Years ago, it was discovered the pastor in my church had taken advantage of vulnerable women who had come to him for counseling. First one woman came forward with the revelation, then another, then another. Multiple women! It was a devastating, hurtful experience for our entire church. This pastor was “caught,” he left the ministry, but he never seemed to be truly repentant.
So what does my church’s situation have to do with the Amish? All churches, from time to time, will face serious issues that require church discipline, including the Amish.
What exactly is the purpose of church discipline? In a broad sweep of the brush, it’s meant for both correction and protection of the member who is in unrepentant sin. It is designed for restoration, not revenge. The fact is that discipline does not deny love, but reflects love.
“Those whom the Lord loves, he disciplines” (Hebrews 12:6).
Most of you are familiar with “shunning,” which is a form of church discipline. In The Imposter, I introduced a different kind of Amish church discipline that is used, albeit rarely, to handle the problem of unrepentant Amish church leaders. It’s called “Quieting.”
A Quieting revokes the ordination of a bishop, minister or deacon so that he returns to being a church member, but not a leader. One Amish woman thought the process of Quieting most likely came from the books of Timothy in the New Testament, however there are many biblical passages in which guidance was provided to protect the young churches from false teachers and cancer-like sin.
A Quieting is not done in haste. It’s a serious, heart-wrenching step for an Amish church. In my interviews with the Amish, it was obvious that the entire church felt the impact, the pain, of this action. It reminded me of how my church felt after the awful ordeal with our unrepentant pastor. Everyone was hurt by his sin; we needed to make sure it didn’t happen again. (Just an aside—this pastor did face several civil lawsuits.)
As different as we are from the Amish, there is much we have in common. We all live in a fallen world, far from the Garden. But we should never give in or allow unrepentant sin to continue, not in ourselves, not in our churches.
What are your thoughts about church discipline? Have you seen it work well, or not, in your own church?
Some Scripture references about church discipline:
Matthew 7:1-5, 13:24-30, 36-43, 18:15-17, 27
John 7:24, 8:7
1 Corinthians 5:3-6, 9
2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14
1 Timothy 1:19-20, 2:15, 5:14, 6:1
2 Peter 2:2
2 Timothy 2:16-18
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Suzanne Woods Fisher is a bestselling author of Amish fiction and non-fiction, and a columnist for Christian Post and Cooking & Such magazine. The Search won a 2012 Carol Award. The Waiting was a finalist for a 2011 Christy Award. The Choice was a finalist for a 2011 Carol Award. The Letters is a finalist for a Christian Retailing 2014 Best Award. Amish Peace: Simple Wisdom for a Complicated World and Amish Proverbs: Words of Wisdom from the Simple Life were both finalists for the ECPA Book of the Year (2010, 2011). Her interest in the Amish began with her grandfather, who was raised Plain in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. She travels back east a couple of times each year for research.
Suzanne’s latest release, The Imposter, is now available!