Our churches are filled with normal people.
Normal to us, that is. Normal like you and me.
The church is also filled with freaks and weirdos. Some churches are filled with freaks and weirdos sporting tattoos and piercings. Others are filled with freaks and weirdos in suits and ties. Or overalls and work boots. The list goes on.
One church’s freak is another church’s normal.
Welcoming the Stranger
The Bible tells us frequently to welcome the stranger among us.
Most churches say we welcome everyone. But what would happen if the freaks and weirdos who aren’t our freaks and weirdos started to show up?
That question came up during a recent chat with another pastor. The pastor’s response was "sadly, we'll probably compromise on their sin in order to welcome them in.”
My reaction to this pastor’s statement was so automatic and visceral that I surpised myself.
"How is that any different than how we’ve compromised on the so-called normal sins of so-called normal people?” I asked him. “And why do we use that qualifier for people who look and act differently than we do, but never put an equal burden on the people who look and act like us?"
It wasn't until after the words were out of my mouth that I realized what I had said. Then I found myself in the awkward position of having to decide if I agreed with myself. (In the past, that has not always ended well.)
The other pastor shrugged off my question and we moved on to another topic. But I couldn’t shrug it off. Which means I have to write about it. Lucky you.
I've sat with those words for a while now and I have come to this conclusion. They were right.
But now comes the tougher question.
What does that mean?
But Your Sins Are So Different Than Mine!
What if the outsiders started coming to our “normal” churches? The outcasts, the undesirables and the disenfranchised? The nerds, the geeks and the losers? The freaks and the weirdos? The wounded, scarred and broken? The addict, the deviant and the confused? The angry, belligerent, in-your-face sinner who doesn’t even believe their sin is sin?
You know, the people who were drawn to Jesus?
How would we react to people whose sins are different than the sins we’ve grown accustomed to?
My guess, based on our past behavior, is that we’ll react in one of two opposite ways – both problematic:
Problematic Reaction 1: We will welcome them by accomodating their sin – and continuing in our own.
Problematic Reaction 2: We will beat them up for having different sins than us, causing them to leave – with their sins in tow.
Neither way is right. Because neither way is biblical.
Thankfully, there is a better, more biblical way.
My Sin Is Ever Before Me
We cannot accommodate sin. Not the sins we’re repulsed by or the ones we’re used to.
We have to stop assuming righteousness from people who look like us, while assuming sinfulness from people who don’t. We should assume the same mix of sinfulness and innocence from everyone – whether they look like us or not.
But mostly, we need to take care of our own sins first. The Bible is filled with commands to do this:
- The beam in our own eye (Matt 7:3-5)
- The Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14)
- The one without sin should cast the first stone (John 8:7)
- Judgment begins in the house of the Lord (1 Peter 4:17)
- My sin is ever before me (Psalm 51:3)
to name just a few.
There’s a great scene in Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz (the book and the movie) in which Miller opens up a confessional booth during a week of debauchery on a college campus. But the confessional booth wasn’t for the partiers to confess their sins to him. It was for him, the Christian, to confess his sins to them.
The church must get used to practicing the open, public confession of our own sins.
But we can’t stop there.
Holiness Without Self-Righteousness
Confession without repentance leads to accommodation.
Confession with repentance leads to holiness. But not the legalistic, so-called holiness we’re used to, that most of us have rightly rejected. We need a call back to genuine, biblical, Christ-like holiness.
We need a church that practices
- Genuine confession
- Sincere repentance
- Scandalous grace
- Unrestricted love
- Outrageous generosity
- Unpretentious holiness
- and Christ-like compassion.
The accommodating church can’t live up to that. The legalistic church won’t stand for it.
The Church’s Unanswered Wake-Up Call
I’m not naïve.
I don’t see any kind of wholesale, fling-the-doors-wide-open, come-one-come-all, truly-repentant church turnaround coming any time soon.
Because welcoming the stranger is messy business. And we like church nice and polite.
If the freaks and weirdos who don’t look like our freaks and weirdos started showing up, they’d throw all our well-laid plans into disarray. Their presence would challenge who we think we are and what we think God is calling us to do.
I can’t even guess what that kind of disruption would lead to. But I’d love to find out.
It would be a real slap in the face. Maybe the kind that would wake us up.
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