Monday, May 14, 2012

The Demerit System is Ungodly and Anti-Gospel

If you've never been to Bible College,  you may not understand what the Demerit System is. In Christian schools, it is a common way to enforce the rules of the school. A demerit is a negative point against your record as a student. If you reach 150 demerits in a semester, you are expelled from the school and lose all your credits for the classes you have taken for that semester. Certain lighter infractions will earn you smaller amounts of demerits, and infractions that the school deems as more serious will get you a greater number of demerits per infraction. For example, if you don't make your bed in the morning before going to class you might get 1-3 demerits (if you live in the dorms). If you are late for class you may get 1-3 demerits, if you miss chapel, you may get up to 25. If you hold hands with a girl, you might get 50-75 demerits for inappropriate touching between the opposite sex. If you listen to music that's not approved by the school, you may also get 25-50, I'm not kidding...there are schools that do this. When I was in Bible College, our VP told us that we may not like the demerit system, but someday when we are running a Christian School, we can do what we want to enforce the rules and we'll probably return to it after we see its value. 

Well, I don't agree. In fact, after having gone through many years of school under this system, I have come to see it as ungodly and anti-gospel. The Demerit system doesn't promote godliness, but rather lawlessness and hypocrisy. However, it's not the Demerit System that needs to be ultimately changed in Christian schools and's the gospel-less environment of the school that mandates the need for it. In a gospel-void Christianity that is promoted by so many schools, the demerit system is an absolute necessity. There is no other way to restrain the passions of gospel-less students. The problem with many of these schools is that there are many unconverted posers that attend and are allowed in with nothing more than a very flimsy profession of faith. 

The Demerit System serves to keep order and a pretense of godliness much like the law of the Old Testament did. Just like the Law, the  Demerit System cannot make someone holy, it can only make them guilty:  Romans 3:19 Now we know that whatsoever  things the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.

Just like the Law, the  Demerit System can only incite and excite the lusts of the flesh, it does not restrain it: Romans 7:8-10 NKJV But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead.  9 I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died.  10 And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death

Anyone who has been to Bible college can testify, that the most highly sexually charged atmosphere in the world, is not a night club, it's a co-ed Bible college! You are told not even to touch a girl's hand or you'll almost be expelled. Any hugging, kissing, hand-holding is strictly forbidden by threat of expulsion. To make it worse, the girls are supposed to wear knee high dresses all the time, so there is female flesh and form in front of your eyes all day long that you are forbidden to touch, which only makes it that much more desirable. The forbidden becomes even more challenging and exciting. Now, you legalists will automatically accuse me of promoting promiscuous touching between unmarried men and women, but that's not what I'm saying. You are a product of your legalistic gospel-void environment and you cannot help but think that way...I'll keep explaining...

The young people in college are encouraged to date one another (which is a worldly and ungodly practice that breeds immorality) but don't touch. They know of no other way for relationships to form that will lead to marriage. That's like letting a dog sniff red meat, but trying to restrain him from eating it. If the gospel were taught, the young people would see the opposite sex as brothers and sisters and would be taught to love one another and protect one another. They would only engage in what has been called "courtship" which is a purposeful relationship under the authority of the parents and pastors that pursues marriage in sexual purity. That's the kind of environment that Christian schools and colleges need to have. Much has been written about this by Joshua Harris which is very gospel centered. 

It is a self defeating system that sets people up for failure. But worse than that, those who can keep the rules and discipline themselves well enough to avoid the demerits are held up as godly examples when many of them are nothing more than excellent hypocrites and legalists who actually think they are godly because they can obey all the rules. One girl in my college went all the way through high school and college without one demerit! Incredible record...but she committed adultery with a man on staff and was expelled (and the man was fired)...and never to be seen again at the church or the school. They both proved that the demerit system is a failure and it does not make anyone holy even if you can keep the rules and not get any demerits. What she proved was the truth of James 2:10 NKJV For whoever shall keep the whole law (college rule book), and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.  

