Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A bugaboo of mine about the Christian church...

Let me preface this by saying, if you don't already know, I AM a Christian, I DO go to church. However, there are things that I see with a critical, humanistic, compassionate eye, that bother me about the way Christians at large operate. And of course, as a Christian, I cannot exempt myself from my own observations or statements.

That said, I feel I need to get this off my chest, and hopefully appeal to both Christians and non-Christians alike. I hope people sitting on both sides of the Christianity fence will hear me out and hopefully feel the love and concern, as well as the admonition, of my words and take them to heart.

One of my biggest peeves about the church is this... The alienation factor. It seems that sometimes, we Christians get too wrapped up in the "what is sin, what is not" mindframe, that we begin to judge, then further alientate, those who don't align themselves with Christianity.

Let me ask you though, Christian (myself included), are you perfect? Are you sinless? No, you aren't. You are flawed, you make mistakes, you have weaknesses and downfalls just like those who aren't Christians. You are saved, you are forgiven, but that doesn't mean you are "cured" from sin. In the eyes of God, you are exactly the same as the unchurched. Everyone the world over belongs to God, and is His child, whether they choose to acknowledge Him and accept Him or not. So if that is true, then who are WE to judge or alienate anyone else?

Romans 2:1-3 (I'm not a big fan of the ESV , but this puts it well)

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?

I think that is pretty self-explanatory. We Christians practice the same sins, we are cut from the same sin-driven mold. So again, who are we to judge?

Matthew 7:3-5 (New International Version)

3"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.

This makes a key point of mine. Christian and non-Christians alike, we are so quick to disregard our own issues, but then make a big deal out of others' shortfalls. We are blind to our own sins, but so quick to ridicule, or parade around, or gossip about other peoples' poor decisions. Here is a classic example, to further illustrate my point.

John 8:1-11:

1But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" 6They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." 8Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" 11"No one, sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."

This woman had been caught by the Pharisees - the scholarly men of the church of those times - and brought before Jesus. Let me stress - these were the people within the church, those dedicated to learning about and really trying to understand the ways of God, not just any old average Joe passer-by! And they brought the woman before Jesus, expecting Him to condemn her. They were making a mockery of her, putting her lifestyle choices and mistakes on display before everyone; her private business. Were her choices wrong? Of course they were. But is it their job to address that? No. It is GOD'S job to convict and bring people to repentance and a relationship with Him, not man's job!

What did Jesus do in this situation? He turned the tables and chastised THEM for their actions, words, and attitudes! Then He went on to defend, comfort, and forgive the woman. He did NOT condemn her, as these men wished Him to do! Did Jesus say her sins were okay? No, he asked her to turn from her ways. BUT, He did show compassion and kindness toward her, not judgment.

Clearly, Jesus operates more in a mode of love, compassion, and forgiveness, than in judgment. The word "Christian," literally translated, means "Christ follower." If we Christians are truly "Christ followers," then shouldn't we follow His example? Shouldn't we extend people forgiveness and compassion, and spend more time and energy dealing with the flaws of our own hearts and our own natures, as opposed to condemning and judging others?

When we judge, not only do we hurt ourselves, but we are misrepresenting who we say we are, and who Jesus is. To align ourselves with Christ would mean that we extend love, compassion, grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Does this mean we have to agree with or condone others' choices? Of course not. Jesus Himself didn't condone bad behavior. But He also didn't condemn people for it. If the objective of a Christian is to exemplify Jesus, then isn't judging misrepresentation? Doesn't a God who judges sound unappealing? If God was just about condemnation and judgment, and not about love and forgiveness, would I accept and want to model my life after Him? NO WAY!! So often I hear non-Christians say that they think Christians are judgmental and hypocritical. And if that is the only view they get of Christians, then that is the only view they get of God. And so the conclusion they come to is that the God of the universe - the One who created each and every one of us in HIS image, and loves us with the unconditional love of a flawless Father - ISN'T a loving Father, but rather one who is only out to judge and condemn. And again, who would want to embrace a God like that. So Christians, if we ARE judgmental, then we ARE hypocritical, and we ARE giving off a completely false image of God! We should really be ashamed of ourselves!

