Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Excommunication of Saint Paul

To Paul:

Glory be to God the Father above who gives us the truth and who allows us to grow in the knowledge of him. It is through possessing and guarding the purity of this truth that our relationship with the Lord prospers.

Our dearest brother, we are very encouraged to read how God has prospered your ministry and has brought many to a knowledge of him. We pray that God will mercifully guide you back to Jerusalem in complete safety, for we know that storms abound on the Great Sea at this time of year.

The occasion for this letter our dear brother is that we have heard some disturbing news about your teachings and doctrine. We are sure that it is all a misunderstanding and that you will continue to follow the true teaching that we profess and guard. Yet being that we have the daunting office of guarding pure Judeo-Christianity, we must confront you on several accounts. For various doctrinal positions exist on the way of Christ, but Judeo-Christianity is the true doctrine that we must protect.

As you well know, our Savior was born a Jew and preached his Gospel among Jews. All of his early followers were Jews and those in the highest Apostolic offices are all of Jewish lineage. Though it has been a rather difficult transition to navigate, we are doing our best to share the Gospel with Greeks on the Jewish terms in which The Way has been imbedded. It is our firm conviction that the Gospel must be preached in terms of our rich Jewish faith that we all trust you place tremendous confidence in. The Greeks must adopt the Jewish expressions of our faith, for to do any less would be to invite the very destruction of Jesus’ message. The only true understanding of The Way must be in keeping with the teaching of our Judaizing associates.

And this brings us to the point of our letter. We have heard about several clashes between yourself and our Judaizing associates. Is it true that you actually told a Gentile congregation, “To the Greeks I have become like the Greeks”? Are you not aware of the dangers in such accommodation to Greek culture? Can you truly believe that you remain a follower of The Way while arguing for such a blatant abandonment of Judaism? Do you not realize that Greek culture is antithetical to the Gospel since it believes in a pantheon of gods and has unbridled immorality?

What is worse than this is that you tell Greeks who would profess to follow our Lord that they need not abstain from consuming meat sacrificed to idols, making them double hounds of hell in their Greek accommodation and disdainfully pagan practices! In fact, in your attempt to “become like a Greek” you have even shared that you despise your Jewish heritage, considering it all for loss. And yet, it is this Jewish heritage and culture that bears the purest expression of our doctrine!

We are also greatly alarmed to hear of your sermon on Mars Hill in the hellish city of Athens. Though your speech was rich in quotations from pagan literature that is vile and of no use to Judeo-Christians, we have no record of you directly quoting a passage of scripture. Is it possible that you have reduced the role of the Bible in your ministry to a mere footnote at the end of your message? Surely even you can see that you have fallen down a slippery slope away from Judeo-Christianity in your neglect to cite the Bible in your teachings.

You may have love, but we have the truth. The truth is what sets us free, while you have accommodated to the Greek culture with your emphasis on love. To have only love without our doctrine is like a loud drum that makes a lot of noise, but never truly follows the score of the music, rendering it of no use. To have love apart from the doctrine of Judeo-Christianity is to ultimately have nothing. They’ll know we are Judeo-Christians by our doctrine.

Are you not aware that you are sacrificing the pure doctrinal foundation of Judeo-Christianity? You have accommodated to a culture that is completely antithetical to the Gospel message. The world is going to hell and yet you persist in playing with the pantheon of the Greeks and their “unknown” God!

If you dare to continue teaching a doctrine other than the pure Gospel message that is encapsulated in the Jewish culture, may you forever be anathema from Judeo-Christianity! You may call yourself a follower of our Lord, but you are surely not one of us. During our next meeting we will be voting on whether or not you should be excommunicated from our council. Your doctrine places you on the outside of our group and any hope of reinstatement rests solely on your return to the purity of our teaching on our terms.