What did that poor guilt-ridden young lady and that married staff man need at that point? The demerit system could only deliver expulsion, condemnation and shame. The gospel would have offered grace, forgiveness, restoration and dignity! So, what kind of alternative could we replace the Demerit System with? 
  • First, there needs to be a true grace gospel preached that teaches people that their goodness is not found in the rules they can keep, but only in the passive and active righteous obedience of Christ our Savior. There needs to be the preaching of grace-enabled obedience through the power of the Holy Spirit and the supreme love of Jesus Christ which will overflow in love for our Christian brethren. 
  • Second, Christian Schools need to be Christian. There are too many unconverted young people in colleges who are there because their pastors pressure them to do that "One year of Bible College that may change your life". More often than not, the kid who has gone through the youth group and is still unconverted (due to the easy-believism gospel) will go there and be treated like a 12 year old...he rebels and gets expelled and comes home in shame, he is treated as a black sheep at his home church and then bails out on Christianity altogether and ends up on Facebook with pictures of him at drunken orgies. That's the story of many of the kids I went to Bible college with over 12 years ago! (It's also one of the reasons I quit became so depressing!)
  • Third, the gospel way of handling sin is through personal discipleship and brotherly admonition as found in Matthew 18:15.  If a student hasn't made his bed in the dorms for three days in a row, maybe he needs to have someone who loves him to personally find out why? 

Maybe he has a laziness problem that the gospel could address in Hebrews 6:12 That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises
Maybe he has a workload that is too great for him that the gospel would address in Romans 15:1 We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves
Maybe he doesn't understand the value of orderliness which the gospel would address in: 1 Corinthians 14:40 Let all things be done decently and in order. because our God is a God of order. 

Now, you might be thinking to yourself: "How in the world is a faculty of 50-100 teachers and staff supposed to handle these kinds of things in this way efficiently when you have 1000 students!" Well, maybe that's not the way Jesus designed His people to be trained. Jesus took 12 men and personally discipled them for three years in an intimate relationship. The Demerit System is a man-made, insufficient, anti-gospel method of dealing with the problem of sin in the lives of those preparing for ministry in an educational environment that is void of the gospel and is contrary to the way that Jesus established the church to produce ministers of the very gospel that is being denied.  


Matthew Olmstead said...

Two questions:

(1) What do you think of what NIU is doing in regards to "the way of discipleship"?

(2) How, specifically, would you have dealt with the girl and staff member? would you not have expelled and fired them?

William Dudding said...

Is NIU the Northern Illinois University? I am not familiar with that.

If I had to deal with the girl and the staff member, I probably would have fired him being that he was in a position of leadership that took advantage of a student. I would not have put him on a plane the next day and shipped him back to another state where his family was, unless he and his wife wanted to recover somewhere else away from the young lady. He would have to face up to what he did before the others and begin a process of restoration, whatever that would look like.

As for the young lady, I probably would have talked to her and her family to find out what we would decide would be best for her. If she was broken over her sin and willing to repent before the student body and the church it may not be necessary to expel her as long as she knew that she would be loved, discipled and forgiven. If she had been unrepentant of her sin, then Matthew 18's instructions would lead to expulsion.

But the way it was handled afterwards was to cover up, hush up and sweep these people away as if they never existed.

I would have been open and honest about the situation with the student body and the local church that ran the college. I would have mapped out a plan of counseling and restoration for both of them.

I just don't think that the Amish type of shunning is in step with the gospel or the grace of Christ.

Matthew Olmstead said...

(this is the same Matt from the first comment, just signing in with a different ID.)

Apologies on the NIU reference. It's Northland International University" in Dunbar, WI.

Some followup questions: On what basis do you bring Matthew 18 into the discussion? Is not a para-church organization different from a local church? I appreciate the general principles applied, but what authority does a para-church have over a believer other than a rule book or standards of conduct? Would not applying Matthew 18 in a para-church context be, in some measure, usurping the authority of the local church?

William Dudding said...

Hi Matt,
I'll have to look into what they're doing at Northland. I wasn't aware of it.

Let me clarify, the school I was referring to was a ministry of a local church, so it was in the perfect position to follow Matthew 18 since the school was under the authority of the church.

If the school were a para-church organization, that would be a difficulty, huh?
That's exactly my point when I said:

"Well, maybe that's not the way Jesus designed His people to be trained. Jesus took 12 men and personally discipled them for three years in an intimate relationship. The Demerit System is a man-made, insufficient, anti-gospel method of dealing with the problem of sin in the lives of those preparing for ministry in an educational environment that is void of the gospel and is contrary to the way that Jesus established the church to produce ministers of the very gospel that is being denied."

