They tell me I’ve missed the point of the gospel, I’ve mistaken Jesus’ message.
Their chastening has come when I’ve shared our findings of why the majority of Americans avoid church. The most frequently mentioned reason: church people are judgmental. We suggest in our book Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore that the church may be more effective if it would emulate Jesus’ practice of loving acceptance.
That sets them off. Even when I explain that Jesus’ acceptance didn’t necessarily mean endorsement of a person’s behavior, they still insist I’ve besmirched the essence of the gospel.
In a radio interview recently I explained that Jesus led with love. That provoked the radio host. “Repent!” he shouted. “Excuse me for interrupting you, Thom. But that was Jesus’ first words.” He went on to defend the church’s judgmental reputation as a good thing.
This man represents a widespread school of thought–that the overwhelming focal point of scripture, of Jesus’ ministry, of God, is condemnation. This view seeks to grovel in the problem, rather than embrace the solution, the grace. Yes, Jesus called us to repent, to turn from our sin. But wasn’t his big purpose to love us, to call us to follow him, and to achieve something we cannot–to redeem us from our sin?
We often think of John 3:16 as the succinct summary of Jesus’ mission. But the very next verse clarifies what his mission was not: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” So where do some get the idea that Jesus centered his ministry on condemnation? When I think of Jesus’ encounters with the “unchurched” of his day, I see him leading with love and acceptance. Think of the woman caught in adultery. He led with love, defended her against those who condemned her, and then asked her to sin no more. With Zacchaeus, he led with love, accepted him, exhibited something we call “Radical Hospitality,” then inspired him to change his deceitful ways. With the thief on the cross beside him, Jesus led with love and invited the man to join him in paradise.
Who judged Jesus’ acts of love and acceptance as unacceptable? The religious leaders, who led first with judgment. Jesus did not find their judgmental approach particularly effective either.
At a recent workshop, a religious leader approached me and said, “Okay, I hear you about this Radical Hospitality. But when do we confront people who are living in sin?”
I explained that we’re called to follow Jesus’ example. Lead with love and acceptance. Once we’ve established a relationship, then we can invite people to dig into the scriptures with us, and we can allow God to convict us and inspire each of us to turn from our sins. And thank God for the gift of forgiveness, made possible through Jesus’ loving sacrifice.
So what do you say? What’s the real point of the gospel? And what’s our job? And what’s God’s job?
Right on with the response of grace. Oh, the full measure of God’s love is in the death of Jesus which is the embodiment of love and grace. If not for grace we would all be destined for hell. Praise the Lord we are saved by grace and grace provided at a great cost. John 3:16 should never be said without adding verse 17. All glory to God.
Be encouraged and understand that the Pharisees are not the way…Jesus is! The response of grace, even radical grace, is entirely appropriate and Biblical. There is an underlying sub-culture within the church (or the body if you prefer) that accepts this notion of radical grace. We are in every church, somewhere or another, and are among the few who actually read their Bible.
Great summary paragraph of an equally fine blog post. I am a youth minister, and I find that youth respond MUCH more intently when we “dig into the scriptures” for answers as opposed to me just issuing edicts without backing. The scriptures lead a person to the answer in the same manner Jesus did. The problem is that we as Christian leaders must ourselves dig into the scripture to be prepared to lead someone else! It would be a LOT easier just to stand on high and pontificate to the person how to lead their life. Good thing the Bible shows us a better way. Keep up the great work, Thom!
Absolutely wonderful look at something I’ve always found puzzling myself about church. While I’ve been in church all my life, the judgmental element does keep many of my friends from stepping in the doors. Slowly many of my fellow church members are seeing the problems this causes. I especially like your inclusion of the passage after John 3:16. It inspires me to go read more!
A million years ago I was serving in a campus ministry and a drug-dealing, alcohol-guzzling guy made a faith decision. When I followed up with him by knocking on his dorm room door it was opened by his girlfriend, fresh from the shower and wearing a tiny towel and a smirk.
