Is Church to be a Safe Space?

In answering the question posed by the title, let me begin by saying yes and no. The contingent response depends on a number of factors. Safe from what? How safe? What tools may we use to establish that safety?

Yes, of course, we should take every lawful precaution to keep the church safe — safe from dishonest pastors, false teachers, con artists, pedophiles, and so on. A good portion of the New Testament is devoted to warnings delivered to the churches about people and practices that would disrupt their safety and stability.

In short, safe by what standard?
In short, safe by what standard?

“For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29–30).

So yes, we should be constantly on our guard against threats to the body. Provided safety is biblically defined, the task of the elders is to maintain the church as a safe place for the people of God to be.

But things are never quite that simple. The man who warned the elders at Ephesus to keep the flock safe against wolves was once a wolf himself.

“But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” (Acts 8:3, ESV).

So the man who warned the Ephesians elders about savage wolves had been a violent predator himself at one point. “And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter . . .” (Acts 9:1).

It is not at all unreasonable to suppose that the church in Jerusalem had widows in it who were widows because of rage of Saul.

“Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities” (Acts 26:10–11).

This explains why it was not all that easy for Saul to find acceptance in the church there.

“And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus” (Acts 9:26–27).

One of the central tasks of shepherding is that of protection. A shepherd, a pastor, is charged to feed the flock and to protect the flock. There are two things that the church must be protected from. The flock must be protected, as much as it lies within our power, from current threats. But when former threats cease to be threats, and the threat professes repentance, now what? It is reasonable for the saints to be wary, but the goal should be to open the doors in true welcome if the repentance proves genuine.

If this is the biblical pattern, and it is, we have no biblical basis whatever for exiling a particular kind of sinner forever. I am thinking here of a pedophile who has professed repentance. Should we make him wear a scarlet P on his baseball cap?

The fact that some in the church still feel nervous or threatened cannot be the standard– because when we abstract the principle from that action we cannot make it applicable to other comparable situations. And in a world full of sinners, there are many comparable situations.

Suppose someone says “church should be safe” and “I don’t feel safe with him or her present.” The apostle Paul is not only in the church now, but is a leader in the church, an apostle. Is that triggering to some who are widows because of him? Or suppose the problem is a sexual one, but not pedophilia. Suppose we have a young woman with a history of promiscuity. Do the mothers of nineteen-year-old boys feel safe with her around? Should I as a pastor tell the congregation about all the instances of adultery in the past that I happen to know about? After all, if someone did that in the past, it might happen again. Can’t be too careful.

Right. But if I were to be so foolish, I could say that I was protecting the congregation against future adulteries when I would be actually leading the congregation into a state of unprotected vulnerability to pharisaical accusations. Recall that this is a danger also. When Jesus told the woman caught in adultery to “go and sin no more,” why did He say that? It was because it was possible that she might sin again.

A shepherd must guard against current threats, and he must also anticipate future threats. Part of what you use to gauge future threats would be past behavior. This is why the saints in Jerusalem were (reasonably) wary about receiving Saul of Tarsus into their midst, and it was why Barnabas had to walk Saul’s application through (also reasonably). It might be a trick, the people thought — and they could have right. It might have been a trick. Turns out it wasn’t, but it could have been.

So yes, church should be a safe place. But our safety is in the gospel, and in shepherds who love the gospel, and who love what the gospel does in the lives of people who have been transformed by it.

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Gary
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Gary
Armand Sebellius
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Armand Sebellius

If you’re not going to use a closing tag; a ‘/’ is required before the final ‘>’

holmegm
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holmegm

For well formed XML, true.

HTML4 and some other schemes allow singletons (e.g. img) without it.

Please forgive this geek interlude …

Christopher
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disqus uses xml so the ‘/’ is required in this instance.

D. D. Douglas
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D. D. Douglas

Pretty straight-forward. Making a biblical case. Taking one thing with another. Staying out of one ditch…as well as the other.

I’m pretty sure this will be a sparsely commented-on post……

David Trounce
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To answer the question of the post in light of the meme, your safe irrespective of the guns.

