The Death of Grace

 Last night I witnessed the death of grace in a church, the church I and my family have attended for the past 7 years.

The setting was a congregational meeting with the sole purpose of determining whether or not the pastor of the church had the confidence of her members to remain as pastor. The church had become fractured with some members seeking to move forward in a new vision. A vision that sought to reach out to people in the community with love, mercy and grace. This coalition of believers held to the message that God wants us to love all people and extend that love in new and innovative ways. They were not compromising the Word, they were embracing it. They had come to realize that being a Bible believing church meant more than just solid exegetical teaching, it meant living it out in love.

The other faction looked as if it clinging to what they believed was the pure Word of God, and holiness, and being separate. It seemed to appear that they did not have time nor care for things like mercy and grace, fellowship or unity. Their focused had the appearance of single-minded determination to save the church, from a liberal slide they perceived as a threat to their ideology of tradition, and rigidity.

The pastor, in spite of much conversation and prayer and intervention, seemed to align with the latter side. This occurred even though most of the leadership team he headed stood in the former camp.

Thus the meeting.

It looked as if some politicking may have been going on behind the scenes as person after person spoke in glowing terms of the pastor’s herculean ability to juggle the word of God with passion and conviction. But no one on either side was contesting his Biblical preaching ability. What was contested was his ability to trust the leadership in the church without intervening and thwarting a persons ministry. What was also contested was his inability to shepard the flock out of a heart of grace and mercy, and his unwillingness to accept new ways of outreach.

In the end, fundamentalism won. Those unaware of the back story will remain ignorantly unaware. Those with the perceived agenda to take the church back to the days of  striving for self-induced holiness, and self-inflicted purity without an understanding of the importance of  Jesus and the cross and grace and mercy and forgiveness that leads to greater holiness and purity, have prevailed.

What is lost is freedom in Christ, and  the joy in knowing that, even if you screw up God is there, telling you He is not angry with you as He picks you up and puts you back on the path.

That is what is lost, so for today I weep for those left behind, that will suffer under the heavy thumb of the pharisees. 

The lamp has gone out, and grace has died.

22 thoughts on “The Death of Grace

  1. I’m so sorry for you. there is truly a battle going on in the church. The church has to decide either to stay behind or embrace modernity. I think in the long run the church will be forced to modernize, because people are opening up and grasping more to reason than religion.

    1. Thank you Jeff…there are many, many people that desperately want stability in some area of their lives, so they foist that desire upon Christianity. But Christianity, real Christianity, is messy and confusing, and challenging. But it is, if understood correctly, freeing and lifegiving and engaging. That scares too many people.

      1. Right….and the people that it scares call the people that it doesn’t Liberal and that their diluting the church. We are seeing this happening right now in the church pertaining to Homosexuality and their acceptance as human beings, that also have relationship with Christ. This is a perfect example of how the church has come to interpret scripture a specific way that the original Greek/Hebrew text and it’s original intent does not support. Millions of people have been turned away from their God and their Religion because of doctrines just like this one. Was that the original intent of Christ? I don’t think so! The scared Christians that you speak of would call me a liberal and a Heretic, for saying such things.

  2. I am sorry you have experienced this. As Christians, we will always disagree. Some are wired to hold steadfast to the doctrines–which is very important. But without love, it is a burden. Some are wired to reach out in love, but without doctrine we can lose our footing. The problem comes when we dismiss the other because they are “unbiblical.” We need to find a way to stop using Scripture as a weapon against each other. We need to find a way to honor the other view in love and to live out the love of Christ which our doctrines point us to.

    1. I agree with you Leanne…but while I am happy to work alongside those who may differ with me theologically or doctrinally, there generally is not the same feeling from the other side. Rather than rejoicing because of the diversity in the Body, there is a concerted effort on one side to silence the other. That is very sad.

  3. Believe as I believe, no more, no less.
    That I am right, and no one else confess.
    Feel as I feel, think as I think,
    Eat what I eat, and drink what I drink.
    Look as I look, do always as I do,
    Then, and only then, I’ll worship with you.

  4. Mark, Your post saddens me. I’m one who has been shown grace by the pastor you speak of here and have witnessed his graciousness towards those who are openly hostile toward him. He is not perfect and does not claim to be. No one who spoke for him believes him to be anywhere near perfect. He openly and specifically acknowledged his sin and his role in the church rift last night. Moreover, after everyone spoke but before the vote was taken he said that by God’s grace he would submit to the vote no matter the outcome – the very thing he has been so often accused of not doing (i.e. submitting).

