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Should Arians Be Disfellowshipped?  In Reply to Critics


Eric V. Snow


          Ah!  The road of a modern-day "Athanasius" sure is hard, isn't it?  The fundamental dispute between me and my four critics in the May 31, 1999 issue of "The Journal," however, concerns church government, not the Deity of Christ.  Today, the fundamental question the church has to answer is whether it is to be a theological debating society in which everybody can believe just about anything he or she wishes, or will it stand for and defend fundamental truths against all who disagree, whether they be insiders or outsiders.  And if the church as a group of believers is to stand for something, it needs a mechanism by which to expel members who uphold teachings that disagree with its major doctrines which can damage the faith of others and cause division.  The more a church argues internally on major subjects, the less effective it is in facing the world because internal squabbling takes up too much of the members' time.  The fact a heretic may express himself or herself in an independent forum, such as "The Journal," not controlled by a corporate church organization, is irrelevant.


          Brian Knowles mistakenly equates the identity of our Savior as a doctrine as having no more importance than "attending someone else's feast or calling them on the carpet for casually hanging out with someone from a different group that teaches essentially the same doctrines but has different leadership."  Whether Jesus is the Creator or a creature, is God or just a man, is not a minor administrative matter, but has major consequences for the theory of atonement and our understanding of how God relates to mankind.  The sacrifice of a mere man is infinitely less than that of the Eternal turned flesh.  The UCG's general spirit has been to treat the nature of God question as largely irrelevant since it has no practical effect on outward behavior, unlike Sabbath observance.  Here I suspect the cultural influence of the Anglo-Saxon spirit of pragmatism is at work among us.  This issue matters because if we don't have a fundamentally accurate conception of God, we can't relate to Him properly.  As Jesus told the Samaritan woman, "You worship that which you do not know; we worship that which we know, for salvation is from the Jews. . . . God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:22, 24).  This is why we should look to "dogma" also, not just "fruit," since sincere people can do all sorts of nice things, but that doesn't prove they have a correct relationship with God.


          Paula Wik's condemnation of "hierarchical thinking" ignores the reality the New Testament is saturated with hierarchical concepts, since all the major social relationships in society it mentions are unequal in nature.  Equality in God's sight (Gal. 3:28; I Cor. 12:13) does not eliminate inequality on earth.  Despite the Father and Son both have perfect divine natures, the Godhead still has an inequality of authority (I Cor. 11:3; 15:27-28).  Human society is supposed to mirror the Godhead's unequal yet mutually loving relationship.  Hence, we find children are to obey parents (Eph. 6:1; Col. 3:20), slaves are to obey masters (Col. 3:22-23; Eph. 6:5-6; I Pet. 2:18-19), wives are to obey husbands (I Pet. 2:18-19; Col. 3:18; I Pet. 3:1, 5-6), and everyone is to obey their human government (Titus 3:1; I Pet. 2:13-15; Rom. 13:1-7).  The present-time common delusion, which uses Matt. 20:25-28 as the launch pad, claims that someone having a position of service to another person means the one serving has no authority over the one being served.  Although Jesus served us, as verse 28 shows, other texts reveal we must still obey Him (Matt. 28:20; John 15:14).  Simply put, love and authority are not mutually exclusive.  Likewise, the requirement for the ministry to serve the laity does not cancel the authority in spiritual affairs of the former over the latter (Heb. 13:17, 25; I Tim. 2:12; 5:17; Titus 2:15).  The political model of Scripture clearly is a self-sacrificing paternalism, not egalitarian democracy.  (Those interested in a longer proof of this point should request a free audiotape of a split sermon I gave May 22 in the Ann Arbor, MI church called "New Testament Government," tape I.D. #1495, from or 


          The fundamental mistake of the independents is to read America's (and the Western world's) reigning political philosophy, the spirit of 1776, 1789, and 1848, into Scripture, just as Israel demanded a king because they wanted to be like all the other nations (I Sam. 8:5-8, 19-20).  Because of space considerations, a full-fledged defense of hierarchical church government can't be mounted here.  Those interested in two essays I've written on the subject of government, "Is an Ordained Ministry a New Testament Doctrine?" and "Do Elders Have the Power to Rule?," can check for their availability at these two Web sites: and


          Bryn Hendrickson asserts that elders have no individual authority to disfellowship members.  But notice that in I Cor. 5, Paul was giving orders, not mere suggestions, about what to do with a flagrant sinner in the Corinthians' midst:  "In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (v. 4-5). (I wonder, incidently, if someone would judge this act would also be "the height of arrogance and [showing] a general lack of Christian love"?  Tough love isn't necessarily pretty or pleasant). 


          Hendrickson's belief that I Tim. 1:19-20 wasn't about disfellowshipment is refuted by the mention that Paul had Hymenaeus and Alexander "delivered over to Satan, so that they may be taught not to blaspheme."  Since the same terminology is repeated in I Cor. 5:5, this had to be a disfellowshipment, not a mere expression of "hopelessness toward people he knew who had given up."  These two men had to be thrown out, "delivered up,"‑‑they didn't just leave on their own.  Curiously enough II Tim. 17-18, which mentions Hymenaeus again, receives no discussion here.  Perhaps this text was ignored because (in conjugation with I Tim. 1:19-20) it sets a precedent for disfellowshipment over doctrine, namely, teaching that the resurrection had already occurred.


          In conclusion, if the church is to stand for revealed truths to teach others with, rather than a social/theological debating club that stands for little or nothing in particular (like the Unitarian-Universalist church I attended when I was a child), there's a need for church discipline on major doctrines (not picky minor points).  Too much "openness" will destroy the truth because if a group gives no clear direction as to where it stands, many members will drift and get picked off one by one by the world, the flesh, and Satan.  The church needs to protect members from the promulgation of false teachings from those within the church, not merely from without.  Furthermore, many in the world would avoid joining a group continually rent by major doctrinal disputes since they dislike hearing people continually arguing.  After the Christian Pharisees who disagreed with Paul and others over whether circumcising the gentiles was a condition for salvation lost at the Jerusalem conference (Acts 15), they didn't start some independent group.  Instead, they and others obeyed "the decrees, which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem, for them to observe" (Acts 16:4).  The headline, "'To continue to exist, a church must defend doctrine'," found in the same issue of "The Journal," gets it right.






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