritual authority” is part of the problem. Is there a really a need for any and all believers, in this day and age, to have someone “in authority” over them? Spiritual influence, spiritual pastoring, yes, but I’ve always had a hard time with the idea that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit aren’t powerful enough to influence me all by themselves, without the help of some man-made construct of “authority.”

    Another question: should membership requirements of our cultural institutions be the model for membership in God’s Church?


  23. Ken,

    While I would agree that there must be certain behavioral expectations in any relationship, I am having difficulty accepting the propriety of formalizing those expectations in by-laws, covenants, contracts or other such forms. It seems that, even outside immediate family, Christian fellowship should be more like marriage, in which the behavioral expectations are high, although they are seldom worked out in written form. In those instances in which there is a marriage contract, it has been my observation as a lawyer that the marriage is typically on the rocks from the very start. It seems to me that where Christian fellowship outside the family setting is concerned, the Bible is all we should need to establish the behavioral expectations.

    Of even greater concern to me is the question how behavioral expectations are to be founded and enforced. The world’s rules are founded on authority and enforced by coercive power. My contention is that behavioral expectations between Christians, both inside and outside the family setting, are to be founded on love, with the enforcement mechanism being only mutual respect and submission.

    I recognize that many practical problems will arise in love based relationships, but the same is obviously true in authority based relationships. Surely love can replace authority with love without a descent into anarchy.



  24. OIC. My comments are too long–I wouldn’t read them if I didn’t write them. I’ve constructed a new term: “longworded” You’ve heard of “longwinded”. I’m longworded. In a sentence: “Harold, normally a longworded man, was simply wordless, and sat staring at the blank screen in front of him, his normally industrious fingers slackened, as if confused and awaiting orders that weren’t coming.”


  25. Ken – – I’m trying to find that balance. I feel very sorry for my poor pastor who knows that I wrote a negative Google review about my old church. I think I may have mentioned in a comment recently that we just received a generic letter from the church asking if we’d like to become a member. I threw it out. I just cannot emotionally “go there” at this time.

    I volunteer daily at the local high school as accompanist. When the teacher is absent (he’s been gone quite a bit due to an ongoing illness), I take over the class and you better believe I have rules. The kids respond much better when there are rules.

    I get concerned about the huge pendulum swing that often happens as a responsive reaction. Somewhere, there has got to be a healthy balance. That’s what I’d like to find.

    Readers: Let me know if you’d like me to post Ken’s covenant of membership. I know I want to read it – especially because Ken has experienced a pretty horrific abuse situation and now is a pastor with a keen understanding of abuse and a heart of compassion for the abused.


  26. Ken, You are cracking me up. Please do NOT stop your longworded comments. I like them and devour every word. And if I ever think you talk too much, I know where to find you 😉


  27. Please put me down as one who is interested in seeing Ken’s covenant of membership, whether or not it’s longworded. And, btw, what a great word, longworded. I, too, plead guilty.


  28. JA-I would definitely be interested in reading other covenants. Would like to know how other churches are handling my issues.

    Final Anonymous- I have problems with authority of any kind, it’s practically a family legacy! I sometimes wonder if its me being disagreeable or that there really is an issue. I wish I had people in real life to support me on this but unfortunately I don’t. I have to be careful that my abrasive communication style doesn’t ruin the message.


  29. Final Anonymous: You asked why we joined. Just to be clear, we never were members at that church (ie, never went through a formal membership process).

    We started attending that church with several other families who left another church at the same time (not a good idea, btw). One of the reasons we left the one church and started attending BGBC was due to evangelism (one did it the “right” way, the other did not, according to some in our group). I followed along with the group. Evangelism was not a key issue for me. I am not sure if my husband actually read the by-laws. But I know he had talks with the pastor and the other men did as well. So perhaps there was an unspoken pressure to attend because our friends were attending, too, and we wanted to fellowship with them.

