In the end, the pastoral thing to do is to point people to Christ and to call them to faithfulness in him. If we think Jesus has put things in place that matter for the local church, being pastoral must mean faithfully standing on those things Christ has called the church to stand on. It cannot be pastoral to encourage people to set aside Jesus’ commands and to say they simply do not matter. The pastoral implications of doing that, I would argue, are far worse.
I am often unsure what to make of people, faced with teaching from scripture, want to encourage us to consider the “pastoral implications”. Whether it be facing the biblical teaching on marriage and its implications for same-sex attracted people, the doctrine of complementarianism and its implications for gender roles or that vexed issue of the ordinances and who it is appropriate to welcome into the church and what is demanded on those who would seek to be welcomed. All of these are examples of teaching on which the Bible has something specific to say but some are keen to encourage us to be aware, and even to moderate what we perceive to be the biblical position, based on “pastoral concerns”.
My major concern with the call to be mindful of the pastoral implications is that it so often sounds to me like a call to set aside what the bible clearly teaches on a matter so we can make people who will not abide by it feel more comfortable. Of course, I would love it if a church altered its position on any number of things to align with my views and welcome me. But I, ironically, wouldn’t want to join the church that did that in the face of what it actually believed on the matter at hand. A church willing to change its position in the face of what it thinks the Bible is teaching in order to welcome those who see no reason to abide by such things is not, in my view, being faithful. It is placing the desire to welcome over and above what the Lord explicitly commands and sets aside the very grounds by which Jesus says we ought not to welcome.
Of course, everyone agrees with this when it concerns matters they reckon to be sinful. You don’t get many genuine evangelicals arguing that our churches should become affirming despite teaching clearly about Jesus’ views on marriage and same-sex relationships. Their uniform understanding of what is and is not sin in these circumstances mean most are quite ready to say that we ought not to welcome those who would ride roughshod over the commands of Christ in this area.
The issue tends to come when one party considers a matter one of sin and faithfulness while the other does not. The argument in such circumstances boils down to I do not find this sinful so you should welcome me. There seems to be little recognition that I might find it sinful so cannot welcome you if you refuse to acknowledge it is so.