Sunday, December 28, 2008


There is an ancient form of Christianity that comes up quite often in my discussions of female ministers called Collyridianism and I thought I should have a reference page. I also thought some of my readers might be curious.

The Collyridians were Christians who consider the trinity to consist of The Father / Allah, Jesus the Son and Mary the Mother. Like Muslims they held the Father was unknowable only his will was knowable and revelation of the father was through the son and the mother. They had something like the Eucharist but as the priest represent Jesus to the congregation the priestess represents Mary. And hence parallel offerings. They accepted something like the canonical bible though like many middle eastern Christians of the time they may had used the Diatessaron as their gospel prior to canonization. They most likely were docetic in their theology, and they likely were much more syncretic than orthodox Catholicism.

Many Muslim scholars believe this is the form of Christianity described in the Qu'ran for example sura 5:73-5:
[5.73] Certainly they disbelieve who say: Surely Allah is the third (person) of the three; and there is no god but the one God, and if they desist not from what they say, a painful chastisement shall befall those among them who disbelieve.
[5.74] Will they not then turn to Allah and ask His forgiveness? And Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.
[5.75] The Messiah, son of Marium is but an apostle; apostles before him have indeed passed away; and his mother was a truthful woman; they both used to eat food. See how We make the communications clear to them, then behold, how they are turned away.
The show up most noticeably in the writings of Bishop Epiphanius of Salamis. And it is here that they come up so frequently, because in defending the what is wrong with the Collyridians he explicitly allows for teaching and ministering, that is what Protestant ministers do and only attacks woman performing the sacrifice (communion). I’ll quote the relevant excerpts, [] are mine:
undertaking to do something blasphemous and forbidden and performing in her name, by means of women, definitely priestly acts… [long biblical history of woman not offering sacrifices dropped] Deaconesses serve bishops and priests on grounds of propriety….. . . This you must also carefully observe that only the office of deaconesses was necessary in the ecclesiastical order; also ‘widows’ are mentioned by name, and among them the senior most are called ‘elders’ (Greek: presbytidas), but they have never been made women presbyters (presbyteridas) or women priests (sacerdotissas)….
“Never has a woman been appointed amongst bishops and priests. But, someone will say, there were the four daughters of Philip, who prophesied. Yes, but they did not exercise the priestly office. And it is true that there is the Order of Deaconesses in the Church . But they are not permitted to act as priests or have anything to do with that office.
” (Panarion 79, 1-4)

Epiphanius' entire apologetic is biblically based so Collyridians must have held a high view of scripture, which shows another example of people in the ancient world were able to read scripture in a way empowering to woman. We know that Islam had the same opinion “people of the book”.

They seemed to have continued on to a limited extent after the 4th-5th century. St. John of Damascus wrote about them in 728 and Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, even asserts that Summa Theologica III.25.5 was directed at this group's practices, putting their death later still.

Interestingly there is a new denomination forming in their honor, The Collyridian Britannic Episcopal Church. Also a highly related group the Army of Mary has 25,000 current members.


See also

Friday, December 26, 2008

100 question cult test

I've been trying to find a very good list of characteristics of a cult vs. a religion and I was successful. I'd like to pass this on.

This list meets my criteria:
1) Theologically neutral
2) Extensive & Detailed
3) Meets the common usage of the term

The way this list works is you score each item from 0-10.

0-499 group is relatively safe
500-800 cultish tendencies
800-900 cult
901+ dangerous cult

Here is the list. Link to A. Orange's site which shows examples from well known sites are applying to a well known group (Alcholics Anonymous which scores an 850):

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Father Bill Hausen

Bill Hausen was a catholic Priest in Pittsburgh. During the 1990s he was a heavy drinker and the church disciplined him by forbidding him from driving. After he became sober he wanted the discipline lifted but the church wasn't concerned. This caused him a great deal of alienation. So when the 2002 Catholic priest sex abuse scandals broke Hausen delivered a sermon calling for wholesale revisions to the priesthood. In particular the ordination of married men and women. As a result of this sermon a transfer order was issued Hausen refused to obey the order, and founded his own church (Christ Hope). At that he point he was excommunicated. The church is now succesful and pitches itself to x-catholics.

