Recently a storm blew through the Chicagoland area, and our home lost electricity for a few hours. Fortunately, this happens infrequently—which is why we're never prepared when it does. My wife and I end up groping for flashlights (whose batteries are inevitably drained) and lighters (whose fuel has run out) to light candles (which are crammed into a single drawer and must be sorted, placed in holders, and spread throughout the house). I'll admit to cursing the darkness in such situations.

How different it was for my wife and me when we lived in Mexico City. One summer a power shortage required the government to cut off the electricity in parts of the city for two hours every night. Since we expected to lose electricity at 7:30 each evening, flashlights and lighters were at the ready, and candles had already been strategically placed throughout the house.

Healthy Christian ministry assumes that life is more like living in Mexico City than in a Chicago suburb. It assumes the lights go out in people's lives with some regularity, and it is prepared to light candles.

Yet some ministries seem shocked and appalled when the lights go out. They fumble for solutions and expend energy cursing the darkness of the surrounding culture.

They see Christian marriages disintegrate and say something helpful like, "Divorce is not God's will!" They learn that a young Bible study leader struggles with homosexual urges long after his conversion and say, "That's the behavior of someone who has yet to truly give his life to Christ." They hear that the leader of an overseas ministry has been accused of embezzlement and say, "Ministries need to be better stewards."

In other words, they assume that once we're in the church, the lights shouldn't go out anymore. They fear if we accept the reality of sin in the church, and try to graciously minister to sinners, we may only condone and encourage sin—for example, if we start a divorce ministry, we'll end up encouraging divorce. The problem is, we spend so much time worrying about cheapening grace, we end up hoarding it.

This issue of Christianity Today, more than most, assumes that the lights go out, and go out with some regularity, even in the church. We assume that marriages fail ("What God Has Joined"), that sexual temptation (hetero- and homo-) abides ("An Older, Wiser Ex-Gay Movement"), that shame paralyzes ("Gutsy Guilt," page 72), and that poverty remains rampant ("The Cancer of Stinginess" and "From Hand Out to Hand Up," page 86).

We also assume that sometimes the lights go out because people overload their circuits. There may be larger cultural forces at play, but in the end, it's often their own fault. So what? Since when does the church only minister to victims of sin? We are also called to minister to perpetrators of sin—tax collectors, prostitutes, people like us.

Is this cheap grace? If so, then God is the most guilty. While we were yet sinners, he lit a candle for us, just as he planned and expected to.

Related Elsewhere:

See more articles from our October issue.

Mark Galli, senior managing editor, writes the biweekly column SoulWork.

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