The Church as a Safe Place - Points of Emphasis for Discussion
It cannot be denied that the culture of our day increasingly finds itself divided on practically every issue. This is evident politically, socially, and morally. In our current culture, every sentence someone utters could threaten someone else’s existing belief. In the public arena a clear definition of what is true is no longer accepted, preventing us from holding civil conversations. Even within the Christian denominations there are opposing sides debating many of these same issues from differing biblical and theological perspectives. It is a confusing time for many both within and without the church. We at the Amber Congregational Church desire to provide a safe place for all people, regardless of their identity or belief, to question, to discuss, to wrestle with the complexities of divisive issues. We seek to do so in an environment that respects everyone.
Although we are not necessarily planning to hold any public forums on any specific topics, we do want to encourage open and free conversations between individuals and small groups. We hope all discussions can be approached with respect and without fear or prejudice, putting aside personal preferences in order to clearly hear and learn from others with a different perspective. We believe we can engage in this kind of dialogue because we live in the reality of Christ’s love. We feel secure in his love and can therefore freely offer that love to others without fear (1 John 4:15-21). We desire to be a safe place for all people because of our understanding that the role of the church is to not legally dictate truth but to focus people’s trust on God’s Word. It is this love of the truth that has brothers and sisters walking with each other to assist and clarify our beliefs. We can then aid each other in faithfully living them out to the glory of God as each individual “works out his/her own salvation” under the authority of Christ. (Philippians 2:12-13, Galatians 6:1-8, 1 John 4:18)
The following six points are what we believe should be the foundation of all discussions pertaining to how people see themselves and how they should determine their moral, social and political views.
1. Created in the Image of God – The first thing to be stated with regard to human identity is that all people are made in the image of God. The Creator designed and made us and as a result we are all people of sacred, eternal value. We are this to God and consequently we should recognize both our own value and that of all others. The fact that all of us are sinners by condition and by choice does not change this basic truth about us although it does color our ability to accurately understand both ourselves and our world. (Genesis 1:26-28)
2. Loved and Redeemed by Christ – We are Christ’s and should be raised to know that who we are primarily and relationally is found in our identity as those loved and redeemed by Jesus. His love and grace is demonstrated in His death and resurrection for every one of us. This assures each person that they can find the ultimate joy, peace and wholeness that God intended for each one to experience. We cannot earn this redemption but it must be accepted by each person individually. Relationship with God through Christ is where true human identity resides. (2 Corinthians 5:15-21, 1 John 4:9-10)
3. Sinners and Servants of God – Each person stands before God as a sinner and a servant. We are not the masters of our souls, our selves, or our place in the world. We belong to another, to God, and we are not gods ourselves. Our attempt to put ourselves first is evidence of our own sinfulness. Before we are able to correctly and adequately identity ourselves in the world we must understand and acknowledge our place as subordinate to our Lord; we are servants before the Master. (Matthew 10:24-25, Matthew 25:14-30, Luke 17:1-10)
4. Obedient Subjects of God’s Order – As people who belong to God by creation and bought by Christ in redemption, we are not in the place of authority. The standards and morals by which we are to live are not those of our own making. Our best hope for the sustained joy of life is found in obedience to the moral standards set by our wise and loving Creator. God has revealed His moral and ethical expectations for humankind in Scripture. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
5. Morality and Ethics Determined by Behavior – Morality and ethics are not defined by identity but by behavior. This is true in the areas of work, speech, appetite, and social interactions, just as it is in all areas of human sexuality. All of us are born with self-centered sinful perspectives and all express these in their behaviors. Moral ethics does not seek to change the heart, something only God can do through Christ, but rather morality seeks to declare what is right and wrong behavior in the social community. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Ephesians 4:17-32)
6. Support and Accountability in the Community – The church is God’s designed support and accountability community to enable each individual to live faithfully and for God’s glory. Here is where each person is to find and experience his/her full place in life and relationships, with God, with others and with oneself. The church should not seek to be the world’s policeman but neither must we accept the flip-flopping moral standards of our sinful culture and society. At all times we must remember that the church’s first responsibility is to demonstrate to everyone the affirming love God has for all people. (John 3:16-21, 1 Corinthians 5:9-13)