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Greenville Syndrome — How

If you’re wondering how this Greenville Syndrome works, here’s proof from a recent article, “Discipline for Discipleship,” by Greenville pastor Tony Miller from the Bob Jones University’s publication Today’s Christian Preacher, Winter 2010.

When the word discipline enters your mind, do you also think of the word disciple? These two English words come from the same Latin word: discipulus. Discipline is the process and a disciple is the intended product. Years ago in a church history class, Dr. Edward Panosian explained the threefold purpose of local church discipline. He told the seminarians that the purpose was first to remove leaven from the lump (I Corinthians 5:6-8); second, to restore the sinning brother to fellowship with God first and then to fellowship with the local church (2 Corinthians 2:5-11); and third, to teach other to fear or reverence scriptural standards (I Timothy 5:19-20). The goal of church discipline should be to bring about these three biblical objectives and produce disciples.

Our motives normally determine the manner and method in which we deal with people. In the book of Ephesians, Paul said to keep “speaking the truth in love.” Speaking truth should be done out of a motive of love and in a loving manner. Discipline requires speaking the truth. As a parent may have to discipline his or her child out of love, so the church may have to discipline a member out of love with the goal of helping that member put God first.

Undisciplined individuals are self-indulgent. The list of the fruit of the Spirit ends with ‘temperance’ or self-control. For the believer, the purpose of self-denial (by putting God first) is to become a proper disciple (Matthew 16:24).

Too many Bible-preaching churches are unwilling to obey the Lord in the steps of church discipline. However, church discipline has been ordered by the Lord for our benefit. What are these steps?

  1. Private confrontation of person sin–go alone and, if necessary, repeatedly (Matthew 18:15).
  2. Public confrontation of established sins, especially of church leaders (I Timothy 5:19-20). The sin, if not admitted, must be established by two or three eyewitnesses.
  3. Plural collaboration–two or three witnesses (Matthew 18:16; I Timothy 5:19; 2 Corinthians 13:1).
  4. Public disclosure (within the church) of personal sin if not repented. “Tell it to the church” (Matthew 18:17a).
  5. Public correction (by the church) of personal or public sin if not repented. “Let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican” (Matthew 18:17).
  6. Treatment of the unrepentant former church member as unsaved (Matthew 18:17b).
  7. Private association forbidden with unrepentant former church members (I Corinthians 5:9-12).
  8. Personal reconciliation with the disciplined brother if he repents at any stage of the process (Luke 17:1-3; Matthew 18:15; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11).
  9. Public restoration of a publicly repentant former member (2 Corinthians 2).
  10. Progressive restoration of the repentant church member to certain biblical ministries.

The ten steps listed above need some clarification. If the sinner repents at any stage, he should be forgiven. The church should distinguish between fellowship, membership and leadership in restoring one who is forgiven. Forgiveness should be given instantaneously because God restores fellowship with the individual who asks forgiveness. He forgives for Christ’s sake, not because the sinning brother deserves it (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13).

When a church has removed an unrepentant brother from membership, it usually is better to withhold membership until he cures his wrongdoing (making restitution, telling the truth to those to whom he has lied, reconciling his marriage, gaining victory over drugs, etc.). Leadership positions might never be restored. For example, a Sunday school teacher might return to teaching God’s Word after a sufficient time has lapsed for a credible testimony to be reestablished; but a pastor who becomes sexually involved with a woman other than his wife would always be doubted in biblical preaching and counseling on the family. The majority of a pastor’s counseling time deals with family needs. Therefore, the life of a pastor or a deacon must be blameless in moral issues (“the husband of one wife”) so that family counseling and preaching can be authoritative.

If the sin is private, keep it private if the person is repentant. If the sin is public, then public confession and restoration is necessary. The sin of the incestuous man of I Corinthians 5 was public and not repented; therefore, Paul publicly rebuked and asked for removal of the leaven of this unrepentant brother (v. 7).

