Excommunication and Shunning Members of the Church (Part 3 of 3)
By Joe Keim
May 1, 2011
The following letter is in response to the article labeled Excommunication and Shunning, January 2011 issue. Also read our readers' responses in Part 2.
Dear Fellow Pilgrim, greetings in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ. Have often been tempted to write to you and just kept putting it off. You write many good articles and just received your last writing a few days ago.
After reading your article on excommunication and shunning, I was moved to write. For the most part I am agreed with your view. I do have some questions. Do you belong to a church that has no guide lines or anything that you can't read in the New Testament?
Joe Responds: I have been part of the same church for 24 years. And in that time, I have seen God do many wonderful things in the Body of Christ.
During those same years, I have also, at times, looked on as Satan caused havoc among God's family members. In each situation, the church leaders had to step in and use church discipline, as outlined in various parts of the New Testament.
Yes, we have guidelines that we follow very closely. No, they aren't written on paper as some might expect; they are listed throughout the New Testament. The following are some areas of which I speak of:
- Galatians chapter 5:19-21
- Colossians 3:5-9
- 1 Corinthians chapter 5
At times, when the Scriptures are not as black and white as we wish they were, and when something comes up that Scripture does not deal with directly, we try to use prayer and 14th chapter of Romans as our guide.
Illinois Reader Writes: Would be curious to know, when Achan stole the Gold and Silver sheckels, he done so without any of the Israelites knowing. You say, because of this, God blamed everyone and was angry at everyone. In your next paragraph you wonder how many innocent church members are suffering severe consequences because nothing is being done to purge out the sin that has sprung up among us today. Are you saying if we have one member in our church with a hidden sin that we don't know about then the whole church is condemned? (hope not)
If this were the case, then what church would we feel comfortable in? Maybe I misunderstood your reason for mentioning Achan and how God dealt with them. If you didn't mean to say these examples apply to us today then what was the reason for giving them. Am not sure I am understanding what you meant to say.
Joe Responds: Yes, I have to believe if there is un-confessed sin within the camp (church body), and the leaders and lay members turn a blind eye toward that sin, it is very possible that it could devastate the whole body.
The reason I believe that is because of what is recorded in the following areas of the New Testament:
In Luke 12:1, Jesus said: "...Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy."
Before we discuss the "leaven of the Pharisees", let's consider what leaven is and does. Leaven is simply another word for yeast, and if you know much about yeast, you will understand that a very small amount of yeast, added to bread dough, will quickly spread throughout the whole dough and cause it to rise.
Consider Jesus' ongoing conversation in Luke chapter 12, as He further explains leaven. Verse 21 says: "It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened."
The Pharisees believed in a personal God and in the Scripture as God's Word to man, but they added to God's Word. Or in this case, we might say, "they added some of their own leaven (man-made rules and regulations) to God's Word.
In the case of the Pharisees, this led to three gross errors.
- It led people to think that their good behavior and their religious rituals and ceremonies made them acceptable to God. A religion of good works-of trying to do enough good to become acceptable to God-was being depended upon for righteousness.
- It led to a religion of external religion. In other words, if a person was respected by his or her lifestyle, and did all the right things, then s/he was judged acceptable to God.
- It led to an attitude of self-righteousness. If a person kept the rules and regulations, he naturally felt righteous and sometimes demonstrated it. There was a dependence upon himself, upon keeping the right rules and thereby becoming righteous.
There are other places in the New Testament that tell us how a little leaven, left unattended, brings harm on the whole body. For example, take 1 Corinthians chapter 5, where Paul shares about the young man that was in a sexual relationship with his father's wife. And rather than mourn, the church became puffed up.
In verse 6-7, God's Word tells us: "...Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump...
I would like to bring out one more instance in Scripture where God clearly illustrates the devastating results of NOT dealing with leaven (sin) in the camp.
Consider the following: The Church at Galatia, had at one time, clearly understood that Christian liberty could only be received through faith in Christ; not anything man could do on his own. However, as time went by, many of the church members began to fall back into the same bondage they had been saved from-bondage of believing that in order to be completely saved from sin and hell, a person had to continue to follow parts of the law. That's when Paul began to make statements like the following:
Galatians 1:6 I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:
Galatians 2:16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, ... for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
Galatians 3:1-3 O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh (man-made rules)?
