Q: Must a council receive the transfer of someone who, though in “good standing” in a former congregation, has a reputation as a troublemaker who is grossly immature and severely critical of church leadership? Does our Church Order allow a council to steer such a person elsewhere or require the person to make peace with former leaders before receiving his or her membership?
A: The problem of difficult members is a longstanding one. A report to Synod 1939 said, “It occurs not infrequently that a member receives a certificate upon his request, but discovers that the church to which it is addressed refuses to receive it” (Agenda for Synod 1939, p. 115). The report goes on to discuss the dilemma created when the sending council also no longer wishes to consider the person a member of its congregation. Unfortunately behavior that would not be tolerated anywhere else in society is too frequently tolerated in the church in the name of Christian love and with the excuse, “Oh, that’s just John/Mary.”
When they address this matter, Martin Monsma and Idzerd Van Dellen say, “Consistories . . . cannot be compelled to do what they believe to be irresponsible and contrary to the spiritual welfare of the churches” (New Revised Church Order Commentary, p. 258). As one bad apple spoils the whole bushel, one troublemaker severely harms a congregation’s spirit and ministry. Such people need to be addressed, not ignored or steered elsewhere.
Some churches require all who become members to take a class. If a person has a reputation for making trouble, it is appropriate for representatives of the council to discuss those matters with the person before accepting a transfer. A requirement to make peace with former leaders may also be appropriate.
—George Vander Weit
George Vander Weit is pastor of Fuller Avenue Christian Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, Mich.
Q: I’m torn because my parents want me to take over the farm, and I’d be good at it and really like agriculture. But I’d also love to pursue a career in law enforcement. How do I know which one God wants me to pursue?
A: If you haven’t done so already, I would strongly encourage you to speak with your parents about your struggle and invite them to pray with and for you concerning the Lord’s will for your life. I would also suggest that you share your concern with others who know you well and solicit their advice and prayers as well. I can’t say how long you should wait for an answer, but I do believe that at some point in the process the Lord will make clear the true passion of your heart. Then act on it. Your parents may be disappointed with your decision, but I hope you will have their blessing and the assurance that you are pursuing God’s will for your life.
Rev. Rick Williams is pastor of Pullman Christian Reformed Church, Chicago.
Q: Should a church accept money from a donor who acquired it through gambling?
A: It seems to me that accepting money made on the lottery or in Las Vegas or at a Saturday-night poker game could be looked at in two ways. One is to argue that gambling itself is not a sin. Reformed Christians do not see things such as sex, smoking, or alcohol as sinful in and of themselves. When these things are abused, that’s where the sin enters in. In the case of gambling, perhaps there is a difference between winnings on a one-time event and winnings that come about as a result of addictive gambling.
The second way Reformed Christians might look at gambling is as flat-out wrong. There may be some roughly analogous situations in the Bible, such as God’s judgment on the Israelites who plundered the Canaanite cities they were told to destroy (1 Sam. 15:19) or Judas’s blood money (Luke 22:4-5) or Jesus overturning the tables in the temple (Mark 11:15). Further, when Jesus was tempted in the desert to bow down to Satan in order to gain the pleasures of the world, Jesus turned his back instead (Matt. 4: 9-10).
It used to be that gambling was one of those things that was defined in Christian circles as sinful, along with dancing, going to the movies, and card playing. Nowadays, many Christian people think nothing of playing low-stakes poker with friends, going to a casino for recreational gambling, or buying the occasional lottery ticket. So the possibility of gambling money finding its way to the offering plates in our churches is pretty good.
Given that gambling is becoming ubiquitous, it may be impossible for churches to bar money that comes from it. However, it does seem to me that it is a very good thing for churches to discourage their congregants from gambling. After all, what is it but taking money that God has given us for stewardly uses and risking its loss? If you have money to spare in that way, why not donate it directly to your local church?
Dr. Helen Sterk is chair of Communication Arts and Sciences at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Mich.