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.