Here is an important post from my friends at CRN.Info and Analysis concerning the grace of God. The important part, however, is not necessarily in the post proper, but rather in the replies that it has generated so far. (26 as of this post.) I will explain in more detail below. First, let me set the stage by reviewing the post.
The post begins with the retelling of a story from Philip Yancey’s book What’s So Amazing About Grace? It’s the story of a young woman who is deeply embroiled in prostitution who sells her 2 year old daughter because she makes good money doing so. Here’s what happens next:
At last I asked if she had ever thought of going to a a church for help. I will never forget the look of pure, naïve shock that crossed her face. “Church!” She cried. “Why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. They’d just make me feel worse.”
Philip Yancey then writes:
“What struck me about my friend’s story is that prostitutes much like this woman fled toward Jesus, not away from him. The worse a person felt about herself, the more likely she saw Jesus as a refuge. Has the church lost that gift? Evidently the down-and-out, who flocked to Jesus when he lived on earth, no longer felt welcome among his followers. What has happened?
The author of the blog post, Joe Martino, rightly points out that this is exactly what has gone on in the church by noting what the church has become: Not a refuge for hurting people, but a miserable place where Christians thrive on destroying one another (as exemplified in the world of blogdom). The woman in Yancey’s story is right: Why would anyone want to go to a place where the people there only make them feel worse. Churches are good at making people feel worse. We are really good at helping people ‘comprehend their worse-ness.’ Ironically, most people need very little help understanding the depth of their depravity.
The problem is that we construct churches nowadays so that they ‘fit the neighborhood.’ The neighborhood, sadly, is often a place in the suburbs, or a place where people of like feathers can gather in way-too-expensive buildings where all the latest amenities are present (ATM’s, Coffee shops, McD’s, etc). We Christians plant churches in comfortable neighborhoods where comfortable people can go and worship a comfortable God in a comfortable atmosphere along with other comfortable people. We necessarily exclude people like the prostitute in the story because there is no room for her in our comfortable world.
In other words, the churches we plant and the churches we are, are notplaces constructed for the hurting, the broken, the fragile. They are places constructed for the comfortable. (A shabbily dressed prostitute is unlikely to believe for a minute that she is welcome, let alone wanted, in the typical suburban mega-churchopolis; or in most churches for that matter.) We hope will remain comfortable because if they are uncomfortable they might not want to be a part of our club any more. But what if churches were places where the hurting people of this world knew they were not just welcomed but wanted? How would we accomplish such a thing? How would they know? What sort of preaching would they hear on Sundays, Saturdays, or any days?
Well, one person who responded to the post at CRN.Info demonstrates exactly what would not happen in a church where people, hurting people, knew they were wanted. Here’s one one respondent wrote:
And the wonderful thing about this story is it is not about grace! Grace is not grace if we offer our broken approval and don’t tell the truth. [Where did the author offer broken approval?] Of course a sinner is going to feel lousy in the church if the law is preached and they come face to face with their sin. [Can’t people come face to face with their sin by preaching grace? Why does a person need to feel lousy at church when they feel lousy every minute, of every day? Shouldn’t ‘church’ be different?] Of course, we should do so seasoned with salt. But allowing an unrepentent [sic.] sinner to be locked in the chains of their sin without offering a way out is not love, nor is it grace. It is our broken attempt at empathy. [Uh, where did the author leave the sinner locked in chains?]
* * *
I fully understand what grace is. [No, you don’t; no one does.] But no one can understand the depth of the grace of God until they understand the awful depth of their sin. [Yes, they can. They live it every day! They see it in the mirror, their empty pockets, their broken relationships, etc.] I see this prostitute as one who has a sorrow for the pain of her addiction, a sorrow for what she has to do to feed it, but not a godly sorrow that leads to repentance and trust in Jesus. [How do you know what she was feeling, were you there?]
* * *
I agree that the church is broken. I agree we need to be much more like Jesus. [When Jesus preached to the prostitute in John 8 he did not demand repentance. He simply said, ‘go and sin no more.’ But there is nothing implicit in that sentence that demands she ‘repent’ of her past sins, only, rather, that she guard herself from future sin.] I don’t think we do this through compromise with sin, however. [No one does. No one did. This is a straw-man.] I think the church can do much better at reflecting the love of Jesus to a hurting world, while still communicating the truth of Gods Word. [Then we should teach grace, because, as you say, law cannot save us; it is a poor mirror at best.] We as individuals are called ambassadors, communicating the will of the King to a world that He died for. [Emphasis all mine.]
