A Reader’s Email about Being Disfellowshipped

I get emails. This tragic email is lengthy but important. A reader wants to know how to respond to having been disfellowshipped. Readers, what do you think?

(Edited for length and privacy. Posted and edited with permission.)


I have been reading and studying your website for some time now. First, let me say it has been very edifying and uplifting. It has cleared up many issues I’ve had and helped me find some peace in an chaotic time in my life. Thank You.

Second, I would like to get some advice on the practice of disfellowship in some conservative Churches of Christ.

Some history:

I am a xxx-year old wife and mother of x children. I was raised in a very conservative Church of Christ and my entire family is very strong in this faith (x generations strong — EVERY member!) My husband was raised Baptist, but after we were married he was baptized, and even though he didn’t agree with all the ‘legalism’ in the Church of Christ — he did see the need for his repentance, baptism and following his Savior, and he joined the church where my family and I went.

After 15 years, we have had so many issues and doubts with their teachings. We found ourselves being dragged down with all the judging and legalistic views. I would go to church happy, edified and ready to serve, but leave upset, discouraged and frustrated. I studied with the preacher (who is a good friend) on many of the topics, but there was no room for opinions.

(By the way, my parents will not go to any of the Churches of Christ in our hometown — for 15 years we have driven 30 minutes to the next town to go to church — they disfellowshipped the Churches of Christ in our town for being weak and/or too liberal.)

Some of the issues were/are: musical instruments (which I don’t care if they are in the church or not, I wasn’t pushing for them to add them, that was never mentioned, I just don’t see the need or encouragement in condemning others to hell for it). This was taught over and over from the pulpit, “anyone praising God with an instrument is not obeying God’s commands and will go to hell for their going against Bible authority” our preacher believed (along with many others) that is was even a sin for me to listen to religious music on the radio.

This is pretty much all me and my little girls listen to. I can’t find in the scripture how this is sin. Your comments on this subject has strengthened my beliefs. I believe we can and should praise God in ALL we do.

One of my daughters is very musically inclined. She is only 6 and when she plays the piano she automatically wants to sing ‘love songs’ to Jesus. I think this is beautiful and God is happy with this praise from a pure and loving little heart. But my family (parents, grandparents) say we shouldn’t let her do this. They believe that even in the home you are worshiping God in a way he has not suggested. This has caused many ‘debates’ between us because I do not wish to teach this to my children. I want them to praise God for the talents and gifts he has blessed them with. I’ve told them that any gift they have is from our Father in Heaven, so to praise him with that gift is the best thing they could do.

Also, the Church of Christ here condemns (as a SIN) having a church bus, having a fellowship hall, supporting anything other than missionaries, etc. … all the basic things the conservative Churches of Christ condemn.

About a year ago, I really started having doubts. I kept studying daily on my own. I found myself being totally absorbed in God’s word. I couldn’t put the Bible down. After about 6 months of listening to sermons that were directed at me or my doubts, I really wanted to leave. I asked for this to stop, but our preacher told me he was afraid for my salvation and thought I needed to repent of my beliefs that disagreed with his.

My husband wanted to stop going to the Church of Christ and start going to the 1st Christian Church here in our home town.  And our oldest children (teenagers) were asking to move too.

So we all started going to the Christian Church and have been there since Oct. (My husband felt it was a place we could find peace to study and grow without force.)  It seems the Christian Church here is a lot like the Church of Christ where you are. They teach truth without all the legalism — and they show love to the community and serve the poor — and it’s the love and nonjudgmental attitude that has caused us to be edified and want to stay.

Needless to say, the first week I missed services at the Church of Christ I received a letter in the mail stating (very coldly) that I would have 1 month to come back or I would be disfelowshipped — it was addressed only to me, since I am the one who spoke my doubts.

The letter was signed by the men of the congregation, which included my father, grandfather and brother-in-law. None of them had come to speak with me about this. They just sent a 1 line letter. I called and sent a letter to the preacher and then the whole congregation saying I was very sorry for any bad feelings I had caused.

