Friday, April 15, 2016

LGBTQ Loves Historic Church To Death

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Denver's St. Paul United Methodist Church was among the first to join the LGBTQ "Reconciling Ministries Network."

Founded in 1860 by evangelical Methodists, St. Paul's has become a leader in "welcoming" and "accepting" homosexuality and transgenderism.

Now, after 30 years of being "inclusive," it appears the LGBTQ community has loved the historic church to death.

The lesson of a lost vision.

St. Paul's United Methodist Church of Denver will hold its last service Sunday, May 22.

Rev. Jessica Rooks, head of St. Paul's UMC, says, "St. Paul has opened its doors and built relationships with the LGBTQ community...St. Paul created a safe and welcoming place for all to experience the love of God."

The "Reconciling Ministries Network" put out a statement saying they are "grateful for the ministry of St. Paul's United Methodist Church of Denver, especially for welcoming LGBTQ people at a time when so few were offering a safe place to worship."

The statement also said of the church, "Their witness was a catalyst for what has become a steadily growing network of more than 750 unique Reconciling Communities across the country."

Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion & Democracy says, "St. Paul's fate comes as no surprise."

Tooley, a life long Methodist and former member of the CIA, says, "Few churches can long survive when primarily focused on political or social causes instead of Gospel evangelism."

He says his organization has found that "More broadly, only declining denominations surrender their biblical marriage teaching and invariably their decline accelerates. Reconciling type groups boast they're about open doors, but their cause inexorably leads to closing church doors."

At its peak, St. Paul's had about 800 members. Only 5 years after becoming a "Reconciling Congregation," the church had only 15 members.

However, Christian Post reports that by 2010, local media reported the membership had increased to about 250, with hundred's more active in the various church charities that were linked to the church.

Rev. Rooks says she does not believe there is any connection between their becoming a "Reconciling Congregation" and the demise of the church.

She says the decline is related to "a number of different reasons."

While leadership ponders their next step, the few remaining parishioners are considering where they might now attend church.

Rev. Paul Kottke, District Superintendent of the Methodist churches in the metro Denver area, says he sees this: "Rising out of the closure of this historic church will come a new ministry, with a new vision for people who are not presently in our churches."

He sees it as a kind of "death and resurrection"story.

Bishop Elaine Stanovsky, resident Bishop for the Mountain Sky Area of the United Methodist Church, says she sees this as "leading into a season of new Wesleyan vitality in our region."

She seems to affirm the previous "ministry model" of St. Paul: "Just as St. Paul reached out to people outside the church in the 1980s, we can continue to learn what new forms and styles of ministry can engage people who are not in our current congregations," she says.

In regard to "leading into a season of new Wesleyan vitality," it may well serve leadership to look back at the founder of their church, John Wesley, as they move forward.

"Reconciliation" as a cover for affirmation of sin was not Wesley's method of increasing the number of people in the pews.

In fact it was Wesley who said, "Catch a fire and people will come for miles to see you burn."

He was not thinking of the fuzzy warmth of affirming sin to prove one's "love" one's "compassion" or one's "inclusiveness."

The Gospel is all of that---and more. It's primarily about redemption and restoration---and deliverance.

Wesley often spoke of God's refining and cleansing fire.

Rather than "affirmation" of sin, he was thinking of deliverance from it.

Wesley said, "I felt I did trust Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death."

In regard to outreach, John Wesley said this: "Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergymen or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon Earth."

And they will fill the pews and increase the membership where they are "shaking the gates of Hell and setting up the kingdom of Heaven..."

"Methods and styles" of ministry are important, but they are not a substitute for the message and the vision.

Proverbs 29:18 speaks to the importance of vision: "Where there is no vision, the people perish---but he that keeps the law, happy is he."

All Christian churches that preach and teach the whole Gospel are "welcoming" and "reconciling" churches.

However, the vision spoken of in Scripture is rooted in Scripture---in God's Word, and it is linked to God's vision: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."

All are "welcomed" and all are invited to "reconciliation", however, God's vision of reconciliation is forgiveness, redemption, deliverance and restoration---not affirmation of sin.

Without that vision, people perish. And so do local churches.

Be Faithful. Be Blessed.