What to do if you are being Held Hostage at a New Calvinist Church
Nobody wants to be humiliated publically in a Sunday morning church service in front of hundreds of people. Especially if it is a church where you have been a member for several years, and in many cases, the center of where the majority of your closest friends gather on a regular basis. Not to mention strangers who may be there visiting. Your employer may be a member there, and family members who still trust the leadership may be members there as well.
This is why you are staying put in a church you want to leave. After you informed the elders that you were leaving they placed you under “redemptive church discipline.” This is in-house counseling that deals with “longstanding patterns of sin.” What patterns of sin? Anything that the elders think is such—that’s what. You may have also done something very stupid: entered into formal counseling at said church and revealed intimate details about yourself. Ouch, that is now information that could become public during your excommunication day.
You are now officially a hostage. If you leave you will be excommunicated and humiliated publicly. You are probably in this position because you know something about the leadership that is damaging or you have challenged them doctrinally. You are also not one who is usually excluded from this process: those with power, influence, and money. Your resources are limited. You are in a very bad spot. Walking away could cost you your job, all the friends that you have, and at least some of your family. You are not alone. I contend that thousands of Christians are being held hostage at New Calvinist churches in this way. They are playing along until an opportunity provides itself for a way out. If it ever does.
Let me continue to emphasize that Christians need to wise up and prevent themselves from getting into these situations. If you are the type that is willing to look the other way on everything don’t worry about it, but if you have an inclination to care about the truth, you need to be discerning. Because you are on your own and other churches will not stand with you (if any do, it would be a first), don’t join any church. It’s not necessary. You can be faithful to an assembly and not be a member. If they won’t let you serve in certain areas because you are not a member, so be it. The Scriptures are (I think deliberately) ambiguous regarding formal church membership. Even though many New Calvinist churches think they have authority over you whether you are a member or not—not being a formal member affords some protection. Actually, a lot of protection. In our day, don’t join any church formally—just don’t do it.
And if you do, for crying out loud, do not sign a church covenant. I am going to say this as lovingly as I can: in our day, if you sign a church covenant you are just plain stupid. I love you, but you are stupid. Not only that, in most New Calvinist churches, you are not allowed to leave membership for “unbiblical reasons.” And I will give you three wild guesses as to who determines what is “unbiblical.” If you are a member of a New Calvinist church “in good standing” (i.e., you don’t ask questions) and want to leave for doctrinal reasons, do so carefully. This ministry has, and continues to counsel people who want to leave these churches with as little drama as possible and it’s not easy. If you are in a church that strongly emphasizes formal membership—flee and don’t look back.
Back to those who find themselves in the belly of the beast. You have bitten off the whole enchilada. You are a member. You signed a church covenant. Much of your life is invested in the church. They have counseling records on you, etc.
First, don’t attempt to plead your case biblically; you’re wasting your time, these people play by their own rules. I should repeat that: don’t attempt to plead your case biblically; you’re wasting your time, these people play by their own rules. Do keep detailed records. Communicate as much as you can by email and ask lots of questions. Tape-record all meetings (check laws in your state) and ask lots of questions. Here’s why: In most states what they are doing is a criminal act. In most states it is against the law to control somebody’s free will of moral actions with threats of reputation loss or financial loss. In the milieu of the mess, get them on record saying they will do this if you do that. Get them on record saying that you are not free to take your family and leave. Get their response on record regarding your concerns that you will lose your job, your family, your reputation, etc. Get them on record stating that they have the authority to void your salvation. Here is how the law reads in Ohio:
(A) No person, with purpose to coerce another into taking or refraining from action concerning which the other person has a legal freedom of choice, shall do any of the following:
(1) Threaten to commit any offense;
(2) Utter or threaten any calumny against any person;
(3) Expose or threaten to expose any matter tending to subject any person to hatred, contempt, or ridicule, to damage any person’s personal or business repute, or to impair any person’s credit;
While gathering information, if at all possible, obtain an attorney that will work with you in the situation and contact the elders of said church when you leave post preference. Advise the church that you will be present with your attorney during the excommunication. In most cases the elders will back off and allow you to leave with your family quietly. I have seen this work quite well in lesser degrees of application.
If you can’t afford an attorney, gather good information that violates the coercion laws in your state and then contact the local police. If the church follows through with the excommunication, file criminal charges against the elders.
For further questions regarding this issue, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org