    But the bottom line is this. We were love-bombed. The pastor knew what this group was looking for. When we started attended, he began a brand new series on evangelism. Hmm. Coincidence? Our group was also very interested in the Emergent movement. Hmm, funny thing happened – he started doing Wed. night teachings on key people in the Emergent movement. We were love bombed – he said what our group wanted to hear and who leaves a place where the pastor is preaching what you want to hear?


  30. I would imagine that most people never even think about looking over the by-laws until after they’ve gone through difficulties in a church. I read them for fun now.


  31. greatly appreciated Gary W’s comments. .

    Personally, I believe the ugly heart of the matter is found in Final Anonymous’ echoing of VelvetVoice’s problem with “the concept of spiritual authority.”

    FA asks, Is there any need for Spirit-filled believers to have someone other than God in spiritual authority over them?

    My answer is NO. Has never been so for me and I don’t see it being so in Scripture. Any shepherding / overseeing idea that assumes to have “spiritual authority over” other believers is FALSE and ungodly. Does anyone else read the Bible differently than this?

    I submit directly to Christ and His will for my life as revealed by the leading of the Spirit and His illumination of my path by his Word and through the counsel and affirmation of a wise and loving Christian community. The only place I see in Scripture were Christ gives us authority over something is in connection with serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy.

    This is my present project: to come to a proper Scriptural understanding of the true nature and scope of spiritual authority.

    I believe the righteous wield awesome spiritual authority—but it’s certainly not over each other!


  32. I agree completely with Monax!

    I do see that when we have certain issues involving the Body that we can’t resolve, we are to take them to the leaders of the church and abide by the decision, so long as the decision is made righteously. That is to keep us out of the courts.

    But the whole notion of someone having a spiritual authority over me to tell me what to do, is bogus.

    Someone brought up trust. I think we need several words for trust, just like we need for love. We can trust people at a basic level and still keep an eye on them. For some of us, we need to keep a more vigilant eye for our peace of mind after what we’ve been through, just like someone might be more vigilant in locking their doors than I would if they’d been robbed.

    I never have to just trust that some leader has God’s answer for me. I have direct access to the Father. Sure, I can be wrong in what I think God is saying, but when others speak I only need take it as a suggestion to consider. Sometimes those “suggestions” are powerful and ring with truth, while others … not so much. Now, if 10 people tell me I’m a horses patute, then I might be wise to seriously consider buying a saddle.


  33. Ken sent me his church covenant and here it is:

    Article III


    The Lord Jesus commanded His followers…

    A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35

    Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Matthew 28:19-20

    …but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria,and even to the remotest part of the earth. Acts 1:8

    …therefore Grace Bible Church shall endeavor to be a church marked by sacrificial, genuine love among its members and, under the divine empowerment of the Holy Spirit, shall encourage and train each member to participate in the ministry of Jesus Christ by sharing His gospel in both word and deed to every person possible, whenever possible, and wherever possible.



    Section 1 – Definition of Church Membership

    Church membership describes the relationship between an individual and the church in which the member voluntarily maintains a loyal, consistent relationship with the church, supporting and participating in its mission.

    Section 2 – Reception of New Members

    Members are received into the church when they have given satisfactory testimony of their faith in Christ Jesus as their Savior and have expressed a desire to become formally recognized members of Grace Bible Church.

    Section 3—Covenant of Membership

    As a member of Grace Bible Church, I will regularly attend its worship services; I will pursue spiritual growth through the disciplines of regular Bible reading and prayer; I will seek to apply Biblical truth to all areas of my life and all of my relationships; I will use my gifts and talents to serve the church; I will eagerly take advantage of opportunities to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with members of the community I live in; and I will be faithful and generous in the financial support of the church.


  34. Fwiw: at least two qualifying words for the sort of trust pastors and elders are to be invested with would include: accountability and transparency. .


  35. I really like this language from the church covenant Ken provided:

    . . . .therefore, Grace Bible Church shall endeavor to be a church marked by sacrificial, genuine love among its members and, under the divine empowerment of the Holy Spirit, shall encourage and train each member to participate in the ministry of Jesus Christ. . . .