No one even knew anything was going on (except for my family and the preacher and 1 elder) until I had already been ‘warned’.  I went to my parents’ house twice begging for their patience and begging for them to let us  grow and study on our own for a while. I begged them not to disfellowship me. I told them I was sorry for everything. I told everyone to please be patient and realize I was not leaving or doubting God — I was just searching to settle some issues in my mind. I never condemned any of them for any of their beliefs — I just wanted the same in return.

I never meant to hurt them. But I felt like I was starving for spiritual guidance and spiritual food — my husband and I needed to go somewhere else. But this wasn’t allowed.

Now my children have such a ‘negative’ feeling towards the Church of Christ. My husband and I have not fueled this. I keep telling them to understand our family is hurt and upset right now, that it will all be ok.

At Thanksgiving and Christmas our kids were invited to the family dinner and holiday celebration — but I wasn’t. The kids of course didn’t want to go — but I asked them to go and show respect to their grandparents and the rest of the family and just to love and serve. I don’t want them to be bitter or hold a grudge towards anyone. I know that is where Satan will tempt up right now, so we are continually praying for God to keep our hearts good and help us not let any bitterness and anger in.

I kept calling and trying to go see and help my grandparents, until about 3 weeks ago, my grandmother told me on the phone (crying) that I could no longer call them or come see them. I don’t understand this at all —

I never talked to anyone else at church about my doubts, so I didn’t cause any division. I know God hates that. I just miss my family so much. I especially want to be there for my aging grandparents.

They have told my kids that we are all on the road to hell. Am I missing somewhere in the scriptures that teach this?

When I ask them what sin they have against me, they tell me I’ve been a railer (when I looked this up, the definition said ‘one who curses and rails against….’ ). I haven’t done this.

Another said I had chosen to neglect the assembly of the saints. And since they consider only Church of Christ members saints — they don’t consider going to the Christian church ok.

I’m sorry to be so long — I have grown to respect your blunt, honest, view. I won’t be insulted if you disagree and correct me on any of this. I would just like an unbiased, godly opinion to make sure I’m not being stubborn and ignoring something God is telling me.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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33 Responses to A Reader’s Email about Being Disfellowshipped

  1. Pat says:

    You asked what we think. This letter reflects such pain and sadness ~ on the part of everyone involved ~ and my heart is deeply touched. I will pray for the writer's wisdom, courage and peace ~ and that of her family. I will pray that she will experience God's very presence in this dark time. The first thing that comes to mind is how ironic it is that her preacher and her family seem to overlook the only commandments that Christ gave that were important enough to be numbered ~ numbers one and two found in Matt. 22:37-40. Having experienced (even still) the growing pains of breaking free of legalistic traditions, I know a little about her struggle. But there is a truth that she is discovering, and it is life-changing. She must not give up ~ even against the forces that would bind her. When she does come to a point of confidence in what she is doing, and where her husband and children are, she will rejoice, and find a joy she has not known. Jay, you and I know that my story is different, but please feel free to share any part of it privately that you think might encourage this woman.

  2. Jack Exum Jr says:

    Dear Jay,
    Lately I have not responded to articles much, because I have been so engrossed in studying the materials on Amazing Grace, Worship etc…. and sending them to members here.
    When I read this dear sister's letter my heart just broke at what so many in the dear family of God have become. My prayer for us is that we will learn from her humility, spiritual struggle, courage and openness. To search for truth, and ask questions is so precious to a true search for truth. Open to the scriptures no matter where it leads as long as it leads to the side of the Master. This is my struggle as I study. Surely, brethren who see someone in need, someone with questions, can find another way to answer. Condeming someone over a church bus? a kitchen? a song book? listening to Christian music at home that has instruments? While billions of lost are dying without Jesus.
    I pray the church will begin again to openly, objectively study and re-study God's word, (without periodicals to tell us what we are supposed to believe). We tell non members, "Lay aside your prejudice.""Forget what denominations teach""Lay aside what mom and dad have taught"… what about us? Are we willing to do the same while searching the scriptures? Are we afraid where it will lead to have such a study? Hope not.
    Amazing Grace (big grace) is for all. JD Bales once asked someone, "Is there more grace for those outside of Jesus coming into the body, than for those inside Christ trying to grow?"
    To the lady and her family I am saying this, never stop growing in Christ, God bless you.

