Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A 'somewhat' review of "A tale of two governments"

The end of last year my friend, and an Elder I consider to be a great mentor, Scott Brown sent me a few books.  Because I was in the middle of my second to the last semester in Seminary I was unable to read much of any of them until recently.  With the completion of my last seminary courses I have a little bit (emphasis on "little") more time on my hands.  I decided to start with the book "A tale of two governments: Church discipline, the courts, and the separation of church and state".  The book is written by Robert J. Renaud and Lael D. Weinberger with a forward by John MacArthur.  The authors take both the biblical and legal perspectives, which from a Christian worldview are one and the same, relying on their education as lawyers and practical experience in this area.

The forward by Dr. MacArthur is extremely relevant once one is introduced to the situation which he and Grace Community Church found themselves in 1980.  If you are unfamiliar with the situation you can either Google it or actually read the book; I recommend the latter.  

The title is a dead giveaway as to the content and subject of this writing.  The topic of this book arises out of the sincere concern regarding the legal ramifications of enacting church discipline and whether the disciplined party can legally sue the church.  The history of the biblical understanding and correct application as well as misapplication of the separation of the civil government from the church government created an impressive backdrop from which to build.  While I was prepared for the well-known "Thomas Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptist" approach, the authors did an incredible job summarizing how this issue had played out in the centuries of Christian history beforehand.

The history of its impact in the Western world ends this section as the next brings it into the focus of how this relates to the churches in America today.  As would be expected of Christian lawyers, sound advice is given in this portion of the book that should be carefully read by every church Elder/Pastor.  The books concludes with practical application and advice presented in a clear and straightforward manner.

As noted in the title of this blog post, this is a "somewhat" review.  I call it that simply because I have chosen to quote what I perceived as the most important sections in the book rather than just giving you my perspective.  Below you will find these listed with their corresponding page number.

(p. 13) 
Separation of church and state, at its most basic, simply means that the church and the state are separate and distinct institutions.

The separation of church and state, as we shall see, is an important, healthy, and indeed biblical doctrine.

(p. 14)
Christ denies that the civil ruler has an absolute power over citizens.

…Caesar cannot be lord over all.  Only Christ can make that claim.

The church does not have the power of the sword, but it does have the power of church discipline.

(p. 15)
In the book of Exodus, the position of civil magistrate and priest are established separately.

(p. 24)
…the church under Pope Gregory VII clearly abandoned the doctrine of distinct spheres of authority for church and state.

(p. 25)
From the fifth through the eleventh centuries, the emperors had been called the “vicar of Christ”, and the popes were only called the “vicar of Saint Peter”.

(p. 32)
…magistrates in Zurich became involved in the process of church discipline itself. The churches could not excommunicate anyone without the permission of the town government.

Zwingli’s views represented a pendulum swing away from church supremacy toward the direction of excessive state involvement.

(p. 34)
God is over both church and state, even as church and state are distinct from each other.

(p. 36)
“He that will not honor the memory , and respect the influence of Calvin, knows little of the origin of American liberty”.-George Bancroft, 19th century American historian

(p. 39)
Although Calvin viewed church and state as separate, it is true that he did believe that the two spheres should cooperate…he had no qualms about reporting wrongdoing discovered by the church authorities to the civil authorities.

…in the 16th century, heresy was universally viewed as an offense against the state, not just the church.

(p. 40)
…Calvin believed that some Protestants were in danger of turning towards anarchy against civil government as they rejected the established order of things.

(p. 45)
In France, the Huguenots…went so far as to prohibit magistrates from serving as elders in the churches, in order to avoid blurring the lines.

(p. 50)
Knox would carry a broad sword in order to protect Wishart as he preached the gospel.

(p. 60)
King James and King Charles believe that the state is above the church.  The Puritan struggle with James and Charles lead to the English Civil War.

(p. 63)
The Massachusetts Body of Liberties (1641) established limits in the authority of civil authorities to be involved in church government. It provided that the magistrates could protect the peace and order of the churches so long as “it be done in a Civill and not in an Ecclesiastical way”.