This is a great case because it gives a good example of the kinds of problems with the "send them back" strategy for church discipline. This case is messy and complicated. While I assume most Catholics object to schism, can a priest make a call for a policy change? Did the church have an obligation if the objected to his sermon to try him for that and not utilize transfer for discipline purposes? And what about the driving issue, if he were reinstated with many years sober wouldn't it be reasonable to demand this discipline be lifted? Messy, messy...

But it gets worse. The new congregation has been around for 6 years? What should happen to the people attending an openly schismatic church? In theory they have excommunicated themselves, what degree of restoration should be required? What if they choose to go to another (from a catholic perspective) schismatic church that honors discipline, like say an IFBC church. Should they be allowed? This is just a wealth of topics. There is no disagreement on the facts, but how to handle the situation under almost any hypothetical is complex.

So jump in build a scenerio and a solution.

For more detail:
2008 article City Paper
2004 Religious news story
Godspy on the new church
Pittsburgh Tribune article on excommunication

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Conner v. Archdiocesse of Philadelphia

Discipline is non reviewable by courts. I've been looking for a good example of a case which shows this. This Spring in Pennsylvania there was a legal case involving a person punished and then defamed by the church. And the courts determined they can't determine the accuracy of the claim made by the church court. So readers should understand, if you are a member of a church you have zero protection against false allegations which the church upholds. As an added bonus this shows that courts can't intervene based on lack of due process.

The brief facts are a 12 year old, Eric Conner, has either a nail file or a knife in his possession when teachers are concerned there is going to be a violent incident. He is expelled and others in the community are informed he was carrying a knife freely. As a result shunning occurs and the boy is expelled from other activities in addition to school cutting him off from essentially the entire social life of his community. So the question before the court was:
  1. Can the boy sue for defamation (mis-identifying the item in question)
  2. Can the boy sue for negligence (lack of due process)
  3. Can the church be held liable for the results of making false statements and disseminating them freely.
The answers to all 3 questions were absolutely not. Church discipline is not reviewable, the courts could not have been more clear:
All who unite themselves to such a body do so with an implied consent to this government, and are bound to submit to it. But it would be a vain consent and would lead to the total subversion of such religious bodies, if anyone aggrieved by one of their decisions could appeal to the secular courts and have them reversed.
Note here, the issue was nothing of a doctrinal or even religious nature, the question was whether he was carrying a nail file or a small knife. As long as the boy remains a member of the church, the courts cannot review the accuracy of their claims, the process for those claims nor the conduct.

Also of question was the issue of dissemination. Again since Conner was a member he has no protection at all from dissemination within the community:
However, a decision by a religious organization to discuss the fact and import of an ecclesiastical disciplinary decision is, for purposes of the deference rule, no different than the imposition of the discipline itself. This Court would indeed be straying into “the sacred precincts” (Presbytery of Beaver-Butler, supra at 262, 489 A.2d at 1321) if it determined that a religious organization would be subject to civil liability for communicating to its community the existence of a disciplinary decision made and imposed by the organization. If our civil courts may not review an action that challenges the legitimacy of a disciplinary decision of a parochial school, then, in like fashion, they may not review an action that challenges the dissemination of information regarding that decision, at the very least within the narrowly circumscribed limits of the parish community.
In keeping with the recent discussion note the court specifically upheld the Guinn, that termination of membership terminates the protections of the religious institution regarding harassment. Once someone quits the 1st amendment protection of the church court is broken and the secular courts can step in for later actions, but not until they quit. Eric throughout remained a member of his parish.

