Saturday, May 07, 2005

Wipe Your Feet At The Door

It's been an ongoing discussion for centuries: how do you open up the church doors---both literally and figuratively---to the world it so often blasts and condemns?

When a prostitute comes into church, in need of guidance and community and love and friendship, what do we do?

"Oh yes, we can help! God can help!"

And for the next few months, the prostitute obstains from prostitution. But then, she slips back--she goes back to her old ways on Saturday and returns to church on Sunday. Intervention, please!!!

"I'm sorry Mary, but if you're going to prostitute you can't be apart of the church." And so, Mary is shamed and looked down upon and thus, leaves thinking she is an outcast for good.

My question is this: how is Mary's problem different from the entire Church's wrestling with sin? Do I get asked not to come when I've slipped back into habitual sin, or addictive behaviour?

This situation happened recently at a friend of mine's church and I was so distraught over what I heard. "They did what???" Yes, they told her she wasn't able to participate in the "benefits and blessings" of the Church if she kept on sinning. This is not helping people think that our doors are open to everyone. I wonder what would happen if God would've asked this church member who asked the prostitute this, "Have YOU given up your life of sin? Totally, and completely?"

The same thing goes with the whole homosexuality controversy, and the belief that people must change first before they are welcome (or at least, admit they are struggling and detest what it is they seem to be caught in). I'm not really sure what The Church is trying to protect? I understand the importance and value of character, integrity, and reputation, but there's a difference between the Church's reputation and what the Church often projects as its reputation. Quite possibly the biggest reason why people are turned off from Christianity is hypocrisy; yet, haven't we---as the Church---created this problem? Instead of saying we are weak, and poor in spirit, and tired, and confused and in need of redemption, we say to the world: "We have answers! We have THE solution! We can make you into a better person! We can make you acquire blessings! We are almost perfect! We are for what's "right," not what's "wrong!" We are against abortion! We are FOR life! We are FOR war! We are way better than you, but if you come inside you might be able to be as good as us!"

Sure, I'm taking some things to an extreme but this seems to be it. We offer ourselves as models instead of God, and in the process, the world looks at us and laughs.

I know we're in a paradigm shift. I know this is radical and hard to articulate and hard to really work and live out in the way church is done, but we've got to do it: we need to stop asking people to wipe their feet at the doors of our sanctuaries, and start letting the carpet and pews and each other get a little messy.


ninepoundhammer said...

I think you are confusing our sin nature with being unrepentant. We all sin--even though we don't want to. However, when a person pursues a sinful lifestyle and is unrepentant, then it is the church's duty to remove them from the body (as Paul wrote) so that they do not rot it from the inside out.
Matthew 18 is the model: go to them and tell them what they are doing is wrong. If they refuse to repent, take along a couple of others and plead with them again. If they refuse to repent again, bring the case before the whole church. If they still remain unrepentant, then they are to be expelled from the body.
The goal of church discipline should be to gain repentance on behalf of the one and forgiveness on behalf of the other. The Bible is very clear: we must exercise discipline so that we can be a light to the world and present ourselves holy to the Lord.
To be sure, there are hypocrites in the Church and those who are hyper-critical and unforgiving. That, too, is sin. We are called to love one another, but we cannot endure willful sinfulness.

Neville said...

I'm sorry if I was confusing. I wasn't talking about someone being unwilling to repent. Mary repented, again and again.

And I'm sorry, but this was NOT biblical church discipline in practice---this was "please kindly remove yourself from our church b/c it makes me uncomfortable with how you are sinning." You have to show love; you cannot merely speak it and say you are about forgiveness and grace and mercy and then say, "that's the last straw---you're out of here!"

I've seen what you're talking about and in that case, I would agree with you. But this was not one of those cases.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you, Neville. The difference is how much easier it is to condemn a person who has visible habitual sin versus those who wrestle with quieter sin. Pointing fingers at other people seems to be a trademark of today's Christian because it takes the focus off of ourselves and directly calls another into question. We no longer have to hide from our own sin because everybody is looking at that other person.

