The Mission Fund Raising Drive
The planning had begun for the annual mission fund raising
drafted the leadership list. She decided that the time had come for a shift in
leadership. The church needed new people to step forward so Alice left Anne off the list. Anne had served
in nearly every leadership position and on almost every committee and board.
She loved her church and sacrificially gave her time and talents. When she
heard that Alice
had excluded her from the leadership team, she was hurt and told several
people. Word filtered through the grapevine. When a friend asked Alice why she had left Ann off the list, Alice admitted that it was intentional.
“Everyone is sick and tired of being ordered around by Anne. Her high-handed
ways are getting on people’s nerves. So I took it upon myself to let her sit
this one out.”
Anne quietly withdrew from church activities that fall.
She was too hurt to get involved or even to attend services. At first, she did
not talk to anyone but later she began to express her concerns that Alice had made too many
changes. The telephone lines warmed up as members of the congregation started
discussing the pros and cons of Anne’s “concerns.”
The situation degenerated through the winter as members
formed two camps. One supported Alice
and her plans for a revitalized church under new leadership. Another sided with
Anne and her supporters who had been at the helm of the church for over 20
years. Tensions continued to escalate through the summer and many believed that
the church was on a collision course making a church split inevitable.
It is a sad reality
that church life in America
bears little resemblance to the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 18. Whether we
are talking about how we relate to people within the church or how we interact
with people in the secular world. The prevailing values or the lack thereof, in
our culture toward morality and community have distorted and corrupted our
interpersonal relationships. These attitudes have contributed to making the
words of Jesus appear incredible and impractical.
In morality, we lack a consensus on the definition of sin.
A postmodern world does not believe in transcendent absolutes, we cannot come
to an agreement on what constitutes wrongdoing. In such a climate, every action
or attitude is right if it feels right to the individual. “The chief ‘wrongs’
are presupposing that there are immutable and/or objective standards, and
trying to hold people accountable to them.”
This was dramatically illustrated in a conversation that a
pastor had with a reporter during the trial of a denominational minister. The
reporter asked why the minister was on trial. He could not understand why the
church would seek to discipline him for following his conscience. The other
pastor declined to comment about whether the man was following his conscience.
She told the reporter that he was on trial for breaking a church law: a law to
which he agreed to obey when he was ordained. The reported took issue with
this. “But in breaking the law, wasn’t he serving a need in this neighborhood.
And doesn’t the church exist to meet people’s needs?” “No, the church is not a
market-driven organization.” responded the pastor. “The church exists to the
glory of God, to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and to invite people into
a relationship with Him.” The reporter paused. He stared at the pastor with a
confused blankness in his eyes. He could not follow her line of reason. She was
speaking a foreign language.
Unfortunately, such an attitude pervades even the church
population. We have misinterpreted Jesus’ warning of judging others to apply
even to beliefs, behavior, and attitudes that are contradictory to the gospel.
We assume that different strokes for different folks should apply to all
aspects of life. We have forgotten that the Law governs our relationship with
God and one another. But when we abandon our transcendent absolutes one
person’s experiences and feelings are pitted against another. Rather than restore
relationships we have accepted an uncomfortable and unpeaceful coexistence by
honoring a mutual cease-fire.
Secondly, we have elevated the autonomous self over and
above community. We do not live in relationships to serve but to receive. We
commit ourselves to a church only as long as the church is meeting our needs.
Once the sermons stop “feeding us,” once the music team leader stops picking
the hymns we like, once the minister starts changing the liturgy, we withhold
our money and stop attending. If someone offends us or the Session decides to
start a program or ministry that we do not like, we go church shopping. New
programs are approved based on whether or not anyone will be offended, not the
spiritual benefit of the program. We have forgotten what it means to live in
covenant with one another. Membership is based on convenience not commitment.
These attitudes have weakened the health and vitality of
our church community. We do not have the spiritual well being to support a
family going through a long-term crisis. We do not have the sense of
responsibility to confront and comfort someone who has fallen from grace due to
a moral indiscretion. Therefore, we seldom witness the miraculous power of God
to restore individuals. We have few testimonies of people whose lives were
rebuilt through the loving confrontation of community. Restoration is relegated
to AA groups or the therapist’s office. We assume that we are being
“Christ-like” by limiting are conversations with one another to nice pleasantries.
We do not want to appear judgmental or negative so we avoid topics that may
cause someone to become upset or offended. A bland form of politeness marks our
friendships. Our community relationships appear peaceful but are built with a
straw framework that crumbles in gale force winds.
The medical community offers us a model of a covenant
community. Certain hospitals conduct morbidity and mortality conferences for
their doctors. The motto of the sessions is “forgive and remember.” The basic
assumption is that doctors will make mistakes. They may misdiagnose an illness
or apply the wrong treatment. Even their best efforts will fall short of the
intended goal. Medical cases are present at these M & M conferences to
learn from the mistakes not to blame. The goal is restoration not humiliation.
