Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tolerance & Discipline

I want to thank you for putting up with me. Every pastor has their interests, strengths and weaknesses. I've put some of mine on display in this blog. Amazingly, several people have let me know they are actually reading it. Thank you so much!

I'm thinking about a variety of things today, all of them vaguely tied in with Jesus teaching in the "Parable of the Weeds" Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, our gospel text for this coming Sunday. It can be found here.

This parable of Jesus points both to the severity and mercy of God. It tells us to be patient, to not rush to judgment. But it tells us that there will indeed be judgment! I've been reading it alongside First Corinthians 5. That passage calls for discipline in the church. It quotes a harsh Old Testament principle: Purge the evil - don't associate with sinful church members. Wow - what do we do?

Bible interpretation is challenging! Fortunately, we do have a guide. When it doubt, we look to Jesus. Jesus is the Word of God. We read and teach everything in connection with what God has done in Jesus Christ through his incarnation & birth, life & love, teachings & suffering, death & resurrection. Get away from Jesus and we get off track.

So then, as we try to interpret, we read in the light of Jesus. And what did Jesus do with the wicked? Yes, he spoke harshly at times, even to his closest followers. But he did not reject them. It seems to me there was a lot of tolerance. Tolerance which, in the end, caused his death as Judas betrayed him and the rest of his followers ran.

This is the big Lutheran debate. The ELCA tends to be extremely tolerant. In our church constitution we do have a section on "Discipline of Members and Adjudication" which does allow for "exclusion from membership" in cases of "denial of the Christian faith as described in this constitution, conduct grossly unbecoming a member of the Church of Christ, or persistent trouble-making." But in all my years of association with the ELCA, I've never seen anyone excluded from membership for any of those reasons.

Other Lutheran denominations run tighter ships. This item, for example from the Wisconsin Synod, talks about how our tolerant attitude "leads to loss of more and more truth in each generation."

There are times when I want to be tougher. I am concerned that truth seems to be lost in our families, for example, as only a certain select few seem to be regular in worship year round. I know sexual immorality, drunkenness, harsh words, greed and selfishness exists among us. Someone came in today with sadness and helplessness about what is going on in their extended family. Are we too tolerant?

It seems that local churches and denominations tend to lean one way or the other, toward tolerance or discipline. As I prepare to preach this Sunday about the "Parable of the Weeds" I ask your prayers. Mostly, I pray we would follow Jesus and his example in everything we do.

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