The student greeted me, asked me to sit down, and said, “I suppose there are a couple things I need to change now that I’m a Christian.” Um…yes…accurate assessment. But I felt a nudge and said, “How about we start with your heart? Get to know Jesus and he’ll tell you what needs changing.”
Over the next year he did all the stuff I was longing to demand he do so he’d be living an upright life, but he did it for the right reasons: he got to know Jesus and the Holy Spirit led him to make changes.
I learned that forever ago and I still need to be reminded: it’s not my job to police behavior. It’s my job to help others see and love Jesus. Once they’re following Jesus he’ll lead them where they need to go and the changes will stick–because they’re made willingly.
Thanks for the reminder.
Thanks Thom for the post you hit it right on the money. My quote is “love is the indefensible strategy of heaven”. People already know about the sin in their lives and the Holy Spirit can be trusted to do His convicting work. Our job is to love them and share the Gospel “The Good News”.
Where the church has missed the point is that in crying “REPENT,” we’re not communicating the same thing as Jesus was. We are proclaiming judgement when we cry “repent,” but Jesus was declaring His love for us. We’ve redefined and misused the word to convey judgement, but repent isn’t about judgement, it’s about a change of mind and heart about our sin. When Jesus used it, He used it as a plea for man to agree with God, and be set free from the law and the effects of sin and death; to receive His gift of freedom and live in the abundance of His love!
Way to go! Well said! Now, I don’t know that I should be cheering for an article that points out a poison in the church & in the mind of some Christians, but sadly, I am. Not because of any distain of the church, but because of the love for man.
A perfect example came the other day. A friend who is a strong Christian that has worked & served in ministry for years mentioned a neighbor that lived an alternative lifestyle. She commented that her Husband refuses to speak to this neighbor & will actually go inside if she is out. I was so disappointed, not only in their treatment of their neighbor ( you know…love thy neighbor )….but in myself for biting my tongue. I heard a snarky voice inside of me say “oh yeah, that will help her fall in love with Jesus. ” What I wanted to say is……”You should shovel her driveway & bring her some Christmas cookies!” Instead I just bit my lip & now am as guilty as they are.
We could all quote scripture, doctrine, & repentance & push people away. Instead, look at the Motley Crew that became Jesus disciples. Jesus was never accused of “backsliding” (another Christian term I wish we could get rid of) , instead he loved those men like family….through HIS LOVE they changed their ways…& eternity.
It was religious leaders that crucified Jesus
Religious leaders that lead the way in the Salem Witch trials & the crusades.
What a different world it would be if leaders instead lead with acts of love & radical hospitality.
Imagine if we grew people closer to each other & the Lord rather than create the giant divide & separation we Christians have created by creating “sides” ( denominations ) and a hierarchy of a person, leader, denomination…even sins over another.
Thom thank you for being bold enough to say this.
Repent? Who? How? The person who does not yet know his shepherds voice? HOW do we expect them to repent? Or should the Shepard repent? The very Shepard who attacks his own sheep he is called to care for & nurture?
Great way to start my morning Thom! Thank you again!
I listened to the interview that Thom is referring to where the host chafed at the notion of leading with love. Afterwards I couldn’t help but feel a little sad for the pastors who were hosting the radio program. What pressure they must be under to feel responsible for being the judging hand of God. And what shame they must hide in knowing that they are likely struggling with sin themselves. Thank you Lord for leading with love in my life and showing me the same grace that you have extended to prostitutes, tax collectors and thieves. It’s my humility that keeps my head bowed and allowing God to be God…by simply following his lead.
It’s too bad, brother Thom, but so much of the Christian world seems to have lost our Savior’s way. I guess we all want to make ourselves “feel” better than others by slamming, judging and condemning them. Our Lord Jesus did not NEED to make Himself feel better – HE WAS SUPERIOR in every respect – so He could show mercy, kindness and acceptance. I’ve just been reading Pope Francis’ EVANGELII GAUDIUM…his call to the RC faithful to evangelize is most interesting for his insistence to be welcoming and merciful, not condemnatory and ungracious.
