The basics of church discipline.

When someone in regular attendance in a Plymouth Brethren assembly is under discipline, they are typically not permitted to partake in the Lord’s Supper. Occasionally they may be asked to leave the church. Since each assembly is autonomous and there is no denominational oversight, it’s possible for someone to be under discipline in one assembly but find a church home elsewhere. However, most assemblies are connected to one other through an informal grapevine and it’s not unusual for other assemblies to uphold the discipline determined by another assembly.

Usually, the process of church discipline follows the steps outlined in Matthew 18. If a person is repentant before the matter is brought before the elders or the entire church, they are often not put under discipline. However, if a person is considered to be living in sin, unrepentant, or showing public consequences of private sin (being pregnant out of wedlock, for example), their sin is brought before the church and it’s made known to the assembly that the person may not partake in the Lord’s Supper. If they are unrepentant and asked to leave the church, the assembly may be asked to refrain from associating with the person unless it is to try to bring them back to the Lord.

Since there is no governing authority over the assemblies, no official resources available for things like background checks and no official record of wrongs committed by assembly members, the environment is an ideal safe-haven for abusers. Particularly since it is difficult to make an accusation against an elder, particularly if his offense or abuse has been private.


7 thoughts on “The basics of church discipline.

  1. Wow. Didn’t sound cult-ish until this one. The others I’m like “Oh, ok, way different than I’m used to but I guess if they want to do it that way then cool.” This one is basically the definition of a cult. O_o

    • I was open brethren. I knew several people who thought the exclusives had the right idea but had just taken it “too far,” but by and large I was always taught that the closed groups were legalistic at best and cult-like at worst. But of course WE were the kinder, gentler, more reasonable bunch…so I was taught.

      • Thanks for the response. Though I have no background in the Plymouth Brethren movement, one of my favorite authors was Brethren–F. F. Bruce.

        But my reading in Plymouth Brethren history was pat of my reading in in fundamentalism and dispensationalism during and shortly after I abandoned those perspectives.

  2. my partner was brethren, has been thrown out because he had an affair with a non brethren whilst married. he can no longer see or have contact, with his children, his wife will not divorce him, he was guilted into signing over his entire estate, house, contents business and savings to his wife, with no legal representation through a brethren mediator and left wtih nothing but the clothes he stands up in and his old car. his hose was ransacked by other brethren and of his belongings they took what they wanted when his wife moved with the children back to germany where she is from.
    he doe have an address for them, but this is again a mediator who passes on birthday and christmas cards and the cheques he sends are always cashed ( money money money with brethren…)
    he has occasional letters from them in return, laden with guilt inducing phrases about his return to the brethren. his children are made to pray for this everynight and speak of it in their letters to him. this had been going on for 5 years. he is a mess, but his nature is not that of obedience, he is not the type of person that would sit happily in this sort of prescribed and controlled life.
    in terms of his outlook, his upbringing has affected it. he doesnt question things, he is a people pleaser and his relations with women are out of whack with this modern world of feminism. cause the odd argument when i cant filter his behaviour towards me through this knowledge!

  3. From my experience with them, their church discipline is based on favoritism and politics. If you are in a leadership position or have financial influence, no one is going to discipline you. However, the leadership position can be targeted by others when politics are involved- and the majority want a leadership change and put their desired person in charge (it’s like political favors so that everyone can have their chance of power and glory). I’ve seen some people kicked out (those who don’t have a political power within the church), but the powerful never get kicked out, no matter what they do. Once I confronted a group of powerful individuals regarding the psychological abuse they were giving to others (bullying). All I kept getting in response was- “none of us are perfect, we all make mistakes. We’re all still growing in the Lord.” Then another one is them quoting part of Romans 8:1 and claiming that they are no longer under condemnation and furthermore, you can’t judge them.
    I was quite baffled that these are the people who claim to know the Bible. The Bible never teaches that we shouldn’t judge anyone altogether. It teaches we should hypocritically judge. If we couldn’t judge altogether, how can we correct a fellow believer? Both Jesus and Paul teach that we should correct and discipline others- clearly in the Bible. If you bring that up, they plain ignore you. They are sociopaths, and dangerous ones. They will gossip about you and crucify you if you get caught in any sin, however, if you catch them doing anything wrong- you can’t correct them in any way. That’s hypocrisy and sociopathy at it’s finest. I’ve wondered if some of the early Plymouth Brethren were any better- i.e. the Open Brethren group led by George Muller, Benjamin Newton, and Samuel Tregelles? Today’s Brethren churches which I’ve come across have the character of Darby very much alive in them.
    I’ve also written some posts on my own blog regarding the Plymouth Brethren- especially in regards to their teachings on soteriology (salvation). I’ll post the links below. feel free to check out my other posts also by exploring my Blog Archive section (posts are listed by the month and year in which they were posted).

    • I disagree that assemblies are run by narcissists. I’m not a psychiatrist, and I don’t think it’s fair to accuse someone of a mental illness to explain why they’re doing bad things. Especially since I’m a person with mental illnesses.

      That being said, there are a lot of politics going on in church leadership in many assemblies. From my experience, they’re very sincere. But sincerity doesn’t matter when one is unable to acknowledge their own biases or challenge the status quo. And when your entire theology supports Redemption Stories, well — it’s no wonder abusers of all types are welcomed into fellowship if they “repent” while their victims are disciplined or not cared for when they leave. The entire system of discipline in the assemblies is so unstable. I really think if there was some sort of oversight over all the assemblies, there would be at least some semblance of order. Or else it would be yet another power-play or sincerely doing damage to their flock. I don’t know. It’s hard to think about, since I know and love so many elders and evangelists among the brethren. I don’t know how to make someone see their biases and privileges and the cracks in the system. I just don’t know.

      I plan to check out your blog while I’m on freelancing hiatus. Contemplating writing more myself, if I’m able to do so without compromising my mental health. December is a hard month.

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