Seth B.
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Seth B.

Pastor Wilson, what’s your take on Brito’s article? http://uribrito.com/tag/sex-offenders/

Jill Smith
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Jill Smith

I would be interested to know that as well. I think the suggestion that repentant pedophiles be restricted to adult-only services is a little silly. If there are pedophiles in my worship community (and I expect there are), I am much less worried about the one who has been caught. The chance of his being made a Sunday School teacher is negligible; not so for the one who has been clever enough never to be found out. The only real assurance any parent can have is to restrict unsupervised access to his or her children. I was cautious about the… Read more »

Shane
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Shane

What standards would you employ to determine if a pedophile is truly repentant?

Jill Smith
Member
Jill Smith

I don’t think there is an absolute standard because deceptiveness seems to be an integral part of the pedophile’s character–and I include in that the ability to deceive oneself. I also tend to believe that pedophilia is a lifelong struggle even for those who see their sexual desires as wicked and who have turned to our Lord for healing. I would be willing to entertain the possibility that a pedophile is truly penitent if there has been confession of past sins, signs of endeavoring to lead a Christian life by God’s grace, and an actual insistence on supervision and accountability.… Read more »

Who
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Who

What about the ones who have been caught and then the church sends them on a mission trip!?

Jane
Member

I’m trying to figure out what an adult-only service is. How would that even work, without doing all kinds of unbiblical stuff to bring it about? Holding a public worship service, while barring children from it? Or trying to have someone be a member of the church, without ever letting them worship with the church? Either way, it creates more issues than it solves.

And public worship is the one thing commanded that all believers must do, and actually the place where it’s easiest to protect the children. It’s PUBLIC.

johnfembup
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johnfembup

Wasn’t it Paul Schofield playing Sir Thomas More who said “suffer the little children to come unto me”?

Well, probably not. ????

But the statement was right when it was first said – and still right today.

Jane
Member

We get around, don’t’ we?

johnfembup
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johnfembup

Yeah, and we read really good books!

valerieab
Member

And has Jane watched Paul Scofield playing Sir Thomas More yet?

Jane
Member

Jane has not yet. Jane does however have it in her queue.

Ian Miller
Member

Third person or no, it’s a pretty terrific film, even if it simplifies the complexities of Tudor politics and religious fanaticism (I have a good friend who dislikes More strongly because of his treatment of reformers, that is, burning them at the stake) into a stirring good vs. evil tragedy. The writing is powerful enough to transcend that, even if I have historical second thoughts.

valerieab
Member

Yes.

valerieab
Member

How many years has Valerie been urging Jane to watch it? ;^)

timbushong
Member

I love that film…

adad0
Member

Apparently, Kryriosity does not kill all cats! ; – )

valerieab
Member

We can take from this a picture of how gifted I am at evangelism.

adad0
Member

;- ) , Yes, I think you are ready to move on from evangelizing cats!

Amen! ; – )

valerieab
Member

More like people respond to me about as well as cats do. ;^)

adad0
Member

So far, you keep demonstrating positives!????

valerieab
Member

The notion of herding cats has never, to my knowledge been a positive.

adad0
Member

That is because almost no one can do it. If you can herd cats, now that would be the cat’s pajamas! ; -)

valerieab
Member

But my point is that I can’t. ;^)

adad0
Member

Alas, then I may never see cat’s pajamas in this life!????

Jane
Member

Some number greater than one and less than sixteen. :-)

insanitybytes22
Member

“I am sorry for the victims of sexual abuse who are troubled by the presence of a predator.”

