Wednesday, 23 January 2013

The Authority of the Sanctuary

Authority ministry is the most difficult to exercise.  Foolish people get envious, perhaps craving scope for significant decisions or prominence or legitimised influence.  They couldn't be more wrong. 

John tells me he's never heard anyone preach from Leviticus 21:20 (quoted below).  Well I've taught on it.  It's the authority of the sanctuary; gatekeeping who gets to get access to God, to grace, and who gets left out.  It sets off shakes of dread in me.  Somebody has to do it in the church, just as in the old covenant tabernacle.  The implications are horrendous.

LEVITICUS 21:16 The LORD said to Moses, 17 "Say to Aaron: `For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God.  18 No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; 19 no man with a crippled foot or hand, 20 or who is hunchbacked or dwarfed, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles.  21 No descendant of Aaron the priest who has any defect is to come near to present the offerings made to the LORD by fire.  He has a defect; he must not come near to offer the food of his God.  22 He may eat the most holy food of his God, as well as the holy food; 23 yet because of his defect, he must not go near the curtain or approach the altar, and so desecrate my sanctuary. I am the LORD, who makes them holy. ' "

The passage is preceded with rules on contact with dead bodies and prohibitions on eligible marriage partners.  It's followed by instructions on touching unclean insects, semen and animal corpses.  There's more in chapter 22.

Why do I mention it?  Because Steve Chalke has gone public with the fact that he's blessed a civil partnership couple in his church.  Was he right to do this?  Cross this line, as some have expressed it? 

I've had to decide who should be asked to leave our public events.  Maybe they were behaving disruptively, or around to ferment support for some grievance.  I've had to judge if children unaccompanied by adults should come into our marquee, and on what terms.  I've had to ban church members and others, for discipline, from certain gatherings.  I've had to recommend if a couple would be better arranging a civic wedding that we could afterwards bless, rather than promoting the event in our own premises.  (In fact, in England, we don't have civic weddings and church weddings - we just have weddings; the legal "lines" are identical.)  I've sent people packing from our community house.

Thus I've gate-kept the sanctuary.  I've distinguished who should get access to grace - and God, insofar as He's been present - and whom prohibited.  There's no avoiding it.

In fact, in Protestant tradition, all are priests, with some role to bring people to God or connect them with grace. 

Viv tried to pick up the thread of the Steve Chalke debate.  He was vexed.  He exploded, "I want nothing to do with it!  I hate these church politics.  Put someone in front of me and I'll love them.  But all this wrangling - I've no patience with it."

I wouldn't be alone in wishing I could step back, too.  Paul Brand likens the body of Christ to our own bodies.  There are some hard, bony bits (our skeletal framework).  There are some soft flexible tissues (most evident on the surface).  We have both.  Truth and grace, if you like.  Else our anatomy dissolves to a formless squishy blob: all accommodation and no inner firmness.   And the church...

Let's draw breath before we judge.  Our faith is ever the ineffable truth of God in the hands of broken imperfect men.  Dallas Willard expresses it well:  "Human beings stand in their world condemned to act, and to act on the basis of whatever ideas, images, beliefs, impulses, desires and emotions they may have in the moment of action.  We have no choice in that."  Especially leaders.

(Bible quotation from the New International Version)


loz said...

Good stuff; very thoughtful and thought provoking.

pierscjc said...

Useful contribution, but can you give more guidance on how we decide who to bar from access to grace in these New Testament days?