I often rest on the truly beautiful story of Gomer, which as you know, was an extended metaphor for God's relationship with the His people. We always like to focus on Hosea and turn it into a story about how we are supposed to forgive people; however, we often forget poor Gomer (I think due mostly to her terrible name). Gomer knew she was sinning, she knew she was deliberately hurting Hosea, yet she continued to do it and Hosea took her back each time. We are naturally sinful, we are born with it, and as proof positive of God's grace and mercy he continues to take us back. What gives us, the Church as an entity, to banish anybody when we ourselves go out and knowingly break God's heart. Don't tell me that we sin as an accident or that we can help it, we do it on purpose in a feeble attempt to put ourselves before God.
"WE must exercise discipline so that WE can be a light to the world and present OURSELVES holy to the Lord." WE?!? Why are WE trying to do anything? How can WE be a light to the world? Why are we trying to prevent OURSELVES to the Lord? Most importantly, how are WE going to discipline anybody when WE ourselves are no better? Truly this is a manifestation of how much WE think of ourselves. I am thankful that it is not my job to judge, banish, or punish anyone - that is not our job, that is the job of only the Lord. Our job is simply to reflect the light of Christ through our love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. Until I see anything in the Bible discussing pestilence or banishment I refuse to believe that we are called to turn any man or woman away from the doors of the church.
Expelled from the body does not mean turned away at the door - expelled from the body means not permitting that person who refuses to repent (which, incidentally would require that person to understand the fact that their acts are sinful) to become members of the Church. Those who fully comprehend the fact that their acts are sinful should not be members of the church; however, that does not necessarily mean that they are not permitted within the confines of it.
This is likely a rambling mess of words which make no sense, but the fact that there are still Christians who refuse to permit people of different beliefs to enter their building is both startling and quite disheartening.


nateshorb said...

furthermore, the discipline model, i think, only really applies to people who have professed faith and are brothers and sisters in christ. in that case, their habitual sin is in fact hypocrisy and damaging the reputation of the church and christ.

but if someone hasn't yet professed faith, or is young in their faith, they may have not come to the point of realizing their sin is disobedience, as joe said, and in that case we need to keep loving them and helping them.

i was talking about this a little bit last night with some guys. if, say, a homosexual comes into our church, the priority must be to love them regardless, show them the love of christ, not helping them to see their sexual tendencies are sinful. once they see the love of christ and get to know him better, seeking his truth, the holy spirit will start doing his thing.

Neville said...

Joe, I loved your comment. Gomer is who I thought of (and Hosea) b/c that is what we do to God: we keep sinning and God keeps grace-ing. Again, and again, and again. Could it be that the higher, harder, more Christ-like act (as absurd to us as it seems) is to keep loving and forgiving and offering grace..and one more second chance (even if we know the person will ask for 90 more)?

And're exactly right. To visualize what you're saying for people skeptical of it, think of it as a circle and bunch of circles within the circle. At all of these circles core, there is the "kernel" of the faith; the part where things need to be changed fundamentally before other things (homosexual behaviour for one thing) will change. Too many Christians focus on the out laters or circles (such as symptoms of the larger problem found at the core...and they try to convert people to Christ by saying if they change here or think pro-life or fix this outer circle problem then they will be "Christian."

I'm sad to say this, but I think churches are filled with people who've come to the faith this way and I really don't know how to address it. For them, there is no kernel or core---just outer layers that cease to be the central issue.

Like Jane Fonda said of people who witnessed to her prior to her days as an activist for Pro-Choice, "they didn't try to change my political opinions...they just showed me how much I was in need of God...and convinced me how much he loved me. once i accepted this, i later realized...'wait a second, then now, how can i be pro-choice if this is where i stand?'"

It's going about it that way---from the inner out, not the outer layers to the inner. Unfortunately, I feel like youth pastors often (not all, but most) take the former approach.

Thanks for the thoughts all.