May the grace and truth of our Lord be with you.

and The Judeo-Christian Apostolic Council


The above article is not mine. I found it on the TheOoze, and asked the author, Ed Cyzewski if I could repeat it here. He graciously agreed. Ed Cyzewski is the author of Coffeehouse Theology: Reflecting on God in Everyday Life and blogs at In A Mirror Dimly. The essay is an exploration of Christianity's interaction with culture and is not intended by the author to have an anti-Semitic message in any way.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Calvin the totalitarian

I put together a list for a response on a blog post of Calvin's actions. I figured it might be worth keeping a running list here. Before I do a comment is warranted. Calvin did not invent the state church, that existed before him and was common in Europe. Calvin supported very high standards for church membership and the population by overwhelming numbers supported a strong tie between church membership and citizenship. So it was Calvin's defective theology on the matter of church and state which led to Calvin creating the civil rights nightmare. Quite simply a liberal church can act as a state church and be relatively harmless, a strict church cannot.

Additionally, economically and administratively Calvin was quite masterly and Geneva prospered under his reign.

Use of dictator like strategies

  • Criticism of the ministers and especially Calvin was outlawed.
  • He attacked the rich prominent families of Geneva as the most likely source of political opposition.
  • Nobody could say anything good about the pope.
  • He made frequent use of foreign loyalists against his own population.
  • A network of spies was established and maintained, to report on matters of conduct and behavior between individuals.
Religious Prohibitions:
  • All inhabitants had to renounce the Roman faith on penalty of expulsion from the city.
  • Nobody could possess: images, crucifixes other articles associated with the Roman worship.
  • Fasting was prohibited,
  • Vows were prohibited
  • Pilgrimages prohibited
  • It was illegal to pray for the dead
  • It was illegal to pray in Latin.
  • Attendance at sermons was compulsory. In addition, one had to arrive on time, remain, and pay attention.
  • He executed heretics

Regulation of society
  • Charges of sexual immorality was frequently filed and people often punished for this.
  • It was forbidden to give non-Biblical names to children.
  • There were domiciliary visits, which were put on a regular semiannual basis. The homes of the citizens were visited in order to ascertain the state of the family's morals.
  • Dramatic performances were suppressed, except for plays given by schoolboys.
  • Cards and dice were forbidden.
  • Public dancing was outlawed
  • Secular, indecent, songs were banned
  • There were to be no private taverns; instead, places were provided for eating and drinking, in which pious behavior would be encouraged. A Bible in French was to be displayed, religious conversation encouraged, They were to close at nine in the evening. (this one failed since the religious taverns went out of business)
See also:

Friday, June 13, 2008

Six Steps of a Fundamentalist Revolt

Successful fundamentalist revivals follow a predictable 6 step progression:

  1. Fundamentalism starts with a claim to orthodoxy perceiving itself to be the recipient of and protector of the True Faith.
  2. A modern faith emerges which is adjusting to a changing condition and Fundamentalism reacts against this.
  3. Fundamentalism then selects sacred texts which support its beliefs, but rejects other texts which contradict its ideology narrowing the idealogical landscape
  4. Fundamentalism attacks academic liberty, arguing for discussion only within a narrowly defined parameter.
  5. Fundamentalism then moves on to a simplistic view tending to define issues in the conflict in terms of light and darkness, good and evil, heaven and hell – leaving little room for paradox, inconsistency, parable, allegory or metaphor.
  6. Finally if the revolt is successful fundamentalism establish an orthodoxy of absolutism and certainty.
This of course creates a new material reality which creates a new modern faith and the cycle of conflict repeats.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Pastor Johnson on Insecurity

Pastor Johnson of Reformed Catholicism posted a terrific article on how to identify abusive churches, fake charges and why the elders do this.

First his advice on choosing a church:

People who are accused and sentenced of public sins in the local church should at least have had the option of having some sort of trial and public defense of their position with appropriate legal representation if they so desire before being ejected via excommunication. This too usually doesn’t happen and one will search long and hard for the right to have these things occur in by-laws, constitutions, books of church order, and other founding documents in churches where elders possess almost completely unchecked power. Of course, few people read these documents prior to joining a church like this and only after the fact do they find out what a difficult situation they face in opposition to elders who have the freedom to act as they please and not as they should. If you read your church’s founding documents and you see explicit protections for elders such as needing two or three witnesses before bringing them up on charges or that members current and former do not have the right to sue the church, other members, or elders–all without mention of similar rights and privileges for laymen–you likely have a church that has an eldership with too much power and probably the sort of abuse you want to avoid.

