|The Denver Post reports that the doors have been slammed shut on a Denver church that has a long history of faithful ministry to a southeast Denver community. In fact, they were slammed shut on the church's own members. In the business world, this would be called a hostile takeover.|
Now, I have to admit to some bias here. My wife and I spent several years, early in our marriage, as part of the fellowship of University Hills Baptist Church. In fact, Joanna was baptized there in 1981, while she was carrying our first child; the pastor then, Davis Cooper, joked that it was the first "infant baptism" that he had ever performed. We left in 1985 but returned for the 1987 dedication of the church's new sanctuary.
When Joanna and I were there, from 1979-1985, University Hills was one of the leading churches in Denver - a vibrant faith community, a loving fellowship of believers. So I was stunned to read the Denver Post account. It tells of an ambitious young pastor who - impatient over the prospect of growing a church in a community that had grown old - led the church to "merge" with one in a younger community, 15 miles away in the suburbs. Then, according to the article, he abruptly abandoned those faithful University Hills members.
If you read the Denver Post article, you will likely be stunned by the depth and ramifications of this betrayal: broken promises; a merger vote riddled with irregularities; the new congregation's seizure of church property from those whose money had paid for it; and the new congregation's eviction of the University Hills fellowship from its longtime home, apparently for the purpose of selling the property to help pay off its own considerable debt.
Now the University Hills "remnant" is suing its former pastor and his new congregation, alleging fraud and seeking compensation for what has been taken from them.
So there are a lot of issues here. Some might cite the Apostle Paul's admonition, in 1 Corinthians 6, against Christians suing fellow Christians. But ethics - even Christian ethics - are rarely tied in one neat little bundle. Christian ethics often deal with competing principles and priorities. After all, Christ urged us to stand for justice against the oppressor, and to call to account those who exercise power over others. So, to sue or not to sue? That is just one of the questions here.
But what does this have to do with you and me? Well, I don't think any Christian can afford to ignore a situation like this. Hurting, dysfunctional churches are becoming the rule rather than the exception these days. As Christians, we need to stand up for what is right and seek healing and restoration for all concerned - and repentance, too, where it's needed.
God is healing these folks. Their story isn't over. As the article relates, having moved to rented space in a recreation center, the University Hills congregation has found a new mission field and a new ministry to dozens of refugees and immigrants whom they have welcomed into their fellowship. Funny how that works . . . the University Hills congregation is ministering to kindred spirits, for they themselves are displaced refugees and immigrants. Blessed be the ties that bind our hearts in Christian love. And thanks be to our God, who blesses our brokenness beyond anything we can imagine.
So what are your thoughts on this situation? For that matter, have you experienced something similar, and how was it handled? What do Christian ethics have to say about what was done here? Is it acceptable for Christians to sue fellow Christians who have wronged them?
While you're thinking about all of that, be sure to pray for these folks in Denver as they celebrate Christmas in a new place and as they minister faithfully to a new community of believers. Giving refuge . . . even as they seek it for themselves.