It's hard to know where to start this series of posts. I've got a few things I want to say about today's church - not my church or your church in particular but just the church and where we are and how we're relating to God and just a few things that I guess have been on my heart that I'm going to pour out. Not necessarily because there are answers or we're going to find them, but because we need to be having these discussions, I think, in the name of Jesus. I'm not sure these posts will go in any particular order, but let's start with the church herself.
The church, from my pew (figuratively), is in an era of renovation. I say that coming from what was once known as the Restoration Movement, for at least as long as I've been a Christian. But we're in this flux right now where we're seeing this influx of new hearts flocking to the Shepherd again and for most of us, we're in a place where we're trying to be very careful and not commit the same mistakes as the church we were even ten years ago. That is, we're trying to open our doors and be inclusive and be accepting and demonstrate the love of Christ instead of keeping ourselves in our closed societies, setting all of these rules, demanding better things from the riff-raff that come in off the streets (knowing full well we were once either riff or raff but certainly, not in our profound holiness, ever riff-raff).
That's a good thing. We ought to throw our doors wide open and welcome every heart that is searching for a Savior.
A few caveats about such things, however.
First, we have to remember that our churches are not the savior. There's this movement to grow churches right now, and ok. Whatever. But if you're growing churches to grow your church, then that's not honoring to God. The goal of incorporating a new family into your family, a new life into the movement of the church, is not higher attendance and more programs and making sure everyone gets plugged in to serve and to be served in their very right places and that their kids play soccer on Saturday mornings and their parents work out at the church gym and they come to this class and that special event and show up when they are expected to show up in order to demonstrate that you are a big, good, active, involved church. It's not that those things are bad. I just think it's easy with so many people walking in our doors these days to think our role has shifted to programming, and that's never the purpose of the church. We exist to bring people to Christ. That's it. We exist to live and to love and to serve and to be as Christ was. As good as our programs are, we can never redeem one single soul and we have to remember to keep Christ at the center of our programming and bring people not to events but to Eternity.
Second, it's easy to broaden our love and acceptance into blind tolerance and passive affirmation. So many people have been wounded by our ways, our past ways, that it's easy to tiptoe around these days, to emphasize love over all else and kind of forget all else. No, we shouldn't greet guests and seekers at our doors and expose their sins and make a statement about what God thinks about all that. Yes, I think we're getting the love right in saying, Hey - you're gay or you're an inmate or you're a pornography addict or you use drugs or you drink a little too much or you're on your third divorce or you're poor or you're rich or whatever you are...and welcome. We're glad to have you. I think we're right in welcoming in love, in opening our doors to everyone and letting everyone in. But we have to be careful as we walk the line between condemnation and confirmation. That is, it's not our place to judge and while we are intent these days on not condemning anyone for their sin of choice, we must be equally careful not to confirm that it's ok to keep on sinning. We're all sinners; none worse than the others. We are also accountable to one another and to the Gospel of Christ. We're focused so much on grace and love that it's tempting to let the accountability slide...because "judge not..." We must remember though that Paul tells us that grace and love are not enough of a cover, not enough of an excuse, and certainly not permission to keep on sinning. God's love is free - but we need to be teaching people how to live under the burden of that love and that means speaking the hard truth sometimes that we love you, God loves you, Jesus died for you, but what you're doing is not ok. He had something totally better in mind for you. Then guiding, not guilting, God's people into that something better.
Third, and kind of piggy-backing off of that, I want to see us stop apologizing for being the church. That is so common these days that I see it almost on a daily basis. We are a people coming to terms with the wounds we have inflicted on the churched, the unchurched, the seeking, the found, the lost, the sheep, the Shepherd by our long-held convictions that there is a right way to "do church" and if you can't do church right, then go to Hell (where you might be going anyway, whether we condemn you there or not but because we're pretty sure about such things, you are going to Hell because you showed up in tennis shoes or you forgot to stand during prayer or you didn't know the words to the song or you got a tattoo or you did drugs or you got divorced or you're a woman or you're a child or you're a homosexual or....ad nauseum). For what we have been, for what we have done, for the incredible hurt we have put into the world, we need to apologize. And do better. But don't apologize for being the church.
We don't need to apologize for having a Christ that not everyone believes in. We don't need to apologize for having a gospel that's tough to swallow. We don't need to apologize for speaking the hard truths, for holding ourselves to a higher standard, for setting ourselves apart from the world. We don't need to apologize for having a sin standard...as long as we use that standard to bring people fully into grace. I think we're spending too much time trying to show the world we're not that different from them...because we're afraid to offend. The church is offensive; it was meant to be. Christ was offensive. Have you read His stories? Everywhere He went, He turned society on its head. In moral conduct, in religious conduct, in social conduct. In preaching paradoxes like the first will be last and the last will be first and if you want to save yourself, you have to lose yourself. Jesus didn't cower to the societal norm and here we are, two thousand years later, trying to get this world enamored with us. In doing so, I think we've lost sight of the very Savior who wasn't out for love, but to love.
To love.... All these things growing and changing and resolving in our churches as a new generation comes to Christ and an old generation takes a new chance on a gospel of grace, and I think we're trying too hard to get things too right - to enhance our programming, to lessen accountability, to apologize for our mistakes. Is it the way of Christ for the church to mold itself in a pattern after the world and declare that whatever you want to do is right and we have been so wrong? I don't think so. I know it's not.
It is the way of Christ for the church to love. To love inclusively, to love wholly, to love with reckless abandon. There's a new generation of people walking through our doors hoping we get just this one thing right - our love. So let's focus on that for awhile, ok? To the glory of God, for the gospel of grace, let's get our love right.