We're talking this week about what it means to have standards of fellowship - those understandings that we have about what it means to be a Christian, what it means to be our kind of Christian, and how we can set up a hedge of protection around these definitions so that, essentially, the world cannot corrupt them.
And that's really what we're interested in. Nobody's really interested in making a church or making a faith that has walls to keep others out; we aren't trying to make it difficult to get in. What we are trying to do is to keep our faith from being watered down by the culture around us, which is exactly what is happening in our world today. In fact, it's exactly where we find ourselves even in this conversation.
Because we've come to a point in the church where the world has told us who they think Jesus is. They keep telling us who they think Jesus is. They use some of our own words to describe Him, but their understandings of these words are quite different than the way that Jesus lived them out. Most basically, we are told that Jesus is love. And that love is blind.
Jesus loves you no matter who you are, no matter what you do, no matter whether or not you live the way that He wants you to live. Jesus's love, we're told, is 'tolerant' - meaning that it doesn't judge you for being who you are. It doesn't even care who you are. Jesus just loves you. Period.
Then, we point to all of these stories in the Scriptures where Jesus is eating with sinners, forgiving women, breaking bread with Judas. Look, the world says - Jesus doesn't have standards. Jesus fellowships with everyone. And so there's no reason at all for the church to be drawing lines. If someone has come to Jesus, then we're supposed to just embrace them wholeheartedly, welcome them into the fold, and make our family bigger with no rules, no expectations, none of that.
The church, the world says, cannot have standards because Jesus did not have standards.
When you say it that way....
But that's what the world is saying! That's exactly what the world is saying. That our Jesus doesn't have standards for us, that He doesn't expect anything from us, that He doesn't want us to live one way or another; He just wants us to love Him so that He can love us.
And any Christian looking at this has to understand that this is not the Gospel. The world has somehow convinced us that it is, this world with its shaky truths and hands-off approach to community, but the world has it wrong. The world has Him wrong. And this is exactly why we have to have standards of fellowship, definitions of what it means to actually be a Christian. Not because we disfellowship anyone who isn't getting it right or because we make it hard to come in at all, but because it means something to be a follower of Christ.
At least, it's supposed to.
It's true that Jesus ate with sinners and forgave women and broke bread with Judas, but it's also true that Jesus never condoned a broken lifestyle for anyone. Jesus never accepted anyone without challenging them to change and to grow, not even the twelve men that He hand-picked to walk with Him in His ministry. He's constantly pressing John and James and Peter and Andrew and Bartholomew to be better. He tells every single person He sets free not to bind themselves in chains any more. He commends the faith of those who come to Him, and He tells them to sin no more. He tells the woman caught in adultery, the very woman that He is forgiving, to not get herself tangled in adultery any more. Jesus embraces everyone as they are, but He does not accept that who they are today is the very best for them. He expects more. He demands more.
And He knows that the Christian life ought to change us.
Even Judas, the betrayer, is a changed man by breaking the bread with Jesus. No, it doesn't stop him from betraying his Teacher. But this man who is so greedy, who has always been looking out for himself, who has always figured out how to play every system to his own benefit and glory, is so contrite of heart after breaking bread with the One he has betrayed that he goes out, throws his money in a field, and hangs himself. That's not a selfish heart; even Judas's heart was changed by Jesus, even if he didn't realize it early enough to stop himself.
Jesus does love you. And it's because He loves you that He wants to see your life changed. He wants to see your life reflecting that love.
We are a people changed by Jesus. As such, we are a people who can be expected to live a certain sort of life. In fact, we ought to demand it of one another. In fact, we do.
It's a difficult notion to say that we have standards of fellowship, or even that we ought to, but the truth about both matters is that we do: we do have standards, and we ought to.
That doesn't mean that all of our standards are good or that they are the right ones... (To be continued.)