  36. @ Gary W. Thank you for responding, Gary! I am in complete agreement with you, as you’ve expressed the conviction that our relationships in the church should be much more organic, much like a marriage relationship. No problem there, although, despite the desired nature of the marriage relationship, there are in fact law/rules, etc. that apply to it. There are legal definitions of the marriage relationship that determine how the larger culture will respond to it in such ares of legal process, taxation, tax filing, contracts, etc. My point is simply to say, there is a need for some sort of formalizing of the boundaries and expectations of relationship. Even my wife and I, when we were married, took specific vows that we do our best to keep, thirty years later. Those vows weren’t based on Spirit’s leading, personal feelings, wisdom, etc., but on an objective body of propositions that we both ascribed to: “I will love you, cherish you, care for you, ” etc.

    So, I think you’ve just got to have the same in a healthy church (speaking as a pastor of a church that I really want to be healthy!). For instance, say someone (such as monax has written, @1:45) decides to “submit directly to Christ” when he/she is leading the kids group one Sunday. Regardless of what he/she decides, should he/she be allowed to lead the kids group after rejecting the authority structures of the church, or letting them know that the Spirit would be in charge, not their “rules and regulations.” Should we trust her/him to do right? What if the Spirit has told that the background checks on all childcare workers required by church policy are “of man, and not of the Spirit,” so he/she tells the pastors to take a hike? No one would leave their kids with that person–because that person has rejected the community’s formal, written codes of behavior and participation.

    So, I’m with you part of the way, as I sense you are with me, Gary. I absolutely agree with you that “the Bible is all we should need to establish the behavioral expectations” and churches should never go beyond, or fall short, of those expectation. A church’s covenant of membership should really be that church’s most honest and clear statement of their understanding of what the Bible says about members–and should serve as an interpretive tool for that particular church in carrying out its biblical beliefs, I believe. Again, thanks for taking the time to respond!


  37. Thank God for live streaming church services on the internet. Anyone can see and listen to any number of sermons with absolutely no obligation to be a member.

    Last I recall we are all members of the church as soon as we are a Christian, no matter what church we go to.

    In regards to the membership rules regarding the financial obligation: Wait a minute on that one. That takes away that God loves a cheerful giver, giving from the heart, not by mandate. Are we mandated to be cheerful now?

    We don’t have to pay a membership fee, as one does to enter a bowling league, or the Moose Lodge. Where are the mandatory Sunday afternoon, or Wednesday meetings that the Apostle Paul talked about? Or did he talk about that? Maybe I have the wrong Bible. Which version do I find this in, anyone?

    We need to be trained on how to Go “Ye” therefore and spread the gospel? Trained? When one is trained, it is no longer a heart issue.

    By the way, if one does attend a bondage contract church, how long can one attend without becoming a member before someone shows him/her the door?

    Now, I know that probably all church’s have rules and regs such as this, but I think it’s not what the Apostle Paul had in mind. It’s over the top.

    The ONLY Rule should be:
    1. Are you a Christian?
    a. If yes, WELCOME
    b. If no, WELCOME, WE HOPE YOU ENJOY YOUR VISIT. Please Come Again.

    I think it is a no-brainer what the mission of any church is. I think it is a no-brainer that the plate will be passed. I think it is a no-brainer that church is on Sunday.

    What more do we really need? Mandatory prayer meetings? No. Mandatory Bible studies? No. Mandatory fellowship days, i.e. “There will be a mandatory Pot Luck at the Jone’s place on Friday night, and you are expected to be there”? Nope. Anything mandatory does not change the heart.



  38. Herman Bavinck: The only standard by which the church can be judged is Scripture itself. The true church really has only one mark: the Word of God, which is variously administered and confessed in preaching, instruction, confession, sacrament, and life. The Word and the Word alone is truly the soul of the church.

    According to the authoritative standard of Scripture there is only one imperative given concerning our “gathering together” in community and that is: “Do not forsake [it]” (Hebrews 10:25).

    . .

