closed and centered sets in church

Update January 2016. Dave Schmelzer has addressed some objections like mine in his essay here.

This week I listened to most of a sermon from the Boston Vineyard on homosexuality from their 2011 series on hard questions. The sermon's title is Homosexuality and Churchgoing and was given by the lead pastor, Dave Schmelzer. I didn't hear the last fourth of the sermon, so he might have said what I am going to say here, but his ideas got me thinking. Basically, he appeals to a mathematical analogy for his ecclesiology, centered sets vs. closed sets.  This is nothing new, but for those to whom it is new, here is my quick breakdown. A closed set would be a circle defined by it's edge. A centered set would be defined by, you guessed it, the center. A church with a closed set ecclesiology would have some well defined behaviors expected of members, e.g. no smoking, drinking or dancing. A centered set church welcomes all who are moving toward Jesus.
I don't think most churches hold exclusively to any set, but combine them to one degree or another. Even closed set churches typically don't ignore Jesus' command to make disciples and evangelize unbelievers. I also think that most centered set churches have a closed set at some level, at least at the staff level. Otherwise, a lead pastor could be an openly philandering jerk who nevertheless proclaims his love of Jesus...Wait, that does happen too...But this is what Paul had to say to his protege Timothy,
1 It is a true saying that if someone wants to be an elder, he desires an honorable responsibility. 2 For an elder must be a man whose life cannot be spoken against. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exhibit self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home and must be able to teach. 3 He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, peace loving, and not one who loves money. 4 He must manage his own family well, with children who respect and obey him. 5 For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God's church? 6 An elder must not be a new Christian, because he might be proud of being chosen so soon, and the Devil will use that pride to make him fall. 7 Also, people outside the church must speak well of him so that he will not fall into the Devil's trap and be disgraced. 8 In the same way, deacons must be people who are respected and have integrity. They must not be heavy drinkers and must not be greedy for money. 9 They must be committed to the revealed truths of the Christian faith and must live with a clear conscience. 10 Before they are appointed as deacons, they should be given other responsibilities in the church as a test of their character and ability. If they do well, then they may serve as deacons. 11 In the same way, their wives must be respected and must not speak evil of others. They must exercise self-control and be faithful in everything they do. 12 A deacon must be faithful to his wife, and he must manage his children and household well. 13 Those who do well as deacons will be rewarded with respect from others and will have increased confidence in their faith in Christ Jesus. 1 Timothy 3

He writes similarly to another protege, Titus
5 I left you on the island of Crete so you could complete our work there and appoint elders in each town as I instructed you. 6 An elder must be well thought of for his good life. He must be faithful to his wife, and his children must be believers who are not wild or rebellious. 7 An elder must live a blameless life because he is God's minister. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered; he must not be a heavy drinker, violent, or greedy for money. 8 He must enjoy having guests in his home and must love all that is good. He must live wisely and be fair. He must live a devout and disciplined life. 9 He must have a strong and steadfast belief in the trustworthy message he was taught; then he will be able to encourage others with right teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong. Titus 1
It seems that, in Paul's view, a centered set should not be enough for church leaders, even though in practice the church is not that good at adhering to these set limits, especially when the leader brings in lots and lots of cash...Wait...greed for money is listed as a disqualifier...God is certainly gracious to his sinful children.

In light of Paul's description of what is required of church leaders, thus establishing a closed set, and in balance with the call to evangelize the world, it seems God's church needs to be a centered set in general, but closed in particular to it's leaders. Paul does not seem to condemn smoking or dancing in his leader qualifications, nor drinking either, just drunkenness. He does seem to limit a leader's sexual expression, explicitly to one that is espoused, or, by example, his own and Christ's, to one who is celibate.

If I were to finish the Vineyard Boston sermon, I'd say, many are called, but few are chosen...Wait...Jesus already said that, Matthew 22:14. It's his concluding statement of a curious parable.
1 Jesus told them several other stories to illustrate the Kingdom. He said, 2 "The Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a king who prepared a great wedding feast for his son. 3 Many guests were invited, and when the banquet was ready, he sent his servants to notify everyone that it was time to come. But they all refused! 4 So he sent other servants to tell them, 'The feast has been prepared, and choice meats have been cooked. Everything is ready. Hurry!' 5 But the guests he had invited ignored them and went about their business, one to his farm, another to his store. 6 Others seized his messengers and treated them shamefully, even killing some of them. 7 "Then the king became furious. He sent out his army to destroy the murderers and burn their city. 8 And he said to his servants, 'The wedding feast is ready, and the guests I invited aren't worthy of the honor. 9 Now go out to the street corners and invite everyone you see.' 10 "So the servants brought in everyone they could find, good and bad alike, and the banquet hall was filled with guests. 11 But when the king came in to meet the guests, he noticed a man who wasn't wearing the proper clothes for a wedding. 12 'Friend,' he asked, 'how is it that you are here without wedding clothes?' And the man had no reply. 13 Then the king said to his aides, 'Bind him hand and foot and throw him out into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.' 14 For many are called, but few are chosen."
It seems the set is closed to those dressed inappropriately at this wedding. It also seems that the set is closed to those who refuse the invitation, violently closed. The clothing thing, has a direct allusion to something Isaiah wrote, I am overwhelmed with joy in the LORD my God! For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation and draped me in a robe of righteousness. I am like a bridegroom in his wedding suit or a bride with her jewels. Is. 61:10 Again, a wedding metaphor that uses clothing as a key component. In Jesus' parable, he seems to state the obvious, that the church is full of guests who are not clothed in righteousness, whom I understand to be those who are drawn to Jesus, part of the centered set, but have not dressed themselves in his righteousness. Jesus' warning to them is their time to decide is limited. Faith is easy. Faith in practice is the evidence of genuine faith, see James 2:14 Dear brothers and sisters, what's the use of saying you have faith if you don't prove it by your actions? That kind of faith can't save anyone. This is in agreement with Paul's closed set for leaders. Leaders should be examples of lived out faith. Only those who do live it out, should be chosen to lead.


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