July 19, 2017

"You Can't Be A Christian If..."

I recently saw an article (reposted by one of my Facebook friends) written by a man who grew up in a certain church but left it in favor of a different denomination. When he went to a service at his old church with his parents many years later, he was “triggered” by what he saw there. He then proceeded to bash his old church and the entire denomination in his blog.

I have Facebook friends from all walks of life, of many different political and religious views, and I am sad to say that I see this kind of thing all too often, coming equally from all sides. It’s one thing if such condemnation comes from a non-Christian, but when the conflict and attacks are between fellow Christians or “rival” denominations, it’s truly a tragedy. Whether in church, on a blog, or on Facebook, the problem is the same: human nature. We see all sides pointing fingers, saying things like, "Well you can't be a Christian if..." (insert your topic of moral outrage). 

On one hand, we have legalism, which can manifest as (real or perceived) bigotry or discrimination of one form or another. People falling into this trap are often stereotypically “judgmental” of others, whether their approach is abrasive or overly sweet. On the other side, we have an overabundance of "liberty,” which can manifest as (real or perceived) departure from God's Law, leading one into (real or perceived) open sinfulness. Those who fall into this category may do well by demonstrating love and acceptance to others, but they often fail to recognize the importance of Jesus’ own command to “go and sin no more.”

Both sides err equally.

Now from my own (admittedly imperfect) point of view, some of the ideas with which I disagree are easily “debunked.”  I can make a sound, rational, scripturally supported argument, and seemingly prove my point. But (there is always a but…), I’ve debated people from “the other side,” some of whom make equally strong scriptural arguments of their own.  So which of us is REALLY right? Which of us is REALLY a Christian?

As it turns out, we can both be “real” Christians and yet have some serious differences. Romans 14 drives home the point that we are not going to agree about everything, and that it is, in fact, OK to disagree on some points. The only qualifiers are 1) true devotion to God and 2) that in our disagreements, we are not to be judgmental of other believers. Only God knows the heart, and only God is qualified to judge the quality or truth of our professions of faith. God alone decides who will stand or fall.

“Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.” Romans 14:4 (NKJV)

We cannot and must not draw any arbitrary lines in the sand regarding another person’s salvation or standing as a Christian based on the presence or absence of certain behaviors. This is not to say that we should never correct another Christian when we believe them to be in error. Certainly we should lovingly correct sinful behavior, but even that should be done as privately as possible, as outlined in Matthew 18:15-17. Such discipline might have to come before the church, but should not be advertised to the public at large.

On both sides of any issue, we have to remain focused on Christ. Excessive preoccupation with ourselves and “what we think,” especially when it comes to public conflicts with other believers, is a huge factor in the public’s declining view of the church today. How can we be a light to the world if we are spewing darkness? We simply cannot belittle and insult other followers of Christ, no matter how wrong we believe them to be.

There is truly a vast distance between the two ends of the spectrum: a wide road leading to destruction. The straight, narrow, and true path MUST be somewhere in the middle, but only one man in all of human history has been able to find that road and walk perfectly upon it.

We nailed Him to a cross.

Jesus forgives even the vilest of our sins. How, then, should we treat other Christians who seem (to us at least) to be doing everything wrong?

Reading this passage from John 8 seems to be a good place to start:

Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?”  This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear.

So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”

She said, “No one, Lord.”

And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”

~ John 8:2-12 (NKJV)

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