    Pastor Ken, are you reading me (@1:45) as suggesting that I believe their shouldn’t be a structure of authority within the organized church? Because I certainly believe there should be. The structure and Spirit of every Church must be Biblical. And it’s the task of qualified elders to assure that the teachers and ministers they oversee uphold sound doctrine and Spirit. Nevertheless—and this was my point—their overseeing stewardship does NOT entail having any mediating “spiritual authority over” another. “For there is only one mediator between God and man—Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5).

    When I said “I submit directly to Christ” do not take this to mean that I would actively minister in a church while at the same time “rejecting the authority structures of th[at] church.” When we submit to Christ and to His Word we place ourselves in a posture of humility and submission in our service to others. And pastors and elders—above everyone else—should be tasked with modeling what it’s like to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21).


  39. Ken,

    Yes, no argument with your observation that, “There are legal definitions of the marriage relationship that determine how the larger culture will respond to it in such areas of legal process, taxation, tax filing, contracts, etc.” I also agree that such laws are of necessity imposed on the basis of authority as opposed to love. Still, I submit that it is important to note that all of this touches on the interaction between the marriage and the external culture, as opposed to the behavioral expectations developed between the marriage partners themselves.

    The Christian husband and wife are sill left, ideally, to work out their marriage, including behavioral expectations, on the basis of love as opposed to authority. Where a couple adopts mutual expectations, as you describe in relation to your marriage, there is no necessity of coercive enforcement mechanisms. Ideally, rather, those expectations are worked out in mutual respect and submission. To the extent coercive tactics are attempted (such as to obtain compliance with the coercive party’s wishes), or necessarily resorted to (such as by invoking the law, or even using a weapon, to protect against assaultive behavior), there is a failure of love—and not necessarily on the part of the coercing party.

    Perhaps this analysis also works in relation to the life of the church. In your example of the renegade Sunday school teacher, there has been a failure of love. The would-be Sunday school teacher is not doing his or her part in the rendering of mutual respect and submission. Were church leadership not to intervene, they would actually be failing love’s call to protect the church’s children.

    Authority based relationships, such as seem to be indicated in the by-laws set forth in Julie Anne’s article, will always be coercive. Love based relationships will be non-coercive, excepting only where there is a failure of love—in which instance, of course, the relationship isn’t actually love based.


  40. @monax: Thank you for clarifying, and please forgive me for using your statement without qualification. I think we all know there must be some degree of structure–someone must be driving the bus–if we are to accomplish much! Thank you for correcting me on that!
    @Gary: Agreed, all the way. It seems the wisest secular laws regarding marriage (to use that analogy) are the ones that freely admit that they are unable to enforce the true, most foundational “law,” that of both parties genuinely loving one another! Come to think of it (back to church abuse), I don’t think I’ve heard, heard of, or read of an abusive religious leader who did not define his/her abuse as actually being “loving” behavior. Common for such wolves to convince their followers that it was they, and not the leader, who held a defective view of love, and that the leader’s definitions of it (and behavior) was the new, correct expression of it! Perhaps this is where the value of written codes of behavior and ethics might provide a last ditch opportunity to confront bad leadership–as long as they haven’t already changed the church constitution!


  41. Would I go to this church?

    Although I’m certain I would never sign anything in this church – or any other – I’ve come to realize that church by-laws are mostly meaningless. Let me explain.

    By-laws are something that a church is required to come up with as part of incorporating with the government. They are a legal technicality. If a church is a legalistic, authoritarian church, they will be that way regardless of what their by-laws say. And many churches simply write down their idealism in the form of by-laws. They don’t make it a practice to follow them anyway. Calling them on this will result in waffling or excuses, etc.

    I may attend “this” church for certain reason(s), but I would know that there may be a price to pay. That price may be worth what I’m going there for. But, in my ideal church situation, I would probably never attend such a place.


  42. Ken,

    I see a lot more love and encouragement in the church-member covenant that you provided compared to the one in the original article. In the article, the church says you must attend every function. In yours, it says you should attend regularly. What exactly “regularly” is is left up to the member. My wife and I attend our church regularly, but we certainly don’t make it every week for various reasons. In yours, there are no mandates other than to strive to serve Christ and use our God given gifts in the service of the church and others. The emphasis is more on love, rather than duty.

