Sunday, May 19, 2013

A United Church in a Divided World

Behold how they love one  another , has always been the trademark characteristic of the Church and this morning Pastor Jim concluded his final series to our North Avenue fellowship with this title, “The Loving Church” (Galatians 2:11-21). I was present for the first time since late April, having attended Winchester Pastor’s Fellowship and giving two hard weeks of cleaning and manual labor to my daughter and wife in Kentucky. Since our church is in pastoral transition, I was anxious to return.

Entering the sanctuary, I realized our new lead pastor (Jeff Eckman) was behind the mike usually occupied by worship pastor Jim Sirks (at State Youth Convention with the youth). That was fine; Jim would be preaching, the worship folder informed me.

For those acquainted with Jim’s sermon foundation in Galatians 2, the church struggled with conflict and a confrontation between the two primary leaders. Paul represented the Gentile influence (the new cutting edge of growth; Peter represented the Jews and conservative traditional values.

Jim outlined in two major points: the source of conflict and solutions to conflict. SOURCES OF CONFLICT include fear, hypocrisy, and legalism, and what I heard Jim say was that applause ought to come from God. SOLUTIONS TO CONFLICT include confrontation (by Paul v. 15), the truth Paul shared with Peter (vs. 15 ff), cf v.21), concluding with Peter’s reference to Paul( (see 2 Peter 3:15-18) as proof of the two men being reconciled.

That was Sparks; this is Warner. I retired from pastoral ministry simultaneously and I began attending North Avenue irregularly (being involved in frequent ministry-related efforts elsewhere. Over these 17 years, I have come to know, love, appreciate and highly value the friendship of Jim Sparks (and Susan). Now, I am watching him exit his local leadership role and move into a new role as part of Bill Jones state leadership team. I have learned Pastors/preachers come and go, but Jim has engineered one of the smoothest transitions that I have known in over a half-century of ministry. BUT IT DID NOT COME WITHOUT DIFFERENCES, CONFLICTS, AND RESOLUTION.

One illustration Jim gave reflected Coach Don Schula’s somewhat hardnosed approach to correcting errors. Someone asked Schula was he not too hard on “little errors.” Schula’s reply suggested that uncorrected errors multiply. My reaction to that is, the Church of God has allowed too many “uncorrected errors” to multiply, beginning with the ministry of D. S. Warner. We had a conformist mindset and refused to recognize or tolerate our diversity; thus, we have have been an exclusive people, as opposed to being inclusive—united—loving.

Peter fearfully withdrew himself from the more open Gentile fellowship, for fear of the conservative traditionalist Jews, who thought the only way into Christianity could be through the traditions of the Jewish Law of Moses. It took Paul to lovingly confront Peter, tell the truth about God’s loving grace, and become a uniting, reconciling “loving brother” in Peter’s life.

They worked out their differences and we have the GOSPEL OF CHRIST today—one gospel, not one Jewish and one non-Jewish (Gentile), not one from Paul, one from Peter, and one from Jesus.

Congregations transitioning from one leader to another must learn this lesson if they are to be the PEOPLE OF GOD and do the ministry of the Church. It is a lesson with which I need help, for I like to be liked and I detest conflict. I find it easier to walk away than talk it out and work through the process of resolution. It is a lesson the Church of God needs desperately, IF IT BE A UNITED CHURCH FOR A DIVIDED WORLD, as our longtime friend Dale Oldham so eloquently proclaimed over the much beloved Christian Brotherhood Hour.

Congregations have worship wars over music styles. Right now I have friends suffering in silence from two congregational perspectives that were once one united congregation, whereas there are now two. People are hurt. The community witness of that original church has probably been irreparably damaged. WAS THAT WHAT GOD HAD IN MIND? A resounding NO! NO! NO! The damage to God’s purpose for that church in that community could be compared to the subversive infiltration at the finish line of the recent Boston Marathon! Thus, the uncorrected errors continue to multiply.

I love J. B. Phillips, whose scriptural paraphrase helped so many during WWII conflict. He paraphrases Peter gently urging people to get their applause from God rather than the fears, hypocrisies, and legalisms, with which we need to be confronted in our times of disagreement (times which are inevitable as long as we are human).

“Because, my dear friends, you have a hope like this before you, I urge you to make certain that such a day would find you at peace with God and man, clean and blameless in his sight … as our dear brother Paul pointed out in his letter to you,k written out of the wisdom God gave him. In that letter, as indeed in all his letters, he referred to these matters … But you, my friends whom I love, are forewarned, and should therefore be very careful not to be carried away by the errors of wicked men and so lose your proper foothold. On the contrary, you should grow in grace and in your knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ—to him be glory now and until the dawning of the day of eternity” (2 Peter 3:11-18, JBP).

Thank you Pastor Jim for 17 years of modeling ministry. You did it as people-person, because you are a lover, and we didn’t always have to agree with you. You did it by example, by maintaining an impeccable personal integrity that we could trust. You achieved it by being always willing to talk. Consequently, your recent 17-year stint at North Avenue became one of the most productive ministries in the Church of God.

From this corner of Warner’s World, I am walkingwithwarner, …we make too many errors to allow those uncorrected errors to be the thing that multiply most …

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