    I have read your blog with interest and been challenged at times – challenges that drew me to the Word to see if what you said was true. I have commented both positively and negatively and offered an occasional challenge if I disagreed.

    But I read this today only to find you have painted me and every other brother or sister who attends this church and loves faithful, Biblical, exegetical teaching and preaching as a pharisaical fundamentalist who has no care for the lost. You have again painted so many with a broad brush and charachterized us as being cartoonish right wing fundamental legalist whackos. This post is filled with assumptions about what these people think as a group and what motivates their hearts as a group. Yet the people in this group are not at all the same and are a part of Christ’s diverse body.

    Meanwhile, you use that same broad brush to paint the other group as completely righteous and high above all others in their spiritual walks.

    After being under the Biblical teaching of this pastor for 4 years I am certain I have more of a desire now than I ever have had in my life to reach out to the lost with the amazing incredible gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. I am also more certain than ever that I need much, much more of that desire.

    Mark, your post today shows absolutely none of the grace which you so often say that you cherish. So many places in scripture we are called as Christians to love one another; John 15:12 comes to mind to start. You claim to offer so much love to the lost (which is great!). However, from my read of your blog and my *very* limited interaction with you in hearing you at these meetings, you show little grace to your brothers and sisters in Christ who may disagree with you.

    1. You know quit honestly you reek of fundamentalism. You prove that buy referring to people as lost, a quit negative term at the least. Have you ever considered that the lost you refer to, consider you, a fundamentalist Christian, lost also? There is a great rift happening in churches all across America right now. Its a battle against conservative and liberal Christianity. As much as you want to declare just like any other believer that you have grace and love for the lost. Depending which side of the line you fall on, in reality speaks to the world louder than words do, what you really think about them.

    2. Mike thank you for posting and I am glad that you have had gracious encounters along the way. I must take a moment to clarify a few misconceptions you may have. I do not want to devote a lot of space here since I do not want this forum to turn into a place of personal attacks. We can get together at some point in the future to discuss this more in depth, if you like.

      If you will please note in my post I never said anyone was a wacko, I never said I knew what anyone was thinking. If you look carefully I say over and over again in various ways that “it appeared to me….”.

      As far as bestowing sainthood on the other group, you are making that assumption, not me. In fact a cursory reading of this blog will clarlfy for you or for anyone else that I consider myself a “chief of sinners” desperately needing the grace of God every moment of every day.

      There nothing wrong with loving Biblical, exegetical teaching and preaching, I love it myself. But when the majority of that preaching is focused on duty, responsiblity and rules for the believer without the grace, mercy, and forgiveness found in the cross and person of Jesus, that preaching is man centered not Christ centered.

      Finally, what you think you know and what is reality when it comes to your preception about the person in question are different. You were not sitting in 3-4 hour session meetings filled with distrust and arrogance, your children were not injured by accusations and speculations by said person, the same person who sat in silence at a meeting, where my youngest daughter and my ministry was being attacked by a group of adults who showed no grace and understanding. Your ministries were not continually called into question, over and over again because graceless and legalistic individuals questioned my motives and even my salvation (being called an enemy of Christ, does not sound too gracious to me).

      Do not accuse me of not extending grace and love to these individuals….my desire, more than anything else was to do the ministries God had called me to at the church. I was attacked verbally and consistently again and again by said person and those that did not like what I did. No one has to agree with me, and if you really knew me you would know I can live and work and worship with people from across the sprectrum of ideas and philosophies, I would have expected the same from the people in church I attended.

      But you are right…the one thing I will defend is the Gospel of grace, because it leads to freedom, and in that freedom the ability to become all that God has made each of us to be. We will all be different, and gifted in various ways. When someone tells another Christian that they need to conform to their tightly held personal conviction, I will intervene, because that is another gospel.

      Peace to you

      1. Wow, I guess I should not have commented. I too wouldn’t want to see this be a place of personal attacks. Unfortunately, I read the post itself as one of personal attack on the folks who voted in confidence of the pastor.

        I do apologize for using the word “whacko” – you did not use that word.

