By Bob Russell
A young minister accepted the call to a small country church. Shortly after he arrived, the church’s youth minister announced that his wife was expecting a baby in two months. The couple had been married for just four months. The women of the church planned a baby shower and everyone rejoiced with them. But no one was saying anything about the obvious impropriety of the situation. The youth minister was himself quite cavalier about it all.
What would you do if you were the new preacher? On one hand the church should be a place that demonstrates forgiveness; on the other hand the minister didn’t want to leave the impression with the youth that the church condones premarital sex.
Confront or Ignore?
The new minister was in a tough spot. He knew the apostle Paul instructed the Corinthian church to discipline a man who was living in flagrant immorality—because a little leaven impacts the whole batch of dough. Should he ask the elders to confront the situation or just ignore it? There was one other factor that weighed heavily on his mind—the youth minister’s wife was also the daughter of the chairman of the elders.
The minister decided that there was a difference between membership and leadership—leadership requires a higher standard. And he decided there was a difference between forgiveness and trust—forgiveness can be instantaneous; trust is earned over time by living a life of integrity. So the minister suggested to the elders that they give the youth minister a leave of absence to communicate that the church is to be distinctive from the world.
The elders angrily attacked the minister as being judgmental, intolerant, and lacking in grace. They barked, “This is why people are turned off to the church! The Bible says, ‘Don’t judge or you will be judged.’ The church is supposed to be a hospital for sinners, not a refrigerator for saints.” The minister soon had to leave that church. The youth minister stayed.
I sense a similar mentality developing in many congregations today. The impression is left that believers are helpless in the battle against evil. The message is, “Look, we all sin every day. We’re not here to find fault with anyone because we’re no different; we’re all a mess. We’re just here to give thanks for God’s grace.”
Since the world’s premier virtue is tolerance, it’s not surprising that those who bend over backward to appeal to the culture emphasize grace and forgiveness and downplay repentance and holiness. Anyone who suggests the church ought to be “The Ecclesia,” a people who are called out to live distinctive lives, is regarded as judgmental and legalistic.
Leaders may take pride that their church is a hospital for the sick—but a hospital where no one gets well would be sued for malpractice. The church is more than a hospital for the sick; it’s an army of believers with a MASH unit to treat the wounded. But unless we remember that we are at war with the forces of darkness, we are more likely to reflect the culture rather than redeem the culture.
“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1, 2).
Peter Marshall once prayed before the US Senate: “Lord, we thank you that we can come to you just as we are. But remind us we dare not leave as we came.”
Bob Russell is the retired senior minister of Southeast Christian Church, Louisville, Kentucky. Copyright 2013 by Bob Russell. Permission to copy this column may be obtained by writing Debbie Carper, Southeast Christian Church, 920 Blankenbaker Pkwy, Louisville, KY 40243.