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.