What Would "I" Do?

On his wonderful blog “Here I Blog,” Mark Lamprecht hosts a wonderful series titled “What Would You Do Wednesdays!” Each post in the series presents an ethical dilemma of sorts and concludes with the question, “What would you do?”  I recently read through one of the scenarios and offered my humble attempt at an answer. Here is the scenario presented  in Mark’s post, Ethics: Excluding a Single Mother from Church Membership:

The scenario is that a single mother is a member of your local church. For several years she seemed to be living faithfully for Christ. She was present on Sunday morning and often during other church events. It was difficult for her at times and the church even helped her financially and with food when she needed help.

Then, to your surprise she moved in with a non-Christian man!

Church leaders begged her to repent and to move back out and get out of her relationship with this man. She would not. Several months went by.

Finally, it was time to vote as a church. The time had come to affirm or deny whether or not she continue to be included in your local church.

What do you do – affirm or deny her? (Depending on your local church this would mean denying the Lord’s Supper and/or being considered a member until repentance. Cf. Matthew 18:17, 1 Cor. 5:9-13)

If she is denied, but continues to occasionally attend afterward how would you treat her? What would you say to her?

First, I’ll preface my response with this prayer: Lord, I pray that should I err in my response to this scenario that I err on the side of grace and represent Christ and His Word faithfully.

Okay, there are a few points within the scenario that I feel are worth noting. First, this woman is already a member of the church and was voted in as a single mother with all the struggles that apply to such a situation. Despite her struggles, the scenario suggest that she has been faithful in attending church regularly, and I assume that her loyalty has included service within the church family in some capacity. It was after this history the woman has built with her church family that, “To [our] surprise she moved in with a non-Christian man!”

Perhaps I’m reading a little too much into the exclamation point at the end of this last sentence, but it seems to suggest that her actions shocked the congregation to the point that it became scandalous; if so, I would suggest that a healthy church family would turn that scandal into genuine, heartfelt prayer – but this is beside the point.

According to the scenario, the leaders of the Church then begged the woman to give up her new lifestyle and repent. Let me affirm that it is their right and duty to offer counsel to the members of their church and motivate others to inspire sanctification among the congregation. I have no problem with the leaders providing pastoral care provided it is done in an edifying manner.

After the leadership has been ignored by the woman for several months the scenario then asserts that the time has come to “affirm or deny whether or not she continues to be included in [the] local church.” This leads me to ask a couple of questions. First, who decided it was time to affirm or deny this woman’s membership? Was it a decision of the leadership or rather brought about by the popular demand of the congregation? I’m not sure if these questions have a bearing on my answer, but I would humbly suggest that a congregation that demands a woman in this situation be affirmed or denied (especially if said congregation finds her actions so shocking that it is filled with scandal and gossip) has problems that run very deep.

Okay, now that I’ve rambled on far too long, I will get to the heart of the presented scenario. Do I affirm or deny this woman’s continued membership within the church? Personally, I would be chagrined that there was a vote in the first place and definitively vote for this woman’s membership to continue; should she be forgiving enough to remain. Here’s my reasoning:

  • Romans 3:23 clearly teaches that all of us are sinners. The only difference between this woman’s sin and the sin of the church’s leadership and other members is that hers has been allowed to become the subject of scandal and gossip. The scenario offers no reason to believe this is the result of anything the woman, or her boyfriend, has done. Rather, it may be appropriate for the leadership to address this issue with the church as a whole.
  • The leadership of the Church and its members have been ordained by Christ to love each other as Christ loves them (John 13:34-35). While there are precedents for “church discipline,” I fail to see how revoking this woman’s membership displays the love of Christ.
  • By revoking this woman’s membership, the leadership of the church is displaying a woeful lack of confidence in the Holy Spirit. Rather than kicking her out of the church, the leadership should remain faithful to preach the Word of God within its services (especially those passages that define marriage and the appropriate roles of men and women) and be confident that the Spirit will convict her. Heck, perhaps they should begin the long process of befriending and ministering to her boyfriend in the confident hope that he will also be saved. This may be a difficult and lengthy process, but the effects of revoking her membership may create a roadblock that keeps her from attending church for a very long time.
  • I believe the church leadership should be grateful to face a situation that allows them model faithfulness to this woman that mirrors the faithfulness of God to believers. Considering there is no indication that this woman has turned her back on her faith; it is evident that she is still within Christ’s flock. John 10-27-29 clearly indicates that nothing (not even this woman’s living arrangements) can pluck a member of Christ’s flock out of God’s hand. Romans chapter 8 teaches that no amount of distress can separate a believer from the love of Christ. If this woman’s sin hasn’t caused Christ to give up on her, who is the church to cast her out?

