Friday, April 6, 2007

People Who Ruin Church for Other People

I have a friend who really has a problem with the church. The thing is, I know that one of the main reasons she has a problem with the church is because somebody else ruined it for her. That other person happens to be a pastor. He made her feel as though she could not be a part of the church unless she behaved in a certain way and thought in a certain way. Now, I don't want to speak for her, but I think maybe because of that bad experience she had with that pastor, she feels as though she can't trust the church and the people in it. And that is just wrong. Why do people have to ruin church for other people?

Many times, in our short-sighted sinfulness, we think we know better than God does, and that ends up hurting people. Telling someone they are not welcome because they are gay, or poor, or ask too many questions, or belong to a different Christian denomination than we do, puts God and God's grace in a BOX. Who are we to say that God would not welcome these people, too? Didn't Jesus eat with society's "undesireables?" Wouldn't he also eat with the church's so-called "undesireables?"

All I'm saying is that if we REALLY believe in a Christ who died for EVERYBODY'S sins (including our own!), and if we REALLY believe in a God who is "gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love," then who are we to say who would or would not be loved by God? Who are we to ruin church for other people by telling them they are not welcome? Is not the call of the Christian to love one another, as Christ has loved us?

Grace is God's ultimate gift--God's love and forgiveness given freely for all. We cannot limit God's grace. It is not up to us to do so--it is not up to us to put it in a box. God's grace is wider and deeper and more profound than we could ever imagine with our limited human understanding. Didn't Jesus show this to us in the very way he lived and died and rose again FOR ALL OF US?

We really need to think hard about how we present ourselves and our faith to others, because, in everything we do, we are ambassadors for Christ. We are CALLED as Christians to model God's grace to everyone--especially to those who do not know God's love. Imagine how horrible it would be if because of our actions, someone decided that he or she did NOT want to know God or be a part of the church.

Someone else who is very close to me has left the church because, as he says, "If that's the way Christians are going to behave, then I don't want to be Christian!" This is not the legacy we want to leave. What a sin! I am ashamed of those Christians who ruin church for other people. I want to shout it from the mountaintops: "That's NOT who we are, and that's NOT the God I know! God loves you, and God wants to be in relationship with you! Come back and experience what it means to know God's grace and love!"


Tina said...

I loved reading this blog! I feel this exact way about the way some Christians act towards people who don't "believe" the way they do. It makes the other Christians look bad and it does make a bad name for God. So I try my best to be the better person and be understanding and open-minded. That's the least we can do to help people understand what it means to be true (as you put it) "Ambassadors for Christ".

Josh said...

I read your post, and I couldn't stop thinking about some things Jesus said, (I suppose that's a really good thing, if reading your post causes people to think about Jesus).

In Matthew 23 Jesus is talking to religious people and church leaders. He says to these church leaders, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to."

Your friend's experience with the church makes me sad. As we see from this passage, it also makes Jesus mad. Basically Jesus is saying that there are some people who are experiencing a rebirth. They’re meeting God for the first time. They’re trusting in what Jesus says, and coming to believe that Jesus can be trusted. There are people who are alive spiritually in ways they’ve never been. If there is somebody—-and he’s talking to religious leaders—-who gets in the way of this beautiful, pure thing that’s happening in their life, who prevents them from continuing on this journey of transformation and rebirth, then woe to them—-they themselves do not enter the Kingdom of God.

He's saying to these religious leaders "You’re supposed to be the spiritual leaders, and you actually get in the way of people who are honestly seeking God. You’re supposed to be the ones helping people find God, but because the way that they are finding God doesn’t fit with your system and rules, you actually are preventing people from finding God."

I think if our hearts are sad at your friend being turned off to church by a religious leader, it's because Jesus has taught us that this type of thing ought not to happen! And Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 6 that we're doing something wrong if our churches aren't full of ex- idolaters, prostitutes, sexually immoral, drunkards, etc.

I also really identified with your comments about putting God's grace in a box. I read the end of 2 Cor. 9, about the surpassing grace of God, "thanks be to God for his indescribable gift" and find myself wondering how Jesus would respond to the way the church that bears His name "rations out" His grace. I suspect he'd say something like this:

"My grace is deeper; my grace is deeper than gayness; my grace is deeper than homosexuality; my grace is deeper than feminism or liberalism or politics or partisanism or ideology; my grace is deeper than your ability to forgive or your ability to understand; my grace is deeper than your fear; my grace is deeper than the corruption & confusion & hurt & pain & hatred & injustice & hypocrisy of this world; my grace is deeper than you and deeper than this sin and these lies and this world; my grace is deeper; my grace is enough; 'my grace is sufficient.'" Or at least, something like that.

Your post wondered whether we really believe that Christ died for the sins of everyone. Brings to mind 1 John 2:2 --> "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but for the sins of the whole world." Do we really believe this in the church?

A final thought (to this already LONG comment!): I've often read the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) and wondered what would have happened if instead of being greeting by the Father--the forgiving, laughing, party-throwing Father--if the younger son had seen his older brother first. Would the older son have told the younger son to go away, that he's not welcome here, that the Father doesn't want him because of his sin, that he's not worthy, that the Father hates him and won't take him back? Christians do this ALL THE TIME! We meet others out by the gate and we turn them away from the Father; we allow our own self-righteous indignation to mis-represent the Father, creating a barrier between him and those desperately crawling back to him.

We reduce what it means to be a Christian into a glib expression of "What I don't do." Has the mystery of Christianity really been boiled down to glib, pithy, neat, black and white, politically correct expressions of what not to do? "I'm not the type of Christian who dresses that way..." "I'm not the type of Christian who says words that start with 'F'..." "I'm not the type of Christian who drinks alcohol..." "I'm not the type of Christian who voted Democrat..." Too often the church advertises to the world that the whole of what it means to be a Christian, of what it means to be obedient, can be reduced like this.

I remember hearing a quote by Gandhi one time. He said "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

I, too, am troubled by the legacy we are leaving. The "Christian" legacy is so vastly different than the life of Christ. What we DON'T need is to bring people into Christianity. We DO need to bring people into Christ. I think there's a profound difference. Let us seek Christ, not Christianity; let us preach Christ, not Christianity; and let us bring people into relationship with Christ, not with Christianity.

Indeed, as you have written, we are not ambassadors for a religion; we are ambassadors for Christ.