Galatians 3:10-11 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.
Galatians 3:23-25 But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.
Can someone say AMEN to those Scriptures! Aren't you glad we are on the side of the fence called "Faith, Grace and Liberty" and not on the side of the fence called "Law, Regulations and Bondage"? Ok, let's continue reading the various statements that Paul made to the members of the Galatian Church.
Galatians 4:9 But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?
Galatians 5:1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.
And finally, Paul comes toward the end of his letter (middle of chapter 5) and he points to the people who have allowed the law and bondage to creep back in the church. He is clear, if you don't stop this corrupt teaching, it is going to act as leaven that leaveneth the whole church. Look at the Scripture:
Galatians 5:9, A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.
Most of us, including myself, underestimate the devastating affects that man-made rules can have on God's grace. Here is why: When you and I come up with our own standards, we tend to put our trust in us, rather then God. We also tend to measure other people by our standards, rather than using God's standards. And in Galatians 5:9 (the verse we just read), we are all reminded, it only takes a little leaven to affect the whole lump. In fact, right before we read "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump" Paul wrote:
Galatians 5:4, Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.
Illinois Reader Writes: I am a member of the Old Order Amish church. Became a member when I was 18 years old. Yes, our church is not perfect, but have seen many improvements in spiritual issues over the past 50 years. I have no desire to hinder any ones spiritual condition and have no intentions of making insulting remarks but am thinking of hopefully being a help one to another.
On page 3 of your last mailing, in the center column, you say over the years there have been some extreme cases where certain members in the churches have taken their own lives because they saw no way out of their emotional and mental misery. Their thinking has been described in the following ways: Then you use two paragraphs to describe what they think that causes them to take their own lives.
Question: Have any of these people that you personally knew told you or anyone else that you know that they are going to end their own life because they were in such a situation? If not then, by what other means of knowledge would you feel comfortable to put those statements in print?
Joe Responds: I can't say that I have been closely related to those who have taken their own lives for the reasons I shared, but I can say this; I have attended their funerals, talked with their families and even taken groceries over the family members who were now all of a sudden without a father or husband to lean on. In fact, just a few years ago, three adults within the same community, took their lives within a two week period. This happened in Dundee OH.
In the past year, three single (Amish) people have come to our ministry for help. Each one of them had tried to take their life at least 2-3 times and failed. And I might add that one of them has been living in our home since January of this year. And on many occasions, our family will hear this single girl singing away, even at the midnight hour. You might ask, how can this be? And the answer is, because someone told her about Jesus and the payment He made for her sins 2000 years ago. Once she fully understood the reason Jesus came and died for her, she cried out to Him for salvation and He saved her; it changed her life.
Romans 5:1-2 Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
Illinois Reader Writes: It is very obvious that you grew up in an Amish Schwartzentruber setting by the remarks you make about the man-made rules and some of the things you mention concerning the ordnung, like: denim suspenders, standup collars, etc. you name quite a few things that never were a part of our ordnung.
I get the picture that because of the situation you grew up in, you put all the Amish in the same category. Our man-made rules will not buy us a ticket to Heaven. If Amish churches are going to survive, then there will always be guidelines or man-made rules as you call them.
Joe Responds: I was born and raised in an Old Order church in Ashland OH. And yes, our guidelines were fairly strict, just a notch above Schwartzentruber.
I try not to put all Amish people in the same category, but as you suggested, because of my upbringing, I have a tendency to write according to the standards I was raised under. I should also point out that the Amish Voice goes to many different sects of Amish that range from Schwartzentruber to Beachy, and sometimes it is hard to know how to be fair in my thoughts and writings.
Sometimes, I get letters from people who receive the Amish Voice, telling me that I come across as hateful. To those of you who feel that way, I apologize for sounding that way. Anyone who knows me, knows that I have a great love for my people and feel most at home when I am amongst them.
I appreciate the statement you made above, "Our man-made rules will not buy us a ticket to Heaven". You understand a God-given truth that not every Amish adult understands. And for that reason, I often speak to the one who may not yet have had his or her eyes opened to God's grace, as given to us in Eph 2:8-9.
