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).Finally he makes a comment regarding the reason these pastors focus so much on authority:
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.
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.