(p. 66)
900,00 Scottish-Irish in America…saturated in the Scottish Presbyterian version of “two kingdoms” theology….American War for Independence, approximately two-thirds of the American population was comprised of non-Anglican (dissenting) groups, the majority of which had a Calvinist theological orientation.

(p. 71)
…the First Amendment…prohibited the national civil government as an institution from interfering with the church as an institution. It did nothing to restrain its framers from making public acknowledgements of God….created a distinction between the institution of the church and the institution of the civil government…prohibit Congress from involving itself in church affairs.

(p. 83)
As long as the church (or its lawyers) remembers to raise the defense of church autonomy at the outset of a lawsuit, the church is safe, and this confusing rule won’t cause the church any trouble.

(p. 86)
At the heart of church autonomy protection are the practical functions of church government-discipline and the election or appointment of church officers.

(p. 89)
The courts have recognized a related doctrine, known as the “ministerial exception”, which is applied in discrimination claims arising out of church hiring and firing decisions.

(p. 93)
…in a real-life case, a church found out that its full-time youth minister had had a civil commitment ceremony with a same-sex partner. The church leadership fired the youth minister for entering into an unbiblical same-sex partnership. The minister sued under the federal employment laws, arguing that this was a form of sexual harassment.

If the courts ruled against the church…then the federal government would be telling the church that it couldn't follow its own understanding of the Bible.

(p. 101)
…when the only way the court can determine that a civil wrong was committed is by making the doctrinal determination, the court does not have the jurisdiction.

(p. 108)
The terms “binding” and “loosing” were well understood in early Judaism…the power of the Sanhedrin to give out judicial sentences.

(p. 109)
(Procedures for church discipline: Dealing with private sins)
…the first step is to personally and privately confront the offender (Matthew 18:15)…it best preserves relationships while rectifying whatever problems had come up.  Most often, church leadership isn't even involved in this step.

…second step is to approach the sinning person with one or two additional parties as witnesses (Matthew 18:16)…this would be the stage where the additional part could be in church leadership.

…third step is to take the matter before the entire congregation (Matthew 18:17)…at each stage of the discipline process, the goal is repentance and restoration, not punishment for the sake of punishment.

(p. 110)
…more public correction can take place when the sin is public, such as open and notorious scandal or public propagation of false doctrine.

(p. 111)
Public sin “opens the door” to public rebuke….once you've gone public with your sin, you have opened the door. You can’t object to a public correction by the elders. (1 Corinthains 5:1-6; 1 Timothy 5:6, 6:3)

(p. 113)
A rebuke, as in 1 Thessalonians, is a form of discipline, but a milder one than disfellowship and excommunication.

…it would be possible to bar a church member from partaking of the Lord’s Table until a sin issue is resolved without disfellowshipping that individual.

(p. 115)
The Belgic Confession of 1561…The marks by which the true church is known…pure doctrine of the gospel is preached…pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ…church discipline.
Its (discipline) purposes are to bring a sinner to repentance, to restore that sinner in his or her walk with the Lord and fellowship with the church, and when necessary, to protect the church from danger, discord, and falsehood.

(p. 126)
“The decline of church discipline is perhaps the most visible failure of the contemporary church”.-Albert Mohler (1998)

(p. 129)
…a church is much more likely to get the protection of the church autonomy doctrine if the church government structure was in place at the time that the discipline procedures was initiated.

(p. 131)
…church leaders should be careful about promising absolute confidentiality to anyone.

I cannot recommend this book enough.  It is a vital tool in the arsenal of self-defense regarding the church.  The information provided within its pages should be openly shared with all members of the local church and digested regularly by its leaders.  

We live in a time when the government is encroaching more and more onto individual Christian rights and the autonomy rights of our churches.  We must be prepared when these issues come knocking at our doors.  They may come in the form of a disgruntled former member or simply as an unbiblical regulation being forced upon us by the government that once swore to protect our inalienable rights.  Either way, we must not be found unprepared.

Thanks for stopping by!

Serving the Savior,
Adam Gray

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