    Oh, and I hear you on the “longwordedness.” If you’ve read any of my comments, you are probably aware that I suffer from this affliction as well. It is actually something that has plagued me sense elementary school. I remember writing what were supposed to be simple book reports of children’s level books that were three pages long. I did this as 10 year old! And now I am being longworded yet again, so I will end this post….now


  43. JoeJoe – That is one thing that struck me about Ken when I met him in person – – regarding regularly attending church. He invited me to a picnic with people from his church. He told me how some people just are not able (sometimes because of spiritual abuse) to attend each week. To hear those words from a pastor’s mouth was new to me. The old tapes in my mind would have said, “Wait, aren’t you going to do something about that? They should be going to church each week.” But as soon as those words left Ken’s mouth, all I saw and heard was love and grace.

    So many pastors use church attendance in very legalistic ways.


  44. The church should be the beginning of what we experience in heaven. People coming together to learn about and worship the one true God. I don’t expect to have to read a bunch of by-laws and rules and sign a contract to follow these rules when I reach heaven.

    The New Testament is full of stories of Jesus meeting with sinners and redirecting their lives in the ways of the Lord without the legalistic structure we see in the church today. If truth be known, today’s churches are more concerned about maintaining and growing the giving population, than they are about the spiritual well being of those present. Step back and examine most of the churches today, and you will see they look more like a fortune 500 company than the early church. Pastor (CEO) Assistant Pastor (Vice President) Secretary, Board of Directors, Elders (Managers), Accountant, Church Lawyer, Media Supervisor, Advertisement, Sound Supervisor, Grounds Keeper, Construction Contractor, etc, ect, ect…You would think that if all this was that important in the life of the church that Jesus would have spent much of his first three years making sure this was taught and practiced. Yet when he died, he had no formal title, no assistant pastor, no deacons or elders, or any of the other positions that we now have to have to call a place church. He didn’t even have a building in which to honor his death and burial.

    Churches today are spending billions of dollars building buildings in hopes that if it’s nice enough a few unsaved people will visit and be saved. The problem is that most of the unsaved people have no interest in visiting such places. So what we end up with is spending most of God’s money on building buildings to house the saved with little to none of the resources reaching those that need to be saved. The church I used to attend, on any given Sunday would seat about a 1000 people, and we might see maybe one or two people respond to an alter call a week, and I would often think as I witness this week after week, what a waste of God’s resources in both monies and peoples to see 998 people sit there every Sunday and maybe two people saved. I would think, I wonder how many souls would be saved if the 998 were out in the dark places of the world on Sunday morning trying to reach the lost, instead of wearing their Sunday best, sitting in a modern building, on padded seats, drinking their coffee with the best sound equipment, cold A\C, watching the big screen in high definition, waiting to see if even two are saved because of the preaching they just heard – content to do the very same thing week after week, and think they are acting Christ-like. Am I the only one that thinks church is way off the mark?


  45. That was some good preaching ^^^^^^above!
    Raymond: Are you the only one? NO!!!! Not long ago, I was talking with another mom (our kids are on the same sports team) and I knew she was Christian because she referenced scripture, we frequently said we’d pray for each other, etc. She lives in a different town and I asked her recently what kind of church she goes to. She floored me by saying she doesn’t go to “church.” She does, however go to a weekly Bible study with ladies. Some of those ladies go to traditional-type church, others don’t. But this group frequently gets involved in the community when they hear of a need. As a group, they pull their resources together and make a difference, showing the love of Christ in action right where they live. I thought to myself, she’s doing real church.

    Thanks for the great comment, Raymond.


  46. I think there certainly are churches that miss the mark. They make the worship experience more like entertainment, a concert and light show with a motivational speaker of sorts. We should be careful, however, and not assument that the lights, sounds, music style choice, and building architecture are the problem, however. In and of themselves, there is nothing wrong with having a decent, modern building with A/C, a praise and worship band instead of voices only hymn singing, or a decent audio visual system to run them. These things merely help to facilitate worship. Different people can show their worship of God in various ways, but it is all still worship.