Ok, let's say that the college doesn't deny the gospel, the demerit system is inconsistent with the gospel and the non-local church college is not really the way God ordained the training of ministers. He ordained the church to do it. If we're talking about a liberal arts college that's "Christian" then you have an organization that is totally foreign to Scripture, thus you'll have to use methods that are total foreign to Scripture to keep things in order. There may not be a better way to deal with it, unless Northland has figured it out.

Matthew Olmstead said...

Thanks for the interaction. I'm with you on the Demerit system. I'll leave he place of para-church orgs in God's work for another day. It appears we aren't on the same page there.


Reforming Baptist said...

I'm not against pare church ministries, just can't find the Bible college in the Bible

Anonymous said...

i wonder what would happen if there wasnt a demerit system

Anonymous said...

In a legalistic environment you would have unrestricted chaos

Anonymous said...

I have been to a school with no demerits and it works great! There was a huge emphasis on discipleship which is key in every day life. It felt like they were actually trying to help us transition into life. Instead of making us do things because they told us to, their desire was for us to do the right thing because we wanted to and because we loved our Savior. From experience it works great as long as you have some students on board that want to confront when needed because that is what actually happens in real life.

I would agree also with the Bible college. I don't why you would seclude yourself at a college to train to spread the gospel "someday" instead of learning in your own study of the word and going to a good church and learning from them.

DC said...

I think that you make some good points, and you're right that many people do view and enforce the demerit system in a poor way. But when you drill down to the basics, the demerit system can be used well. Your suggestions can be included with the demerit atmosphere. Discipleship and demerits are not exclusive of each other. And you're right, the demerit system cannot make you godly. But neither can any other system. You might promote some system that promotes discipleship programs, but that won't make anybody godly either. The fact is, when flawed people try to govern the choices of flawed people they still come out with flawed people. They can do their best and certainly make a difference, but the difference is made between the individual and the Spirit of God. Not the individual and any system. Until Jesus reigns, there will be no perfect system, and even then people will rise up against Him we are told. You can't say that a woman fornicates because of one system, but wouldn't under another. I would encourage you to rethink these things. Not to say that systems don't matter. They do, and we should give great thought to being wise in the ones we pick if we are in the position to do so. But no system changes anyone, no matter how good it is. The Spirit changes people, and personal influence of the Church is a key factor in how He does that. Not to mention that the alternative to your Romans 7 passage is NOT the absence of government and punishment. Did not Got give the government to restrain sin and bring the sword out against it? And don't get me wrong, I went to a very conservative Baptist school and did not agree with much of the rulebook there or the demerit system. I just think you've swung the pendulum a bit too far due to emotional ties to past experiences and have come to believe that Scripture is saying something it was not meant to say, and believe the demerit system is doing something it does not necessarily do, and think other systems wouldn't do the same thing at some point. The rulebook is not the same as OT law. Some people in all practicality treat it that way, but that is a whole other issue of personal sin. And sure some systems are better than others. Seek those systems. But the demerit system can be done properly and promote Gospel-centeredness and grace-centeredness, Christ-redemption and Spirit-sanctification. The system is not what fails to do this, it's the people. When it is not done properly, it is the fault of the management, not the fault of the system. It is very easy to fall to works-sanctification. Especially when you're a dean or some other enforcer of systematic rule and that's all you deal with all day! We should rather encourage these people in the Gospel incessantly lest they fall to pharisaicism and carry out their duties in a legalistic, impersonal, ungracious manner.

Anonymous said...

My son has been in a Baptist Christian school for 12 years. I want him in a good, accredited Christian College that will guide him in college, but not not be BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING. I do not think he has to be demerited because he over slept and got to class a couple of minutes late, as long as it wasn't a habit. He needs to be able to make his own choices, good or bad, and live with the consequences. He is an adult, not a 5 year old that needs constant vigilant care and scrutiny of his every action. Isn't there a good Christian college out there that can guide him and yet respect his age and ability to make wise choices, without having a rod of discipline hovering over his head?

Reforming Baptist said...

In the Fundamental Baptist world, I don't know...someone suggested Northland University who have abandoned the demerit system for a more discipleship form...

I might suggest Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Ill. or the Masters College in Santa Clarita CA.