Smoky Mountain Reflections #183
“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” is a famous line from the second Star Trek movie “The Wrath of Kahn”. (Probably the best of all the Star Trek movies in the opinion of this Trekkie.) Hollywood, however, is not a good place to go when seeking advice on how to love God and your neighbor. So, while “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” seems a very logical statement, it is not very biblical.
Before you get all up in arms with your American democratic logic and congregational polity, however, give me a chance to explain. There is nothing wrong with deciding things using the democratic process, but there are some exceptions.
First, we do not decide doctrine by popular vote, we decide doctrine based on scripture. In our particular church body, when a question of doctrine or practice is raised at our triennial synod convention, typically resolutions are made and passed democratically to send the question to our CTCR (Commission On Theology and Church Relations). This is a body of trusted experts and theologians who address the question put to them by producing a report which explains in detail what scripture has to say in answer to the issue at hand. For example, in 1985 the CTCR published a report on “Women in the Church”. In this 48-page document they clearly and biblically answered questions with regard to: headship, authority, the pastoral office, and women’s suffrage. No process is perfect but it is the best way we have at present to address questions of doctrine and practice within our congregational framework.
Second, sometimes the many may defer to the few in the interest of Christian love. In issues that are not doctrinal, ie. facilities, policies, guidelines, and community involvement, sometimes the majority will choose to do or not do something in order to avoid causing offense or troubling the conscience of fellow members of the body of Christ. Here are a couple of examples:
1. I know of a congregation that chose not to have beer at their Octoberfest one year to avoid harming the conscience of just a few of their members even though the majority were in favor of having beer at the event.
2. The second example is from here at Saint Paul. For a number of years some of our members have had to miss Easter Sunday because of a sensitivity to Easter lilies, so our elders and our council unanimously decided that we would no longer have Easter lilies in our sanctuary.
I love Easter lilies and the people who made the above decision love them as well. However, in Christian love they chose to make it possible for the small number of our members to attend Easter services who otherwise would be unable to. In addition, they asked me to work with our altar guild to find another God-pleasing way to decorate our sanctuary for Easter.
Now, you might ask what the biblical basis is for such a decision? Well, first, deference in Christian love over non-doctrinal issues seems to me to be a fulfillment of treating your neighbor as you would like to be treated (Mark 12:31 and many other texts).
Besides that, however, there are biblical examples of needs being sacrificed for the benefit of many, right from the mouth of the high priest Caiaphas, in John 11:50b. “…it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish." He did not realize that he was in essence speaking a prophecy that Jesus would fulfill, but in this case the one Christ would suffer death for all mankind, not just the nation of Israel. So, in like fashion we follow Christ’s sacrificial example when loving our neighbor, and we give deference (let them have things their way) as long as their way is in keeping with God’s will. If it is not, we speak the truth in love and pray God’s blessing of enlightenment and faith to light the path of righteousness for us all.
Have a blessed summer,
In Christ, Pastor Portier