Saturday, January 12, 2008

Resolving Our Differences

The latest incident in a very public spat at one of Nashville's most prominent churches has me very upset. For those that aren't familiar with the situation, here's a link to the story in the Tennessean newspaper: Two Rivers threatens to oust suers.

Sidenote: I'm going against my usual rule here. When I'm critical of something I try to do it in such a way where I'm criticizing ideas and general practices, as opposed to criticizing specific individuals, especially when it comes to fellow pastors. That being said, I'm going to be very critical of a fellow pastor.

Several members of Two Rivers Baptist Church recently filed a lawsuit against the pastor, Jerry Sutton, and other church leaders because the concerned parties believed that these leaders were misappropriating church funds. While I'm not sure that filing a lawsuit is the best way to solve conflict in the church, I believe that church members have a right to know how the leaders are spending the money that people tithe in good faith. It seems that Two Rivers doesn't disclose their budget, even to members, which is more than a little shady. So right or wrong, this group of church members has filed suit.

So what does the pastor, the spiritual leader of the congregation, do in response? He threatens to kick them out for daring to question his leadership! What's more, he proof texts to defend his actions. Citing Matthew 18:15-17, he argues that kicking people out of the church is the biblical last step in conflict resolution because Jesus says to treat the person "as you would a pagan or a tax collector".

But how did Jesus treat pagans like Jarius, the Roman centurion? He healed his daughter. How did Jesus treat tax collectors like Matthew and Zacchaeus? He ate with them (the ultimate sign of trust and fellowship in the ancient world), he forgave them of all their sins before they even asked for it, and he invited one of them to be his disciple. The last thing Jesus would do is bar someone from even attending a worship service.

My point is this: if we are seeking to live out God's grace in all that we do, then we won't be afraid to get our hands dirty. Simply cutting off a relationship might be the quickest and easiest thing to do, but it is not the path of reconciliation that God calls us to. I pray that Pastor Sutton will demonstrate this grace to his people by dropping the threat of excommunication and doing everything in his power to not only resolve the situation at hand but to reconcile the strained relationships. Both parties in this conflict clearly have sins to atone for, and the true spiritual leader won't be too proud to take the first step, even if the other person started it. Doing so would be a powerful witness to the work of God's grace in the world.


Michael said...


I hate hearing stuff like this. It only goes to prove what I often share with my own congregation: people don't necessarily reject Christ or Christianity, but they sure don't seem to care much for us Christians. They can get conflict anywhere; no need to get up early on a Sunday for it. Pitiful.

Anonymous said...

I certainly hope that you, as a pastor, did more research on this situation than simply reading the article in the Tennessean. I hope you sought out the entire story (not just the one that sells papers) and that you learned what happened in the 8-months prior to Pastor Sutton making his "threat". By the content of your post (especially paragraph 3), it appears that no additional research was done.

You have every right to your opinion, but I believe a pastor should be fully educated on the stances that he takes, especially when those stances are in a public forum.

While it is clear that your intentions are pure, I fail to see how it helps the Kingdom to have one pastor publicly criticize another without having a true knowledge of the situation.

Anonymous said...

I think that the pastor who put this information on this blog is dead on. Jesus does not turn his back on people and neither should Dr. Sutton. A church that does NOT disclose their finances is doing something shady. Perhaps, he does not want his $200,000 plus salary to be revealed. As with any charity (and a church is one) the givers have a right to ask questions and know where their money is going. The way to put Mr. Sutton in his place for ALL members to stop giving to his church. Perhaps when the money stops coming in, then meaningful change will happen.