These quotes are from three different responses, all by the same author, but they faithfully convey the point this particular author is trying to make. He wrote, “But no one can understand the depth of the grace of God until they understand the awful depth of their sin.” I’m curious about this comment because I think the author of it has inferred it, incorrectly, from Scripture but has not read it explicitly. But, and here’s the point, how much more did this particular prostitute need to ‘understand the awful depth of her sin’? She was living the awful depth of her sin! She understood it every minute she was awake. What she needed was the grace of God, what she needed was relief, what she needed was a balm, what she needed was a church–not in the sickening sense of a building with multi-purpose rooms and stackable chairs, but a people who shared in her hurt, suffered with her, carried her burden.
No one would condone sin by offering her a way out of her sin. Sinners need to know not that they are so pathetically bad that all they can do is feel worse or understand they are worse than they already know. Sinners need to know there is a way out of their current situation; a different way; a better way; a Jesus Way. When Jesus healed the man named Legion, he didn’t first sit down and explain to Legion the depths of his depravity or discourse on the Law and demonstrate how a holy God demands perfection. Jesus simply set the man free, then the man wanted to follow him. The woman at the well in John 4, again, no demand for repentance; just an offer of Grace. The apostle Paul: No demands; just grace. Now this is not to say that they did not repent. It is to say that grace has its own funny way about itself. In Luke 15, the Father demanded nothing of the prodigal son; only the older brother did. And we can see quite clearly in the parable whom Jesus takes the most offense at. The Father offered unconditional grace; the older brother did not. (Before I’m accused of not paying attention to the younger son’s ‘repentance’, please carefully note in verse 20-24 the Father ignores the prepared speech the younger son gives in verse 21.)
The point of the original post is not that repentance isn’t important or that preaching ‘all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God’ should be neglected. Rather I think the point is that the church never gets to that point because ‘sinners’ do not want to be a part of, or visit with, or be involved with Christians in a place where they see people ripping each other to shreds, people who are supposed to love one another deeply. In other words, how can the sinner trust the church when it says ‘God’s grace saves you’ when it is clear to any thinking person that the church refuses to practice grace towards one another? Jesus said, “Love another. By this all men will know you are my disciples.” Love one another he said. But we don’t. We devour one another for sport. We destroy one another for pleasure. We devastate one another for utter delight and joy. This, I contend, is why people don’t want to be a part of the church and why they believe the church makes them feel worse and further why they won’t listen when we talk about sin. Jesus may well have preached such things when he was at the dinner parties of ‘sinners, tax-collectors,’ and the like. But Jesus first had to find himself in the company of ‘such people’ before he did so.
Why did Jesus have to command us to love one another? Why did he have to command the one thing that should be the most natural to those saved by grace?
The replies I quoted above were written in response to Joe’s post. The irony is this: Joe’s post was confessional. He wrote:
And the whole time people who’s lives are being blown apart just keep on dying. They just keep on living the wrong way because Darn It, I AM RIGHT!!! One camp picks apart a person in the other camp because he doesn’t go far enough down the Theological trail with them. They may agree that one goes to Heaven by believing on the work on Christ but down the path they disagree so it’s Ok to tear each other apart. I wonder, does this make you as sick as it does me?
The second response in the thread is this:
Point the finger at this site, because you all are part of the problem, not part of the solution.
If you disbanded, it would be one less place that was spewing hate on the blogosphere towards brothers and sisters in Christ.
This is from the same person who wrote those three responses above. Implication: He is unwilling to admit that he, too, is part of the problem. Joe did this; Pastorboy did not. Do you see how Joe’s point is proved in the very responses made by Pastorboy? What a sickening display, which is why I’m still awake at 1 AM writing this lengthy post exposing the ignorance of one who claims to understand grace: He doesn’t. Grace does not point the finger at other people; it points the finger at the self. Grace does not admit the faults of others, but the faults of the self. Grace does not help other people realize their sins, it rejoices that it’s own sins have been forgiven and delights to share the same with others. Grace needs no help tearing people apart that they may be set free. Grace makes no demands of us.
Still, the bottom line to the story is that woman’s criticism of the church is dead on. Churches are so concerned about protecting their purity that they can do very little to involve themselves in the lives of broken people. All we do is rant and rave against all the big stuff while offering very little in the way of imparting God’s healing grace in Christ to hurting and broken and shattered people.
There is a big difference between these two ideas, a difference, I suspect, that would make more sinners give their attention to God than there mere pointing out of how depraved they are. Instead of putting all the focus on humans and their depravity, why don’t we instead put all the focus on Christ Jesus and His truly remarkable, amazing, incomprehensible grace. It seems to me that to do the former is to make church far more about ‘me’ than it should be; to do the latter is to keep the focus exactly where it should be: On Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria!