(Originally published in The Dallas Morning News: http://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/commentary/2016/10/16/watermark-churchs-loving-correction-helps-members-deal-sin)
Recently, one of our former members here at Watermark Community Church shared communication he received from his close friends and church leaders informing him that his membership status had changed because of his desire to actively participate in a same-sex relationship. This letter has gained much attention online. Some are confused, even hurt and I understand why. The practice of church discipline (which is to say, loving correction) is a process that is unfamiliar to most and because of the harshness of the word “discipline” might even be perceived as unloving, oppressive or archaic.
Additionally, homosexuality itself is an area where the larger church has often failed to love well and many church leaders have unfairly and wrongly made it out to be a “larger” sin than other “more acceptable” sins like pride, pornography, materialism, anger or heterosexual infidelity. Any “church” that has said homosexual acts are a more significant sin than others has failed Christ and needs to seek forgiveness from both Jesus and those who struggle with same-sex attraction.
Following the example of Jesus, Watermark loves and welcomes people of all backgrounds, economic statuses, ethnicities and sexual struggles. Also following his example, we encourage people to turn away from sin and to follow Jesus. We have many members and several staff who struggle with same-sex attraction or for whom same-sex sexual activity is a part of their past. We count it a privilege to labor with them in their desire to resist temptation, and we rejoice with them as they experience forgiveness and new life in Christ. Their stories are powerful and serve as beautiful testimonies to the transforming power of Jesus Christ.
Prior to his membership status being changed, this friend made clear to us that he no longer believed same-sex sexual activity was inappropriate for a follower of Jesus Christ and no longer desired to turn from it. Like any member whose beliefs move away from the core commitments, biblical convictions, and values of Watermark, it became appropriate to formally acknowledge his desire to not pursue faithfulness to Christ with us. When you enter into a formal membership covenant with a church family, the leaders and church community promise to “keep watch over your souls,” according to Hebrews 13:17, and will be held accountable before God for your spiritual care and encouragement. This care is a sacred trust and comes with great responsibility. As members of God’s family we are called to love, admonish, encourage, and help each other in our relationship with Christ.
Loving correction (church discipline) can be a difficult idea to understand, because candidly — though the mandate is clearly explained by Jesus in the Gospels and throughout the New Testament, most churches today completely ignore it. Discipline is an act of love, something any parent knows. The heart of true correction is always to bring about good in the life of an individual. Our goal with every instance of care and correction is to restore the relationship and save our hurting friend from the trouble that sin always creates.
We encourage anyone with more questions to look at watermark.org/statement for an in-depth explanation. We’d also love to sit with you, answer any questions you might have, and encourage you in the midst of whatever struggles you face today.
We believe Jesus is the hope of the world and it’s the job of his church to hold fast to the truth found only in the word of God. No sin is greater than another. Jesus died for you. Forgiveness and new life is available to you in Jesus Christ.
Todd Wagner is the pastor of Watermark Community Church. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org