  3. Chr1sch says:

    I can't help it… but it really sounds as if she was trying to leave a cult!

    It's sad.

  4. wjcsydney says:

    Agreed, Chr1sch. That's typical cult behaviour.

    Praying for this lady – praise God she is free, despite the pain and heartache of the broken relationships. John 8:32

  5. That one breaks the heart. And it reminds me of a quote from Miss Maudie Anderson in To Kill A Mockingbird:

    "Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whiskey bottle in the hand of (another)… If Atticus Finch drank until he was drunk he wouldn't be as hard as some men are at their best…There are just some kind of men who – who're so busy worrying about the next world they've never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.'

  6. nick gill says:

    When fear dominates the hearts of believers, bruised reeds are snapped and smoldering wicks are crushed. I am SO dreadfully heartbroken and sorry for what you have experienced at the hands of saints.

  7. "This is how men will know you're my disciples, because you love one another."

  8. Royce says:

    She very possibly left a group of lost people. It sounds very much like they are trusting the church of christ and being right rather than in Christ alone.

    If loosing family love is the price you must pay to follow Jesus it should be no surprise. Why should anyone think people are saved who behave in such unloving ways, just because they have been baptised?


  9. Todd says:

    Mark 10:29-31 (NIV)
    "I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields–and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first."

    My heart goes out to you dear sister. And my prayers will rise for those in bondage to such sin as has been perpetrated against you.

  10. Alton P. says:

    I must respond to this. The description this lady gives of her growing doubts describe my journey precisely, although I can not imagine the rejection by one's parents or grandparents.
    I was an elder for a time in a congregation with a similar attitude. we have since left the Church of Christ and now attend a Christian church. As "Crisch" commented above these congregations are "cults". They have every characteristic given in a definition of a cult. So, if it walks like a duck, looks like a duck and quacks like a duck it is probably a duck. After you leave and see them from the outside you can understand why people consider the entire Church of Christ to be a cult.
    My only advice to the lady and her family is to rejoice in their God given freedom and keep praying that God will give her opportunities to influence her remaining family members. I continually pray for the ones left at our former congregation. This is very much akin to slavery. Unless the slave recognizes that he or she is a slave and wants to free themselves there is very little one outside can do for them.

  11. Alton P. says:

    P.S. Al Maxy has a Reflections this week that is on a similar topic about his journey and what it sometimes costs to follow Jesus rather than man's desires.

  12. odgie says:

    It is so easy to expound on these issues in the abstract, when one has never experienced the type of conflict that this lady describes. I have differences of opinion with various friends and members of my immediate and extended families – but these differences have never caused any of us to turn away from one another. So I can only imagine what it feels like to live through what she has lived through. Her description of her experience is one of the saddest things that I have ever read.

    But it also makes me angry. If the type of abuse (and it is abuse, make no mistake) that she has experienced is the end result of our theology and tradition, maybe we should close up shop. Maybe our declining membership rolls are the natural (or providential) consequence of this type of abuse. I don’t know whether my sadness or disgust is stronger.

    But sister, for what it is worth, thank you for sharing this. Know that you and your family are being lifted up in prayer. Praise God that your faith has survived this.

  13. JimKuy says:

    "………and Jesus wept."

    May God have mercy on those who have passed such harsh judgement. Kind of like Pilot washing his hands and the Jewish religous leaders all rolled into one modern day condemnation.

    To our hurt sister, please get your family involved in your new church. Grow close to them, be involved, share your biblical wisdom, and you will surely gain a great number of "new" family members. You and your family are now truly "members" of Gods family. Embrace this because this is now your life, and they are now your family. May God bless You and Your family as you begin this part of your journey.