In Guinn v. Church of Christ of Collinsville, 775 P.2d 766 (Okla. 1989), the Supreme Court of Oklahoma determined that invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims against church elders were not barred by the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution when those defendants continued to publicly denounce the plaintiff as a “fornicator” after the plaintiff had terminated her membership in the church. However, the Court also held that the actions taken by the church elders to discipline the plaintiff prior to her withdrawal of membership in the church were shielded from judicial scrutiny.

In the case sub judice, Appellants have not alleged that they were denounced by Appellees after terminating their membership within the Catholic Church; rather, Appellants alleged only that Appellees had disseminated in the parish school community, during a limited period of time immediately following the incident, information regarding a disciplinary decision that involved Eric.
I can't think of a better case that explains why this blog exists than Conner. Obviously a 12 year old doesn't know about ecclesiastical courts and assumes his teachers aren't going to freely spread lies about him. But if he known how to protect himself, he could have filed an appeal in church court against the nun, called witnesses, and if he what he claims is true been vindicated so that his teenage years wouldn't have been destroyed. It also I think demonstrates clearly why I think it is a terrible idea to just blindly submit to discipline and "trust God".

The full decision is available online.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Why not to keep going on with discipline after a member leaves

The discussion on the blogs regard Rebecca Hancock has been about the right of the member to leave a church. But I think a more general discussion is called for. Why is a bad idea to continue church discipline on non members?

First off it is violation of domestic law. Religion in American is a consensual affair at all times not permanent contract. A person's relationship with a religion ends the moment they say it ends. It is a violation of first amendment rights to assert religious authority over someone without their consent. Marian Guinn vs Church of Christ Collinsville is an important case where the courts were definitive, "No real freedom to choose religion would exist in this land if under the shield of the First Amendment religious institutions could impose their will on the unwilling and claim immunity from secular judicature for their tortious acts." A similar case involving a Mormon was Norman Hancock, with the same result the Hancock was awarded damanges as the court saw continuing a disciplinary process on a non member to be a violation of their civil rights.

Permanent church covenants or statements that discipline will continue after a person tries to leave in no way alter any of the above. They are useful for establishing informed consent to starting a disciplinary process, and continuing it while someone remains a member. But, the law and the courts don't consider religious practice and affiliation to be a contract but rather a civil right. You can't sign away your right to quit a church any more than you can sign away your right to sue for sexual harassment in the workplace. Wollersheim v. Church of Scientology which was twice appealed all the way to the US Supreme Court was unequivocal in its finding that permanent consent cannot be granted. Consent to being disciplined, is like consent to being subjected to any other religious practice and can be revoked at will. For an older case, O'Moore v. Driscoll established that lack of consent to a ritual instantly removes privilege. In Scolinki the courts found that church discipline arises from common interest. A person voluntarily leaving the religious community has severed their common interest, which is why I frequently say that churches can excommunicate immediately or record what they want when a person leaves but not engage in an ongoing process.

Second it is a violation of international human rights law: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18).

The Organization of American States is even more explicit:
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of conscience and of religion. This right includes freedom to maintain or to change one's religion or beliefs, and freedom to profess or disseminate one's religion or beliefs, either individually or together with others, in public or in private.