Quality patient care is only maintained in an atmosphere of honest, open,
In the old Scottish church, John Knox would meet with the
elders once a week for a time chiefly of mutual criticism but also to consider
the faults of the members. But these meetings were not to shame or humiliate
but to heal and restore. It was through this mutual sharing that the Scottish
church was galvanized into a strong and dynamic church.
In a few weeks, I will be sitting down with the Personnel
Ministry Team to discuss the results of my performance review. Even if the
comments are generally favorable, those meetings are not always easy for either
the person giving me the feedback or for me. I know who I am. I know my
strengths and weaknesses and my sin is ever before me. I expect to hear both
good and bad. While it may not be particularly pleasant, it is still important
to hear both. If I only hear the good, my pride could blind me to my own sin.
If I am to grow, both as a Christian and a pastor, I must listen to the
criticism knowing that I live in community with a loving body of believers who
only want the best for me and in a relationship with a gracious God who
The third distorted value we have focuses our view of the
relationship between this earthly life and eternity. From our enlightened frame
of reference, we do not really believe that what we do on this earth will have
any eternal consequence. We have an almost universal view of salvation. We
cannot fathom a god who would punish. God is love. We have rejected that angry
schoolmaster stereotype of a god who is just waiting for us to make a mistake
so he can swat us with the paddle. After all, “Once we confess Jesus Christ as
our Savior our sins are forgiven and we have the promise of eternal life. Isn’t
that what you preach pastor?”
While I do not have
the time to explore the topic to any depth, we must consider the words of our
Lord. “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you
loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
The meaning of the terms “binding and loosing” has been
debated throughout history. In the Reformed tradition, they are understood as
shorthand for what is said about listening or not listening in vs. 15-17. If
the confronted believer listens to the warning, he is loosed by the pardon of
the church. If the confronted person refuses to take heed, he is bound by guilt
and excluded from fellowship with God as demonstrated by the church’s censure.
Dale Brunner writes, “The church may calmly believe that when she takes Jesus’
command seriously the heavenly Father backs her up.”
The prayers of the church are not twisting the will of God. Our prayers are the
visible manifestation of the Divine Will. Through our actions divine grace and
judgment are conveyed.
Can a church become misguided and judgmental? Yes indeed,
however, just as a church can through excessive legalism inflict harsh
punishment so can it become too lax in its discipline and thereby allow sin to
prevail, such is the condition of the church in the US. Through our
overreaction to the abuses of past generations, we place a higher priority on
tolerance then holiness. We have disguised grace with the garment of silence
when adultery destroys a marriage. We have confused lenience for forgiveness in
the presence of chemical additions. In our effort to accept the sinner, we have
ignored the sin. Rather than heal the broken spirit or restore the shattered
soul we have allowed people to wallow in their muck of their guilt and shame.
Now we wonder why so many members of the clergy, in both Protestant and
Catholic churches are being accused of sexual crimes. We have overlooked sin so
often and for so long because we think that God is gracious and will also
overlook it. Matthew reminds us that we are responsible for taking sin
seriously because God takes sin seriously.
A Church Fight Avoided
The tension between Alice and Anne simmered through the
long summer months and might have continued until it boiled over into a full
scale church fight until one summer morning. The lay reader stood and recited
the passage from Matthew. Anne bolted in her pew. She heard God speak to her
through this gospel lesson. She looked around the church and wondered if anyone
else knew. Did anyone else know that God had aimed those words directly at her?
not have treated her like she did but how did she respond. She allowed
bitterness and resentment to silently seethe in her heart. Then she rallied her
supporters and formed a power group to thwart any idea or suggestion Alice made.
Anne knew what she needed to do. But what if Alice just laughed at her?
What if she got angry and offended?
Anne prayed about it and then wrote a letter to Alice, so she could put
her words exactly as she desired. She shared the pain she had felt over the
past year. She told Alice
that her decision to exclude her had hurt her. She asked for a meeting for the
good of the church and their relationship. Alice agreed and the two met over lunch and
tears. Both of them took responsibility for the things they had done and asked
for forgiveness. Later Alice
would tell people how grateful she was to Anne for taking the initiative and
having the courage to seek reconciliation.
A friendship was restored through loving confrontation.
William H. Willimon, “On Forgiveness,” Pulpit Resources, September 5, 1999, Vol. 25,
Carol M. Norlin, “Rubric for Restoration,” Pulpit Resources, September 8, 2002, Vol.28,
Norlin, “Rubric for Restoration.”
John T. Mc Neil, A History of the Cure of Souls, (New York: Harper and
Brothers Publishers, 1951), 249.
Dale Brunner, Matthew: The Churchbook, Vol. 2, (Waco, TX: Word
Publishing, 1990), 652.