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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Discerning how to Love with Grace and Truth

Written by: on March 24, 2017

Andrew Marin has written an insightful book. Just like an anthropologist can help us increase our cultural intelligence, Marin gives us insights into the GLBT community that can increase our ministry intelligence. In his book Love is an Orientation, the author challenges the evangelical church to engage the hurting lives of the GLBT community with the love of Christ in tangible and intelligent ways, so that they may be drawn to a life-giving relationship with the Savior. In order to do so, Marin provides us with a ministry framework that understands the nuances of language, the stereotypes about Christianity, the theological perspectives, the fears, and the behavioral trends that characterize much of this community in American Society.

I enjoyed this book and I agree with its premise. Marin’s main argument is that what people in the GLBT community need the most is a thriving relationship with God in the embracing Body of Christ. In order to pursue that goal, my first step should not be to preassure them to change their sexual orientation. Rather, I must attempt to introduce them to the love of Christ through tangible ways that show a caring and compassionate heart. Once the person has found Christ and is indwelled by the Holy Spirit, then I need to trust that God will guide the person through the process of sanctification in His time and His ways. I just have to be willing to walk the journey all the way, no matter how long it may take or to what destination it may lead.

REFLECTION

As I reflect on the reading of these past two weeks, I realize that they speak to a key area of pastoral leadership. As a pastor, God calls me to minister to people with grace and truth. However, doing so is more complex than what it seems because of its unique nuances. I think that reducing this call to simply saying that “Jesus loved everybody and so should we” does not capture its complexity. My concern is that a simplistic view in this area may lead us to sacrifice truth for grace or grace for truth.

There are two areas that bring light into this complexity. On the one hand, it requires discerning the difference between judging and being judgmental. On the other hand, it requires discerning the role that the audience plays in my response as a Christian leader. Thus, I want to ask two key questions as I reflect on my call to minister with grace and truth.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN JUDGING AND BEING JUDGMENTAL?

Through many real-life stories, Marin reveals a sad picture in which many churches stand ready to stone the person who is experiencing same-sex attraction even though Jesus warned us not to judge others. In fact, both Jesus and James tell us that we should not judge. However, Paul also tells us that judging is part of our Christian responsibility. So, should I judge or not? Does judging make me judgmental? A good way to discern the difference between judging and being judgmental is to think about my driving experience. If I am speeding (which happens often), my wife normally says, “Pablo, the speed limit here is 55 not 65. You may get a ticket if you do not slow down.” By telling me so, my wife is judging—she is reminding me that I am braking the law. Now, imagine that my wife tells me instead, “Pablo, you are speeding. Stop the car so I can give you a speeding ticket.” In that case, my wife is being judgmental—she is giving me a consequence that is not for her to give. Only the police can do that. In the same way, I am called to judge—to confront people with God’s design, but it is not my role to condemn or to treat a person with an attitude of moral superiority—that would make me judgmental.

My concern is that confusing judging with being judgmental causes some leaders to forsake our God-given responsibility to judge. After all, the New Testament often calls us to confront, exhort, warn and correct.  All of these actions involve judging. Yet, in our attempt to love with grace, we can forsake loving with truth. However, grace without truth is distortion and truth without grace is legalism. When Jesus looked at the adulterous woman he did not only tell her, “neither do I condemn you,” but he also said, “Go now and leave your life of sin.” When Jesus loves, he loves with grace and truth. He judges without being judgmental.

WHO IS MY AUDIENCE?

The second element that shapes what loving with grace and truth looks like is my audience. When Paul instructed the Corinthians to confront the man who was engaged in a sinful sexual practice, he distinguishes the responsibility that we have towards the world from the one we have towards the church. The main difference between the two is one of accountability. Paul says, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. Expel the wicked person from among you.”[2] Can you imagine having to call a fellow believer wicked and kick him out of the fellowship of the church? Thankfully, we know that this man repented after being confronted, and everybody forgave him and embraced him in the church family once again. It seems that sometimes love gets tough, and it may look judgmental because it gives labels and consequences; yet this kind of interaction only makes sense if we understand the role of accountability in the Body of Christ.

