Baptism/Amazing Grace: A Conversation Over Lunch, Part 22

And so the church is just like the surrounding community? I mean, are there boundaries?

Faith is the boundary. So is possession of the Spirit. But the question is deeper than that, much deeper. After all, God intends for us to exist in congregations centered around Jesus and God’s word. You can’t build a congregation out of people who are not committed to Jesus.

Moreover, our congregations are called to mission — God’s mission. You can’t build a congregation out of people who don’t ardently believe in the mission.

Now, that being said, there’s great merit to the idea that we include people before they belong — so long as we don’t forget what they are and aren’t included in.

The members of the church who set the vision and mission of the congregation must be believers. Otherwise, the church is just another do-gooder organization.

The differences can be subtle, so much so that it might be tempting to let a non-believer decide for the church where the greatest needs are. The unbeliever might even be right. But “greatest needs” must be defined in gospel terms, and a unbeliever’s view of poverty and a Christian’s view of poverty can be different. After all, what poverty is greater than the absence of Jesus?

We’ve so de-Jesus-ed much of our mission, that we sometimes find it distasteful to speak of evangelism in the same breath with poverty relief or helping the homeless — as though Jesus does not speak to these problems. We’re at risk of becoming Gnostic — removing Jesus from the real hurts and problems of this world.

Should we seek the input of unbelievers? Absolutely. Should we be willing to work alongside them? Of course. Should we let them decide the direction of the church’s work? No. They have a radically different — and deficient — worldview. They see worldly solutions to worldly problems. We see Jesus-centered solutions. Sometimes they’re close to the same, but they should never be exactly the same.

That should be obvious to someone who has repented and who believes in Jesus. Seeing Jesus as the one true King should change everything, especially how we serve those in need. But we’ve gone for the easy solutions — the sort of solutions the government can provide.

This is not to insult the government. Sometimes the government’s help is really needed. But if the government can do it, why should the church use its resources? Why not do something else?

Why would we want to take our time and money and energy to replace what the government and secular agencies do? To feel better about ourselves? To market ourselves as caring people? Because we lack the imagination to do anything better?

Repent. Learn to see the world through Christian eyes. Value spiritual assets more than financial assets. Return to the text.

Therefore, the mission and vision and teaching of the church must be squarely placed in the hands of believers, who set the vision in profoundly, distinctively Christian terms.

If you’re not a leader, insist that the leaders express the reason for a church program in terms of God’s eternal purposes. How does this restore people to right relationship with God? How does this restore people right relationship with others? How does this restore us to scriptural worldview? How does this bring those we serve closer to Jesus?

Just so, contemporary churches sometimes diminish the teaching ministry of the church. We cannot teach right behavior to a non-believer. Character programs on billboards and in schools do not change character because they aren’t empowered by the Spirit.

Rather, we need to return to the guidance found in –

(1Co 5:9-13 ESV)  9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.  11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler–not even to eat with such a one.  12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?  13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

This is a critically important passage. Paul first rejects the fortress mentality of many congregations. Churches are bad to have Christian coffee shops and Christian softball leagues with Christian gyms — all designed to separate us from the nasty unbelievers. And Paul forbids this. “Not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world.” We can’t convert people we never meet. We can’t influence people we won’t even play softball against!

Then Paul declares, “For what do I have to do with judging outsiders?” Well, the modern church is all about judging outsiders. And we need to stop.

When we associate with unbelievers, we aren’t there to judge them. We are there to win them. Honestly. With the complete gospel, presented in terms that speak in their language and culture. We don’t judge the lost. God’s already done that.

Paul makes a similar point in –

(Rom 1:28-32 ESV)  28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.  29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips,  30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents,  31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.  32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

God wants everyone to be a believer. But those who don’t believe, God gives them up to sin and its consequences. It’s not the church’s place to pass laws to create a secular culture that forces unbelievers to act like believers — and enjoy some of the blessings of belief.

Why would we want to create a counterfeit Kingdom? That is not the purpose of government. It’s sure not the purpose of the church. If we want utopia, we don’t go to Congress and the legislature. We go to the King.

You see, our worldview is so askew that we seek salvation in Washington, D.C. We want to lobby for the gospel, rather than converting the lost to Jesus by being faithful witnesses.

And one of the greatest, most faithful witnesses should be our churches. Not because of their exclusivism, but because of whom they worship and how they love — each other especially, but also everyone they come into contact with.