He also gives advice for pastors on how to identify these types of charges when they hear about. I think that other Christians can learn from this as well when it happens to their friends:

So, the next time they publicly shame someone whether from the pulpit or in a special meeting where someone gets excommunicated for something like not attending their church for a month–couched in terms like contumacy and rebellion and failure to submit to the direction of the elders legitimate questions in your mind ought to arise. All of this will come along with a litany of passages mentioned to prop up their authority (if they really had that authority in the first place–mentioning these passages would be completely unnecessary).

It’s not that legitimate discipline shouldn’t occur in a congregation but that illegitimate discipline always carries with it certain signs that careful and experienced eyes can see. Normally you won’t see just one charge against someone that is obviously serious and worthy of excommunication. Instead, you’ll see five or more because the elders who act wickedly in this regard have to justify the drastic action they are taking. Many times also the charges put forward if taken in isolation are not quite so serious individually considered especially when you drill down into the details. These charges are often abstracted from real Ten Commandment like violations. Public pursual of incest or child abuse in a congregation would be enough to get anyone excommunicated from almost any church. But it is difficult to justify doing the same for someone who merely has long-standing disagreements with the session over how they lead or what they may have said from the pulpit. So, the charges have to be multiplied to include all sorts of other justifications for taking more drastic steps toward a person than necessary.
Finally he makes a comment regarding the reason these pastors focus so much on authority:

Have you ever wondered why men in the ministry who engage in spiritually abusive activities are always touting their authority? One reason is because it allows them to do what they want to do virtually unquestioned. But there are deeper reasons. One big one I’ve noticed is insecurity. You see, real authority doesn’t have to be pumped up or backed up by certain passages in the Bible. It does not need the sort of extra help this and that verse provides. Real authority is inherent to the people that exercise it and not conditioned on the people’s correct understanding of this or that passage in Scripture.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Wollersheim v. Church of Scientology

Wollersheim v. Church of Scientology is a case that explores the outer limits of discipline. The church of Scientology did several things that are outside the norm for a "church discipline" case in terms of degree, but not kind. While a member of the church, the church failed to provide him with adequate psychological care for a manic depressive illness. To prevent a member from leaving they engaged in unlawful imprisonment and kidnapping. But they did this essentially the same reason many other churches try and prevent members from leaving. Finally, once the member had successfully left they engaged in a campaign to get him to join the church again, by applying pressure, in this case they used fraud to destroy his business

Essentially this is a very extreme version of: nouthetic counseling, not recognizing the right of members to quit, shunning or other practices to try and bring someone to "repentance". Again as far as I know no Christian church of substantial size in modern centuries within the USA has gone this far, or close to this far, in terms of degree but they do agree with the basic principles.

