I can read through accounts of politically driven excommunication in the Crusade Era Church and recoil with horror at those who would use the Bride of Christ as a political leverage, thereby isolating believers who have done nothing wrong. The motivating factors for excommunication at the time ranged anywhere from open rebellion towards the ruling party of the day to simply being aligned with the wrong political tribe-The church was largely used as a political mechanism. The abuses of the European church to wound believers were blatant and terrible, and we rightly recoil at their recounting, simultaneously lauding the works of the reformers that led the church out of such political abuse.
The church is no longer a political tool (at least not in the first world). In fact, much to the chagrin of many leading evangelicals, the first world church is politically sclerotic compared to the influence it held over the medieval world. I had a professor in seminary describe the church as “groaning and clawing to regain the political and social preeminence that it once enjoyed”. We don’t operate as a political organization (for the most part) anymore; however the church (especially in the South and Midwest) can function as a social organization. This is largely biblical in concept, but the execution often falls a little short of the cannon’s description of biblical community.
The majority of young Christians would tell you that they love the concept of Biblical Community. The idea of belonging to a community of people that loves and encourages us in natural-it’s how we were created. Unfortunantly, believers can err in creating this community by adding standards for admission that we don’t see in scripture. The political standards imposed by the medieval Church now seem laughable and even heinous as we view them through the lense of history. I’m not sure the social standards believers currently employ are much better. As communities of believers develop, they often find a comfort level in the social norms and mores they employ. This creates an arbitrary standard of admission into that community. The love and acceptance they dispense is predicated upon the members of the community lining up with the standards of the community. When someone fails to meet the social standards of the community (whether it be dress, popularity, income, spiritual health, etc.) they are removed from the community. In an attempt to still be “Christian” in our treatment of them, we will still pay lip service to the community of believers and their inherent belonging to it, but we practically work out a kind of social caste system within the church whereby people attain different levels of “belonging” and privilage based on how closely they line up with the standards we have set upon those who would truly “belong” to our group.
The church has reformed itself since the medieval corruption it was once defined by, but we still struggle with the same issues. We’ve turned political alignment into dress and social status, but at the end of the day we are commiting the same sin. We add standards for admission and acceptance into our communities that do not exist in scripture. Where we do this we stunt the growth of the church and the believers around us. We have do get to a place in our hearts where the only standards we enforce for admission into biblical community are those found in scripture, not those found in culture.