Wednesday, January 25, 2006

More about the previous

Interestingly enough, the comments on the previous are a sort of way of illustrating my point.

I will first say that, as the cookie crumbles, I sway toward inclusivity rather than exclusivity. It is a Wesleyan principle that membership in a local church congregation is a means of grace -- which means something very particular in Wesley-speak. (Metho-speak?) The means of grace are many: some are sacramental, some are not -- all are ways for God to act. There is previenent grace, justifying grace and sanctifying grace. Church membership could be any of those three. For me to begin to think of denying membership is something that I struggle with.

With that said, Methodists do not have a fully developed theology or doctrine of church membership. As I stated, to determine if a person is a member of the Body of Christ (the Church Universal) is way beyond my pay scale (as my government friend would say). It is not my decision to make.

Determining who becomes a member of the local church congregation is a matter for a Methodist pastor. In other denominations, their polity might require a vote of the governing body or the entire membership of the church. In a Methodist church, it is done by the pastor.

Personally I have never seen a person turned down, but I have not be a lifelong Methodist.

But in conversations with some of my pastor friends, I have heard discussed incidents where one might want to turn down a request for membership.

First, an incident in an inner city church where many of the kids were exposed to drugs everyday in almost all venues of their lives. Many had tried drugs -- many did not have a safe place that was not drug free. A man began to attend the church. Shortly after he began to attend, the pastor learned that he was the owner of one of the local crack houses. The man requested membership. He was willing to take the pledge to support the church with his prayers, presence, gifts and service. In conversation with the man's live in girl friend, she revealed that the man was insincere. He wanted membership into the church as a stamp of legitimacy and to expand his business. Confronted, the man admitted as much. The pastor turned the man down. (This was not a Methodist church and circumstances have been tweeked to preserve anonymity.)

Is this what Jesus would do? Theologically, membership in the local church could have been previenent grace. But the pastor felt that the threat to his flock was significant. The man appeared repentant on the service. If the authority of the pastor to decline membership in a local congregation is removed, how could incidents like this be handled?

As much as the incident early this year disturbed me, I think I'm more disturbed now. My vivid imagination can find other situations where the health of the flock could be harmed by the inclusion of a wolf in sheep's clothing.

This is a situation that I feel must be discussed in Methodist circles before we hastily change polity that has existed for quite some time -- two centuries. And a theology of membership needs to be developed.

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