Methodists, Homosexuality, Church Discipline and Lagnappe
Paul Dean Dr. Paul J. Dean's Weblog
- 2005 Aug 23
According to Richard Ostling (Associated Press), "the next meeting of the United Methodist Church's highest tribunal will review an unusual dispute about discipline. It involves whether the Rev. Edward Johnson should have been put on forced unpaid leave because he refused a homosexual who wanted to join his congregation in South Hill, Va."
"The evangelical Good News caucus says the gay applicant is living in a relationship with another man and "unrepentant about his practice" so Johnson was merely applying Methodism's teaching against same-sex behavior. But Virginia's Methodist clergy decided Johnson violated church policy, both in rejecting a homosexual and in defying directives to accept him that came from the bishop and district superintendent."
Ostling makes an astute observation concerning this particular situation. "The case attracts attention because it's rare nowadays for a pastor to attempt to bar or discipline a lay member."
It should grieve the heart of every Christian that a dispute of this nature should ever arise. While procedural details are sketchy and could always be a matter of internal debate, no Christian church has the right to admit an avowed and practicing homosexual into its membership. The church ceases to be the church when it knowingly ceases to be a regenerate group of people. By nature, the church is comprised of believers. That is not to say that unbelievers are not welcome. It is to say they may not be admitted into membership. Rev. Johnson was only acting in accord with the Scriptures. What are we to make of denominational leaders who are not committed to a biblical view of the church?
What are we to make of denominational leaders who are confused about the issue of homosexuality? The Scriptures are quite clear on this issue: "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10)."
Moreover, what are we to make of denominational leaders who castigate one of their ministers for merely applying its historical teaching against same-sex behavior? It is not Rev. Johnson who should be on trial but Virginia's Methodist clergy, the bishop, and the district superintendent. The fact that it's rare for a pastor to attempt to bar or discipline a lay member only points out the spiritual decay in the evangelical world today. Paul's words to the church at Corinth certainly apply to Virginia Methodist clergy and sadly, most evangelicals today: "And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you (1 Cor. 5:2)."
Dr. R. Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was cited by Ostling as lamenting the fact that "U.S. congregations largely ignore the Bible's teaching about discipline" in a series of Internet articles. Mohler asserted that the result is "the impending collapse of authentic Christianity in this generation." We couldn't agree more with Dr. Mohler's assessment.
Lagnappe: Curiously, Ostling then quipped, "With his continual Internet writings on such issues and a daily radio show, it's a wonder Mohler still finds time for his duties as a seminary president." There is no doubt that Dr. Mohler has a number of duties that relate directly to the operation of the Seminary. At the same time, we would ask, is it not part of the duty of a seminary president, particularly one of the most influential evangelical leaders in the world today, to speak out on issues that relate to the culture in which we exist and especially on issues that relate to the church? Again, where there is no discipline, there is no church. Should not our most influential Southern Baptist address that issue? Is it beyond the scope of his duty as a seminary president to sound the alarm when the church is in peril?
I for one say thank you Dr. Mohler for your ministry to us and your faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you for your radio and writing ministry. Countless numbers, including myself, are discipled and encouraged by it. Thank you for speaking the truth in love and taking the time to do so beyond your duties as perceived by others. Thank you for fulfilling a duty (and obvious delight) God has placed upon you. Thank you for not compromising on the issues of church discipline, homosexuality, and so many others. Thank you that we in the SBC don't have to wonder what in the world is going on at SBTS. We do know to the praise of God’s glorious grace and we pray our great God and Savior will sustain you there for decades to come.
More Lagnappe: I can't help but say a word to all the "Ostlings" in local churches. The pastor of a local church certainly has duties that relate directly to the operation and members of that particular church. The vast majority of his time will be spent with that group of people. At the same time, Paul told young pastor Timothy to "do the work of an evangelist [and] fulfill your ministry (2 Tim. 4:5)." Many congregations are self-focused and fail to understand the purpose and mandate of the church as given in the Great Commission. These would be churches reign in their pastors to such a degree that they are not allowed to give any attention to ministry beyond the members of their local body. At one time pastors were more educated than the members of their community and they spoke the gospel to their people, to their communities, and to the issues of the day. Let me lovingly admonish some to quit being selfish in demanding your pastor's time simply because "you pay him" unless you have a genuine spiritual need. (Let him disciple you, not merely hold your hand or drink coffee with you because that's your view of pastoral ministry). You ought to be ministering to others yourself as the pastor equips you (Eph. 4:11). Let your pastor do the work of an evangelist. Let him fulfill his ministry to you and the world at large. Let him study. Let him engage his community for the sake of the gospel. Quit being "Ostlings" and rather be partners in the gospel with your pastor. May your pastor be able to say of you what Paul said of and to the Philippians: "I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ (1:3-6)." That's what I say to my congregation even now.
 Lagnappe is the Cajun word for something extra or unexpected. A gratuity.