Church Discipline and Keeping Promises

It’s always risky commenting on a discipline or conflict situation going on at another church.  But the situation at The Village Church I think merits a mention.

It appears that a man at that church (a 10,000 member church in Texas pastored by Matt Chandler) who was involved in mission work that was connected to the church was discovered using child pornography.  He was disciplined.  He was removed from his position and allowed to continue to come to church only with someone accompanying him.  There is a process of discipleship set up.  He was reported to the police.

His wife filed for an annulment.  And this is where it gets tricky.  She did not consult with the church first and she resigned her membership.  This is in violation of her membership vow, promising to consult with the church before doing any such thing.  Specifically, she vowed “I will seek to preserve the gift of marriage and agree to walk through the steps of marriage reconciliation at The Village Church before pursuing divorce from my spouse.

So they sent her a letter, which seemed gentle and loving to me, but which also expressed disagreement with her action and placed her under discipline.  I don’t know what other personal contact or interaction there was.  This is part of what makes commenting on these kinds of situations difficult- there are always lots of nuances and specific circumstances which outsiders are not aware of.

But she has denounced the church’s actions and accused them of tyranny and spiritual abuse.  I see those terms thrown around a lot these days.  Sometimes churches are guilty of those things.  But sometimes they are the accusations of people who just don’t like church government, and reject the idea that the church has any legitimate authority.

The Village Church should certainly grant her the divorce.  She has grounds.  There was also a mention of possibly having discouraged her from separating her finances from them.  Again, there are always lots of specifics at play.  But that strikes me as possibly unwise advice from the church.  But it is not spiritual abuse or tyranny for TVC to expect her to keep her promises.  And it’s also not an abuse of authority for the church to expect to have oversight in the case of a divorce.  It’s their duty to do so.  Some of the criticism that TVC is receiving seems to be directed toward their specific handling of the situation, but a lot of it seems to be simply rejecting their right to have a say in her divorce at all.

TVC has issued an apology to Karen Hinckley for the specifics in how they handled the situation.  And probably there are things to apologize for- the fact is, there are always mistakes made in these kinds of situations, as they are enormously difficult.  But TVC is to be commended, not criticized, for expecting people to keep their membership vows, even in an emotionally charged situation like this.  TVC did not apologize for their standards of membership and government, or expecting to have oversight in a matter of divorce, and good for them for not backing down.  I hope they stand their ground.

I don’t really like megachurches much.  I think the model makes it very difficult to do a lot of things right, including situations like this.  I think Matt Chandler and the Gospel Coalition stood behind Mark Driscoll a lot longer than they should have, and it was precisely a bullying and heavy-handed leadership style that got him in trouble, among other things.  But the church has real authority, and Christian people need to learn to submit to that authority.  That’s not spiritual abuse.  That is Biblical church government.

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