Me too, Jilly, but at some point healing has to take place. Grown up victims need to be able to reach a place where they are now so whole and so safe in the Lord, it does not touch them anymore. Our world does a grave disservice to victims by insisting they remain perpetual victims.

valerieab
Member

I’m not sure it’s always possible to completely get over the damage done by various forms of abuse. The difference is between scars and open wounds. If there is not substantial healing, there is bound to be festering of one sort or other.

insanitybytes22
Member

Yes. I’m not trying to be insensitive here, there are things that life dishes out that we don’t just “get over,” but on the other hand the power of the blood of the Lamb, the work of the great Physician, has lead people to heal from all kinds of atrocities and to be made whole in Him. For some reason when it comes to sexual abuse, culturally at least, there is a push to not believe that, to keep those wounds festering.

bethyada
Member

It is permissible to learn from secular researchers, I do myself on a frequent basis. The illimitable lack of discernment some Christians display is alarming however, especially in the softer sciences of the humanities. Paedophila (and genocide) are a few last sins of the secular culture; a culture who ironically also proclaim the righteousness of paedocide. Not a few women who have murdered their own children have counseled others to do the same (and many repentant ones do the opposite). Does Brito have a separate service for those women to protect the pregnant mums? My problem isn’t that paedophilia is… Read more »

insanitybytes22
Member

I tend to agree with you. We’re often prepared to stone pedophiles, while glorifying abortion and homosexuality, and completely ignoring things like gossip, backstabbing, theft. People actually kill themselves over things like gossip, being falsely accused, bullied in business and family court, and yet most of us hardly think of these things as sin anymore. The whole world has gone a bit mad and moral ambiguity is everywhere. Conversely however, as hated and feared as pedophilia is right now, it’s also perched on the edge of soon being declared a lifestyle choice. I’m telling you, if you try to get… Read more »

Seth B.
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Seth B.

And what about bringing guns to church?

jigawatt
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jigawatt

Ryan Sather in 3…2…1…

meyer.daniel.s
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>>> Should we make him wear a scarlet P on his baseball cap?

No, but there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.

Love,

Shane
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Shane

You’re referring to word “eunuch” in the sense of full castration, correct?

jesuguru
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jesuguru

The context of that oft-quoted (and misquoted) verse is regarding divorce, and the difficulty of adhering to Christ’s teaching forbidding remarriage in most cases.

Capndweeb
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Capndweeb

39And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? How is it that ye have no faith?

Capndweeb
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Capndweeb

Mark 4: 39And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? How is it that ye have no faith?

bethyada
Member

It might be a trick, the people thought — and they could have right

It might be a trick, the people thought — and they could have been right, or a right

Leslie
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Leslie

I think a lot would depend on the spiritual maturity and integrity of the pastor/elders.On whether the congregation is being properly discipled and taught on spiritual gifts , especially discernment. And whether the pastor/elder board is humble enough to listen to members of the congregation.

Leslie
Guest
Leslie

Also known as ” equipping the saints for the work of the ministry “

Jonathan
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Jonathan

I think the current cultural trend of “safe spaces” is horrible for society.

But shouldn’t Paul’s arguments about the manner in which we set examples for our weaker brethren factor into this discussion somewhere? I know it’s not the point you were trying to make, but you took a few side shots in the process, so to make the entire post without referencing arguably the most relevant single passage to the actual concept of “safe spaces” seems faulty.

Jill Smith
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Jill Smith

It is difficult to say this without sounding heartless, but at some point we have to focus on gently toughening up the vulnerable rather than on banishing anything that might alarm them.

Jonathan
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Jonathan

Yup. I’ve been preaching this to my organization for several years now.

ashv
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ashv

I’m reminded of the old joke about sending people to “insensitivity training”.

Jill Smith
Member
Jill Smith

Where they learn: Be a winner, not a whiner.

Jane
Member

Not so much toughening up, as instructing. The person with the weak conscience is to be borne with, but is not supposed to be left that way indefinitely. Those who are stronger are to instruct and teach.

So we are to regard their vulnerability tenderly, but not to re-order the world for them. Rather, we are to seek to help them re-order themselves.

We don’t flaunt in front of them what is too much for them to bear, but we don’t seek to make the world free of those things, but to free them from being ruled by those things.

Jill Smith
Member
Jill Smith

As a nun would say while supervising swim lessons in an unheated pool: “It is better for Jill to conquer the cold water than for the cold water to conquer Jill.”

adad0
Member

And Jill did!????

bethyada
Member

Weaker brethren is very specific to actions that people think are sinful and may not be sinful (like eating food sacrificed to idols). It refers to scruples, but even then, somewhat reasonable scruples.