2. No one shall be subject to restrictions that might impair his freedom to maintain or to change his religion or beliefs. (American Convention on Human Rights, Article 12)
Third it is a violation of religious tradition:
Every man has a right to withdraw from the Church whenever he pleases, in the sense explained in our former article -- a right in the sense that no human authority has the right to detain him. As before God, he has no more right to apostatize than to commit any other sin. He is bound to believe and keep the commandments. But men have no commission to force him to do either. If he wants to go, they must let him go. "They went out from us," says the Apostle -- not that they were expelled, but they went out of their own accord, freely, voluntarily -- "because they were not of us." They found themselves in the wrong place, and they left it. (The Collected Writings of James Henley Thornwell, Vol.4: Ecclesiastical, p. 370.)
To pick a Baptist quote:
Baptists have one consistent record concerning liberty throughout all their long and eventful history. They have never been a party to oppression of conscience. They have forever been the unwavering champions of liberty, both religious and civil. Their contention now, is, and has been, and, please God, must ever be, that it is the natural and fundamental and indefeasible right of every human being to worship God or not, according to the dictates of his conscience, and, as long as he does not infringe upon the rights of others, he is to be held accountable alone to God for all religious beliefs and practices. Our contention is not for mere toleration, but for absolute liberty. There is a wide difference between toleration and liberty. Toleration implies that somebody falsely claims the right to tolerate. Toleration is a concession, while liberty is a right. Toleration is a matter of expediency, while liberty is a matter of principle. Toleration is a gift from God. It is the consistent and insistent contention of our Baptist people, always and everywhere, that religion must be forever voluntary and uncoerced, and that it is not the prerogative of any power, whether civil or ecclesiastical, to compel men to conform to any religious creed or form of worship, or to pay taxes for the support of a religious organization to which they do not believe. God wants free worshipers and no other kind. (By George Truett, Southern Baptist Convention, May 16 1920).
Among Presbyterians the notion of "erasure without consent of the session" or renouncement of jurisdiction is a well established right. For example the largest Presbyterian denomination, the PC(USA) is unequivocal that, "Members, church officers, elders and ministers have the right to renounce jurisdiction at any time. " To pick from the opposite end of the ideological spectrum the Orthodox Presbyterian Church considers leaving without permission of the session to be an erasure but not an excommunication, a termination of membership (Book of Discipline II.B.3.d.1,3,5).

To appreciate the breadth and unanimity of this I'll note that Jehovah's witnesses have a similar notion with different terminology. A member who is excommunicated is called, "disfellowshiped" while one who leaves on their own is "disassociated". There is a clear understanding that the Watchtower bible and tract society cannot claim disciplinary authority over a person who no longer considers themselves a member of the society (see wikipedia for more details).

And again to indicate the breadth, a person who declares themselves to no longer be a member of the church of the latter day saints is a "disaffiliate", and not subject to a disciplinary council (which can pronounce excommunication), "Nor are [Disciplinary Councils] held for members who demand that their names be removed from Church records or who have joined another church; that is now an administrative action." (from A Chance to Start Over: Church Disciplinary Councils and the Restoration of Blessings)

To summarize, it may be the case that the church views the status of one who voluntarily left as having excommunicated themselves, "erasure is an excommunication", or to quote Jim West, "The New Testament identifies two classes of excommunicates: first, those who have been formally sentenced by the Church of Christ (1 Corinthians 5:5). Second, those that excommunicate themselves by leaving the pale of the visible church in order to feast in the world (1 John 2:19)" (link). But the right to leave without engaging in an extended process, is guaranteed by church tradition.

Fourth, treating excommunication as more than simply leaving a church confuses excommunication and anathema. Excommunication is an involuntary separation of communion from a particular group of brethren. Anathema is a separation from God. If a person chooses to separate communion themselves then they are in some sense self excommunicating, by continuing an official process the church is asserting an authority over the status of their spirit, an authority they should not claim to possess. Pope John VIII makes this clear in the decree of Gratian (c. III, q. V, c. XII), "... excommunication, which separates her from the society of the brethren, but under the anathema, which separates from the body of Christ, which is the Church". There is an earlier article on this site which addresses the distinction in more detail.

Fifth, it is unbiblical. Almost every passage dealing with discipline is specific to a church. For example Rev 2:20 the condemnation for the false teacher is only against the church of Thyatira and not against the church universal. 1Cor 5:12, "For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Are you not to judge those inside?" gives churches the responsibility to judge those within the church and excludes those outside the church. So to argue that judgment should continue is to argue that one can be part of a church even though openly leaving it. But 1John 2:19 says the exact opposite, "They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us, because if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But they went out from us to demonstrate that all of them do not belong to us."