I have thought about this a lot before, but I have realized that to the outside world - and I didn't get saved til I was 16, so I know what its like to live as an unbeliever - the church seems very exclusive and uninviting. I certainly felt that way!

--- Okay, now we're getting into the territory that I know some people may not agree with or will take offense to. As always, you can maturely agree to disagree, but please remember I am a real person with real feelings, and I am entitled to my own opinions! ---

I have a friend, for example, who's grandfather was a pastor. (A WONDERFUL man - one of the kindest, most generous, and loving people I have ever met!) This friend is gay. His grandfather passed away before he "came out," but when he did, his grandmother (the pastor's wife) never judged, condemned, or ridiculed her grandson. So this friend knows what its like NOT to be judged by Christians. Still, even though he grew up around the faith, and knows what a loving Christian looks like, he won't embrace the church because he knows they won't embrace him, but will instead judge him. And I have to say, he is probably right. There would be gossip, there would be harsh words said, there would be whispers, there would be glares and ugly glances, and faces of repulsion. Be honest with youself, Christian. You know its true. And that is really, really heartbreaking! Yes, the Bible addresses homosexuality. However, there is VERY little written about it, and yet such a BIG deal made about it. Because the church makes a big deal about it, the gay community feels attacked, unloved, and alienated by the church, its people, and God Himself. This absolutely breaks my heart!! This friend - and the gay community as a whole - is loved as much by God as anyone else is, yet I am sure he must feel, based on the attitudes of Christians, diminished and scorned by God.

I also know a few couples who went to pastors looking to get married, but because one or both of them had been divorced before, the pastor turned them away. God isn't in favor of divorce - He wants marriages to succeed - but I think turning people out based on prior decisions or mistakes is, again, a horrible example of God's love. How does that show His forgiveness - the fundamental foundation upon which Jesus' life and ministry are based? If we say we're Christians, if we go on record identifying ourselves as followers of Christ, then exemplifying His love and forgiveness should ALWAYS be FIRST AND FOREMOST in our words, actions, and attitudes toward others!!!

If we, Christians, are models of God, how does shutting out and shunning people show God's love? Its not right! To model Jesus, you don't have to condone another person's choices. But you are called to lovingly overlook them, and continue to model God's love, forgiveness, compassion, and acceptance. When we put the sin above the person, and we cast judgment, all we do is drive people further and further from God. Which is absolutely contrary to the nature and the heart of God. He wants His children to feel His love, and care, and concern for them. He wants them to know He will always be there, to comfort them in times of need, and provide for them in all things. He wants them to know they are accepted and forgiven 100% by Him, regardless of who they are, the mistakes they make, or the lifestyle they lead. He wants to have a relationship with them, but He also wants them to know they can choose to reject that offer and He will love them all the same. He wants them to know His love is unconditional and unfailing.

Non-Christians... I want you to know that I am sincerely, from the bottom of my heart, sorry if my actions or attitudes have ever made you feel judged or alienated by me, or toward the church, or God Himself. I am not a perfect person, but I am really striving to live in love, kindness, and acceptance, and I aim to accept you even in spite of things I may not agree with. I want you to know that you deserve to be treated better, especially by me, because I know better.

Christians... I hope and pray you will consider my words, and examine your hearts, and pull out those planks and drop those stones. If you need to make some changes to the way you operate, and the way you represent God, then pray about it, and do it. Everyone needs love. Everyone needs acceptance. Everyone needs a safe place to fall. And if they cannot find it in God, then who's fault is that? I am not trying to be harsh, I am just trying to really drive my point home, because obviously, as a whole, we are misrepresenting God to the world around us.

One more little thing I want to point out, that some people may not know, and I hope will find encouraging, and hopefully see a glimpse of God's intentions... I looked up a few words in the Bible to see how many times they appear.

LOVE - 314 times, LOVED - 98 times, for a total of 412 mentionings
JUDGE - 191, JUDGED - 63, for a total of 254 mentionings

So see?! You are loved FAR MORE than you are judged! I find that encouraging! :)

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