By: Brian K. Davis
Associate Executive Director-Treasurer
The action of the Supreme Court of the United States on June 26, 2015 regarding same-sex marriage has resulted in numerous questions being raised by church leaders. While it remains to be seen how these issues will affect churches in the long term, the immediate need is for churches to establish appropriate policies clarifying their position on marriage and their expectations regarding the use of facilities. These topics and more have been addressed in the previous articles I have written for publication by the Biblical Recorder and posting on the Christian Life and Public Affairs Special Committee blog. I hope that you will revisit those articles as your congregation approaches these matters.
In this final article in the series, attention is given to the final phrase of 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (KJV). Our Lord has given us a sound mind that, when informed and shaped by Scripture, can be utilized to great effect in our efforts to respond appropriately to the challenges regarding sexuality.
As noted in previous articles, the immediate need for many churches is to give attention to the establishment of policies. Churches are discouraged from making amendments to their bylaws but to strive to keep these matters within policies. There is, however, a long term issue that requires attention that may require amendment to the congregation’s bylaws, or possibly the constitution, depending how the church is organized.
Many churches cooperating with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina have membership statements that provide four avenues for individuals to become members of the congregation. The first avenue is through profession of faith resulting in baptism by immersion. Many churches have beautiful statements regarding the expectation that new converts confess sin, repent from sin and give evidence of a life transformed by the gospel. Others include statements expressing sentiments in Scripture regarding putting to death the old life and being clothed in righteousness. Again, these are beautiful statements that churches take seriously. The problem comes with the remaining three avenues into church membership. While outlining the avenues for membership I often find the next phrase, “or by baptism” followed by “or by transfer of letter” concluding with “or by statement.”
Great assumptions have been made through the years that “or” equals “and.” Meaning, it has been assumed that anyone that would seek to enter the church membership by baptism, transfer of letter or statement has given evidence of a life transformed by the gospel. This is a dangerous assumption. As a result, the number of truly unregenerate members of our churches has grown because of such assumptions. It’s time to stop making assumptions and employ the sound mind that God has granted each of us to engage in disciple-making with an intentionality that has been lacking in recent years.
At issue is not only how individuals join the church but also what happens once they become members. Does your congregation have an intentional plan to disciple each member of the church? Certainly we give attention to discipling new members, but all too often we assume that current members are growing as disciples. Too many church leaders assume that discipleship is taking place in Sunday School/small groups, within families at home; and we even assume discipleship is taking place through the pulpit ministry. Again, it’s time to stop making such assumptions and to intentionally develop strategies and employ models of discipleship that engage each and every member of the congregation.
Consider this example: A young boy or girl grows up in the congregation, professes faith in Christ, participates in all of the ministries and programs of the church (where we assume that they’ve been discipled) graduates from high school and goes away to college. Upon graduation they return home, but with very different views of sexuality than what they were taught growing up in the church. How does the church respond?
For the church that is intentionally engaging each and every member of the congregation in a discipleship process, providing numerous opportunities for members to be discipled and facilitating relationships for one-on-one discipleship to occur, this scenario should result in this young college graduate re-entering a discipleship effort where another disciple(s) help them to discover where the gaps are in their understanding of sexuality. Many young people have not been sufficiently discipled to understand Biblical expectations for sexuality much less how to apply these truths to each and every relationship in life. God has created them for more than what they’re currently experiencing. To help a young person that is wrestling with these truths requires patience, love, and clear teaching from God’s Word. Our disciple-making must not be focused simply on sexuality, but neither can our efforts shy away from sexuality. Our efforts to make disciples and grow disciples must be intentional throughout the entire congregation.
I continue to grow in my relationship with Christ and thank God for those that continue to disciple me. Issues that I struggled with 20 years ago are no longer an issue for me, but those have been replaced with new struggles. I am told by those that are my senior that another group of struggles await me as I grow older; so I depend on those who are older and wiser to help prepare me for that which is to come. In every stage of life and at every age in life, we need someone to disciple us and we need to be discipling others. Please do not hesitate to contact your Convention staff as you seek help in developing strategies and employing new models/methods in your congregation’s disciple-making efforts.
By: Brian K. Davis
Associate Executive Director-Treasurer
This is the fifth article in the series regarding the response of churches following the action of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) legalizing same sex marriage. 2 Timothy 1:7 has been the focus of these articles: E“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (KJV). In this installment, we turn our attention to the spirit of love.
The matter of love is garnering much attention; especially within the context of sexuality and marriage. Many proponents of same sex marriage have made what they feel is a simple request: let those who love one another express that love in marriage. But that simple statement fails to express the fullness of love.
The greatest display of love ever expressed was demonstrated by the Lord Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross. The Scriptures include Christ’s great declaration in John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Our Lord then follows that statement with, “… I no longer call you servants, but friends.” The message of love was given to the church to proclaim to the world.
However, the world has declared that the church – the recipients of that message and the ambassadors of love – are proponents of hate, bigotry and intolerance. The world declares that those who truly love each other are those couples that only through the action of SCOTUS may now marry. I believe it’s time for the church to take its message of love back. I’m not talking about marketing or public relations, but rather through intentional and consistent demonstrations of the fullness of the doctrine of love. For years now, many churches have failed to express the fullness of God’s love so we should not be surprised that the world is full of individuals that do not understand the fullness of God’s love.
Let me explain the fullness of the doctrine of love through an illustration: Before God called me into ministry I was a vocational agriculture teacher; specifically I was a horticulture teacher. As I would teach my students about photosynthesis, the process by which light fuels the creation of sugars, which are used to nourish the plant, I explained the importance of the light spectrum in this process. To teach the light spectrum I used, as countless instructors before me, an acronym – ROY G BIV. The acronym stands for Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet. In order for plants to bear fruit, they require light across the fullness of the color spectrum. Plants that only receive light in the Red/Orange end of the spectrum are stunted in their growth and fail to bear fruit. To the other extreme, plants that only receive light in the Indigo/Violet end of the spectrum are spindly in their growth and they also fail to bear fruit. For plants to grow, develop and bear fruit they require light rays across the fullness of the color spectrum. It’s my opinion that God has created men and women, living souls, in much the same way as it relates to the doctrine of love.
If a living soul is only exposed to the holiness/righteousness of God’s love, they’re often stunted in their growth and they do not bear fruit. To the other extreme, living souls that are only exposed to the grace/mercy of God’s love are often spindly in their growth and they also fail to bear fruit. For living souls to grow, develop and bear fruit they require exposure to the fullness of God’s love. But far too many churches fall to one of the extremes and express an incomplete doctrine of love. Therefore, the church must do some important soul searching and ask the tough questions: Why have we failed in expressing God’s love in its fullness? What must we do to disciple those our congregations so that they understand and express the fullness of God’s love to others?
Many churches have declared that Christians “Hate the sin but love the sinner.” We have assumed that there’s no gap between those statements. We’ve been wrong in that assumption. Those two phrases are miles apart if the church is not expressing the fullness of God’s love to others. Christians must respect and value every living soul, for Christ Jesus shed His blood for every living soul to be saved.
Please do not misunderstand; respect for others is not equal to condoning sin. Remember, the fullness of the doctrine of love, as revealed in Scripture, requires Christians to lift high the holy expectations of God as well as the grace and mercy of God.
In the matter of sexuality, consider this: The Scriptures proclaim that the “marriage bed” is pure and undefiled (Hebrews 13:4). However, the Scriptures are equally clear that God desires to cleanse and forgive living souls of “all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). This means that we should boldly declare that all sexual activity outside the bonds of marriage as expressed in Scripture is out of bounds; but that God desires to forgive, to cleanse and to restore those who will admit, confess and repent of such sin. In short, left to themselves, people will get things out of order regarding sexuality, but God desires to forgive and cleanse. When living souls recognize the love of their Creator and His expectations for their lives, change can take place. These truths are not limited simply to those involved in same sex relationships, but those who have things out of order in every sexual relationship.
If ever there was a church that had sexuality out of order, it was the church at Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (ESV) we read:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
For the church to truly impact the world regarding sexuality, we must take our message back and then share and express the fullness of God’s love. But we do not stop there, for Paul concludes 2 Timothy 1:7 with a final admonition. Paul reminds us that God has given us not only power and love, but a sound mind as well. In the final installment we’ll give attention to the necessity for this sound mind as it relates to the matters of sexuality and marriage.
By: Brian K. Davis
Following the action of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) on June 26, 2015 regarding same-sex marriage, I developed a training seminar that has taken me across the state where these matters are discussed. The framework for the conversation is found in 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (KJV).
Working through this important verse of Scripture, I have already written two articles regarding the power the church has to establish its own policies regarding weddings and the use of facilities. This third installment will address the matter of policies; and in this article I offer several cautions as your congregation begins the process of reviewing, revising, and, as necessary, drafting policies regarding weddings and the use of church facilities.
First, policies should be clear in their focus. I am finding churches that are trying to address too many issues in a single policy and as a result the policy is difficult to understand much less implement. For example, a wedding policy should focus on the wedding regardless of where it might take place at the church. Some churches have weddings in the sanctuary, a chapel, the fellowship hall, even outside at other structures on the church property. Keep the focus of the wedding policy on the wedding, and don’t try to address all of the details regarding the facilities being used. A separate use of facilities policy is often necessary. The wedding policy should refer to the facilities use policy, but not repeat everything found in the facilities use policy.
In addition, some churches are placing statements in their wedding policies regarding employment matters. For example, I’ve seen wedding policies that outline how ministers will be disciplined, even terminated, for participating in weddings in violation of the wedding policy. Matters regarding employment should be placed in the appropriate personnel policy, not the wedding policy. Does the couple seeking to be married need to know how the church might discipline, even terminate a minister? Of course not, so make sure that policies are clear in their focus.
Second, policies should be complementary, not contradictory. Again, as noted above, a good wedding policy will focus on the wedding and refer couples to the facility use policy to address questions related to how the church expects the facility to be utilized in the wedding. In this way, the two policies complement each other. But make sure that you do not establish a facilities use policy that makes it impossible to actually conduct the wedding. Some churches have determined that they will limit the use of the facilities to church members only, but then have a wedding policy that allows non-members to be married; contradictions between policies can create numerous problems. This is a good time to review all of the church’s policies — not just those concerning weddings and use of facilities — to determine if contradictions exist and take steps to address those contradictions before a problem arises.
Third, as I stated in the first installment in the series on the power enjoyed by the church to establish policies, make sure that policies do not contradict the church’s bylaws. Remember, the policies are legally binding and sufficient for guiding and protecting the church. However, any disagreement between policies and bylaws will be decided by what’s stated in the bylaws. Bylaws trump policies when disagreement is found in these governing documents.
Fourth, do not make assumptions. Just because it is the current opinion that “everyone in the church knows” a particular expectation exists for weddings or the use of facilities, the hope is that the church will continue to engage in ministry for many, many years. If this is indeed the case, people will come and go – including pastors and other church members. Make sure the language of policies, expectations and promises are clearly stated in order that those who come behind you in years to come can understand the intention of the policy.
It is at this point that we must make a most important transition in this conversation as we move from the spirit of power given by God to the spirit of love given by God. Insofar as possible, even the language of the church’s policies should be seasoned with grace and motivated by love. It is possible that well-crafted policies, implemented with loving compassion, can open the doors for gospel conversations. The church is in great need to enter into such conversations with those in our communities that have chosen to enter into relationships outside of the bounds of Scripture; this is true for all couples living outside of God’s expectations, not just same-sex couples.
In the next article we’ll turn our attention more fully to the spirit of love Paul proclaimed that God has given and how that love can help the church discern that the actions of SCOTUS should be viewed as a great opportunity to engage in disciple-making in ways that we simply have not considered in the past.