Today my wife, Robin, and my daughter were in an office waiting room. The owner of the business handed out of list of spiritual questions to everyone in the room and started asking follow-up questions. He said, “Did you know that there are 613 laws in the Bible, not just the 10 Commandments?” My wife said, “Actually, there is just one – well, two – that Jesus left us with.”
He didn’t even make eye contact with her, but said, “I’m talking about Levitical Law. I was a pastor for 9 years and still do prison ministry. I preach to the inmates about how living together is sin. As a matter of fact, I tell them that if they’ve had children out of wedlock they have produced ‘bastard children.'” (I’m sorry if this is offensive to my readers… I wanted you to see just how over the top this guy was!) He followed this up by speaking directly to my wife, “That phrase probably offends you, but that’s because the truth is offensive.”
You can’t make this stuff up!
He continued explaining his dogmatic version of the Gospel, while Robin kept coming back to Jesus’ grace and mercy (not so much to set him straight; but more for the sake of the other people in the waiting room). He wouldn’t back down, but kept talking about truth. “Sin should not be allowed in the church. Nor should sinners, such as people living together. They shouldn’t even be allowed to enter a church.”
Robin countered with, “Paul told us we were not to judge those outside the church.” His reply? “Yes, but the moment they enter the church, we are to judge them. We judge them by their fruits. Would you let people that are living in sin enter your church?” Robin said, “Absolutely! Where else would they go? I’d much rather have them in church hearing about the goodness of God.”
This angered him; and he got condescending at this point, insinuating that she doesn’t know the truth.
Robin said, “Jesus had some very harsh words for people like you. The Bible says it is the goodness of God that leads men to repentance, not His judgement.”
There was a young couple in the waiting room, and at this point the girl had had more than enough. She said, “I find that completely offensive because I live with my boyfriend. Otherwise I would be out on the street. And I, personally, am thankful that I get to live with him. It is people like you that are the reason I don’t go to church.”
Judgement vs. Grace
The entire situation broke my heart. I’ve written on the subject of judging others before. I’ve also written about the tension between grace and truth. I totally understand why unchurched or de-churched people don’t want to come to church… it is because they know they will be judged. Or at the very least, they will be looked down upon. They feel the people will be kind to them to their face, but then talk about them behind their backs.
In the last couple of years I have spoken with dozens of “dones” (people that used to attend church, but now are simply “done” with church). I’ve heard story after story of people being marginalized in churches because of issues such as divorce, pregnancy or some other moral failure. In one conversation (at a license branch) a lady told me that although she had worked with the kids in her church for several years, the moment she divorced her abusive husband the church disowned her.
I wonder what we are doing in our churches to reinforce this critical stereotype. How DO our people respond when they meet an unchurched person? Are we really that welcoming? In my experience of visiting churches, with the exception of the greeters, it seems the only time the church people were friendly was during the stand and greet time. If you have to be told to be friendly, you’re not friendly.
It seems the Church isn’t always very Christ-like. We have forgotten our roots. Jesus was criticized for welcoming messy people.
We need to go back and study the life of Jesus. Then we can discover what He valued. His stated purpose was, “to seek and save the lost.” It wasn’t to create an insider-focused organization. It wasn’t to make His followers safe and comfortable. It wasn’t so insiders could rush to judgment.
No, it was to go after people far from God. How can our purpose be any less?