Thanks for your Holy Soup. I’m appreciating it.
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To me, it speaks volumes about people when there appears to be such a focus on people’s sin and making sure we call them to repentance and repudiating their actions. Is that important? Yes. But some people can’t seem to acknowledge the good found in others without bringing up their sin. It’s as if they feel somehow they’re going to get away with something and it’s their job to bring up these people’s failings.
Aren’t we all ‘living in sin’? Wasn’t that Jesus’ point, that we are a broken creation?
As I have struggled over the past 2 weeks with the sudden death of my 37 year old nephew, I began to reflect on my own mortality. One of those thoughts was what would I like my pastor to reflect on…John 3:14…it strikes at the heart of our message. My other thoughts focused on Luke 15 where the prodigal son’s father sees him coming from a long way off and took COMPASSION on him and RAN to greet him. This forever will be the picture in my mind when I take communion from now on.
We must follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in relationships. We have to have eyes on BOTH grace & truth. Jesus did say, “If you don’t repent you will perish.” But this can be said with love – full of grace and truth. People to do need to come face to face with Christ as Judge. But also Christ as Grace.
I get this e-mail as well. Let’s keep trying to share the Good News!
Makes me think of one of my favorite sayings of Dallas Willard: “We should spend our time getting more heaven into people instead of more people into heaven.” We are our own worst enemy.
Dallas taught on a very “non-Christian” campus for years and loved every one of his students unconditionally. At a Christian conference honoring him one of the speakers shared a story of a student who rebuked Dallas in class for his understandings of life from a Christian perspective. Dallas didn’t reply but simply dismissed the class. A Christian later asked Dallas why he didn’t lambast the student, knowing that he easily could have done that from his superior mind. Dallas’ answer: “I’m trying to learn the discipline of not having the last word.” He understood that our convincing people of their wrong ways simply won’t work.
What would happen if we practiced the same discipline?
We must remember, it is never our job to point out the sin in others. It is our job to live and talk about what God wants. Talk about how He has certain expectations for us. He came to forgive. He even asked his own apostles to not go out and preach until He sent the helper, aka. the Holy Spirit. Why? The Holy Spirit does the process of conviction, he shows us faith and keeps us in the faith. If it was you or I it would be a work, not an act of God’s grace! The bible makes it clear, we are to love God and love others. How do we love God? In Galatians it is clear we are no longer bound by the law but rather free, still we are to love others. We love God BY loving others! What is Love? 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7 love keeps no record of wrongs. Judge not others unless you want to be judged. Don’t mention the splinter in someone’s eye without removing the log in your own. and on and on we can go. It simply isn’t our job.
It reminds me of a blog article I read “Do Homosexuals Go To Hell?” http://www.sdmorrison.org/do-homosexuals-go-hell/.
By the way, I am frustratingly enjoying the book! Thanks.
It is also important to remember that Jesus’ main conflicts were with the religious leaders of his time – the good and righteous, faith-living people. His message of “repent” was directed to them as well. But it is also important to keep in mind that the Greek word for “repent” (metanoia) also carries the meaning of moving into the “bigger mind” – Paul calls it the mind of Christ. Jesus calls all of us to move into a bigger consciousness that is expanded by the love of God. In fact, it moves us into a higher consciousness that is love, the realm where grace is active. Thus his message was as much for folks inside the church (perhaps even more) as it is for folks outside of the church.
I agree with your premise in principle. Some of your statements are a little weak though. Jesus did not ask the woman taken in adultery not to sin anymore; he commanded her “Go, and sin no more.” Likewise, he did not invite the thief on the cross to join him in paradise; he told the thief that he would be in paradise with him that day. The stronger language actually strengthens your message rather than weakens it for it shows the compelling and transformative nature of the love of Christ. I would that all of our churches and all of the children of God would take this message to heart.
