Does “the church” have a right to tell anyone anything?

By: Rev. Ed Schneider

The more seasoned I become as a pastor, preacher, and theologian it becomes painfully obvious to me that a significant percentage of what the world has come to know as “The Christian Church” is failing in its expression of the mission of Jesus. In no small way I believe it becomes safer with each passing day to proclaim the universal church of Christ has profoundly lost its assumptive moral and ethical authority within the majority of the American populace.

Not that long ago I was attending a large denominational gathering. While there I found myself, as so many others were also, taking in all the sights and sounds of the rushed scurrying of devoted and curious Christian leaders. These leaders were essentially divided equally between clergy and laity. As I and a thousand others were attending a resolutions discussion, the issue of ordaining, recognizing the ministerial call and continued sanctioning of clergy who are self-proclaimed homosexuals came up on the conference floor with great passion.

As I was thoroughly enjoying the interchanges of sincere and dedicated people who were expressing differing opinions on this popular and controversial subject, I came to consider deeply the subject at hand. After a few minutes of contemplation on the prospects of how to react to what I had witnessed, I decided to start asking others their opinions of what they had seen and heard.

To be truthful, their reactions were vast and varied. The stated opinions ranged from, (and I’m paraphrasing) “Hang and burn them all” to “Church shouldn’t be in the damning business!”

I would not insult your intelligence by telling you the Bible hasn’t spoken quite clearly on this issue. It has….and there is no doubt that it has. It speaks clearly “biblically” (you shall not) and it speaks clearly “theologically” (God’s grace is sufficient).

So….whether you are built and therefore standing firmly on biblical script or whether you go beyond the mere words on the page and understand scripture in its context and broader theological constructs, I’m generally OK with either or both. Why? Because I trust God more than I trust the Holier-than-thou-smart-people.

The major issue I observed then and now is the ugly lynch mob mentality that often times attached itself to this subject. As all of the differing views were expressed by a myriad of individuals I began to search my understanding upon a different issue entirely. What I am referring to is the terrible habit some “Christians” who either “compartmentalized sin” or practice a theologically inept “conditional righteousness”.

What these two phrases are referring to is the unfortunate tendency we humans have regarding looking across the backyard fence and justifying our “cluttered back yard” by condemning “the unpruned trees” in our neighbors’ front lawn.

You know the tendency I am referring to, don’t you? Your friend has a severe drinking problem. This excessive drinking is obviously messing up his life. As his long-term friend, you lovingly approach the subject with the hope something good will come out of it. To your surprise, as you bring up the subject of his drinking, he says, “P-l-e-a-s-e come back and talk to me when you get your house together!”

The man with the drinking problem was profoundly affected by his concerned friend’s apparent lack of “moral authority” to address the issue at hand.

Two very important reality checks to consider.

1). If you believe, by its very nature, homosexuality is a sin, and then choose not to act with the same fervor and passion about other sins, you are at best a raving hypocrite.

2). If you view Scripture as wonderful when it refers to God’s overwhelming grace and acceptance and then proceed to deny the authority of Scripture when it doesn’t agree with your personal agenda then you are at best a theological fool.

The church is a living, breathing and divine symbol for what God calls us to be. God is both gracious and accepting, but God is also righteous and holy. We are certainly not perfect, but we are supposed to be striving toward our Christian maturity through faith and love. The Christian Church, or its clergy, cannot possibly preach with any amount of real authority if we are weighed down with self-inflicted hypocrisy.

Let me explain.

Recently, two female friends, one clergy and one laity, recounted stories of an inappropriate nature as though it was a common occurrence. While at a hotel where another large church leadership gathering was taking place, the female minister was approached by a renowned male elder on the first day of the gathering with a request for her to join him in his room later. Her response was one of insult. She asked about his wife and family. His response: They are not due until later in the week.

The female lay member tells me that while kneeling at a recent national organizational meeting for altar prayer, one of those praying for the group slipped her a note requesting a romantic interlude.

Every church that is open in the name of Christ is called to do just a few things. Two of those divine responsibilities involve being a standard bearer of moral ethics and a consistent carrier of established spiritual truth.

At least that is what we are supposed to be doing.

The public far too often hears of sex scandals, financial trickery, racial ugliness, doctrinal heresies and political ambitions. These disgusting displays have caused the Church to witness devastating assaults to the core of its authority.

It is one thing for the outside world to attack us, but when we attack ourselves through the severe downgrading of our moral and ethical standing within the eyes of those who are searching for answers to faith, we have figuratively slapped God right across the face. We have blatantly lied about who we are and to whom we PROFESS to belong. We have said by our actions that sin is not sin. We have yelled at the top of our collective theological voices that God’s grace is a limited affair.

It is true that by the very nature of our humanness we will unfortunately fail more often than we like. That circumstance is not what I am referring to. It is when we artificially set ourselves and our churches up as the epitome of pristine self-righteousness that we guarantee the unbelieving world will again and again find reasons to find the current example of the Christian movement an irrelevant joke or a horrendous display of philosophical foolishness.

We are called by God to do much better. We are called by God to share the love of Christ….the generosity of His love….and the empowering reality of The Creator’s Holy Spirit.

How about this idea? Let’s get that right first before we do anything else. By doing so we just may begin to heal the hole that has been inflicted in the gracious fabric of God’s love. Peace.


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