Even though God has created everybody in His image and therefore everybody deserves to be treated with dignity, the Apostle John tells us that God gives us the right to become God’s children only when we believe in Jesus. In contrast to popular thinking, everybody is God’s creation but not everybody is God’s children. Yet, once we become God’s children, we are now accountable to God and to the Body of Christ in a unique way. Marin’s book focuses mainly on our responsibility towards the world. The world is not accountable to our standards. They need Christ. But once the person is in Christ, we keep each other accountable to God’s call to obey Him (this call was powerfully captured in the last testimony included in the book).

My concern is that confusing grace with lack of accountability may cause some leaders to forsake our God-given responsibility to keep each other accountable as we grow in the image of Christ. Loving as Jesus loves requires a balance between loving with grace and truth, and that balance is better achieved when I distinguish if my audience is the world or the Body of Christ.  Each one demands a different response from me as a leader.

Marin shares many moving stories in his book. One of them still resonates in my heart. A man with a wounded heart sent him this email, “Had someone had the courage to tell me that promiscuity of any type is wrong, that it is OK to not marry or being gay is not the end of the world then I might have been spared a great deal of trauma and pain in my life.”[3] This person was crying out for a caring Christian who was not afraid to love him with grace and truth. I pray that God will give me the courage to be that kind of Christian.

 

[1] Malachi 2:6-8.

[2] 1 Corinthians 5:9-13

[3] Marin, Andrew (2009-10-25). Love Is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community (Kindle Locations 752-754). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

About the Author

Pablo Morales

Pablo Morales serves as the Lead Pastor of Ethnos Bible Church in Texas. He is currently pursuing the Doctor of Ministry degree in Leadership and Global Perspectives at Portland Seminary in order to understand what it takes to develop a healthy multiethnic church.

11 responses to “Discerning how to Love with Grace and Truth”

  1. Claire Appiah says:

    Pablo,
    I do not believe that Scripture as a whole is admonishing believers never to use their God given powers of judgment. I equate permissive, biblical judging as an application of wisdom and discernment concerning what is morally good, true, and beneficial from God’s standpoint. We humans do and should judge all the time—that is, making judgment calls regarding the wisest and best way to behave or proceed in any given circumstance. You have to make a judgment call concerning the speed you can safely drive your vehicle on the roadways. I believe the scriptures that allude to forsaking the judging of others is more in keeping with your view of being judgmental: “It is not my role to condemn or to treat a person with an attitude of moral superiority.” Humans are being judgmental when they take on God’s role in judging a person’s moral condition or divine destiny.

    • Pablo Morales says:

      Claire, that’s precisely my point. I see two tendencies that concern me when it comes to the topic of homosexuality. If a Christian says that the Bible teaches that practicing homosexuality is a sinful behavior that God condemns, some people immediately accuse the Christian of being “judgmental.” They argue, “Jesus loved everyone so we should love everyone and not judge.” The second tendency is when a Christian leader who is supposed to provide guidance in the spiritual growth of a person, avoids being confrontational (speaking the truth in love) for the fear of being judgmental. Instead, they just “love” the person never confronting them with their actions, leaving the convicting work to the Holy Spirit. Yet, they ignore that the Holy Spirit can use our rebuking and correcting as an instrument to convict. In an effort to “just love” they forsake their role of speaking truth. In an effort to show “grace” they stop providing accountability. Yet, if we are to be effective leaders, we should take our role of exhorting and rebuking seriously, because without it, we are not truly loving with grace and truth.
      Pablo

      • Claire Appiah says:

        Pablo,
        In my first reply to you, I forgot to mention that you are perfectly correct in your analysis of judging/judgmental, and grace/truth, and the appropriate way to apply each of these terms. Grace doesn’t mean accepting or justifying sin or that a person gets a free pass on sinning. I love your explicit and succinct perception: “Grace without truth is distortion and truth without grace is legalism. Jesus loved with grace and truth. He judges without being judgmental.” And your additional clarity, “Yet, if we are to be effective leaders, we should take our role of exhorting and rebuking seriously, because without it, we are not truly loving with grace and truth.” Amen, point well taken!
        Thanks for your usual Spiritual illumination that continues to enlighten my understanding.

        • Pablo Morales says:

          Claire,
          thank you for taking the time to interact with my ideas and for providing me with feedback.
          Enjoy spring break!
          Pablo

  2. mm Phil Goldsberry says:

    Pablo:
    I do embrace the grace/truth/judgment combination that you presented. I do not believe that grace gives us the license to dismiss sin or put it on “hold”.

