Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Absenteeism and Church Discipline

"In response to our transient culture, some congregations have adopted a practice of 'lapsing' or 'erasing' members who simply disappear. On the surface this seems like a reasonable thing to do. Indeed, I've done it myself. After all, what else can the elders do in such a case? If a member is gone, he is gone. It's not good for the church rolls to be full of non-attending members and the elders are no longer able to care for a missing member, so the best thing is simply to accede to the reality of our transient culture and erase or lapse them.

There is an alternative. It's the third mark of a true church: discipline. As attractive and eminently practical as lapsing or erasing members might be it's not a biblical option. If church membership is analogous to marriage or any other binding contract, one member of the covenant cannot simply disappear. There are extraordinary circumstances. It might be that a husband goes on a trip and, unbeknownst to anyone, he is eaten by a lion. Ordinarily, however, if someone disappears, it is with intent. If it is with intent, then there is a moral problem. In our time, when almost everyone has a mobile phone, email, facebook etc. going 'off the grid' is pretty difficult. It requires intent. If a person intends to escape a covenanted relationship to the visible church by disappearing, then such a person has violated his membership vows. In such a case, a person is a candidate for church discipline, even if he is apparently beyond contact."

- R. Scott Clark, The Heidelblog: 'On Lapsing Members: Coping with a Transient Culture'


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