    It is when our attitude becomes one of merely trying to draw crowds, gain numbers of attendees, and being “entertaining” that it becomes a problem, coupled with teaching that isn’t scripturally sound, seeking to essentially tell people what they want to hear, rather than what they need to hear.


  47. Sorry, forgot to put in my comment that the church should also have a focus on outreach, helping those in need, striving to be involved in the community in a positive way (and not ONLY through evangelism, although that should be a part of it). The church is here not only for those that are in it, but for those who are not as well.


  48. I just remembered a great example of the kind of church whose focus is on a production, entertainment, with the pastor seen as a rockstar type figure. Have you ever seen the movie, “Four Christmases” starring Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoone? In a nutshell, it is about a couple that plans to spend Christmas in Fiji, but when their flight is cancelled indefinitely, they instead visit each of their parents at their respective homes. On on of the visits, they attend “church” that is just like that. Vince and Reese’s characters, who are first time visiters, are even roped into playing Joseph and Mary (against Reese’s wishes) in the church’s production of the Christmas story. I was appalled with that whole scene, not because it was a bad thing for the movie, but because I know there are some churches that operate like that in real life.


  49. The “Grace Church” by-laws require members to recognize and submit to the authority of the elder(s) and deacon(s). There is no mention of being subject to the higher authority of Scripture or of the Lord Jesus Christ. Assuming that the provisions of the by-laws, generally, are consistent with the membership provisions, “Grace Church” does not recognize the priesthood of all believers. Further assuming that the authority of deacon(s) will be subject to the authority of elder(s), the elder(s) will have the final say over all members in all matters of faith, conscience and practice. Because the by-laws have been worded very carefully to allow for a single elder, it is a good bet that the pastor is the sole elder in this church, in which case, having sole authority, he has assumed the role of a local, single-church pope. Even if there should happen to be a plurality of elders, the members of this church have been reduced to spiritual serfdom—they can’t even leave without permission. No, I would neither join nor even attend this church.


  50. You’re right, Gary W, this “Grace Church” seems to be an independent church with no one outside the church to hold the pastor accountable. I have seen it work in some churches – – if (and that’s a big “if”) the elders are willing to stand up to the pastor and hold him accountable, but I have also seen elders act as yes-men.

    I knew what I was dealing with when I asked the 2 elders from my former church (not in the presence of the pastor) if they ever had the occasion in the previous 10 years to bring any accountability issue to the pastor – big or small. They said they never needed to. I’m sorry, but that’s ridiculous. In 10 years, anyone is going to have character flaws or something that needs to be addressed at some level. Even I had seen the pastor’s pride and speaking untruths. It was then that I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that no one was holding this man accountable and he could do whatever he pleased.


  51. Proper accountability is a big thing that is missing from a lot of these churches. I feel good knowing that the pastor at my church is held accountable by the various elders in my church, as well as the other pastors at the other campuses. He also has a rapport with other pastors in the city, as well as older Christians that he looks up to. On top of all that, I feel he is a very approachable person.

    While there may be a semblance of a hierarchy of some sort when it comes to some of the business matters (because lets face it, when you are dealling with the management of a building, tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, and organizing various things, it is a bit like a business. Somebody has to make those sorts of decisions.), there isn’t really one person with authority over an other in any kind of spiritual sense.


  52. Exactly, church is not entertainment. There is no reason it cannot be entertaining in some sense (worship can be enjoyed, sermons can have some jokes, funny jokes and skits are not bad), but it should not ever be the purpose of the church to entertain people.

    The purpose of the church is to worship God, learn more about him, come closer to him, come together as a body of believers or family, and become better equipped to go out into the world in order to love other believers better, and to love the world by meeting the needs of those who are hurting, physically, economically, emotionally, and spiritually, sharing the love of God and Christ’s atoning sacrifice with them.

    When the focus becomes entertainment, the church ceases to serve its purpose in every way.


