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Chapter 36 - Church control systems

If a denomination has as a distinctive characteristic that they have gotten it 'right', they will most likely act to quash anything contrary as it would be by definition 'wrong'. As a result, the pastor or priest becomes, as a franchise holder, a sort of policeman whose job it is to detect and correct deviations from the brand.

One control method is membership. While not explicitly mentioned in the bible, church membership can be a powerful tool to achieve compliance with expected standards. While today there are specific legal and tax issues with membership, the coercive elements were observable at the time of Jesus.

But by what means he now seeth, we know not; or who hath opened his eyes, we know not: he is of age; ask him: he shall speak for himself. These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue. - John 9:21-22

And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. - Acts 2:44-45

For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem. - Romans 15:26

As the collective funds were depleted by the church in Jerusalem, they had to depend on the donations from other churches. Here is a classic example of bad leadership on the part of the Jewish leaders. The rulers of the synagogue by their active persecution and boycott of the church in Jerusalem were successful in preventing the nation from accepting Jesus, preventing the nation from receiving the blessings of the new covenant, bringing the destruction of the temple in 70AD, and causing the people of the nation to be dispersed for 1900 years. While not all bad leadership results in such devastating consequences for the world, it should be remembered that there are still consequences for which we will be held accountable.

It may be advantageous for a radical Christian to skirt the membership issue through infrequent attendance or if challenged to accept membership, deflect the issue by declaring that one is still studying the issue from the bible. There may not be any edification resulting from arguing about the biblical basis for church membership.

Avoiding membership can also be useful to avoid bing assigned (pigeonholed) duties such as usher, building maintenance, nursery work, or committee participation that can consume a resource like time and accrue little in terms of eternal reward.

The idea of exclusion was to remove the effects of un-repented sin from corrupting the assembly as well as to motivate the sinner to abandon his sin.

But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. - 1 Corinthians 5:11

The exercise of exclusion in the form of excommunication was operated by the institutional church in the medieval period similar to how the Jews used it as a coercive tool to attempt to force the early church in Jerusalem to abandon Jesus. Sadly, that application of force was seldom done out of love to help a brother repent of his sin.

Even today, the Amish practice of shunning has more as an objective maintaining the purity of the traditions, (rather like a cult) than the restoration of a sinner. Similarly, the Baptist practice of alcohol abstinence has at the core the desire to control. The further a group of Christians gets from the love and truth of God, the more likely they will impose systems of social control on others.

While social or peer pressure takes a more formal shape with membership issues, even something as slight as a disapproving look, condescending attitude, or dismissive gesture can work to manipulate, bully, or coerce others. There can be an advantage to be in a larger church where a radical Christian can more easily escape the direct attention of those who would seek to control him.

It can be difficult to negotiate social connectivity in the midst an organizational system. One might think of churches as distributed along a spectrum of conservative to liberal where what might be called conservative churches would be more likely to have declared rules governing dress and conduct (no smoking, drinking, dancing, card playing or movie going) while what might be considered the more liberal end of the spectrum might be defined as unrestricted personal expression. It would be a mistake to think that, while they are less overt, the liberal end of the spectrum does not have its own expectations and codes that can be just as harshly enforced.

The radical Christian is not encouraged to confront, rebel, or flaunt control systems. It is advisable to avoid them and controlling people as well. The radical Christian seeks out relationships with individuals (some from whom one can learn and others with those to whom one can minister).

When churches lose sight of Christ, they develop the same manipulative social structures found in street gangs, professional organizations, academia, cheer-lading squads, or activist groups.


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