I appreciate the concern of the recent Biblical Recorder article (Aug. 3 issue) to address church issues arising out of recent Boy Scout and gay marriage court decisions. I concur with much of what was presented. However, I have a rather different view of the essential task facing churches. Perhaps it’s a difference in emphasis or priority, but it does suggest a quite distinctive challenge to churches, and our resulting counsel to them.
The article seemed to suggest a priority issue was establishing some policies on gay marriage. Certainly, having articulated policies on a host of topics is essential for churches to assure sound and consistent practices, avoid arbitrariness as well as minimize undue risks.
Effective policies, however, must not be merely emotive driven – quickly drafted statements that have little careful thought, or worse, have been adopted without any serious biblical and principled basis.
In the context of issues raised by so-called “gay rights” and the broader set of vast sweeping cultural challenges facing churches, the urgent need is not, I think, for crafting quick homosexual-focused policies.
The critical fact is that homosexual related issues are part of the much broader challenge of collapsing sexual ethics, and profound marriage and family trends. Within the church itself, we have been too passive and even functionally accepting of explosions of sexual dysfunction and failures within our church life – adultery, groundless divorce, sexual addictions, premarital sex, pornography, broken families, abandoned kids and a near pagan focus on sexuality. It’s an epidemic, and we have not been immune. Our deeper “problem” and challenge is not focused toward gay marriage. And it’s not just “them.”
It is not just the outside culture, but one that has infected all our society. And the family/marriage/sexuality is itself part of a larger materialist, humanist, relativist wave of moral and religious rebellion.
We have in the church two distinct and urgent crises. One is an internal church problem of discipleship, accountability, healing and spiritual nurture in the context of brokenness among many of our members and families. Internally we must recover being the church. That means standing firm, resolute and faithful in affirming truth. But it also means redeeming ourselves and addressing our broken lives. The church as has been observed is no hotel for saints, but a hospital for sinners. And last I noticed, we still need emergency rooms and critical care wards.
Externally, our challenge is to be “in but not of” the world and to engage a culture that has no history with us, no sense of the real gospel message, or of our lofty view of marriage and sexuality. They need to hear not just what we oppose, but what we affirm and celebrate. Most of our members might easily declare their opposition to gay marriage, but are ill-equipped to respond to a generation bathed in hedonistic relativism and a deluge of media that attacks the church as homophobic, bigoted, prejudiced and hateful.
I see the current context as a great opportunity to do what churches rarely, but must urgently now do. We must do our biblical and theological work first. We must know who we are and our message, understand what it means to love and care deeply for the most hurting and distorted in our communities, while standing against pretensions and illusions of the day. We must not avoid or hide from the spiritual alien and stranger, but engage and call them to wholeness. We must be light and life, and be as attractive as Jesus was to the broken and discarded of His day.
This involves more than a one-night church business meeting or adopt-a-policy task!
This is not the first time the church has had to live in a culturally hostile world; it was Rome a long time ago. It was Corinth. And it is ours. We better get used to it. It is in fact our mission field. The relativism, narcissism and hedonism of the age produces a harvest of sadly broken lives – and we better be there – as Christians picked up the abandoned children on the hills outside Rome.
Policies? Yes, but they must be products of more than well-crafted legal statements.
They must reflect the fullness of Good News – not merely condemning one particular sin and illusion of the day. We must be sure the clearest “policy” – the really big policy – is one reflected in the welcoming and care that comes from Jesus being known as the “friend of sinners.”
Our real policy is hopefully much more what we earnestly seek to do for those in and out of the church, and to be lovingly redemptive.
The consistent biblical word is not “Stay Out” but “Come.” Yes, come and find a joyous place of repentance, grace and life. Now there’s a policy to adopt and live!
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lynn R. Buzzard is Professor of Law at Campbell University’s School of Law, and author of the Baptist State Convention’s Church Policy Manual that is now in the process of being updated. He has served as interim pastor of several Baptist churches in North Carolina.)