        There is much I’d like to say in response but it’s your blog and I don’t want to be accused of making personal attacks. I am certainly not opposed to meeting with you to discuss in more depth. It’s hard to imagine we would see eye to eye on things but we do serve a God that loves to deal in the impossible.

        Grace and peace to you as well.

      2. Mike you do not have to imagine that we will see eye to eye on much. We probably won’t! But that is not the point of being Christians is it? We are not the same. we all have passions, and abilities, and gifts that differ from person to person. The secret to a church that burns brightly the light of grace and unconditional love in the community where God has established it, is Spirit empowered unity in diversity, not humanly incorporated unity through uniformity.

        Look forward to chatting.

  5. God has never been, at any time for any reason, a capricious God of death, war, destruction, murder, violence, oppression, retribution, vengeance, hate, or conditional acceptance.

    God has always been a consistent God of life, peace, creation, healing, reconciliation, liberation, resurrection, transformation, love, and grace.

    God has always been the same. God does not change. What is changing is our expanding view of God and the increasing wisdom of our understanding of God and the Godly life we are called to live. From Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21, through the entire course of the Biblical scripture, God is calling us from within the scripture to grow and to continually move forward and to mature beyond the view and wisdom found in the scripture. From mere existence through tribal justice through the detailed code of the Law of Moses through the revelation by Jesus of the dual foundation and purpose and expectation of the Law through the invitation to live a new life of resurrection and transformation with God as the only ruler of our new life. God is continuously calling us to grow and to move forward and to mature beyond our usual human existence to be the Kingdom of God. Without the requirement of death as a precedent, we are constantly invited to be resurrected for and transformed into the Kingdom of God for our life and especially the lives of others. We are called to live here and now a life of resurrection and transformation as the Kingdom of God – this is the Good News.

    The “will of God” – what God wants for us – has always been for us to:
    * Be Free and Independent
    * Think
    * Be Curious
    * Be Intelligent and Wise
    * Value Knowledge over Ignorance and Compassion over Knowledge
    * Be Creative
    * Grow and Mature
    * Live Long Healthy Satisfying Lives
    * Live Non-Violently Without Vengeance
    * Be Hospitable
    * Be Generous
    * Do No Harm
    * Heal and Reconcile and Rehabilitate
    * Be Good Stewards of all Resources
    * Live Here as One Family
    * Live in Loving Relationship with God
    * Be Transformed through Resurrection
    * Be the Kingdom of God

    God is love and grace. These are the two most important characteristics of God that define who God is and who God always has been and who God always will be. God is timeless. More precisely, God is beyond time, beyond the constraints and confines and control and currents of time. God is not bound by the events or expectations or dimensions or constructs of this universe. In the same way that God is beyond time, God exceeds the bounds and bonds of this universe while being constantly present and immediately accessible in the universe. Even so, God has bounds. God is bound by love and grace; – God is bound by the conditions imposed by the act of creation by a God of love and grace; – and God is bound by the conditions imposed by a God of love and grace being in relationship with creation.

    “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works,
    otherwise grace would no longer be grace.”
    (NRSV Romans 11:6)

    “Yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law
    but through faith in Jesus Christ.
    And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus,
    so that we might be justified by faith in Christ,
    and not by doing the works of the law,
    because no one will be justified by the works of the law.”
    (NRSV Galatians 2:16)

    “For by grace you have been saved through faith,
    and this is not your own doing;
    it is the gift of God – not the result of works,
    so that no one may boast.”
    (NRSV Ephesians 2:8-9)

    “Just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn’t mean I orchestrate the tragedies. Don’t ever assume that my using something means I caused it or that I needed it to accomplish my purposes. That will only lead you to false notions about me. Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors.”
    (“The Shack”, William P. Young, pp. 187-188)

    Grace is not awarded for the satisfactory completion of a spiritual check list – and grace is not earned for works or acts – and grace is not part of a quid pro quo arrangement or relationship – and grace is not a stipulation of a contract or covenant – and grace is not right thinking or thinking right or thinking good thoughts or having the right beliefs – and grace is not about rewards and punishments – and grace is not about later. Grace is not about heaven or a post-mortal existence or guaranteeing a future occurrence because grace is not about having an after-life insurance policy or hedging our spiritual bets. We live in, we exist in and have always existed in (not “by”, not “because”, not “alongside”, not “under”) in the grace of God. Grace is now – constantly present and immediately accessible. Grace is always freely available and freely supplied and supplied freely unconditionally and abundantly without exceptions and without restrictions and without qualifications. Grace and conditions are mutually exclusive, even oppositional. A faith full of grace has no conditions – meaning no qualifications and no requirements and, consequently, no exclusions and no differentiation. A faith with any condition or any qualification or any requirement or any exclusion or any differentiation has no grace. God requires nothing of us – this is grace.