When a Christian sins privately against another Christian, the one sinned against is told to “go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone.” The Greek for go implies continuing confrontation if necessary. Ken Sande in his book The Peacemaker says go several times alone to repent. If private confrontation does not work, two or three other church members should go with the offended brother as witnesses.

Public correction is the next step for an unrepentant church member. After repeated confrontations, unrepentant members should be removed from membership. In I Corinthians 6:1-5, Paul points out the importance of having Christians urge matters among themselves.

If the unrepentant member withdraws his membership before the church votes, a church cannot legally proceed with an official vote. However, if a second church requests from the first church a letter of release from membership for the unrepentant one, the leadership of the first church can tell the second church that the individual is not in good standing.

Paul makes it clear that we should not “keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner” (I Corinthians 5:11). Jesus said to treat an unrepentant brother who has trespassed against another Christian as a heathen man and a publican (Matthew 18:17). Obviously, though, a mate or a blood relative should relate naturally to the one who has been disciplined.

Early in one of my church pastorates, a teenage church member who admitted to immorality refused to listen to appeals calling for repentance. With brokenness we voted to remove this one from membership.

It is essential that a church have a clear constitution and that it publish clear information regarding what is required of members. Often, pastors are concerned that they will scare people away if they spell out on the front end what is expected of church members. In fact, the opposite may be true. One Sunday our church leadership asked a person in public sin to ask for forgiveness. That person stood before the church and asked for forgiveness and asserted repentance A visiting Bible student who witnessed the event came and said, “I want to become a member of this church. I have never seen this done where I come from.”

Scriptural church discipline has been ordered by the Lord for our benefit. We cannot please Him by ignoring His instruction. The steps should be followed in order and carried out in love. The desire and prayer of the church must be that the offending brother will respond positively and be restored. “If he shall hear thee, thou has gained they brother” (Matthew 18:15).

Anybody care to discern where the Bible ends and Greenville Syndrome begins? My favorite is paragraph #6.

10 thoughts on “Greenville Syndrome — How

  1. That’s just creepy. As it was when I was a student and a faculty member. I knew it in my heart then.

  2. Is your reference to paragraph 6 talking about the one that starts “When a church has removed a repentant brother…”?

    I assume that’s just an inartfully written/edited statement since one wouldn’t remove a repentant brother…or would one?

  3. Watchman! How funny!! And weird. You’re right that that was a typo. A goof. Ack!! I fixed it.

    It’s more the rest of that sentence: “until he cures his wrongdoing” is a pretty messed up thing to say.

  4. Hello,

    I graduated from BJU in 1983.

    As preface, I’ll just say this: I think a lot of the excesses that may be found at the school are a result of there being too little grace and Gospel preached there, by which I mean that grace and Gospel must be preached to the converted just as urgently as to the unsaved. Instead, in many cases, law is preached, not for justification, but too often for sanctification.

    That being said, I do not really understand your point in this post. This outline of church disipline is generally biblical – the catch always is, what are the issues of conduct that promopt such dicipline?

    For example, I don’t see how you can escape the Biblical requirement that unrepentent fornicators who call themselves believers have to be disciplined ultimately by expulsion from the church.

    So I don’t find the material posted in this item “creepy” at all – it sounds mostly like sound biblical teaching. Could you explain exactly where you believe it departs from Scripture?

    Thanks!

    John Pittman Hey
    Greenwood, MS

  5. Hey, John! Nice to meet you.

    Overall, I believe that the core of the problem begins and ends with Miller’s definition of sin which he really doesn’t explain. He presents the God v. Me construction (whatever I want must be at direct odds with God and, thus, must be sin) alone as his definition. This is very problematic and not biblical.

    The other problem is the process he describes. “Until he cures his wrongdoing” is the worst phrase in the whole article, imo. Miller holds up perfection as the standard, and without any clarification as to what sin actually is, we’re left with Miller’s idiosyncrasies and comfort level to define sin.