Sixth, it is seen by the world as harassment and thus a negative witness. The cartoon I opened this with gives a good picture of how the world sees this. Churches enjoy substantial latitude in the United States because they are voluntary associations, that is everyone is a member because they have chosen to be a member and are in no way coerced into remaining members. Organizations that are mandatory or make it difficult to leave for example: places of employment, business partnerships, condominium associations are subjected to substantially higher levels of regulation and oversight. Society believes people need protections against organizations that are compulsory in a way they do not in organizations that are voluntary. Americans regardless of their affiliation believe strongly in the notion that religion is voluntary, religions that are seen in any way to move towards compulsory are thought of quite negatively and treated quite harshly.

To help Christians from disciplining communities see this the way the world sees it, lets use an analogy. Picture a person who at one time had joined a coven and agreed forever to allow themselves to be bled into a common chalice during circle rites. They quit the coven, does the coven have the right to continue to bleed them?

I'll close with a quote:
We read not that Christ ever exercised force but once, and that was to drive profane ones out of His temple, and not to force them in. - John Milton (1608 – 1674)

Rebecca Hancock

Rebecca Hancock is a 49 year old divorced woman who was formerly a member of Grace Community Church in Jacksonville, Florida. She got involved in a sexual relationship with a man, by the name of Frank Young, and told her church mentor about it. The mentor advised her to break off the relationship and she claims, I must have gone through 10 breakups trying to end it, but after not having the power to do it I would go back, It was hard to give up somebody I love.” Hancock evidentally believed these conversations were confidential. In October '08 the mentor pulled her into the second phase of church discipline. There was an argument and Hancock told the membership, "I cannot believe you people are doing this. I’m not going any further — I’m never coming here again." The pastor then began to call to contact her and Young told him, "she [Hancock] would appreciate it if neither he nor any member of his church contacted her ever again." The church on December 8th issued a letter indicating they would move on to the third stage of discipline (tell it to the church) in January if she hadn't resolved the issue. At which point Miss Hancock concerned that her 18 and 20 year children who were members of the church would be embarrased by a public revelation in church took the issue public by telling Fox News (see Fox News Story). Since then it has spread to various Christian and secular sites.

OK so lets look at the legalities here. First off there is no legal right to confidentiality here (see Penley v. Westbrook), and again I'd caution readers that saying something in church waives legal right to privacy with very few exceptions. On the other hand it appears there was an expectation of privacy in the mentor relationship and it appears either the mentor did a bad job or the membership class didn't address the issue of discipline well enough. The membership class should have explained to Miss Hancock that she was joining a discipling church. Miss Hancock's statements to Fox seem to indicate genuine shock and total ignorance of the discipline proess. That being said nothing in the letter seems unusual for 3rd phase discipline.

The only issue here is whether she is still a member. She has seemed to indicate a desire to permanently sever all relations with the church, and her boyfriend is unequivocal that she no longer regards herself in a pastoral relationship with Grace Community Church. Further she is now active in another church and refers to herself as "no longer a member" (see news 4 story). The news story isn't specific enough for me to know for show whether she has qualified in leaving the church under church law (see how to leave a church) or whether her transfer with irregularities was conducted properly. But I would say that her statements were so strong that under secular law she most certainly did sever her relationship and had they "told it to the church" Grace could be subject to a civil suit (see Guinn v. Church Christ of Collinville). However, at this point she converted herself into a news story so the civil issue dealing with slander is dead.

It is hard to make many more conclusions because Fox News didn't dig. I'm not sure how clearly discipline is explained in the membership class. I would have to say that for a woman who is concerned about the embarrassment of being publicly outed, presenting her story to the national press, seems odd. That is, I don't quite understand how she believes revelation in the national media is going to be less difficult for her children, so her expressed rationale could have been better probed. Still, I applaud her becoming cause of her life rather than an effect. Having taken that attitude earlier would have killed the discipline outright, i.e. taking ownership via. a letter of termination likely would have given her the same level of control without the need of national press coverage. Its also unclear how the transfer / membership termination process got so botched up.