  14. Alan says:

    Satan has really made a mess of things in the church. In this example, because of sincerely held beliefs on both sides, a wife and mother cannot have fellowship with her own parents. No allowance is being made in that congregation for different opinions on peripheral matters. That is Satan's work, not God's.

    The members of your parents' church are not the enemy. They are IMO deceived by the enemy. The church of Jesus Christ must be a safe place to learn and to grow — which means it must be a safe place to change your mind on something, and perhaps to change it back again later. Without that safety, no learning can take place. That is one of Satan's schemes.

    It sounds like you've found a congregation teaching the truth of the core gospel, and living it out in service to the community. If that is the case, my advice is to keep your family there where they can grow and serve God with pure consciences. Don't condemn those who condemn you. Mercy triumphs over judgment. Return kindness when you receive evil. Easier said than done, I know… especially when much-loved family members are involved.

  15. Chr1sch says:

    Jay, what was you answer to her? What did you tell her?

  16. John Cole says:

    I also have had the same issues with the church of Christ. I was born into the church and grew up around these members.They were very close friends with my family and I cared for them deeply. When I got to be a teenager My father, who was a deacon had a dissagreement on marriage/divorce and remarriage and the church split and we left.(best thing to ever happen to me)My father then started a church that I am now a minister of youth/music presently. As I have gotten older and somewhat wiser I have grown out of the beliefs of this religion.
    The reason is because of the persecution I have endured in the past 15 years or so.When I was in High School I played the Trombone and during our halftime show we played Amazing Grace.Of course I did'nt want anyone to know because I was afraid that I would'nt be allowed to play.My fear came true.The elders caught wind of this song selection and told me I was unable to play because it was a sin, so after I got a little sarcastic with them they took my mouthpiece. I was embarrased by this so much, but I was a little smarter then them.The night of the football game I had to march and act like I was playing. Although I felt guilty for doing this I had an extra mouthpiece so right before I got out on the field I put it in and played anyway. In fact where I was marching I had to march right in front of the elders and deacons in which I blew a little harder then everyone else so they could hear me. I was proud to stand up for this and continued through my whole week of restriction for doing it. I asked more and more questions and could'nt get answers. So i knew they were wrong on these issues. To this day if I see any of the members they will stop in mid stride, turn around and walk away.This is so sad. I was very bitter against them for so long that I had even started hating them for it. Now, since I've had my kids and have grown up my thoughts about them have changed to sadness that they cannot enjoy the life and grace God has given us. I too have been disfellowshipped and it reminds me of how God saved me and my children from losing out on the beauty of being a christian. I know its hard for you, when people say they love you until you disagree with them and then they don't know you. Remember that these people aren't the ones that save you.Jesus does.
    I will pray for you

  17. gkblhb says:

    My heart goes out to you in this time of grief but I am here to say from experience….this to shall pass, don't ever look back. You will not regret it. It may not pass quickly unfortunately but it will. Having been down the road upon which you have embarked, I can now say with confidence that the love of Christ triumphs over all enemies. I urge you to continue your study, delve deeply into the freedom of Christ, learn the doctrine of Christ and do your best to overcome the laws of men. Now 12+ years on the other side of our own event my heart turns yet to sadness for the people we left behind who are yet helplessly entrenched in the law of men and hatred of others. I will pray for you and for your family. Cherish Christ's command…"to love one another."

  18. Jay Guin says:

    I told her I was going to ask the readers what they think. My reply will come after the readers have spoken.

  19. Terry says:

    Your reader has done nothing wrong. Church discipline (at all stages) should be reserved for genuine sins. One book that could help is entitled "Recovering From Churches that Abuse" by Ronald Enroth. It is a very helpful book. It may be out of print, but if your reader cannot find it and would like a copy, please have her e-mail me at [email protected]. I would be happy to send her my copy.

  20. xray342 says:

    "I can’t help it… but it really sounds as if she was trying to leave a cult!"

    You're right on. Even though this particular congregation may not necessarily fit some formal definitions of a cult, there are more than enough signs to say that this place is not a healthy environment for someone pursuing a relationship with God.