    I have absolutely no problem with an unrepentant adulterer (just thinking of one situation that I’m familiar with) being removed from the Covenant community. In fact, I probably would add many benefits to Paul’s description of the reasons why this is necessary. A spouse who is sinned against needs “back up” from the elders. S/he does. It’s necessary for the health of the church and the family.

    But what happens is that people get church-disciplined for music they list on facebook, for not wearing a suit on Sunday morning, or for asking too many questions. These are all real situations that have happened in the BJU orbit churches just in the recent past. Miller’s description here is entirely pastor-centric with the pastor holding all the power and not even foregrounding the biblical boundaries of sin and the biblical idea of progressive sanctification.

    Generally, I’m assuming we agree more than not, John. Because the biblical definition of sin is so lacking in fundamentalism and because it’s so essential to the church discipline process, I find this a serious lack in Miller’s article.

  6. Camille,

    I was totally lost at first because I thought miller had everything pretty close to what scripture says and I had no clue what your point was. (sorry) I’m glad you clarified it in your comments.

    But I do need make a distinction here for you. Schools like BJ are institutions not a local church bodies. Miller is writing to pastors of local churches not to presidents or disciplinarians of schools.

    Miller made it fairly clear what sins he was talking about when he said . . .

    Paul makes it clear that we should not “keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner” (I Corinthians 5:11). Jesus said to treat an unrepentant brother who has trespassed against another Christian as a heathen man and a publican (Matthew 18:17). Obviously, though, a mate or a blood relative should relate naturally to the one who has been disciplined.

    I think you are being unfair in YOUR estimation that

    But what happens is that people get church-disciplined for music they list on facebook, for not wearing a suit on Sunday morning, or for asking too many questions. These are all real situations that have happened in the BJU orbit churches just in the recent past.

    first it is easy to say that discipline is happening and it is another to actually site churches and events and people.

    Second I would not want to be part of any local community of believers who who would practice it for such things and any one who gets out of them should count it a blessing not as something negative 🙂

    Third your estimation

    Miller’s description here is entirely pastor-centric with the pastor holding all the power and not even foregrounding the biblical boundaries of sin and the biblical idea of progressive sanctification.

    This fails to account for the fact that he pointed out the steps that should be taken before it ever gets to the level of leadership of the church. I think the Pastor-centric thing is in your mind.. the only way this in anyway is pastor-centric is because he wrote it for pastors to read in a magazine that is primarily for pastors.

    I think you may have failed to read the entire article, because miller stated the sins pretty clearly

    It is essential that a church have a clear constitution and that it publish clear information regarding what is required of members. Often, pastors are concerned that they will scare people away if they spell out on the front end what is expected of church members. In fact, the opposite may be true.

    We should NEVER join with any group church or school and “covenant” with them if we do not intent to keep that covenant. Its basically a vow before God that you make with other believes. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with all of them, but you should follow all of them while you are a member.

    There are many things I don’t agree with BJ on . . . and there are even more groups that associate with BJ that I don’t agree with and many that are in some way even harming the name of Christ.
    But I think the number of former BJ students that feel they must attack anything associated with the institution that obviously did some good in their lives is just sad. Please don’t misunderstand me, if we hold them and their affiliates as fellow believers then we should be “speaking the truth in love” to them and helping them correct areas where we feel they are not aligned with scripture, But many of them are still brothers, and we are to be promoting a spirit of unity and a bond of peace in the church, that is why these disciplinary actions are important.
    Kindest regards.

  7. First of all, Ethan, why are you assuming that I’m talking about BJU? I’m not at all. I’m talking about churches. Churches in Greenville have disciplined people for joining Facebook groups, for missing a single mortgage payment, and for not wearing ties on Sunday morning. Those are all facts and they are all in **churches**.