  53. JoeJoe – You touched on something important – pastors having rapport with other pastors. That should have been a red flag to me that my former pastor had so many problems with other pastors. Now I see the only pastors he has a rapport with are people who agree with him on pet topics (street evangelism, the hard gospel). They befriend him at conferences and social media not knowing how he works day-to-day in his church and how he treats others. So, while he gains credibility because he appears to have the right doctrine and say the right things publicly, and can street evangelize quite well, he does not allow other Christian pastors/leaders into his life in a more personal way to hold him accountable. Basically he uses these men to give him credibility. Real credibility comes from people in your community who can vouch for you and your reputation.


  54. JA-

    Totally agree with you. And it just isn’t like minded pastors of the same denomination or tradtion either (even though we are a non-denominational church). It is with pastors of various protestant traditions. In the same vein, one thing that the pastors at our church say frequently is that we are not trying to be nor are we the best church. We are just trying to serve God. Other churches are a part of that. For that reason, every week, we pray for another church in the area, that God would use them to reach people for his glory.


  55. Ah, yes, JoeJoe – see, that is humility. That is not puffed up and saying, “our way is the only way, we have the 100% correct doctrine.” That is the elitism mentality that is so destructive and common among spiritual abusers. With centuries of theologians who cannot come to the same conclusions on doctrinal matters, what makes these arrogant pastors think they have it 100% right?


  56. Yup. That is what I have been learning over the past few years. It’s like we’ve discussed before with the essentials vs. non-essentials. There are some things I believe I am right about and others are wrong about, and I have my reasons (we are all like that). But, there is room for being wrong, and realizing that God can and does use those whose ways are not exactly like mine theologically. I’m certainly no Augustine, Wesley, Martyr, Luther, Tozer, or Spurgeon. All of these guys had ideas I disagree with, and not all of them would have agreed with one another. But they, and others, have wrestled with the faith much more than most, and all have contributed in some way to what we know about the faith we have today.


  57. I Googled one of the phrases in the church constitution posted, with surrounding quote marks, and easily found the page for the church in question. Now I know where never to go. Talk about micromanaging………!

    By contrast, here are the 5 Commitments of members in my church:

    1. Consistent and committed attendance to the Sunday gathering. Hebrews 10:25
    2. Consistent and committed membership in a [small] group. Acts 2:46
    3. Consistent and committed quiet time reading the Bible along with the church and talking to God. Luke 5:16
    4. Consistent and committed financial offerings. Malachi 3:8-10
    5. Consistently commit to investing in lives outside the church and inviting them in. 2 Corinthians 5:19

    People are encouraged (but not required) to fill out an information card as an invitation to declare their relationship with the church. “We don’t ask this to be legalistic, but to be intentional about our commitment to Christ and one another. This invitation is open to you as you feel led by God to make Monterey Church your church.”

    I might also add that the pastor makes it quite clear that he’s not competing with other pastors to get people to jump the fence and come over to our side. Quite the opposite; he has said that if people truly believe ours isn’t the right church for them at this time in their life, they are under no obligation to stay, and are not made to feel somehow shunned if they do decide to leave.


  58. The first point, a, would be a red flag for me of a controlling church. My husband’s parents recently declined to attend the Sunday funeral of a close friend, because their minister said the Sunday service was too important to miss. That’s just one example of how controlling our former church is.

    I just pulled out the covenant that prospective members for baptism or communion (which is held twice a year) have to sign in our former church. It’s 136 pages long. There are dozens of places to sign. It’s really too extensive to even discuss here. Let’s just say that I will never put myself in that kind of bondage to any “spiritual authority” ever again. Trust is something that is earned. I won’t give that to someone just because they have the title of “pastor,” “minister,” or “reverend.”

    “Fool me once . . .”


  59. Lost me at the first sentence – “Each member is required to punctually attend all stated meetings of the church unless providentially hindered.” Ludicrous. I’m never on time to church.


  60. Haha, Colleen. If you just happened to see me at church, you might say the same about me.

    PS I think this is your first time commenting. Welcome 🙂


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