    Why do you think that even the church is tilting and shifting its view on sexuality? Is it to be “attractional” or non-confrontational? Or ????

    Phil

    • Pablo Morales says:

      Phil, I do not know what is the main cause for the compromising attitude that I find in the church. I remember the day that the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. My wife and I were grieving for a few days. We felt like we had crossed a line that marked a new level in the moral decay of our country. However, when my wife showed me some of the posts in Facebook, I was shocked to see how many Christians and people that I respect were celebrating the Court’s decision. That moment provided me with a tangible picture of where the average Christian stands on this issue. In part, I believe that this reaction reflects a lack of sound teaching in the church. We need to educate our people to think biblically about these topics.
      Pablo

  3. Aaron Cole says:

    Pablo,

    I always enjoy reading your blogs, but this one is one of your best! As a fellow pastor, I am trying to minister and lead in a very complex world. The LGBTQ is no exception. Your perspective on truth and grace is one of the best, because you are right we tend to sacrifice one for the other depending on our views and or those we are speaking to. Your observations about the main two tenants of judment and audience, in which we need to be aware is spot on. Do you think that we will ever be able to be “cut and dried” on this issue or do you see it always being a dance?

    • Pablo Morales says:

      Aaron, Thank you for your encouraging words.
      You asked, “Do you think that we will ever be able to be ‘cut and dried’ on this issue or do you see it always being a dance?” I see it more as a dance. Since we do not have the same relationship with every person, the level of accountability changes depending on the relationship.

      Pablo

  4. mm Marc Andresen says:

    Pablo,

    My experience for over thirty years in our former denomination was one of confusing law and grace, and I think this resulted from loss of truth. Alleged grace was extended in liberality regarding sexuality, and law was hammered when it came to conforming to denominational traditions.

    This is the support the need for maintaining truth and grace in that delicate balance that at times seems so elusive.

    Have you seen/experienced challenges in this balance in your designed multi-cultural church?

    • Pablo Morales says:

      Marc, I believe that the balance between grace and truth is always a challenge because each relationship is unique. A good doctor that works with different patients knows that the same treatment has to be adjusted to the uniqueness of each patient. In a similar way, the way we apply the accountability in the church ministry must take into consideration the uniqueness of each person.

      One of the recent cases that required discernment was the case of a cohabiting couple that started attending our church. He became a believer first and was discipled and baptized. I knew that part of his spiritual growth involves getting his personal life in order. Yet, even though I helped him understand the importance of getting married, I knew that we would have to wait because his wife was not yet a believer. We have been working with them for over a year now, and finally she accepted the Lord and is attending a small group in our woman’s ministry. The leader of that ministry was able to talk to her about her life and the importance of getting her relationship in order. Because the leader comes from a similar background, she knew how to approach the issue and the woman was very receptive. We are still working with them, hoping that they will both grow in their love for God. We have also given them space to serve in our community but with certain limitations based on their situation. We are loving them with grace, but at the same time discerning when is adequate to speak truth in love. Our desire is for her to complete the discipleship training, get baptized and for both of them to get married. We will continue walking with them in that journey.

      One element that has helped me draw a line of accountability is related to how we conceive membership. We have three levels of relationships in the church. The visitor, the attendee, and the ministry partner. It is only in the third level that we make a covenant that includes mutual accountability. In this way we have a system that helps us discern to what degree with can confront, correct, and restore.

      Enjoy the break!

      Pablo

  5. mm Garfield Harvey says:

    Pablo,
    Great blog as always. You stated that “My concern is that a simplistic view in this area may lead us to sacrifice truth for grace or grace for truth.” This has been one of the greatest challenges for the church because we rarely get a second opportunity to engage people with alternate lifestyles when we profess to be Christians. As a result, we often reduce (or bend) the truth for an opportunity to engage but sadly, we sometimes never get to the truth. The concern is not only displaying grace but I believe churches are struggling with finding the right balance to initiate an open dialogue. We are mostly comfortable in our churchy environment. Grace must be intentional in becoming uncomfortable to reach sinners because unfortunately, the LGBT community won’t readily come to us.

    Garfield

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