    But see — that’s interesting. Because I said that before, but that fact was easily dismissed in your reading. That’s a very important fact. That’s why Miller’s take is pastor-centric and not at all Bible-centric. The determination of sin is wholly in the Pastor’s mind.

    Just like these three examples I’ve mentioned.

    Sure it’s a blessing if you get out. But that’s so easy to say while people are still reeling from the spiritual blows they’ve just received from their undershepherd. Nobody’s calling out these pastors’ errors. My attempts here (and on FB) are met with intense antagonism. So if you’re stuck in one of these churches and your pastor calls you in to tell you of your sin of joining a FB group that “even his wife” thinks is “sitting in the seat of the scorner,” it is very, very hard to think straight. Very hard. I’m trying to help people think straight.

    I saw Miller’s caveat that the rules must be clearly stated ahead of time. I read it. I laughed at it. Because there’s no possible church constitution that says that if you miss a house payment, you’ll lose your Sunday school class. None. See the problem?

    As for your usually stated:

    We should NEVER join with any group church or school and “covenant” with them if we do not intent to keep that covenant. Its basically a vow before God that you make with other believes. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with all of them, but you should follow all of them while you are a member.

    That, too, is another way to avoid my point and blame the victim. As long as the pastors have all the power and the God’s definition of sin is nowhere seen, this will continue.

    I’m calling us back to the Word. And this is controversial? For Protestants?? Gee whiz. . . .

  8. I totally agree with you that the cases you are sighting are egregious at best and in NO way fall into the Biblical Mandate for discipline. Totally!
    And I’m in no way trying to shift the blame upon the victim, It wasn’t explained at all in your original post and was confused by that, I thought this all stemming from earlier post siting BJ. Sorry about that..
    I’m just defending what Miller wrote, because it pretty well falls in line with the Word. The individual cases and pastors you have in mind may not be, but what miller wrote is sound.

    Again I hold to my point that we should never join with a group and covenant with them if we do not intend to keep all of that covenant. So the obedience in something small like wearing a coat or tie (which I do not 🙂 is really a non issue on both sides and neither should have an issue with it. I once went to a church that required women to cover their heads if participating in the service on stage. To some that was ridiculous to others it was ridiculous but they wished to be a part of the church so they submitted in that area and joined.

    Again I’m not trying to shift blame in any case that I know absolutely nothing about, but a TIE? or Coat? And How in the world is the church getting involved over mortgage payments? And why is the church not helping them make it? You can understand my suspicion. If its all true RUN people RUN, head for “higher ground”

  9. Camille and other 2010 responders,
    just read this article when I was searching for another one. Really interesting. It never ceases to amaze me, how overly strict ‘straight laced’ Fundies can be, who never really ‘tell’ people what ‘all’ the Rules are! I believe it’s like this: they have their ‘written rules’: dogma + ‘do’s’ and ‘dont’s’. They have their ‘unwritten rules’: the ones you never find out about until you ‘break’ one of them. HORRORS! WHAT WILL WE ‘DO’ WITH THESE APOSTATES???” And they have their ‘changing’ rules. Changing rules are, the fickle minded impulsive ‘new’ rules,that they sneak up on you something like a religious sniper attack, which they like to use to ‘stomp’ on somebody, anybody, for violating their ultra perfectionist code. And these ‘new’ rules can be about THE MOST RIDICULOUS THINGS!

    When the power brokers ‘need’ to stomp, they will find someone to stomp on, and be looking for something to ‘get them for. My cousin in law and wife used to attend a mennonite type Baptist church, in very strict religious community. They attended to worship there and witness to people to lead them to the Lord. On a very hot Sunday , one of the men unbuttoned his top shirt button to feel a little less ‘hot.’ My cousin ‘saw’ the pastor from the pulpit immediately ‘give’ this man ‘the eye’ and ‘the nod’ to re button that top shirt button up IMMEDIATELY!! So you see, pastors like that are cruisin for a bruisin with the ‘stupid rules.’ One unbuttoned button, and an immediate nod from the pulpit. Horrors. What would the unsaved say!! It’s this pettiness of majoring on the minors that I came to a point eleven years ago, where I had had it. There were more important things in life than pettiness. Petty people seem to be too easily ‘touchy, resentful, easily offended’ people. I call them TREOPS. My warning to the christian world out there is: BEWARE OF THE TREOPS and watch out for the thought police! They are afraid of your thoughts so be careful to hide them. No, express them with freedom and learn to think. re #6 treatment of unrepentant sinner as unsaved…. I like what C.S. Lewis said in Real Christianity: “It’s not that a christian who does bad things is ‘not’ a christian. It’s just that he’s a ‘bad’ christian.’ re #7…Private association forbidden with unrepentant sinner… I believe this is a good example of the danger of literalizing a text, and rendering it graceless and renedering it a ‘letter kills’ thing. I also believe this text was a cultural, social and historical context, for back then, not for now. A friend’s childhood with brother experience of rebellion in Holland, when the two brothers acted out in anger to get their cold, strict unloving pastor father’s attention, by setting the grass on fire by the channels, and the grass fires would burn for ‘miles’, the pastor father would have to stand in front of the congregation on Sundays and apologize. That never improved his parenting skills. He still didn’t give the boys the loving attention they needed. And both brothers marriages ended up in divorce. So what good did public church discipline do? Nothing! Only satisfaction for those goody goody two shoes sitting in the pews who could silently gloat over the pastor having to have egg on his face one more time. …As long as the pastors have all the power… this problem of elitism, all the rights, all the privelidges, all the power… where can any church family possibly go with this, to possibly become a truly real cohesive loving and affirming church family? When people are on edge all the time worrying about what stupid rules they might be breaking, how can such pastors and those who ‘train’? them, possibly believe that ‘that’s what a real church is ? I think it’s more like a religious school where all the people in it, adults too, are treated like underage children, who need to be told what to do, and how to do it. Thank God these power brokers don’t have x ray vision! If they did, they’d be looking at everyone’s thoughts too! Beware of the thought police! I have been learning to understand power better as power to serve, power to serve as Jesus served, to serve ‘on our knees’ ( a posture of the heart ). NOT power to ‘be’ served, or power to be ‘wielded’ by people who take power unto themselves with a covetous mind set. If we could all learn better how to serve as Jesus served, I think we would be better able to get ourselves out of a lot of unnecessary messes that we get ourselves into, and avoid them with wisdom, common sense and foresight. And we would also be able to avoid the two wrong extremes, of either allowing people to wield power, Lord it over ‘us’, or the sin of doing that to others. Which Jesus said ‘do not do’. “Not so among you.” Funny how the power brokers don’t seem to think or believe Jesus words about ‘do not do this to others’, that Jesus really means it! And they have the same Bibles that we do. Different translations ‘all say the same thing’! “The Gentiles like to lord it over the people. But NOT SO AMONG YOU!” Why don’t they see it? Power hungry blindness? ..”I’m trying to help people think straight.” WOW! I’m all, for that in my life too. It’s so hard to think straight when your mind is being bombarded with impostion and opposition of againstness words, being spoken against you, so that it takes all your energy to try to concentrate on your own thoughts. As we learn to protect ourselves from this sort of thing, when people try to play these mind games on us in future, wer’e ready. We recognize it. And we can think straight and nip the verbal nonsense being sent our way , ‘nip it in the bud.’ …Who do we ever really ‘hear’ of being ‘restored’ to a church? Don’t all we hear about is ‘how people are driven out, ostracized, and treated like throw away friends, unwanted sisters and brothers.? Great article. Interesting comments. thanks. Barbara Quinn