I'll offer Grace Church a chance to comment on this article. But what this smells like is a lack competence but no actual misconduct on the part of the church. On the other hand Mrs. Hancock's story has holes in it which make her sound like either a fool or a bit of a nut job. But in the end this may be editing from the news article.

Web discussions on this:

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Mark Strauss on the ESV

I've attacked the ESV quite a bit on this blog. Better Bibles has been a strong ESV critic as well, and Mark Strauss put together a well written piece on problems in the ESV, called Why the English Standard Version (ESV) should not become the Standard English Version. For those interested in reading my earlier posts on the ESV

Monday, December 1, 2008

Review of the Tyndale Live Bible (teen)

Tyndale mailed me a copy of the Live teen bible to do a review of. And the first word that comes to mind is tasteful. The Live bible is a a mix of the full NLT bible with photos, devotional poetry, study questions with a dash of a teen oriented devotional intermixed. The closest analogy I can think of is the Revolve bible (see inside) And "the revolve done better" is I think a fair way to describe this bible. There is nothing garish about this bible at all, which is a difficult line to walk mixing both extra interest and the bible in a layout that is fun but resptful. For example the non biblical text is separated off from the biblical text using different background colors and fonts so no one is likely to confuse the two (see inside view). One major distinction is that the Live bible is aimed at both sexes and there are no explicitly girl or boy topics.

This is not a study bible (though Tyndale makes a very good NLT Study bible) but it does include a reasonable concordance, daily reading plan and 6 page topical study guide. The concordance is an abridged version of the one from the study bible, where a substantially smaller percentage of the words are linked through but this is probably good enough to get a teen used to using concordance. The reading plan is very abridged with one selected chapter being read each day, so aiming for 5 min per day or less. The check boxes next to the books I think are a good touch. There is the topic index and this does appear to be all new material, based on the sorts of issues likely to confront a teen/tween. While short this does seem useful. Finally the pages themselves are marked on the lower outer margin with the chapter number which is useful for inexperienced bible reader's navigation, a very good feature one rarely finds in any book anymore.

In terms of the NLTse as a translation I've spoken elsewhere but here is my opinion. I generally prefer British (REB/NEB) to American evangelical translations in terms of translational accuracy. As far as American evangelical translations go the NLT, HCSB and TNIV are all roughly as accurate as one another and all more so than most other evangelical translations. All 3 read well but the NLT has a slight edge here. Given that this is a teen bible I'd attach more weight to readability than I normally would and say that in terms of translations the NLT is likely the best choice for the target. The teen bible does include translator footnotes which are uniformly good in the NLT. In particular since the comparison is to Revolve, the NCV is substantially less accurate in exchange for a much more limited vocabulary than the NLT. For a preteen or younger child this might be an acceptable trade off but few teens need the text simplified to the extent of the NCV. And frankly Revolve is too teenage in its topics (boyfriends, makeup, how far to go on dates...) to be good for a girl of say 8-11.

Finally the bible encourages membership in a teen site called rough edit, which is a online community for readers of the Live bible where kids post their biblical creative work and essays. Sort of a online biblical youth group for mainstream evangelical teens. It seems like a nice extra, sort of a safe myspace. Activity seems moderate at this point.

So would I recommend it? For an individual teen I'd have to go with the NLTStudy bible, or more of a pure devotional. That being said, Revolve was the top selling bible in 2003 and so this style of bible is popular. I think the Live Bible does capture the bible / teen devotional mixture better than Revolve with better content in the sidebars and a vastly better translation for a teen than the NCV/Revolve. Where I really think this bible could shine is in the Middle School and High School church youth group. The little add ons would work there when the kids get distracted and at the some time continue with a devotional theme. For this use I can recommend with any hesitation.

A tasteful teen bible that is fun is quite an accomplishment and Tyndale deserves credit.