The Dynamics of Mutual Submission in the Church

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  – St. Paul to the church in Ephesus

Over the past couple of months, at the church I pastor, we’ve been having a rather intense conversation. The way I’ve been framing it is this: “What is the church’s answer to our LGBT brothers and sisters in terms of how they are supposed to live?”

You can listen to the podcasts on our church website, but in short, we’re deeply indebted to the work of Ken Wilson and his book A Letter to My Congregation. In the vein of “3rd Way” thinking, (you can read about how Ken Wilson’s church does it here) our church recognizes this matter as a “disputable matter,” analogous to what Paul is addressing in the early church in Romans 14.

We don’t have all the particulars worked out, but we’re close.

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Because this series has been so significant, we’ve only been having one service on Sunday mornings in which I’ve taught. Then, in the second service time slot, we’ve opened the floor for conversation.

The reason for this post is because someone on our leadership team asked me to repost what I said to wrap up the conversation this past Sunday. I wasn’t part of the question and response. I had asked two people from our Leadership Team to field questions. But, I couldn’t help myself at the end; I just had to say one last thing.

So, this is a little awkward, quoting myself, but by request, here’s the transcription, with only minor edits:

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“I hope what you all hear is there’s lots more discussion to be had on this. I want to encourage you to continue to have this conversation. I think that the questions that you’ve asked the Leadership Team this morning are good and pointed and should be asked. I invite you and encourage you to ask every pointed question you want to ask of us.

In the space of Romans 14, here’s what scares me. There are some of us sitting here saying, “If the Pastor performs a marriage in this room, I’m leaving.” And there’s some of us that say, “If the Pastor does not stand in this space, in this room, and do a marriage, I’m leaving.”

I think what Paul was saying in the tensions between Roman 14:13 and 14:21 (and throwing in a little bit of Ephesians 5 here) is that we’re all supposed to be for the other side. The “conservatives” are supposed to be the ones saying, “I don’t want to put any obstacles in the way of you following Jesus. However you have to follow Jesus, my desire for you is for you to follow Jesus as best you can.” That’s what the conservatives are supposed be saying. Not, “How do I make sure my voice is heard?”

The “liberal” side is supposed to be saying, “If it’s going to cause problems in the body, I don’t have to get married here. I’ll lay that down. I’ll get married somewhere else.” Not, “I have to have that just like everybody else.”

The Scriptures are calling us to actually take the opposite side of what we want to take. That’s when the body looks beautiful. That’s what a good marriage looks like. It’s when we say to each other, “I don’t have to have my way in this, what do you want?” That’s what it’s supposed to be.

I feel like we fail sometimes when we go into our camps and we say, “I am not getting my way in this, and if I don’t get my way I’m leaving.” That’s where I think we’re missing it as a church. That’s where we miss the whole thing that Paul is talking about in Romans 14.”

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Just last night one of our leaders asked me, “Do you really believe it? Do you really think people can live like that?”

Truth is, it’s super idealistic to think that people — especially us rugged, individualistic Americans — are going to submit ourselves to anyone. Confession: it’s hard enough to submit to my wife and I’ve made promises to do so. (And I really, really, like her and making her happy is one of my most favorite things in the world.) So, at one level I’m really cynical that this will actually happen in the church.

But at the same time, it’s a beautiful picture of what the church might be. I have a wedding message that I’ve used for years called “The Beautiful Dance,” in which I talk about how the best dancers are submitting to each other, working with each other in harmony. Yes, that might be idealistic, but the romantic in me can’t let it go, and even if it’s hard, and even if I’m a bit of a hypocrite and even if I think only a few will actually do it, I’ll keep preaching the ideal. (Because that’s what we preachers do.)

 

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