But there are lines, because without lines, the church cannot be different from the world. And that’s why Paul taught us to “judge those inside the church.” But because we’re in relationship with each other, we’d prefer to judge strangers and not risk our friendships. And so we struggle to be the church.

(1Ti 5:20 ESV) 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.

(2Ti 4:1-2 ESV) I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:  2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

(Tit 1:9-11 ESV)  9 [An elder] must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.  10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party.  11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.

(Tit 2:15 ESV) 15 Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.

We tend to limit our rebuking to the safety of the pulpit, but most of these references are speaking of the duty to confront face to face.

(2Ti 2:24-26 ESV) 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil,  25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,  26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

Young ministers like to insist that elders rebuke disagreeable members. But they often forget that even in rebuke, we must be patient and gentle. There is no place for “in your face” confrontation. It’s not about proving your manhood. It’s about correction in love.

But this applies only to believers. Unbelievers aren’t held to the same standard. They’ve not committed to righteous living. They haven’t pledged to be faithful to Jesus. And they don’t have the help of the Spirit to do it.

And Christian behavior shouldn’t be seen as the price of joining the church club and having friends. Rather, the unbelieving visitor should be told that the members have committed to these virtues out of love for Jesus.

Therefore, if a visitor one day chooses to follow Jesus, he also chooses to live the Christian lifestyle. He may have already adopted it, seeing its wisdom or to get along in a church community, but he cannot really commit to Christian ethics without committing to Christ.

Because faith means being faithful, which means living a life of Christ-like love. You can’t do that if you don’t know Jesus.

Avatar of Jay Guin

About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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15 Responses to Baptism/Amazing Grace: A Conversation Over Lunch, Part 22

  1. laymond says:

    The church, has changed from a house of humility, into a house of pride, and they have been taught to do so. “You are better than those outsiders” Not so
    God loves all his children the same, even the one lost sheep draws the attention of the master.
    Pro 16:18 Pride [goeth] before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.
    Pro 16:19 Better [it is to be] of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.

  2. Doug says:

    Laymond. I thought this might be an occasion where I could, more or less, agree with you. Although, I would stay away from any overall pronouncement about the state of the church. I see the church as non-homogeneous, with some exhibiting pride and some humility. But, I do know that if one spends time with a group of sure enough sinners (convicts, drug pushers and addicts, thieves, etc.), you will come away with a better understanding of just how close you are to being like them. Do that and it will remove pride from your life very fast.

  3. Charles McLean says:

    Jay wrote: “Should we seek the input of unbelievers? Absolutely. Should we be willing to work alongside them? Of course. Should we let them decide the direction of the church’s work? No. They have a radically different — and deficient — worldview.”
    >>
    I think this is a good picture and a wise distinction. Take a doctor and his patient as an analogy. A doctor who does not seek out as much relevant information as possible from the patient is not doing his job. Some crucial information cannot be gained any other way. But that same doctor has to be true to what he knows when he begins diagnosis and treatment. If the patient smokes and has emphysema, she might suggest ways by which she can get better while still smoking. Doc has to dig in here, for he knows better. The smoking will certainly keep making the patient worse, and Doc has to stick to his guns. If the patient needs surgery for throat cancer, it’s a poor doctor who keeps treating her with cough syrup because she is afraid of the surgeon’s knife. Doc cares about the patient’s fears and works hard to allay them, and does not kick the patient to the curb when she does not listen to medical wisdom.

    But all this is for the patient’s benefit. It is not about Doc proving to the patient that he has superior medical knowledge. It is not about, “Get out and don’t come back until you will take my advice.” It is certainly not about making sure the whole world knows that Doc is not the one who is sick! It’s about working with a sick person to try to make her well. Doc knows what it will take. He won’t alter his views to accomodate the patient. But he will continue to listen to that patient and care about what happens to her.

    And personally, I would steer clear of a doctor who says he wants everyone to be in good health, but then does not actually spend any appreciable time with sick people, and doesn’t cure anyone.

  4. Charles McLean says:

    I think Doug is pointing out the wisdom of going beyond our looking at the sinner and saying, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Humility says, rather, “There go I.”

  5. Doug says:

    You got it Charles!

