Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Dahlia of the day: Hot Number.

Religious Conversion Code of Conduct

The August 7th edition of Presbyweb carried a link called, “Progress Seen Towards a Christian Code of Conduct on Religious Conversion.” Presbyterian News Service ran the article by Juan Michel (World Council of churches media relations office and a member of the Evangelical Church of the River Plate in Buenos Aires, Argentina) which was also carried by several other news outlets (here, here, here and here). This three year study process is aiming to have a code of conduct on religions conversion by 2010.

There has been relative silence on this topic since August 7th. The conference has been over of two days and the silence continues.

Horrible things have been done in the name of Jesus Chris throughout the ages. Missionaries demonized indigenous cultures as they sought to spread the Gospel. In Southeast Alaska (in the late 1800s) the Presbyterian missionaries would not let the Tlingits speak their native tongue in the boarding schools. This “style” of religious conversion was common commonly practice.

Things have changed tremendously since that time.

The article raises several issues that need to be examined. Today I will be looking at “sheep stealing.”

The first time that I heard the phrase “sheep stealing” was in seminary. The pastor of a church was complaining that another church was “stealing the sheep” from his church. Throughout the years I have heard complaints of “sheep stealing” on numerous occasions. Can one church really “steal” the sheep of another church?

As a Presbyterian pastor I firmly believe in the sovereignty of God. God is the prime mover. God is the one who draws us to himself. God is the one who has led me to the churches I have served as pastor (yes, a Pastor Nominating Committee was used by God). I firmly believe that it is God who leads people into, and away from, our churches. Therefore, I struggle with the notion of “sheep stealing.”

The phrase “sheep stealing” implies that a particular church “owns” the people that attend or are members of the church. Christ’s followers are one church—they just happen to worship in different local expressions of that one church. A Christ-follower is a bond-servant of Jesus—not a local church! God is the only one who “owns” the followers of Christ—and it is a voluntary “ownership” at that.

Setting the notion of ownership aside, our churches like to lay claim to a “set” of folks. Some of these people are members of the church and others are not members. Some of these people attend every week and others walk though the doors once every year or two. A church’s ego (or the pastor’s ego) likes to “claim” all of these folks as a part of the congregation. Nothing could be more absurd.

This past Sunday a person attended our church. This person attends church about once a year. I am sure that if you asked this person if they had a church home they would say that Evergreen Presbyterian Church was their church home. How can Evergreen be their church home if they attend once or twice a year? In truth, they do not have a church home!! This scenario is played out in every church and denomination. The membership numbers of most churches are do not reflect the actual attendance numbers, plus shut ins who cannot attend church for health reasons.

It is not “sheep stealing” when an infrequent church attendee begins going to another church. Do you know what it is? It is a time for rejoicing! The person has been led by God to a church where they can be fed on a consistent basis.

The whole “sheep stealing” issue is big in South America. Large portions of the continent have historically been Roman Catholic. Or have they? Just because a person was baptized as an infant in the Catholic Church does not mean that they are Roman Catholic.

Many years ago the Committee on Ministry of Alaska Presbytery asked me to attend the final worship service to be led by a designated pastor in a village church and to moderate the congregational meeting that would immediately follow worship. It was the pastor’s last Sunday at that church. The church was averaging less than eight people in worship. Many of the people who had attended that church in the past were currently attending other churches in the town. Had those other churches “stolen” the people away from the Presbyterian Church? Many of those people hadn’t stepped through the doors of the Presbyterian Church for years and years.

Large numbers of Roman Catholics in South America are Catholic in name only. These people were baptized as infants in the Catholic Church. These people will have their marriages performed in the Catholic Church. These people may attend Mass on Christmas and Easter. These people will have their funeral services in the Catholic Church. Yet, in reality they are not Catholic. In reality, they are not a part of any church—they are unchurched!!

The Bible says that there is much rejoicing in heaven when one sinner is saved. The Church needs to get to the point where we rejoice like they do in heaven. Evergreen needs to praise God when someone who infrequently attends Evergreen comes to know Christ through the ministry of another church—even if they begin attending the other church. God used us to plant the seed—a different church was involved in the harvest.

On another note, some people leave a church for other reasons. Sunday I was told that a person was leaving Evergreen. He doesn’t like our music. In our worship we try to sing the best of the traditional hymns and the best of contemporary worship songs and hymns. We have worshipped this way for seven or eight years. We have done a survey of the congregation and only four people prefer a totally traditional worship style. This gentleman is never going to like the music at Evergreen. He regularly complains about our music. If our music is standing between him and God then many be the best thing is for him to attend another church. If he does… that other church will not be “stealing” one of Evergreen’s sheep!


At 12:33 AM , Blogger Sander Chan said...

That would be also my argument against a global code of conduct, even if it is voluntary. Apart from lying down - probably useful - principles for evangelism, it also defines which churches are in and which churches are out. It can act - even if implicitly - as a means to keep sheep into the pen, churches that are in.


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