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Leaving Room for Grace

On Sunday, October the 8th, at 3:30pm at Friedland Moravian Church, the Southern Province will gather to review the study, prayer, and discernment process we have been engaged in, trying to come to an understanding on the issue of homosexuality and church teaching.

Personally, I’ll admit that I have avoided weighing in on this issue. For over the past 25 years I have been deeply involved in the United Methodist Church’s efforts to reconcile the differences – to no satisfactory result. However, I think it may be time for me to take a risk… and reflect on some of my observations.

No issue since slavery, has caused such a split in the Christian denominations. It is clear, that the core reference point for the church is what scripture says, and how scripture is interpreted and understood – not only in its original, ancient world context, but how it might be applied in our modern world today.

What I have found is that folks have drawn a line in the sand about the Bible.

On one side is an “all-or-nothing” view where each sentence, phrase, law, command, must be accepted literally, as God’s intention for us without nuance, wherever possible. Another is a historical view that puts these laws and teachings in their original communities and tries to discern why they were important to the folks then, and how we might use these teachings to clarify our own understandings about God and God’s intentions, and therefore improving our own lives today.

Over and above all of this, is whether the Hebrew writings (Old Testament) and the Church writings (New Testament) are considered “God ordained” – or “God dictated.” In other words, is the Bible itself, somehow God speaking? Is the Bible God’s intent written down by spiritual people of the past? (The Unity of Brethren made it clear, that for them, scripture is not an essential – meaning that it isn’t a substitute for God, but a ministerial – a tool that points to God. Their reasoning was that scripture was used as a weapon against them by the established church to denounce their reformed ideas.)

So, how do we understand the saying: “This is the Word of God for the People of God?” This response after scripture readings is stated in our own sanctuary and thousands of sanctuaries across the world every Sunday. I have come to believe that the way we understand what scripture is, and how it is to be interpreted and understood, determines how we view ourselves and others.

So, how do you feel about your homosexual brothers and sisters? How influential is scripture in these feelings? Will doctrine override relationships? As much as I have hoped that homosexuality would not split the United Methodist Church… I fear it is going to do just that. After all, it has split the Episcopal Church and foiled the Presbyterians’ attempts at unification.

So, how will the Moravians fare?

My inner sense of my congregations through the years leads me to believe that most of you reading this letter have made up your mind. We seem to able to stay together and do ministry for Christ as long as no decision is made on a denominational level.

But… as soon as a denominational vote is taken…

As a pastor, many of my colleagues and I have difficulty accepting that pastoral care and ministry offered to any particular person should come down to a vote.

So, my hope is that whatever you have decided in your heart, that you will leave room for grace. I may be naïve, but I do believe that no matter what side of the issue you are on, you have a heart for Christ’s love and you will continue to follow the path you believe Christ is leading you.

Christ’s church has survived martyrs, reformers, crusaders, inquisitions, inner wars, corrupt priests and pastors, theological debates, slavery, schisms, and will survive this.

It is a shame that we humans have had to go through these difficult disagreements when what we seek most is Christ’s mercy and peace. May God bless you as you pray and discern your own heart. And if, or when, the denominational decision is made, may you not feel abandoned or vindicated, but may you find peace in your heart to continue in Christ’s way.

Faithfully yours,
Barry

-The Rev. Barry Foster is pastor of Unity Moravian Church in Lewisville, North Carolina. This article was first published in the October 2017 church newsletter. 

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Join We All: The August 13th Story

Each August 13th we celebrate the renewal of the Unitas Fratrum. This is a remarkable story of the Czech reformation Christian refugees, who, for over 150 years had been forced into hiding in the areas of Moravia and ultimately Poland. Now, they had come together with disenfranchised Lutheran Pietists and other religious non-conformists to set up camp on Count Ludwig Von Zinzendorf’s land in Saxony (eastern Germany).

Would Zinzendorf allow them to stay? Would he deport these illegal immigrants back to where they came from? What is the game plan? What is it that they want from Zinzendorf and from each other? They don’t want to be Lutheran, or Roman Catholic, or Anabaptist… So, what do they want?

Zinzendorf accepted this ragtag group, and entrusted the care of this developing community to the Lutheran Pastor of Berthelsdorf, Johann Rothe. For the next two years, Pastor Rothe worked with the sixty or so folks who wanted to form a worshiping and ministering community.

These refugees then began building their village they called Herrnhut (which means The Lord’s Watch), and they worshiped in Pastor Rothe’s Lutheran church in Berthelsdorf where Zinzendorf lived – only a 20-minute walk away.

Zinzendorf began assisting with some pastoral duties, but when the Herrnhut community began to grow and quarrels and disputes became inevitable, he assumed more responsibility and authority to bring order and purpose to this group.

In May of 1727, Zinzendorf encouraged every resident of Herrnhut to sign his document called Manorial Injunctions and Prohibitions along with the Brotherly Agreement which made clear to all who voluntarily signed, that this was to be a religious community with the teachings of Christ as their core.

After the signings, Zinzendorf instituted the Bands which were made up of small groups of volunteers led by a director who assumed responsibility for the pastoral care and spiritual direction of each person in the band. (The Wesleys copied this organization model calling them “Methodist Societies.”) Christian David gives a description of the workings of the band:

We meet as bands to confess to one another the state of our heart and sinful inclinations…this is not done to give light to our imperfections, but that one may see the rightness of the heart. In this way, we learn to trust one another, to meet once a week to assist each other with the unburdening of the heart.

On Sunday, August 13, 1727 during the service of Holy Communion at the Lutheran Church in Berthelsdorf, the Holy Spirit came upon these people and they realized that they had a purpose. They wanted to be Christ’s congregation.

Zinzendorf encouraged the bands to meet and sent food from his manor house to the homes where they were gathering. These “Agape Meals” or “Lovefeasts” became important for this community as it grew together in love and in mission for Christ.

290 years ago, on August 13, 1727, the Unitas Fratrum was brought back to life in the form of the Moravian Church.

What might God have in store for us this August 13, 2017?

Blessings to all,

Barry

-The Rev. Barry Foster is pastor of Unity Moravian Church in Lewisville, North Carolina. This article was first published in the August 2017 church newsletter.