Transgender Church Members? Lessons for Churches without Formal Membership
You knew this was going to happen.
In a surreal article in the Denver Post, a transgendered man-turned-woman, Chapman, lamented the “contradictory” vibes coming out of the Colorado mega-church Flatirons Community Church. He thought they were loving and open but discovered they were not that loving and open.
In 2013 pastor Burgen presented Chapman’s story to the church (see video at 53″ mark). (Melissa) Chapman asked pointed questions from the start and pastor Burgen replied that he would receive Chapman: “no one will beat you up as we work this out together.”
But this year Chapman received a letter that shocked him: the pastor urged him to leave his transgendered life. And asked him not to attend the women’s events. The church has refused to confirm or deny the story beyond explaining that this is now an internal matter between them and the “parishioner of our church.”
But Flatirons does not have formal church membership. I know. I emailed them the question. So how can Chapman now be a parishioner?
In ordinary parlance that word means church member. And if a church member, he should have all the rights and privileges of a church member.
So, conceivably, Chapman partook in the Lord’s Supper. And Chapman could participate in church activities, ask for financial aid, and receive church counseling. Perhaps he voted for the new church leaders and the church budget (assuming such mega-churches will let their members have these biblical rights).
But if there are no church membership vows, clearly written and detailed confessions and formal church discipline processes, then the rights and privileges of church membership only exist at the behest of the leadership.
And someone like Chapman walks away scratching his head, muttering about contradictory statements.
Since Chapman was not given a clear unambiguous definition of his relationship with the church, he has no idea how to handle disagreements. And so, in good American fashion, he brings his plea to the public court of appeal: the media.
“But,” some quick thinker may reply, “what about Matthew 18? Shouldn’t Chapman bring his concerns to the ones with whom he is offended?”
Yes. If he were a church member. But there is no formal church membership. Consider: some random pastor comes to you one day and says “Hello, I’m your new pastor. Heb. 13:17 tells you to submit to me. So, please submit and attend my church this Sunday.”
You would laugh in his face. And rightly so. Because you did not chose him to be your pastor. Or more precisely, you are not a member of his church. And that would have to be formal membership because a guest who has attended a church for three months could still laugh at the pastor of the church he is attending: “You are not my pastor. I just attend because of the good music.”
But the problem at Flatirons is doubly bad: Chapman is a received parishioner who admitted up front that he was unrepentantly living in gross and public sin. But instead of presenting him the Gospel or a call for repentance, pastor Burgen welcomed him with arms-wide-open.
Flatirons Community Church let a known unrepentant transgender become a church member, contrary to the wishes of Jesus Christ (Mat. 4:17): “From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'”
This leader was so eager to “show the love of Christ” that he forgot the utterances of the Apostle of Love, John:
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).
I do not doubt that Burgen was hoping to be as wise as a serpent, showing love. But he failed.
With such a view of love, is it any wonder more and more conservatives and their churches are capitulating to the homosexual agenda? Such an approach to church membership is teaching Christians that church discipline and the purity of the church are low priorities.
Let this be a lesson: without formal church membership there is nothing holding Chapman accountable or the pastor for that matter. Who will admonish the pastor? Who will enforce public repentance for a pastor who evaded honest questions? For a pastor who single-handedly turned an unrepentant transgender into a parishioner?
But if one has formal church membership and the power of a vote, then he could be voted out of church office by people who will not put up with weak leadership. And with such membership the Chapmans of the world will not try to join the church, knowing exactly what they are getting into.
Church membership may also save churches from legal headaches as well. With the increasing legal hostility directed toward churches it makes more sense to formalize the beliefs and practices of churches as the Alliance Defending Freedom recommends.
Then maybe the media would receive letters from the likes of Chapman and shrug their shoulder: “What do you expect? You gave a public vow to repent when found in sin. You knew what you were getting into. Where’s the news in that?”
Instead, Chapman will walk away with a more confused understanding of love, repentance and faith in Christ. And Flatirons will have a weaker testimony. And Jesus will grieve.
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