    God accepts whatever we bring to the God/person relationship – our physical and spiritual condition, personality, connection to reality, our participation in relationships, talents, inabilities, cognition, knowledge, ignorance, life journey, spiritual journey, walk about, wandering, seeking, questioning, questing, acceptance of God, rejection of God – and our emotional and mental status: hate/love, anger/peace, sadness/happiness, hurt/health, feeling lost and abandoned/feeling found and included, agitation/serenity, apathy/passion, confusion/clarity, fractures/wholeness – all of this, all of whoever we are and have ever been and every action committed or ever contemplated and every thought we ever explored or entertained or that flitted through our mind – all of this, we bring to the God/person relationship and God accepts the totality of who we are and every component that comprises who we are – as a gift. The constant inviting presence of God and this unconditional acceptance of us in our entirety as a gift – this is love.

    Because of the way God is defined and bound by love and grace, God has never required and never recognized and never accepted any sacrifice by anyone for anything. The love and grace of God requires neither a sacrificial tortuous execution nor a death-defying miracle to prove or perversely demonstrate its existence and worth and validity – God is not an abusive parent. Through the constant presence of God, we are constantly invited by God to have an intimate loving relationship with God. We have a constant opportunity with God to accept and acknowledge the love and grace of God and to live a life imbued with and guided by the love and grace of God. Each of us has something to offer to God and God has only good – unrestrained love and unconditional grace – to constantly offer to each of us.

    RECLAIMING GOD by Doug Sloan

  6. Hey Mark,

    The meeting turned out to be a long drawn out JOKE. It really was geared in a way that would ensure the said Leader would be kept in his position, despite all of the things that have happened.

    It was like I stated when I talked – It is NOT about the preaching, the teachings, etc. It is about how people are broken at that church. Tears have been shed. Intense pain from this said Leader. Look, I ‘ve been thinking for the past 5 years that he should just retire.

    Must I remind the congregation how they treated an Outreach Pastor like a budget line only, and wanted to use his salary to make a gold- plated kitchen downstairs and re-pave the parking lot?!?! The outreach pastor’s wife was crying in the kitchen , and the Leader claimed to have nothing to do with this Outreach Pastor, and didn’t ‘even know what he does’. Isn’t he supposed to be the Leader and Shepherd of the Church?

    The Leader of that church told myself and my husband that an interfering family member who was trying to Interfere with our marriage with lies and gossip — “She will never change. Just cover it in Love. ” … is it not against God’s rules to NOT interfere in a married union, “Let no man put asunder’ or something like that? What’s worse about this interfering family member is that so many people like her, who would suspect her???? Is it not in the Bible to go to the offending person one – on – one, and if that doesn’t work, then bring 2 or 3… etc?

    He has said some hurtful offhand comments, and other stuff I could write about — but not here.. Not in your blog.

    But I will say this: I’d rather go to a “Starbucks” Church, then go to a “Exclusive Country Club” church that will CLOSE ITS DOORS as soon as the Baby Boomers die off. At least I can have some good COFFEE while fellow shipping with my sisters and brothers in the Lord. I don’t have to worry about people looking over my shoulder, seething to themselves cuz I’m drinking coffee or tea in the sanctuary.

    The meeting turned into a meeting about how “well” and how “biblical” this Leader is. And like I said “It has nothing to do with his preaching”, etc. It has to do with a hurting church that needs change.

    It’s just too darn hurtful and heartbreaking for me to go there any more.