    There were several parallels between her story and mine (leaving the International Churches of Christ in 2006), particularly church leaders and members doubting my salvation because of the questions I was asking and making it look like it was "my fault" for leaving.

    Unfortunately, I can also understand the reason why her family members reacted in the way they did. The threat of compromising their system of understanding God trumped the threat of damaging or losing their relationships with her. None of my family has ever been around the ICOC (praise the Lord!) However, I remember the cold shoulder I received once people knew that I wasn't going to step back in line with the church's status quo. I've seen the "love switch" turn off when other people disagreed with the ICOC and turned back on again when they would "repent" and submit to the leadership's views.

    I also find it ironic that this woman wanted to contain her disagreements with the leadership of the church, while all the while the leadership and church's culture was itself being divisive against the Body of Christ at large! But I'm not surprised in the way the church's leadership carried it out. Love in their eyes is conditional based upon doctrinal purity, not based upon the love of Christ on the cross. May God humble them by leveraging their legalism to bring them to the end of themselves.

    I'm definitely praying her. She's certainly a "railer" (see 1 Corinthians 5:11 in the KJV) – a railer against legalism!! 🙂

    P.S. On a side note, this brings up the point how churches in general can help those who have been spiritually abused. Obviously for someone who is lost, broken, hurting, or addicted, the truth and grace of Jesus is the answer, but what if their picture of Christ is distorted, like many of those who have been spiritually abused? They may not be willing to go to a Sunday worship service or even open the scriptures with other Christians.

  21. Alan says:

    Hi xray342,

    Thankfully not all "churches of Christ" are doing the kinds of things that are being described here. In fact I believe it is a shrinking minority. Similarly, not all churches that were part of the old ICOC are doing the kinds of things you described. The beauty of being autonomous congregations is that local leadership can do the right thing without getting consent from leaders in other places. That is very evident in many ICOC congregations today.

    It is a tragedy that such things were done to you and others. I hope you have found a place where you can grow in Christ and enjoy the peace that comes with it.

  22. Joe Baggett says:

    Just so that you all know her story is not unique. Here is an example of people who have left the churches of Christ in similar circumstances. There are literally thousands. When you read their stories you will see it is not made up. They speak of real, people, real places, and real events. My prayer is that we will continue to study ourselves out of this thinking and behavior.

  23. So sad. The attitude of the congregation are as far from Christ as day is from dark. When will we leave legalism and its damage behind. May God have mercy on all.


  25. Jay Guin says:

    Br Exum,

    I can't tell you what a thrill it is to have you read my work and speak highly of it. You've always been one of my heroes in the faith.

    Years ago, you preached a meeting at the Alberta Church of Christ in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I was there. Shortly thereafter, my church — the University Boulevard Church of Christ, merged with Alberta to become the University Church of Christ.

    I've always believed that that the faith-filled, grace-infused lessons you taught were one reason the merger went so well — and that merger been a great blessing to the Kingdom. The doctrine of grace is the anti-split doctrine. It brings brothers together.

    Many thanks for your long career preaching the Truth. It took tremendous courage, and you made an important difference.

  26. Royce says:

    Bro' Exum,

    Every church of Christ member owes you and men like you a gread debt of gratitude. Thank you for your faithfulness to Christ and the message of God's gracious offer through Him.

    Just today I had communication with a man who has been in a church of Christ for many years and has no idea if he is saved or not. As you said he is not sure he has done enough. Thanks to you and other grace filled gospel preachers many of our people are now at rest from their labors and secure in Jesus.

    Royce Ogle

  27. Pat says:

    Bro. Exum,

    Many years ago you held a three day meeting in my church. I even remember where I sat those nights, riveted by your words. I had been a Christian for years, but knew nothing about grace. You offered, free of charge, copies of your little book, How Do You Know That You Are Accepted……When You Fail and Don't Do Good. Because your sermons were so encouraging, I took a copy of the book. It introduced grace to me ~ and it's words changed my life. In my late thirties, for the first time I believed that heaven would be my destiny. Your little book changed my whole perspective on my life as a child of God. Upon awakening to grace, I became a better person in every aspect of my walk ~ and I became a different Bible teacher.

