One of the great challenges faced by anyone in a position of leadership is the constant struggle of loving people in all their brokenness without loving the things that make them broken. It is an uncomfortable position to be in. It is difficult to love people while holding them accountable for their actions. Parents, teachers, supervisors, and counselors live in the midst of this struggle every single day.
Nowhere is this struggle more visible than in the Church. Nowhere do the twin challenges of love and accountability come crashing together with more gravity than in local congregations.
Finding a faithful parish is difficult. Being a faithful parish is hard work. Conservative churches tend to err on the side of rejecting those who persist in sin, even those who struggle mightily against their desires. Progressive churches tend to err on the side of rejecting the idea of sin, especially those acts embraced by the culture around them. Faithful churches are messy places where sin and grace crash together day after day after day. They are mighty battlefields between faith and the flesh, between God and the Devil, between the new creation and the old.
How can we be faithful?
First, let's admit that faithfulness to Christ (in this area and many others) is easier said than done. While we must talk about things like this in the sterile environment of Sunday School, we must live them out in the muck and mud of the real world. Such is the reality of bearing our crosses and following Christ.
Second, let's admit that everyone in our congregation is a broken sinner, you and me included. Resist the temptation to think of struggling sinners as 'them' instead of 'us.' Everyone has situations that tempt them, desires that derail them, and sins that they struggle with. From anger to gossip to infidelity to coldness of heart to dishonesty to (fill in the blank), no one is immune and no one has reached perfection (sorry, like I've said, I think Wesley made a mistake on entire sanctification).
Third, let's call a sin a sin. If you've hung in this long, you know that I don't think we have the authority to decide whether or not the things Scripture calls sin can be considered anything else but sin. To try and do so usurps God's authority and is a repeat of Genesis 3. Not only are the 'biggies' sinful (murder, adultery, theft, etc.) but so are the things we tend to turn a blind eye to, possibly because of our own guilt (gossip, coarse language, jealousy, selfish ambition, etc.).
Fourth, let's recognize that our sin is not who we are but what we wrestle against. We are sinners by virtue of our thoughts, words, and deeds. All of us. While we may be tempted to think that a certain besetting sin defines us as who we are, Scripture says otherwise. After the list of sins St. Paul catalogs in 1 Cor 6, he writes these amazing words. "And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor 6.11 NKJV). In other words, those sins that were put off by the believers in Corinth do not define who they are...it's Satan who tries to persuade us otherwise.
Fifth, let's remember that Scripture never commands us to cut off those in the midst of the struggle with sin, only those who no longer care to fight. Jesus blasts the Pharisees who proudly persist in their sin. Paul commands the church to not have fellowship with those who claim the name of Christ but willfully continue in sin. The pattern in Scripture is pretty clear--we have the utmost compassion on those who struggle with sin but do not tolerate among us those who persist in their sin with no remorse, contrition, or attempts to live otherwise.
Here is where we love sinners without loving their sin. These two types of people are worlds apart. We know people who fall into each category. We have most likely found ourselves in each of these places at various times in our lives. The first people are crushed by their sin and in desperate need of the soothing balm of the Gospel--that Christ Jesus died for them that they might be forgiven and not come into condemnation. The second are hardened in their sin, failing even to admit that what they are doing is sinful. This group needs to be reminded of their sin and the judgment that awaits them lest they stop resisting the conviction of the Holy Spirit and repent. Is this an easy row to hoe? No. But it is at the very core of what it means to be the church of Christ in the midst of a sinful world.