Weaker brethren does not refer to people who feel vulnerable.

adad0
Member

Aslan is not a tame Lion.
Our sin is not safe in the presence of God.
If we fear no evil, for the right reason, every place is “safe”, even dark valleys, even death, even church.????

insanitybytes22
Member

Amen! I loved this.

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

Amen.

insanitybytes22
Member

Amen. This is well said and timely post.

“Safety” also speaks to having a structure in place, protection, people you can go to in times of trouble. It does not speak of emotional safety, because that is an internal thing we must learn to create for ourselves. In the modern world many people talk of safety, as if that means the absence of all discomfort. We weren’t designed to live that way.

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

Yes, yes, yes. It’s a massive issue in the modern world and one that has made many unprepared for the rigors of true service.

PerfectHold
Guest
PerfectHold

How safe is a church where some “Members” (of His body) are intentionally starved, not fed?

Paul complained to the rank and file on how they gobbled up all the supperage without waiting for their sisters and brothers to arrive.

But we have whole swaths of Christendom making it the official practice to disclude His members by saying they are not their members.

Talking to a local WELS pastor this week — he tried to explain it really was out of love, you know — their keeping the Supper out of my family’s hands.

Lance Roberts
Guest

I’m definitely opposed to communion based on membership. it should be based on a professed belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s definitely out of love to make sure unbelievers don’t take communion, since they would be bringing on the curse given since they can’t be worthy. Only Christ is worthy, so only those regenerated and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, i.e. represented by Christ, can be free from the curse.

PerfectHold
Guest
PerfectHold

So this idea that a benevolent gatekeeper lovingly keeps folk safe from the poison of this food — is that a recent innovation?

David Trounce
Guest

I would have said communion is membership and it is a profession. I don’t see Paul barring the table. I see him urging us to come faithfully.

The table is where the curse is lifted on those who believe and where it falls on those who do not. It has always been thus.

But those who stay away are not safer for staying away.

bethyada
Member

Should I as a pastor tell the congregation about all the instances of adultery in the past that I happen to know about? Just to be clear, I know that this is a rhetorical question with the implied answer: no. But it raises some interesting questions. So some musings Some events are public intrinsically. Births, deaths, marriages. Some may hide these in situations of conflict, but in general, to share this information with others is allowed and not considered gossip. So what of adultery? Murder is clearly public (at least the victim), and if a murderer is known then to… Read more »

David Trounce
Guest

If Joseph had put Mary away everyone would know it. If the only biblical reason was adultery they would have also known why.

Perhaps a distinction could be made if such a thing in our day occurred prior to conversion. Paul made the Corinthian scandal very public… That the rest may fear.

I would be interested on what Doug and others thought about that.

bethyada
Member

And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. (Mat 1:19)

Whatever would have become known, I think this shows that Joseph was trying to do this quietly.

I don’t think Paul was making it public, it was already very public and church was glorying in it. Interestingly, while we know about this event 2000 years later, no one knows who the actual person was.

I would also be interested in other ideas, my thoughts were sparked by Doug’s comment.

adad0
Member

The safe course, albeit the hardest one, is to do as the Word directs and “put off falsehood and speak the truth to one another, for we are all members of one body.” If our typical indiscretions were commonly known, commonly forgiven and commonly forgotten, the shame of our wrongs would reduce, and be more manageable, because their commonality would be shared.

David Trounce
Guest

It is a real test of how much we trust and value Grace. Is it safe enough in our churches to be true about our weakness?

adad0
Member

Well, I guess all those other churches, besides yours and mine, must be filled with the people who are always strong and always honest!

; – )

But seriously, God’s Grace can be trusted , especially when your churches “grace” cannot be trusted.????
Sometimes people love the wrong thing, like darkness as opposed to Light!????

Jane
Member

A church can be a safe place for honesty, and an individual too proud or fearful (which can sometimes be the same thing) to be honest regardless.

Conserbatives_conserve_little
Guest
Conserbatives_conserve_little

How about th idea of sancurary?

valerieab
Member

Sanctuary means holy place, not safe place.