    Sadly, in my church not everyone took your lessons to heart, and I have often wished you could come back and we could hear you again. I have given away many copies of that little book with the prayer that it would have the impact on the reader that it had on me. Jay's writings have also been of immeasurable help, and I consider myself blessed to have encountered you both.

    Thank you so very much for the wonderful influence you have had on so many.

  28. Alabama is a long time ago. Always have great memories of speaking a number of times at the University church.

  29. Dear Jay, thanks for the memories. I am now retired. Wrote and published 39 books. Inherited 30k and now in the process of giving them away. Any of your many readers who desire 20 different titles in a box may receive a box. I started with 1300 boxes and now down to about 700. If they want to include $10.00 for the box, stuffing, postage and labor – fine. This would help but is NOT NECESSARY TO RECEIVE THE BOOKS FREE. My main effort is to get this materials in the hands of those who want them.

    Just hurry while supplies last and before Jeus calls me home. Love you – Jack. My address is 244 SE. Sable Lane, Lake City, Fla. 32024. Keep up the good work.

  30. Baxter Graves says:

    Dear Alton,

    I wish we would not use the phrase, So, if it walks like a duck, looks like a duck and quacks like a duck it is probably a duck. I experience as a minister and shepherd a dear sister use that phrase against me as a false teacher because my message was good news and not legalism.

  31. xray342 says:


    I agree that the word "cult" is a loaded term since most people associate it with Jim Jones, Marshall Applewhite, David Koresh, and the tragic ends their groups faced. Cult expert Margaret Singer's technical definition of a cult includes the role of a leader, the relationships between the leader and their followers to do the leader's bidding, and the manipulative systems that attract and keep the followers locked into the group. So it's fairly broad. I've thought of it (in the Christian sense to describe churches) as a continuum: healthy, legalistic, toxic, and cultic.

    In addition, you not only have the sociological aspects of cults, you also have theological aspects to deal with. They usually go hand-in-hand. The further a church is away from core scriptural truths, particularly in the nature of God and salvation doctrine, the more abusive and controlling it tends to be.

    Fortunately I believe that we can assume that this woman and everyone in her old congregation became a Christian because legalism doesn't typically play into "hear, believe, repent, confess, and be baptized". That legalism came in later. (Imagine a minister or elder saying "Well lost soul, you just confessed Jesus as Lord in front of the congregation, but we can't baptize you unless you believe that if you do [list of issues] you're going to hell"!) However, the legalism has festered to the point where it's obviously affecting how the members relate to each other and Christians outside of their congregation. This is where I would say that it would take on characteristics of a cult. Prayerfully the Holy Spirit can open the minds and hearts of the people there since the toxicity has reached the point where it jeopardizes the salvation of everyone there. He certainly lead this dear sister out of there. 🙂

  32. Michael Richard&#039 says:

    The beautiful child of God who seems to be searching where it is she should be when she worships, is obviously hurting from the treatment she is receiving from her family and former church. I believe that through prayer and the study of God's Word, she will find her place and her way, and the peace that will ultimately come with her decision. She will one day be able to not only forgive her family and former church, but will possibly/probably, with God's helping hand, lead them where God would have them go. I pray for this lady who I'm sure is already closer to God now than she was before this trial. I also pray for those misguided souls who just need the same help with direction that she is now seeking. The problem they have, and it's a biggee, is that they do not realize the path they are on. I pray for God's will in this situation, and I pray God opens this Sisters eyes, if only briefly, that she may see a portion of the future and receive some peace just now!

  33. kris says:

    I'm sorry but not all Churches of Christs are "cults" and i'm very sorry for you that you must feel that way. No one,nor no one church is perfect- Let those w/out sin cast the first stone. I will pray for you and i will pray for this sister of mine in Christ who is need of true guidance not opinion. I've never heard of a Church of Christ behaving in such a ,manner until i read this post,this truly saddens me and maybe that church needs some true biblical guidance… God Bless you all and i will pray for you.

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