A few notable excerpts:
Church discipline, however, is all too frequently viewed in an altogether
contrary way. Many pastors, who prove not to be truly pastoral at all, exploit
church discipline as a legitimate threat to hold over a congregation as a way to
manipulate and to control the people without any disagreement with him, however
small and legitimate disagreement may be.
Consequently, many evangelical churches are far more cultic than evangelicals are willing to admit. The origination of cults is not principally from errant doctrine but from errant behavior by charismatic leaders whose personal insecurities lead them, when their authority seems challenged even slightly (and usually legitimately), to
resort to desperate measures to maintain their grip upon their followers'
affections, if not blind allegiance and devotion.
... Only rarely have I witnessed an act of church discipline that led to
excommunication that actually followed the biblically authorized form and
pattern and was not incited by a pastor's animus springing from personal
insecurity toward a member who asked "the wrong question." Those legitimate
cases entailed actual, demonstrable, documentable cases of recalcitrant refusal
to repent for obvious sinful behavior.
Far more frequently, however, the church discipline cases that I have
witnessed entailed dismissal of godly Christians whose disagreements with the
pastor incited his personal insecurities, triggering his hostility and
revengeful and retaliatory campaign to purge the church of anyone who dared
disagree with him. ...
Seems straightforward, and is an interesting point. I'm not in a position to dispute the accuracy of the claim. I suppose for the sake of extending this observation it wouldn't surprise me if this sort of thing happened amongst pastors within denominational structures. In fact the Episcopalian church leadership has discussed disciplining priests who don't agree with them on a few things, a point I hardly think I need to refer to in any detail because if you do a tiny amount of on-line research the news virtually reaches you. This obviously doesn't mean church discipline can't be practiced.
My own view, for reasons I will not discuss as I find it too boring, is that this all reminds me of how the kingdom divided after the death of Solomon. His descendents had the opportunity to rule as servants and to rule in the way God advised but they didn't and they used the structures God provided as leverage for or against fellowship in either direction. The truth was that neither side of the divided kingdom was really the least bit godly or righteous but that has never, historically, stopped God's people from doing stupid things in the name of Yahweh or Jesus.
When the Wall Street Journal writes about church discipline you know it's an evangelical fad. :) I mean, really, that the WSJ covered this at all is sad. Never mind the questions about how biased it was. That a pastor called the cops on a little old lady who apparently objected that the pastor didn't see fit to install deacons according to the by-laws and the instruction of Scripture is sad. To claim that the woman was guilty of sinful divisiveness and discord for that is, well, even if I suppose the charge against the woman could even possibly be true (which I doubt) "church discipline" of that particular variety just shames Christ.
On the other hand, how one responds to such unfair discipline can be just as stupid. It sometimes comes to my attention that this or that case of church discipline is inequitable and the solution is in some rare cases to hit the secular world, as the case linked to above, whether because a pastor calls the cops or because someone decides to leak a story about a church issue to the press from within the community (I'm thinking here of situations like the Overlake scandal in the Puget Sound region years ago).
It's possible in the process of objecting to injustice to perpetrate injustice, even of the same kind and degree that one is objecting to. When the kingdom divided Israel forsook the house of David and in objecting to the injustice turned to idols. The kingdom of Judah also turned to idols and in both cases both kingdoms claimed to worship the living God and this was essentially nothing more than a sham. That Christ came to the entire divided people of Israel and revealed to Jew and Samaritan alike their lost state is what interests me.
The distinction between church discipline and pastoral discipline interests me because it raises the natural question of whether pastoral discipline has any meaning without church discipline. If the pastors urge the body not to ostracize someone but the body ostracizes the member anyway then in effect the body is enforcing a level of church discipline the pastors didn't endorse. Whether or not the pastors or the congregants err in that matter is obviously subject to debate based on circumstance but I have no reason to suppose it isn't possible that either the pastors or congregants may err in choosing one way or the other.
I will freely admit that I tend to identify myself as a Protestant of the evangelical stripe but it seems like church discipline is the fad of the 00's the way courtship was a fad in the 90s. Every church epoch has it's own fads. For some epochs of the Church it was Russian Orthodox people persecuting Poles (but then, really, it seems almost everyone ganged up on the poor Poles who hardly ever seemed to deserve it so far as I could tell). There were strange fads like the curse of Ham or something like that which attempted to rationalize racism on the basis of an obscure biblical text.
Well, I'm off to bed soon.