Reflections on a Disfellowshipped Reader

As I mentioned in the last post on this topic, 95% of the Churches of Christ would not have treated the reader so severely. However, I think this sort of conduct is going to become more common — not less. After all, their behavior is logical, given the false assumptions they start with — and lots of Churches of Christ share their starting assumptions. They just aren’t as ruthlessly logical in carrying them out.

You see, it all goes back to the ridiculous notion that violating a silence of scripture damns. I mean, we come up with some very questionable “logic” to conclude that instrumental music (or fellowship halls or church buses) are somehow sinful, and then we just leap to the conclusion that the sin necessarily damns, as though all sin damns. It’s absurd. And yet it’s what a lot of Churches of Christ teach. At least as to instrumental music, it’s the editorial position of every theological print periodical we have — other than the Restoration Quarterly.

Now, one of the truly serious problems with this kind of reasoning is that it knows no end. If God’s silence on instrumental music is a salvation issue, why not God’s silence on Sunday schools? school buses? orphans’ homes? Recently, in Memphis, Church of Christ editors and preachers have been damning each other over elder re-affirmation — in which elders agree to step down if the congregation no longer has confidence in their leadership. You see, the scriptures are silent on this practice.

So we take a doubtful proposition — that silence is always a prohibition; and apply it to a doubtful proposition — that elders may not step down if they lack the confidence of the church; and then draw a completely unsupported conclusion — that this practice damns. And then we even add to that conclusion the notion that being in fellowship with those who practice elder re-affirmation are also to be disfellowshipped as apostate. You see, a failure to disfellowship a known sinner is also sin and thus damns. There is no end.

It’s ridiculous beyond words. It’s an embarrassment to scripture and reason. And it’s getting worse.

It’s getting worse because there’s no way to limit the scope of this argument. If instruments damn because of silence, well, the Bible is silent about an awful lot of things! And the last 100 years show a constant accretion of things that damn.

And if, say, fellowship halls damn, then leaving to join a church that has a fellowship hall is just the sort of sin over which we should disfellowship each other. I’ve laid out my views on how disfellowshipping should happen elsewhere. But not many conservative Churches of Christ agree with me. Rather, they presume to have the duty to disfellowship entire congregations, not to mention former members gone astray.

And if you think you have authority to disfellowship former members, and if you think a former member is damned for attending the wrong church, how could you not disfellowship them? Maybe they’ll repent.

To me, therefore, the interesting question is why we don’t see more of this behavior, given the doctrine being taught? I think there are at least two forces pushing in opposite directions.

First, most well-adjusted people, seeing what happened to our reader, are revolted. I mean, the whole thing is just repugnant. Therefore, many conservative churches aren’t willing to act on their principles. They instinctively know it’s wrong.

Second, however, there’s a definite tendency among the Churches for moderate churches to become either conservative or progressive. There is less and less room in the middle because our doctrine isn’t moderate. Rather, moderate churches are churches with both progressive and conservative members and an eldership that governs by compromise. They have no unified doctrine. And that makes them naturally unstable. Over time, one side or the other predominates and the church moves one way or the other.

When a formerly moderate church becomes conservative, the progressive members either leave or find themselves silenced — which means the church fairly quickly becomes thoroughly conservative. And as the leadership is made up of men immersed in the teachings of the Gospel Advocate and its ilk, they figure that if we should damn over instrumental music, or the role of women, why not over fellowship halls and buses? And the legalism just spreads.

The congregation thus becomes ever more fearful. What mistake in doctrine will damn after next Sunday? What mistakes might we be making? What might we be overlooking? If kitchens damn, why not water fountains (yes, there really are churches that have taken out their water fountains!)?

There is a third dynamic. As young people grow up in conservative churches, many get a bellyfull and leave as soon as they can. The ones who stay are the true believers.

Therefore, I think the longterm trend is for churches to go either progressive or conservative, and for conservative churches — unless they find leadership that helps them find a path out — to become more and more conservative.

The church I grew up in is more conservative than when I was a child. Every church in my present hometown — other than my own — has become more conservative than it was 30 years ago.

And so, I think what my reader suffered through will become more common — until it becomes less common.

It will become less common eventually because conservative churches aren’t converting enough people to replace their own children who are leaving — in droves. Over time, these churches wil die. Literally. In fact, congregations are closing every day. Literally. And in states where conservative churches are the strongest, the numbers of Church of Christ members are in rapid decline. Already.

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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10 Responses to Reflections on a Disfellowshipped Reader

  1. Alan says:

    Over time, these churches will die.

    I agree. I think the hardening of positions we see today is evidence of a bunker mentality as the leaders of these churches see their own end approaching. It may take a few decades though. And they'll undoubtedly do more harm on the way down. But the more they do so, the more obvious it will be to observers that they are dead wrong. And so they will accelerate their own decline.

