Thursday, October 26, 2006

Stay or Go? Ground Rules to be Proposed

Last night our church held its quarterly meeting. The two-hour meeting included committee and group reports, election of officers, approval of next year's budget, and further discussion about our relationship with the United Church of Christ (UCC).

A committee was appointed to propose "ground rules" for deciding whether or not to remain in the denomination. The rules will be presented as an amendment to the church's constitution (currently, it has no guidelines). If the church votes to amend the constitution, a meeting will then be scheduled between January-March for the purpose of discussing our affiliation; at that time, a motion could be made to schedule a vote.

The tone of the discussion was vigorous and respectful. I was encouraged by the church's desire to handle this in an orderly fashion, deciding to establish first the rules for any decision. I was also encouraged that a step was taken toward resolving this matter. People want to see a decision get made and settle the issue--one way or another.

In my pastor's report, I shared what I think is the bottom line question: Can we, as an autonomous local church, in good conscience be in covenant with others who hold beliefs that are sometimes or frequently different than our own?

I told the church this last year--and said it again last night: I believe sufficient warrant exists for withdrawing from the UCC. Synod’s decree for same-gender marriage was a significant, egregious departure from the clear teachings of Scripture. But in staying or leaving, I believe Scripture gives us a choice. We can be faithful to God in staying put. We can also be faithful to God in departing.

In staying put, there is this biblical testimony: In the Old Testament, the prophets remained within a disobedient Israel—working to reform it and also comforting the remnant. When Elijah told God he felt alone in calling for righteousness, he was reminded of 7,000 other faithful prophets (1 Kings 19). In the New Testament book of Acts, the followers of the resurrected Jesus preached in the Temple at Jerusalem—their spiritual home and heritage—up until the moment they were kicked out by the Jewish authorities. Only then did they leave.

In leaving, there is this witness: The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians to separate themselves from anyone who calls him or herself a believer and yet is regularly involved in immorality (1 Corinthians 5:1-13). Throughout the New Testament, the church is called to uphold standards of holiness—doing so in the spirit of grace and forgiveness (Galatians 5-6; Ephesians 4-5; 1 Thessalonians 4; 1 Peter 2). And there are frequent warnings against false teachers and doctrines (Galatians 1; Colossians 2:8; 1 John 4:1-6; Jude). We are not obligated to leave, but we are free to do so if we sense that this is God’s will.

The challenge before us is admittedly difficult. But this is the situation God has sovereignly put before us. For this reason, I believe that as we rely upon Him, He will help us.

Certainly, whatever we decide will significantly impact our future.

We are approaching a milestone in the church’s life.


Anonymous said...


I sent you a letter a few weeks ago from Pilgrim Congregational Church in Wichita. I've seen no reference to it on your web page or blog. Have you received this?

I copied the text below if you hadn't seen it. Please share this with your congregation before you have the vote to part with UCC.

In Christ,

James Rix
Pilgrim UCC - Wichita

Fellow Christians,

The delegates of Pilgrim Congregational UCC – Wichita want to express our deepest respect towards you and your convictions towards the same-sex resolution. While we may not agree with you on this matter, we understand what courage it must take a stand up for what you believe.

We carefully considered your resolution presented at the conference annual meeting. However, after completing a year of dialog, the members of Pilgrim remain in support of the General Synod 25 resolution. This position is supported by the scripture, dialog, and careful discernment.

We find many examples of different marriages in the Bible besides one man and one woman. We could not find any passages where Jesus condemned same sex relationships. There are many examples of Jesus teaching love and compassion towards each other.

During the workshop that was held in Wichita for helping congregations explore the issue, we learned that there are many perspectives of what marriage is. Each of us at the workshop had different ideas of why people get married. There are many factors such as different generational perspectives, and cultural differences that attribute to many reasons for getting married. The common denominator in our society was love for each other.

We also recalled at this workshop of you asking what a marriage should be, without getting an answer. Perhaps this is because there isn’t a clear answer to this question either. Each person has a different idea of what constitutes a perfect marriage. The Bible contains many models of relationships with no clear guidance on what constitutes a preferred marriage. Again, the common thread we find in the Bible is love for each other.

We rejoice in your spirit of love to all our brothers and sisters, made in the image of God who struggle with sexual purity. However, our definition of sexual purity is one of love, respect, and commitment towards each other regardless of gender. Too many marriages today are filled with struggles and abuse. However, none of these “bad” marriages are restricted by the church. Neither should same sex marriages.

While this issue has caused a lot of pain in many congregations, we pray you remain a vital part of UCC. Differences can always be found between individuals and congregations. That is why we celebrate diversity. We certainly shouldn’t let issues such as this one stand in our way of enjoying each others fellowship and communion with God.

In Christ,
Pilgrim UCC - Wichita

Living the Biblios said...

Hi Jim-

Yes, our church did get it and I attached it to the end of the report I gave last night, along with a letter from James Prather of McPherson UCC.

Anonymous said...

I hope it didn't feed the flames any further. You and your congregation are in our prayers.