    Love you Mark, … Keep in touch with us


    1. Unfortunately, I believe Jeanne is right. The point of the meeting was lost before it ever started. It had nothing to do with the biblical teachings of the leader and everything to do with the shepharding. It’s nice to know people think they and the church are ready to go out and save the lost because I honestly haven’t seen anything but a shut door in the last 6 years we attended. The people are afraid of growth and afraid to have sinners walk into the different ministries. They are afraid of change. Oh yeah…. and I grew up in that church that is now known as the starbucks church….a church that wasn’t afraid to open it’s doors and let the sinners enter. And trust me, there was opposition, but they listened to God and not to themselves. I had some incredibly Godly people influence my life there and I will forever be greatful for them. Oh yeah, did I mention my husband was saved at the starbucks church. If it weren’t for friends inviting him, an unbeliever, to youth group, he would have never met the Lord. By the way, I am incredibly thankful for those friends willingness to invite an unbeliever and for the leaders who opened up and shared with him. No, we aren’t attending the starbucks church again (but they do serve coffee where we go now), but that is our perogative, just like anyone elses. I’m glad it’s over. I’m glad we can close that chapter in our lives. Our we thankful for that chapter…absolutely. It was a part of God’s plan. Now we are greatful for the opportunities that lay ahead of us (especially for our children) with our new church family.

      1. i am grateful for the opportunity to get to know you and Greg both. I want to thank you for supporting me and supporting the youth ministry with you talents, and with your time. I am sad to see these things take place. You are both wonderful people and God has a plan already to us you in your new place where you will be lights of His grace and His love. Peace to you my friend.

    2. Jeanne,

      I am so sorry how you and John were treated, I am sorry that you had to witness first hand the inflexible nature of some believers. You and John are a great couple and God is using you in the “Starbucks” church although, it is not Starbucks and some of the money raised by purchasing coffee there does go back into the ministry that helps people in Africa. We will always love you both, I am heartbroken at how you and your son were treated. We will stay in touch.

      Much love and grace,

  7. Mark, Jeanne and Elaine,
    Since I’m the one who furthered Tim’s “Starbuck Church” term I hope you’ll allow me to clarify what I meant when I used it. I have never attended the “starbuck’s church” you guys did (and perhaps do now, Jeanne) but I did attend a *very* similar church in another part of wny. My point was not at all that either of these churches is in any way heretical or that they do not have valid ministries and outreach opportunities and that God is working in them and saving his people there. Rather, my testimony was that I was starving for deeper Biblical teaching and found it very lacking in the seeker sensitive church I was attending. My point was also that there are not many (none other that I know of) churches in wny that teach the doctrines of grace and reformed theology (I’m not big on the term “reformed theology” – I prefer just saying it’s Biblical but, I digress). There are however, many seeker sensitive churches in the area.

    I’m convinced we are transformed by the Word and when our hearts are changed by the consistent preaching of the gospel we will have a deeper love for the lost and will be more and more active in sharing our faith.

    In any event, I have no issue with coffee in church and it may have been poor judgement on my part to further the term ‘starbucks church” I’m sorry if that was the case. Seeker sensitive is the more appropriate and generally used term and one I probably should have chosen.

    Grace and peace to each of you as you grow in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

    1. One is changed by more than Scriptural teaching. We are changed through the Presence of God found in prayer, found at the Communion Table, found in each other’s presence. It sounds to me that all wish to spread the Gospel, it is the how that is the question. Scripture says they will know we are Christ’s disciples by our love. Perhaps the biggest issue is not coffee nor preaching, perhaps it is the issue of how we treat each other, even when we disagree. The truth is we should be showing the world how to live in love when we don’t agree. Scriptural preaching is important but if there is no love between the members of the Body and for the world, it is a clanging symbol.

      1. Well said Leanne – I agree for the most part. After all demons know doctrine and remain…demons.

        I do think though that it’s God’s word that first gives us life and all else flows from that – Rom 10:17. Without life we cannot possibly truly love others. The difference is whether our hearts are hardened by the Word or transformed by it. The former could produce a tare in the church but the latter *will* produce a believer who is then known by his fruit of love for God and love for others.

  8. Mike,

    No worries about the Starbucks Church comment… you see, I was really directing that to the older — senior citizen — age group that are so DISTRACTED by things like: coffee in the sanctuary or kids in the sanctuary even. It’s one of my beliefs that if people can’t tolerate kids in the sanctuary or coffee/tea in the sanctuary — be an adult and move far enough up in the pews so you don’t see it. It’s my understanding, when you go to church, you go to worship God… not knit pick at other people.

    I agree with Leanne, that the issue is how we should be treating each other whether we agree or disagree. But there are times when I’m in that church that is being mentioned.. and I hear the little snide comments, or the complaints by the older older generation — and it makes me think “This is why there are no younger people here. We just don’t want to deal with this!”

    So thus ….The Death of Grace!

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