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The Church’s Calling to Care for the Vulnerable

October 30, 2014 No Comment

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by Mathew Block

Scripture is clear that the Church has a particular calling to care for the vulnerable. The Apostle James reminds us that “religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). Likewise, Jesus Himself tells us that service to Him is hidden under service to the lowly of this world—service like providing for the hungry and thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting those imprisoned (Matthew 25:31-40). We see Christ’s concern for these people throughout the Gospels. He heals the sick. He feeds the hungry. He welcomes the little children to Him.

The call to care for the vulnerable is a recurring theme throughout Scripture. Consequently, any time allegations are made that the Church’s ministers have transgressed this responsibility, congregation members and the wider public find their faith in the institution shaken. Sadly, the last number of years have seen a number of Christian denominations struggle with just these types of issues. In particular, we have seen ministers charged with the sexual exploitation of children—a dreadful crime as well as a terrible sin.

Recent events remind us that our church is not exempt from this type of allegation. We are not here speaking of those events in particular; we trust our authorities to investigate such allegations responsibly. But what we can and must do is offer up all those involved to God in prayer: the authorities, the accused, his family, the congregation, and all others who have been affected. Regardless of what happens in this particular case, the allegation alone is enough to break our hearts.

Our churches are not populated with perfect people. We are all of us—pastors, deacons, laypeople—sinners. The fact is, the church is a hospital for sinners. It’s why Christ came into this world—to bear in Himself our sins and the sins of all people. He died, that we may live. He lives, that we may be set free. But in this world, all Christians struggle with sin. And that sin sometimes breaks forth in terrible ways.

In this world, all Christians struggle with sin. And that sin sometimes breaks forth in terrible ways.

The inclination towards sin is no excuse for committing it, though. We are warned in Scripture to be on our guard against sinning. “Sin is crouching at your door,” God once warned Cain, “Its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:7). The same threat lies at the door of the Church today.

The Church must, of course, not merely be reactive; it must proactively seek to prevent such sin in the first place. But if and when allegations of a criminal nature arise, it is important to bring them immediately to the attention of appropriate authorities. It is also important at the synod, district, and congregational level to have a plan in place to deal with these types of allegations. Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC) holds just such an abuse prevention policy, as do each of LCC’s three districts. In fact, the Alberta-British Columbia District was in the process of updating their policy when recent allegations arose.

Sin can and does occur in the Church. When such sin becomes evident, we must repent and call on the mercy of Christ Jesus, who died for sinners such as us. At the same time, we must provide pastoral care to those who have been hurt.

When sin becomes evident, we must repent and call on the mercy of Christ Jesus. At the same time, we must provide pastoral care to those who have been hurt.

We are attempting to provide that type of pastoral care at All Saints Lutheran Church in Edmonton right now. President Don Schiemann visited the congregation October 19, to explain the allegations made against their former pastor and to answer questions. From Monday to Wednesday last week, he was at the church from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. to meet one-on-one with hurting congregants. In the evenings, another Edmonton pastor and his wife were present, to meet with those who need to talk but couldn’t come during the day. Those seeking additional help have been offered the assistance of Stephen Ministries—a program where faithful Christians trained to walk with the suffering commit to their long-term support.

A steady stream of people have come to these meetings, taking advantage of the pastoral care offered. And the Church is committed to making sure they get the support they need. May God grant each one of them comfort in the knowledge of Christ’s love.

May God also grant us faithful leaders in the Church, to defend the vulnerable and to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel. For in truth, we are all vulnerable. We are all broken. And we all need the mercy of Jesus Christ.

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Mathew Block is Communications Manager for Lutheran Church–Canada and Editor of The Canadian Lutheran.