Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Pastor & the grace of Christ: standing between the congregation & harm

If a small group of people, no more than 5 to 10, gathered in your church to unofficially decide how to move your church toward a position that the Bible calls sin, who or what would be the most important person or authority to stand between them and the congregation?
Seemingly, the very people who have plotted such an action, have given the church a very large clue. In the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s document, Building an Inclusive Church a welcoming Toolkit 2.0: Helping your Congregation Become a Community that Openly Welcomes People of all Sexual Orientations and Gender Identities, the pastor and the true grace of God stand between sin and conspiracy.
The toolkit begins the active process with this:

“The first step in a Welcoming Process is to gather a group of five to ten people who share your passion for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in the life of your congregation. These people will form your Core Team, and will work together to advocate for, design and shepherd the Welcoming Process.”

The welcoming process includes meeting with individuals on a one on one basis in order to establish relationships and find out how  various people feel about the ideas presented in the toolkit. Leaders in the church are also approached in a one on one relationship meeting. After all of the meetings and a survey the core group considers how fast the process should go. That includes looking at all of the power structures in the church, both the formal ones and the informal ones.

There is this statement about the pastor:

NOTE: If your clergy is against the process, it is very difficult for it to proceed. They do not have to be ardent supporters, but active opposition to a Welcoming Process on the part of clergy makes it very difficult for the Welcoming Process to succeed. If you do have clergy opposition to a Welcoming Process, stay in the “Core Team” phase of your work and focus on relationship-building with the clergy and informally work within the congregation. We recommend working only through Step Four of this Toolkit until the clergy are no longer opposed. (Bold the authors)

This is truth coming out of the pen of those who will harm the sheep of God’s pasture. The pastor stands as the one who watches over, guards and nourishes with God’s word the people of Christ. A small group of people intent on having their way, beginning in secret and one by one picking off members of the congregation need to hear from a pastor immersed in the word of God. And it is the word of God that both those who are unaware of the gathering activity and those who are operating in a nefarious way need to hear.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force use a process they call “Graceful Engagement.” They refer to it as “deep listening, seeking “that of God” in the people with whom you engage and finding the ways in which God is revealed to you through them.” They add:

“Graceful Engagement is a way of practicing holy conversation, where each person is treated as a loved child of God. It is about listening, sharing one’s own story, hearing one another’s perspective, finding commonalities and shared experiences. It is about building relationships around values that bring us together as opposed to things that polarize us.”
In the appendix of the document is a questionnaire about what grace means. And there is a list of Bible texts to explain how grace works:

“the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37), the Woman at the Well (John 4:4-26), the Greatest Commandment (Matthew 22:35-40), Peter cutting off the ear of Malchus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:51-52), and Jesus on the Cross (Luke 23:34)”
While one can commend the authors for suggesting that the conversations should contain grace and civility—these texts contain much deeper thoughts then how to gracefully encourage others into your plans and agenda. They are certainly not about how to gracefully encourage others to enter into sin.

For instance, Jesus points out the woman at the well’s sinful lifestyle that she might more willing see her need for the true water of life. The greatest commandment spoken of in Matthew 22:35-40 is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” One can hardly love God in that way and intentionally live contrary to the word of God. The second great commandment is “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” You cannot love your neighbor and encourage them to continue in sin. Jesus loved his enemies as he died on the cross but he did not excuse their sin but died that they might be transformed.
The grace of God, the true grace of God, holds well with John Newton’s hymn “Amazing Grace.” “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved.” The grace that the Holy Spirit brings is transforming because it is the grace of Jesus Christ bought by his death on the cross.  It does not welcome the sinner to the dark world of her own sin, but rather welcomes the sinner into the fellowship of the Trinity and into the fellowship of the church.

The National Gay and Lesbians Task Force Document offers things to do after becoming a welcoming church. One is extremely offensive:
   Gather a discussion group to examine the gendered language in your bulletin, newsletter, sermons, liturgies, and hymns. Talk about the assumptions these language choices imply and who might feel constricted or excluded by the gendered wording. Explore creative ways to avoid exclusively binary-gendered language, such as “men and women,” “sisters and brothers,” and “mothers and fathers.”
Between this and the congregation stands a pastor who loves Christ and his word; stands the grace of God given because of Jesus’ life death and resurrection, stands a church well taught by the pastor, leaders and teachers; stands a people committed to their Lord. May Jesus Christ protect his church.



Todd Bensel said...

I would move a group like this out of the church I serve if I could not get them to follow Jesus Christ. They would not be allowed to teach, be elders, or deacons, or leaders in any capacity. And especially I would keep them away from young people. Those who follow these printed guidelines from the TBGL folks aren't sheep, they are wolves!

Viola Larson said...

Yes, Todd, I agree. While we should welcome and love everyone those who are intentionally, trying to undermine our biblical foundation have no business in the church. At least not in any kind of leadership.

Mike Armistead said...

Wow. That document is pretty brazen. It is essentially a step-by-step manual for "How To Be A Wolf In Sheep's Clothing." Of course a healthy body has an immune system that will remove any infection that is potentially hazardous to the body. In a congregation that starts with the pastor, but also includes the elders who are likewise responsible for the spiritual well-being of the flock. The best defense, however, is biblically mature disciples as members who wouldn't tolerate such poison, and would firmly but graciously point those who want to introduce it to the church door.

Mike Armistead
Fayetteville, NC

Ray Tear said...

From that portion that you have posted, Viola, it seems as though by-passing or usurping the authority of the Session is presupposed as well.

And, how about the pastor's authority re:choice of Scripture passages and VERSIONS that will be used.

Viola Larson said...

Ray, if you read though the toolkit they start without any authority but work to get agreement with some authority. This is very sophisticated--it is a plan to gather more and more people to their side until they feel the idea can be voted on. And since it is meant for different kinds of churches they are told to check out the authority structure and how decisions are made.

Viola Larson said...

You are right about the best defense being biblically mature disciples and it is the leadership of the pastor and ruling elders that will lead to that.

Anonymous said...

Yeah but they didn't invent that process. It's pretty common, in fact. Used by all sorts of folks who want to cause change. It would not be so effective if, as Ray says, Sessions retained their constitutional authority rather than delegate it to one man.

Viola Larson said...


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