    It is hard today for a group like this to retain young adults. The internet is a powerful force. You can't stop people from hearing other points of view.

  2. Jay Guin says:

    That's the plan…

  3. I must admit, I am impressed with what I perceive to be a growth in a legalistic view among not just conservative churches of Christ, but also congregations of other denominations as well.

    The attractiveness of legalism seems to me to be that it seeks to provide clarity about one's salvation status.

    The paradox is that, most often in my conversations, those with legalistic views often have the least confidence in their own salvation. What they get instead is the assurance of someone else's damnation.

    I find myself becoming more and more preoccupied with the radical nature of agape, grace and forgiveness — which can reach even to a legalist.

    Hope springs eternal.

  4. Rick Griffis says:

    The suspense is killing me. You have to elaborate on churches that have removed their water fountains!

  5. Jim Kuykendall says:

    The best defense is a good offense. The more these guys attack others to make themselves feel good about themselves and to continue to build that great false front on their salvation.

    How in the world would one ever explain this to God….. I can almost hear it now….
    "Now let me see if I understand this…. You spent all of your adult life crushing the spirits of others who were seeking me because you decided that you had the only right version of MY Gospel, and you judged them, and them you pronouned your discipline on them, and then you beat and suppressed them, and all the while, an entore population of a world was out there begging for your help, for your kindness???? Help me understand this?"

    I pray that we can one day get past this to do what God intended us to do………….

  6. Thank God for all of us, that he is so gracious and forgiving.

  7. Alton P. says:

    Jay, I have been saying for several years that I thought the legalism had become worse than it was when I was, say, a teenager (I am 72yo) but I had never thought about it being a natural course of events when one takes the view that "silence is prohibitive". Thanks for the insight.
    The confusing thing (to me) about that view is that religion is the only place where people have that thought. In everyday life we use the the term "silence is assentation" meaning that if we are silent about a matter then we must be in agreement with it.

  8. Jay Guin says:


    Imagine telling your son as he heads off for his first day of kindergarten: "If I've been silent, it's wrong. Don't do it or I'll disown you." Imagine how miserable he'd be as he wrestles with whether it's okay to make models with clay or to sing with the teacher or eat red Jello for lunch when you've always served yellow.

    Imagine saying to his teacher, "I told you it was okay to sing with my son. I had no idea that you'd take that to mean 'sing with an instrument.'! How dare you!! Don't you understand the common-sense principles of general and specific authority? What kind of teacher are you?"

    No one ever takes such an approach in life outside of church. Rather, we teach our children broad principles, illustrated with examples, and expect them to fill in the blanks based on those principles: does it honor God? does it reflect love for my neighbor? is it good stewardship? Those and few others like them fill in the blanks.

  9. Jay Guin says:

    Here's the story. And it's true.

    Many years ago, a friend was complaining to me about his home congregation. They refused to build a kitchen or a fellowship hall, basing this on 1 Cor 11, where Paul asked, "Don't you have homes in which to eat and drink." (I'm quoting from memory, because I'm typing at the Orlando airport waiting on a plane.)

    Being the smarkaleck I can be, I asked, "Do they have a water fountain? It says 'eat or drink.'!"

    So on his next trip home, he made the argument. And they took out the water fountain!!

    When he next saw me, he was astounded and upset. I said, "Look. If it makes the building 'unholy' to have a water fountain, surely having a restroom does so all the more!"

    My friend said he was through arguing with the elders, as he couldn't risk facing his friends while being blamed for the removal of the restrooms. 😀

    Some years later I heard about another church that had reached the no-water-fountain conclusion, perhaps from the same sarcastic conversation. I have no idea how many churches have removed their water fountains because of my small aleck remark.

    We are indeed a peculiar people.

  10. Kim Gasaway, a humbl says:

    Is the problem conservative versus progressive, legalism versus liberalism or is it a non-biblical theology exposed.

    It sometimes takes a lot of water going under the bridge for a seemingly harmless teaching to take root and providing a temptation to sin. Denominations are an example. I am sure there were no evil motives in being referred to a name of a prominent teacher. Even though we see Paul kind of nixing this practice in 1 Corinthians. They were just misled. Then they followed it out to its logical conclusion.

    Where scripture is silent….where it speaks…
    Is it the theology of the statement or the mistaken application? Maybe Francis Schaeffer was correct when he suggests we take our theology to its absurd conclusions to see if we are thinking sound and logical.

    The problem is when we use bad theology to arrive at personal preference. Did Paul or Peter or even Jesus say we are to follow the teaching extra-biblical exclusiveness or did they say we had freedom in Christ where their teachings were silent? Good question. I wish people would search for an answer.

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