Next, I’ll respond to the Scriptures referenced (within the scenario) that may suggest discipline in this scenario is warranted:

  • 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 does indicate that the sexual immorality merits expelling a member from the church community; however, verses 1 thru 8 in the same chapter spell out the exact sexual sin Paul is speaking of. Apparently, there was a man within the Corinthian church who had practiced sexual immoralityworse than even that practiced by the pagans by taking his father’s wife as his own lover (verse 1). The question we must ask is if the woman’s sin in our scenario really compares to the sin depicted in 1 Corinthians chapter 5. Is her sin worse than that of the unbelieving world around us? Is her sin really of the same heinous type as that Paul is writing about? I’m not justifying her actions nor arguing that they aren’t sinful; however, I do believe a case can be made that her sin is no more heinous than many of the other sins that can be found in any church. After all, if we kick all the sinners out of church, no one will be left to hear the gospel!
  • Matthew 18:17 does say that if a brother (or sister) refuses to listen he should ultimately be treated as a pagan or tax collector, but this is contingent upon Matthew 18:15 that states, “If your brother sins against you … .” Has the woman in our scenario sinned against anyone in particular within her church? I think it can be argued that her sin is against God rather than any member of the church. If the more sensitive members of the church are “offended” personally by the scandalous nature of her actions, they need to reevaluate the ease with which they are offended.

In summary, by the information we have been provided in this scenario, a revocation of this woman’s membership is not warranted. While she has sinned, she has not sinned in a manner grotesque enough to warrant discipline; nor has she committed an offense against any particular member of the church. The leadership of the church will be rewarded if they remain faithful to God’s Word and continue ministering to the woman’s needs as there is no doubt she will be in great need of God’s Word considering the choices she is making. Furthermore, considering the situation, there is a great likelihood that God’s power will be made evident as the Holy Spirit convicts the woman; in which case, everyone will know her life was turned around by God alone!

Center for Pointless Inquiry

Okay … the Center for Inquiry recently sponsored one of the dumbest competitions I have ever seen. To enter, a contestant needed to create a statement, phrase, or poem that would normally be considered blasphemous. The competition was a part of Blasphemy Day 2009. Normally, I try to ignore stupidity on both sides of the spectrum; however, this one has me fired up for some reason. The Center of Inquiry is an organization that hopes to foster in a world, “devoted to promoting science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values.”  In other words, a world of free-thinkers, provided you aren’t thinking about God or religion.

Blasphemy_Challenge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m all for free-thinking and I am fairly certain God is as well. My common response to the question of why a good God would allow anyone to go to Hell is that He obviously thinks it is important for people to be free to reject Him. I believe that free-thinking is an inalienable, God-given right. I also believe that stupidity of this nature should be exposed and confronted.

One of the goals of the Center for Inquiry as presented on their website is to end the stigma attached to being a nonbeliever. I’m all for that goal as stated. I believe that atheists are every bit a creation of God as I am; however, I believe that competitions such as the “blasphemy challenge” reveal more about the organization than they will ever admit. I suspect their real goals are less about ending the stigma attached to nonbelievers and more about reattaching that stigma to Christians. The competition is unproductive, divisive and should be an insult to all free-thinkers … religious or not.

Dave Burchett's Blog

It has been a few days since I have written anything and I wanted to apologize to everyone for being a slacker. I have a half written post saved in my draft folder that I need to put some finishing touches on …. and I plan on doing that soon. In the meantime, I would recommend that people check out an excellent blog I just found titled Confessions of a Bad Christian. Author Dave Burchett, a Chillicothe native, is incredible. I just picked up a copy of his book,  When Bad Christians Happen to Good People , and am blown away by what I have read so far.

Check it out.