You also said "If Amish churches are going to survive, then there will always be guidelines or man-made rules as you call them." Yes, I agree with you. If you pulled the man-made rules out from under the Amish church and made them unimportant, the culture would collapse.
I have an understanding why the rules have been placed there; men have put them there in order that their members might be protected from ungodliness. However, consider the following, along with that seemingly good idea:
1. Man-made rules have a natural tendency to make the Spirit of God non-affect. They (rules) also have a great tendency to cover up God's simple plan of salvation. Consider the following Scriptures in light of what I just shared:
Romans 2:29 says: ...circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter (laws and regulations); whose praise is not of men, but of God.
God's true people are the people who have been circumcised spiritually-in the heart; not in the letter of the law.
Consider another reason why man-made rules and regulations in the church might be harmful:
2 Corinthians 3:6 says, Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.
Question: How many rules and regulations will it take to cripple, or even worse, snuff out the Spirit?
2. Man-made rules in the New Testament are always condemned, rather then approved.
Colossians 2:6-8 says: As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith... Beware lest any man spoil you ... after the tradition of men...and not after Christ.
Colossians 2:14, [Jesus] Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;
In my opinion, it is one thing for individuals to have guidelines and rules; it is another thing for the church to pass out restrictions and regulations.
Consider the following Scripture:
Romans 14:13-15 says, Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.
I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.
Illinois Reader Writes: Summing up why I felt like writing was: Like I mentioned before, you do write some good articles. It is disappointing to me that you understand scripture the way you do and yet you don't seem to be able to keep from discrediting the Amish church. In most of your writings you somehow seem to be able to mix your good thoughts with your negative thoughts against the Amish church.
We could sure stand improvement, couldn't we all. In your last letter you even went after Jacob Ammon. I am not in a position to dispute what you wrote about him, but I never knew so many counts against him. Again I took it to show us what kind of leader and founder of our faith we are following.
I heard John Coblenz say that if you counsel people who are needing help because of depression or stress then usually they seem to be traveling in the right ditch because they are so opposed of the ones that are in the left ditch. Let's be careful, you and me both.
Joe Responds: I appreciate your challenge to me. I will try to be more sensitive and not come across as if I was angry at the Amish Church. In reality, I believe that of all people groups, the Amish have some of the greatest values of any culture.
I would like to say, "If I was allowed to choose which culture I wanted to be born and raised in, I would pick the Amish culture (church) without even thinking twice. But when it comes to knowing how to be born again, I would, in most cases, have to find another culture (church) to explain the new birth to me.
Illinois Reader Writes: Back to the man-made rules. If our heritage has no value to us, then our church ordnung seems to be a burden, and if those guidelines feel like a restriction, then also people tend to become dissatisfied and start looking for something a little easier. If this is the case then sometimes when they get literature like you are sending, some will leave the church because this seems like the easy way to go. Sometimes they will only be happy at the new setting for so long, then they move on to more liberal church, and I know of some that have gone this route and have moved to the 3rd or 4th different setting and don't seem to know what they want.
Joe Responds: I understand what you are saying. And I have to agree with you, it is always very saddening to watch this happen. However, keep in mind that just because some follow that route, does not mean that all will follow that route.
Illinois Reader Writes: In our community the ones that leave the Amish church are people who are dissatisfied. You don't get our faithful members even though I realize we need to keep working to better our church weakness. I have no desire to belong to another church.
I am not one that thinks you have to be Amish to get to Heaven either. I have English friends, who I believe are born again Christians. I probably have as much struggle as you do with the idea that the more backward we live the more God will bless us. I don't think that's how it works.
Joe Responds: Well said, my dear brother in the Faith. May the Lord continue to bless you richly, as you follow His Spirit. Truly, you understand the Truth of God and belong to His family. Thank you for sharing your challenging thoughts and powerful testimony.
Illinois Reader Writes: Will close this letter in saying I hope this letter is not so offensive to you that you won't give it some consideration and maybe benefit from it to the extent to where your feelings might improve towards the Amish church. I doubt that you have any interest in putting this letter in your paper, but if you should just sign me an Illinois reader.
Pray for us, we are like minded,
Sincerely, an Illinois Reader
-- Joe Keim
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