I was awake at 4am this morning, not able to sleep, my mind racing through thoughts and arguments. I finally got up at 4:30am and started writing down my thoughts. Then I spent all day, revisiting, writing more, erasing, starting all over again. This has been a difficult blog to write, probably because I have too much to say, and it’s a subject matter that I don’t feel like I have completely thought through yet. I would say that I am at the half-baked stage right now. But, I’ll catch you up to where I’m at in the process.
This week I have been reading different books and articles that come from a much more liberal view of Christianity than what I profess. It has been enlightening. I want to tell you what is so appealing and Right about these books and viewpoints. They all seem to have a really good grasp on the overwhelming Love and Grace of God. They talk about rich and poor people serving alongside each other. They talk about the healthy serving bread to the sick. They talk about the people in community seeking out the lost and the lonely and drawing them into a nurturing environment. They talk about grace to forgive the most heinous wrongs. They talk about including those who are the social outcasts, extending mercy to the misunderstood, being Jesus’ hands and feet here on earth.
It is so Good. So Right. It draws me in and I find myself wishing to be more like that, wishing to be part of this group of Christians who have somehow been able to set aside selfishness and have learned how to serve the lost.
I feel like the mainstream evangelical church, of which I am a part, has been portrayed as a people who don’t venture far outside their four walls. People who have a strict standard and woe to those who don’t fit into the mold. People who are comfortable hanging around their own race, hanging around people who all make about the same amount of money as they do. This is the reputation that I see on the news, on the internet, in books, and articles.
Is this reputation deserved? I guess that depends on who you ask. I want to come back to this, but before I do, I need to talk about the problems I saw with these books and articles I was reading. They portray a gospel that is incomplete. It’s grace without judgement, heaven without hell, forgiveness without repentance. It is a soft gospel that seems to go through a lot of awkward contortions to ignore the written Word. It also seems to ignore the awesome, fearful Holiness of God.
So, here is my question that has been nagging me for over a week now, keeping me up at night. How do we maintain the balance? How do we extend a hand to the hurting, be the hands and feet of Jesus, be so overwhelmingly loving that people are just drawn to the Jesus inside of us..How do we do that, but also call people to repentance? How do we not only say, I love you, though I hate your sin, but I also want to offer freedom from those sin addictions? Freedom from bondage! How do we hold true to the scriptures that say, Come! Come to the table, everyone is welcome!
“ ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.” Matthew 22 8b-10
And while we are telling everyone to come, everyone is welcome, we also acknowledge the scripture that says,
“ …small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:14
As I read arguments from both sides, I feel like they are saying you have to choose. You have to choose love and grace or you have to choose law and Holiness. Why?? Why do we have to choose? It’s the same Jesus who taught us to love our neighbor as ourselves who reached out and touched the leper to heal him, who also said, Go and sin no more.
So, back to the evangelical church. Is our reputation for exclusiveness and legalism deserved? I look at my own church and I realize, there is no easy answer. A church is simply a body of people. People who sin. People who are weak. People who have said, Yes, Jesus, I want to follow you, but they are still daily having to learn how to deny themselves, pick up their cross, and follow Jesus. We’re all learning as we go, and we make a ton of mistakes along the way. My church is a holy mixture of God’s divine love being played out right alongside people’s sinful natures. There are definite things I want to see change. I want to see a lot more color and variety of people at my church meetings. I want to us to work harder at making our church a place where drug addicts, homeless people, ex-cons, prostitutes, and even awkward teenagers, can walk in the door and immediately feel welcome and at home. I want to figure out how I can be one of those people that make people feel welcome and at home. I want to stay fully immersed in God’s word while carrying that Gospel message that I’m so diligently studying, carrying it to my neighbor, to the lady at the library, to the neighborhood children who come to my door. I want to be the Hands and Feet of Jesus and I want those hands and feet to be cemented, fully rooted in God’s word.
These are some of the thoughts that are keeping me up at night.