I was going to write a long response, however, all the previous comments summed up much of my thinking. In summary, religion begins with a predetermined concept of what they believe to be the MIND of God. They never get to a place where they understand the HEART of God. Condemnation and judgamentalism are two sides of the same coin. They can both find their root in pride. The one who condemns and judges, takes on an air of self-righteousness that gives them the false internal license to act the way they do. Good post, Thom.
We all need to remember God does not need us. GOD WANTS US BUT DOES NOT NEED US. Isaiah 55:11 says that Gods word will accomplish the work. We just need to be agents of love and showing grace.
So true! Effective leaders that inspire change seem to lead with an empowerment model that embraces compassion, empathy, curiosity, and radical acceptance . Shaming and humiliation tactics will increase alienation with others and one’s own inner goodness and core values.
The networks, back in the day, never did capture you, Thom, with your John 3:17 placard behind the end zone during point-after-TD. So the American church is still under the spell of the judgmentalists and condemnatarions. But as Jeremiah discerned, “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant . . . for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” Why is this so hard? What is it, after all, about the self righteous sinners that their scorn for the sins (or perhaps just differences) of those distasteful to them makes them want to maintain a church that accepts only themselves?
Thom, I must admit that I’m torn. I agree that love is what leads. But the prophets weren’t popular with their message of confrontation and a call for repentance. I wouldn’t expect modern-day prophets to be popular either.
God is certainly enraged with the murder of 50 million children through convenience abortion. He’s very angry with the way we are using our sexuality in ways that dehumanize us and our children. Even the way we approach work and leisure is perverted in a way that has us hopelessly in debt, making us slaves to those who hold that debt.
I understand the rage that many Christians express, and to a degree I agree. God is mad, too. And God told at least one of the prophets that if he didn’t speak up, he’d be responsible for the deaths of the people whose sin was killing them. I’m just saying… isn’t it loving to warn people that what they are doing is going to kill them? How often will they be excited to hear it?
BTW, I have many non-Christian friends, and I’m not preaching hell-fire and damnation, nor do I have plans to do so. But my heart rages against politicians, journalists, bureaucrats, teachers, professors, and social workers who have systematically promoted the lies and distortions that have led my friends to believe the foolishness that has them bound in destructive patterns and lifestyles.
Jesus nor the apostles shied away from teaching a sinless lifestyle. Even when they had to call out sin they did not break relationship or contact. True love does not do this. However, rarely did they rebuke a “seeker”. Jesus doesn’t even do it on the Cross, the robber nor us, “forgive them, they know not what they are doing.” Rebuke and correction is taught to those who are called out as a Christian.
When God warns whole non-saved nations or even an individual it seems they are there for “such a time as this.” They are there to serve some bigger purpose. I cannot think of any exceptions to this, though there may be some.
Romans 5:8 – “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Those debating the approach of ‘God’s love’ instead of ‘calling them to repent’ are often spoken about as if it is an either/or. Not only do I see this as a both/and, but I see an order to it as well (i.e., Love first). I Corinthians 13:1-3 tells us that without love, we are…
– vs. 1 “…a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal”
– vs. 2 “nothing”
– vs. 3 “gain nothing”
1 Corinthians 4: 21 – “What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?”
I prefer the latter.
Excellent post, Thom. I am truly saddened by the judgement-happy attitude of church leaders. By the way, your email subject was “1591”. what does that mean?
Ha! The “1591” was an error headline that initially got posted. You’re the first to notice. I think everyone else must have concluded a deep meaning for 1591.
An old saying says ” do not throw out the baby with the bath water.” Sometimes as Christians we tend to think that if I do not agree with something, it is no good. People are different, some people are cold and callous and some fragile and hurting. The cold and callous need to hear “repent” (John the baptist style preacher) message. The fragile and hurting need to be loved and embraced. Jesus ministry was to the fragile and hurting, so He love and embraced them first. John ministry was more to the old and callous so he loved them enough to say “repent.” God loves the whole world (the cold and the callous as well as the fragile and hurting). In other words different messages for different folks.