The fraud, which consisted of having Scientology members not pay bills owed Wollersheim had been centrally organized as part of a policy to attack "enemies of the church" in an organized fashion, a policy the church called "fair game". That is, in the case of Wollersheim the church of Scientology engaged in an organized conspiracy to commit felonies, which is yet another felony called racketeering. However, the Church of Scientology argued their policy of fair game, was a religious protected procedure and they were entitled to full first amendment protections. The state of California and the US Supreme court disagreed. The court agreed that the states cannot in any way burden belief itself in any way. However they held that expressions, that is acts, are subject to regulation. They outlined the "4 part test" for regulating expression of belief, using Cantwell v. Connecticut (1940) as a precedent:
  1. Important or compelling state interest
  2. Burden must be essential to advance that interest
  3. Minimum burden to advance that interest
  4. Must apply equally, i.e. non discrimination
The subsequent cases interpreting these four words make it clear that while the free exercise clause provides absolute protection for a person's religious beliefs, it provides only limited protection for the expression of those beliefs and especially actions based on those beliefs. ( Cantwell v. Connecticut (1940) 310 U.S. 296, 303-304 [84 L.Ed. 1213, 1217-1218, 60 S.Ct. 900, 128 A.L.R. 1352].) Freedom of belief is absolutely guaranteed; freedom of action is not. Thus government cannot constitutionally burden any belief no matter how outlandish or dangerous. But in certain circumstances it can burden an expression of belief which adversely affects significant societal interests. To do so, the burden on belief must satisfy a four-part test. First, the government must be seeking to further an important - and some opinions suggest a compelling - state interest. Second, the burden on expression must be essential to further this state interest. Third, the type and level of burden imposed must be the minimum required to achieve the state interest. Finally, the measure imposing the burden must apply to everyone, not merely to those who have a religious belief; that is, it may not discriminate against religion. (From II.A of Wollersheim v. Church of Scientology) .
In particular criminal acts or acts that violate civil laws are not protected:
If the Biblical commandment to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and to render unto God what is God's has any meaning in the modern day it is here. Nothing in Paul v. Watchtower Bible & Tract Soc. of New York or any other case we have been able to locate even implies a religion is entitled to constitutional protection for a campaign deliberately designed to financially ruin anyone - whether a member or nonmember of that religion. Nor have we found any cases suggesting the free exercise clause can justify a refusal to honor financial obligations the state considers binding and legally enforceable. One can only imagine the utter chaos that could overtake our economy if people who owed money to others were entitled to assert a freedom of religion defense to repayment of those debts. It is not unlikely the courts would soon be flooded with debtors who claimed their religion prohibited them from paying money they owed to others.
We are not certain a deliberate campaign to financially ruin a former member or the dishonoring of debts owed that member qualify as “religious *891 practices” of Scientology. But if they do, we have no problem concluding the state has a compelling secular interest in discouraging these practices. (See pp. 884-886, supra.) Accordingly, we hold the freedom of religion guaranties of the United States and California Constitutions do not immunize these practices from civil liability for any injuries they cause to “targets” such as Wollersheim.
Of interest to the general readership the courts determined the level of emotional harm required for church discipline to become a tort:
For reasons set forth in section II, we have concluded Scientology is not constitutionally immunized from civil liability for its cumulative course of conduct to intentionally inflict emotional injury on Wollersheim. However, this course of conduct does not supply a suitable predicate for a cause of action based on negligent infliction of emotional injury. These actions are potentially actionable only when they are driven by an animus which can properly qualify them as “outrageous conduct.” That is, they must be done for the purpose of emotionally injuring the plaintiff, or at the least with reckless disregard about their adverse impact on plaintiff's mental health. (III)

The Church of Scientology appealed this decision twice to the United State Supreme Court, and twice to the California Supreme Court. The Church of Scientology lost all of these appeals. The original damages were $30m, these were reduced to $5m and then with interest and legal the final payment was $8.6m. The decision is now final. The full citation and subsequent history of the case is enormous due to the extensive appeals:
Wollersheim v. Church of Scientology, 212 Cal.App.3d 872, 260 Cal.Rptr. 331 (2d Dist. 1989), review denied, (Cal. Oct. 26, 1989), review denied, mot. granted, 495 U.S. 902, 110 S.Ct. 1920, 109 L.Ed.2d 284 (1990), cert. denied, 495 U.S. 910, 110 S.Ct. 1937, 109 L.Ed.2d 300 (1990), vacated, remanded, 499 U.S. 914, 111 S.Ct. 1298, 113 L.Ed.2d 234 (1991), on remand, 4 Cal.App.4th 1074, 6 Cal.Rptr.2d 532 (2d Dist. 1992), reh'g denied, 6 Cal.Rptr.2d 532 (Cal.App. 2d Dist. 1992), review granted, 10 Cal.Rptr.2d 182 (Cal. 1992), review dismissed, cause remanded, (Cal. July 15, 1993), cert. denied, 114 S.Ct. 1216, 127 L.Ed.2d 562 (1994).

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