  10. A christian friend shared with me over the phone one time that her Church was studying Hebrews chapter 12, and the interesting ‘truth’ statement, that the word ‘discipline’ in Hebrews 12 does not mean ‘punishment!’ Interesting eh! I really believe some christians may have difficulty with that concept. Because they’ve been hurt, misunderstood, and have tried so hard to please God for so long, THAT SOME OF THEM BELIEVE THEY ‘DESERVE’ TO BE PUNISHED. I think toxic emotions may be behind this compulsive need to punish people, to punish christians in the church. And why church discipline so often crosses the line, becoming loveless, graceless and tragically abusive. Intensely supressed issues of anger, little or none of it resolved, cleansed, healed, and reconciled, can be what fuels this sick need to punish people in the Church. When some of these toxic believers get into positions of leadership, they see it ‘as a means power’to be used and exercised ‘over people.’ As they use their pulpit to ‘get at people.’ No wonder such pastor centric churches become impossible environments to grow in! Would not such religiously stifling , negative environments be suffocating! Would they not be something of a caricature of a true christian enironment, even a strange religious version of ANIMAL FARM? A need to get rid of toxic emotions sort of drives these people to ‘need’ to punish someone. So the slightest STUPID rule broken, the sightest irritation, the nerve of any parishioner having a different opinion or dissagreeing with a text interpretation or a message, and WHAM! That inward,driven unhealthy need to PUNISH someone comes out, like Dr.Jeckyl and Mr’. Hyde. Are these kinds of people in the pulpit, just looking and waiting for someone to ‘cross them’ so they can ‘punish them?’ They seem to be so expert at ‘over correction’, somewhat as if from an inward condition of ‘a superiority complex’…as if the people are there for the sole purpose to always be corrected, as the pastor tries to make the people perfect like he thinks ‘he’ is. There to correct, but never to comfort? Is that all Jesus ever did and said? Correct peole all the time? Pastor centric church pastors will Flatter. Yes. But soley for the purpose of getting other men on their side to agree with them. When you analyze the before, during and after of the various crisis, some of them unfortunately being our own past ones( our own previous unpleasant experiences ) if we look closely with a focussed eye, we can begin to see a pattern. Even ‘before’ we did or said something that irked a high and mighty leader or pastor, who were acually ‘very’ insecure, those people were already looking for an excuse,an opportunity ‘to kick keister’ and ‘get at someone.’ And good people like you and I and others, were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The only mistake we made was, ( and it wasn’t a mistake in God’s eyes at all ) being ourselves and expressing our lives, faith and personal understanding of God’s will for our lives,freely and conscienciously! And some people didn’t like it. In ‘their’ eyes, we were ‘trouble makers’ or ‘evil doers’ who might contaminate the rest of the sheep. But in God’s eyes, we were who He made us to be. And we were living out the truth of that. Do pastor centric pulpit leaders really ‘want’ truth? And if they really ‘loved’ the truth, would they act differently, I wonder. When The Watchtower headquarters have their ‘management meetings, it’s all about how to keep the sheep under total control. The meetings have nothing whatever to do wth relationships, or with truth as in Holy Scripture. They don’t even use the Bible at those meetings. The management meetings at watchtower headquarters is ALL ABOUT MANAGING THE SHEEP. WHO to discipline or punish or kick out of the kingdom, and HOW to more efficienty KEEP the rest of them IN. Are pastor centric systemic
    fundy control’ upper management ideas, articles much different? The fundies ‘use the Bible’ to prove how right they think they are in what they do, but proof texting all of their rules keeping methodology has little room in it for mercy, love or compassion. Isn’t the lack of those very Graces and charisms, what Jesus strongly rebuked the Pharisees for? It’s a wonder how such pastors rarely ever read those passages from the Gospels that actually describe ‘themselves!’ But none of what pastor centric church upper management actually, teach, write and do, has much to do with ‘love one another’ and empowering people to become who God created them to be. When people are seen and treated as ‘pew fodder’ to be fed on with the wrong kind of power manifesting through such pastors’ lives and ministries, is it any wonder that the article on this post ‘reads’ like it does? Great post!

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