  6. John says:

    The reason that outsiders call Christians hypocrites (and they ususally mean the legalistic, or whatever term they are used to) is because so many Church members expect outsiders to live purer lives than they themselves. It is too common for church members to have their secret practices they can easily rationalize, but become terrified at what is happening to the world if they see outsiders being open about their own. The trap of “cheap grace” or the “right church” has actually created an attitude toward the outsider of “I’m in the grace of God; you are not”.

    The answer is NOT in assuming we can become perfect, nor is it in throwing away restraints. Responsible spirituality means being able to say no to ourselves. Will we sometimes fail in this regard? Yes indeed! And that is what we need to admit to the rest of God’s children. We would be amazed how much they would respect this kind of “raw” humility.

    By the way, great responses above!

  7. Jerry says:

    It’s awesome when I can agree with Laymond, Charles, and Doug all on the same post!

  8. laymond says:

    Jerry, it is a rare thing :) enjoy it while is lasts.

  9. JMF says:

    Jay came off like a democrat in this post. I think that is why Laymond is seeming so amiable. :)

    Laymond, he did say in his second like that “possession of the Spirit” was a boundary. I assume you agree? :) Busting your chops. I don’t like peaceful Laymond. :)

  10. laymond says:

    JMF, I am just feeling charitable, Just stick around. :)

  11. Charles McLean says:

    Can I suggest that the word “boundary” is not really appropriate for what we are describing? We are not talking about territory, but identity. We have a different identity from an unbeliever, no matter where we set our personal limits. And we don’t establish that identity… God does. We don’t have to protect our identity, so we can welcome people without feeling threatened. But when we see the church as our territory, we feel the need to start manning the ramparts lest the Visigoths overrun us and start telling US how to hold services.

    I have been casting about for analogies to this dynamic, as they always help me explain what I think. Perhaps we should be talking about something that looks like a family reunion. Last summer, a friend invited me to a reunion of her large family. I was welcomed, fed, had conversations, played cards and guitars with a number of family members, and made friends. I was never intentionally excluded, but I was clearly not a part of the family. When they talked about their departed grandparents, I couldn’t get into the conversation because I never knew those people. The relatives’ relationships created intimate conversations to which I was not privy because they did not relate to me; when they started discussing where to hold next year’s event, I was not consulted; and when everyone got up by families and talked about their kids, I was not asked to speak up. This was not because I was unwelcome, but because I was not really one of them in identity. Nobody seemed to feel pressured to declare me as part of the family just because I was there, and I had no grounds upon which to ask for such an identity. But I enjoyed myself and them, nonetheless.

    I imagine if next year I married into that family, I would be celebrated at the reunion and included at a different level. (I would be expected to help cook.) But if I came back just as a friend, I would not be challenged simply because I had not married in.

    Could our church fellowship be more like that? Or are we afraid that if we welcomed too many people who are “friends but not family”, our family would cease to be? Or have we simply not made friends who would be comfortable with our clan, so we see any unbelieving visitors as strangers and interlopers? We continue to call them “visitors”, as though to tacitly remind them that “you don’t really belong here until you get wet”.

  12. Jerry says:

    Laymond is feeling charitable. Does that mean that the love of God is being poured into his heart by the Holy Spirit?

    Charles, I love your metaphor of the church as family. Maybe the reason it is so good is that it is so Biblical!

  13. laymond says:

    Could be Jerry, I am no stranger to God. :) Or his Son.

  14. Avatar of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Jerry wrote,

    It’s awesome when I can agree with Laymond, Charles, and Doug all on the same post!

    We can all stop going to church now — because hell has frozen over! ;)

  15. Avatar of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Charles wrote,

    Or are we afraid that if we welcomed too many people who are “friends but not family”, our family would cease to be?

    It’s a sad truth that we get terribly upset when the church grows too large. When my congregation passed the 300 mark, people suddenly realized that they didn’t know everyone there. And not everyone there knew me! It was severely disorienting when you were used to knowing and being known by everyone.

    The leadership had to adopt new techniques to keep up with the members, and the members had to get used to the idea of being in a big church. For a while, there were complaints about the size. Some even argued that no church should grow to be over 150 members – and we should divide to plant a new congregation.

    Fortunately, ultimately mission overcame comfort, but it was a tough transition. Church growth experts say the hardest transition is from about 200 to 300, because that’s when when social dynamic of the church changes. And many churches never cross that line because they feel a desire to remain as close and familiar as they were at 150 — and are unwilling to make the structural changes that allow a church to keep growing.

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