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FIRST-PERSON: A challenge to the conservative church

EDITOR’S NOTE: This monthly column about the issue of homosexuality by various authors is a partnership between Baptist Press and the Southern Baptist Convention Task Force on Ministry to Homosexuals.

MIDLAND, Texas (BP)–Since the news surfaced of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s (ELCA) decision to allow gays and lesbians in “committed relationships” to serve as ordained clergy, I have been thinking about the fate of denominations in our Christian culture.

I believe that while it is sad to see some of these denominations crumble, their breakdown opens new doors for the spread of the Gospel. As crumbling, ineffective structures come down, new, stronger, more effective structures can be built. That is an exciting thought.

It is very easy for the more orthodox denominations, including my own Southern Baptist Convention, to watch what is happening in denominations like the ELCA and think that they are immune to such a breakdown. It is also easy for conservative churches to look down their proverbial noses at the liberal denominations with judgment and condemnation.

But as I mulled over this whole religious climate, I realized that a theologically conservative denomination can be just as “off” as the liberal ones. Legalism and self-righteousness can render the church as ineffective as liberalism.

In my years of ministry to people impacted by same-sex attraction, I expected conservative churches would be my “friend” in ministry. Surely, I thought, since those churches held fast to the truth of Scripture they would be eager to help those struggling.

But I discovered an interesting dynamic. Many of those conservative churches assumed that because they were strong theologically and scripturally, “those issues” would not surface at their churches. They assumed that their stand for truth somehow negated the realities of living life in a fallen world. One pastor said, “Why do those people need ministry? They just need to stop doing what they are doing.”

While the liberal denominations have strayed from the foundations of the truth of Scripture, many conservative denominations face the risk of their foundations crumbling from legalism, arrogance and a lack of grace.

Sometimes we forget that Jesus’ words of warning and condemnation were, in large part, reserved for those most steeped in God’s law and most esteemed in religious circles. While Paul often warned the church of false prophets and wolves in sheep’s clothing, Jesus frequently warned of the perils of being hard-hearted and self-righteous.

So as we watch another mainstream denomination fall away from Truth, I believe God would challenge our pride and piety. I can almost picture Him listening patiently to us boast that “at least we are not like them,” and then turning the tables on us.

If you read the Gospels, it is easy to imagine what He might say. He would call us to humble ourselves and be reminded of our own filth absent His grace that saved us. He would remind us of the children we are, and the very little we possess absent His provision.

He would challenge us to go into the world and to interact with sinners, not to shut our doors to the wounded and hurting among us. He would call us to dine with the worst of sinners, to build relationships, and to share Jesus with a world so desperate for His powerful love, forgiveness and redemption.

He might well chastise us for losing sight of our own filth and desperation — for having forgotten that we have been “forgiven much.” He would implore us to make our churches hospitals for the sick instead of fortresses for the healthy.

The reality is that our strong, conservative denominations are at risk of being taken out too, for what we build of our orthodox selves is as weak as what the liberal denominations build of their humanistic selves. There must be no “self” in the church at all. It must be built on Jesus Christ alone — on the whole of Jesus Christ as He lived on earth and as He lives today.

All evangelical denominations started out essentially unified in the goal of reaching sinners with the hope found in Jesus Christ. Over the years, many have become fractured and weakened as they have lost sight of their mission and mistakenly assumed that Truth was as fluid as culture.

We, as Southern Baptists and other conservative churches, are not immune to that happening to us. Self-righteousness will weaken us in the same way liberal theology has weakened the ELCA. We can shore up our foundation while the structure is still standing, or we can wait until it crumbles and be forced to react to the destruction.

Let’s look now for our weak areas, and then work together to shore them up. I would love to see the Southern Baptist Convention restored not to what it was, but to something stronger and more stable and more effective to be all that it can truly be.

We may be the last one standing. My prayer is that we would not be the sentimental old dowager, still standing but tired and faded and living in the past. Instead, I pray that we will be restored and reinforced and renewed and more effective than we have ever been.

As with many restored historical structures, people will come, people will be awed, and lives will be changed. That is why we started this work in the first place. Let’s shore this up together — unified, humbled and expectant of all that God wants to do.

Let’s walk with all people, no matter their issues, toward Jesus. This, my friends, is an exciting time to be a Christian.
Mike Goeke is the associate pastor of counseling at Stonegate Fellowship Church in Midland, Texas. He can be reached at [email protected]. Information on the SBC Task Force on Ministry to Homosexuals can be found at www.sbcthewayout.com.

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  • Mike Goeke