Courageous is certainly a word that I would use to describe the church. It takes great courage to live for Christ on Sundays and abandon such principles on Monday. Eager churchgoers profess Christ as Lord on Sundays. They sing of God’s great grace and express thanks for all the blessings on Sundays. On Monday, they enter the business arena with hypocrisy. Marriages struggle each night while kids try to escape the pain of living. It takes great courage to live with such ambivalence. Amazingly, these same churchgoers invite their unchurched friends to attend the Sunday session with them. It takes great courage to invite friends to the masquerade ball. It also causes such confusion in the minds of the unchurched.
While I am not proposing that Christians are perfect, I am also not saying that Christians will not fail. I am saying that living two different lifestyles is not healthy. Christians will fall and Christians will fail. Christian marriages will struggle and Christian families will face enormous challenges. Christians need help; that’s why the church is so needed. The dilemma comes when we invite people to church to help deal with their sins. To those who are outside the church, it’s as if Christians are without sin. The air of superiority that surrounds Christians is obvious.
Christians believe the scripture states, “ya’ll have sinned” not “all have sinned.” I will have to admit that calling someone to repentance when sharing the Gospel is difficult. Part of the reason for this is because I have been and continue to be a sinner in need of God. Anyone at any time can find fault in my life and use that as an excuse to reject the Gospel. Still, I struggle with the church’s message that it inadvertently communicates, that the sinner should come to them. It’s as if through its programming, the church claims to be better than others are. Jesus never judged people for being who they were. Jesus never said, “Clean up and then come to me.” Jesus said, “Deny yourself.” He wanted us to look away from ourselves and look to Him. Today, the church looks at others and says, “Come to us.” When was the last time you attended a church and the majority of the people were not dressed alike? When was the last time you attended a church without feeling judged? I have been a pastor for almost 18 years, and I can say with confidence and evidence that the greatest complaint I hear constantly is how judgmental the “friendly” church is of visitors.
Time after time, I hear things like, “I can’t believe they have an inter-racial marriage,” “They don’t know our dress code,” “They need to control their kids,” “We don’t bring drinks in the sanctuary,” “We don’t wear flip-flops in the sanctuary,” or “They are visiting; if they get serious about joining I’ll talk to the pastor about them.” It sounds more like a country club than a church! Can you imagine an AA group asking new members to clean up their act before they come back? Isn’t that why people attend AA in the first place—to become clean? That should also be why people attend church, to become “clean” from sin and to find the support to stay clean. After all these years, I am amazed that church members are still shocked that people sin. The church whisperers love it when they hear about sin in a person’s life. It’s as if they are now sin-free because they have religion, a study group, an assigned class, approved music, and a vote in the system.
Sinner, come to us! Who would take that invitation? Consider the cost for an unchurched person to attend church with all their baggage and face the church whisperers. It’s not that hard to imagine. Forever in print, the Bible shares such a story of a person coming to Christ. The story is found in Luke 7. I might be taking liberty with this passage by asking that you see this scene as Jesus being present at a modern-day church on Sunday morning. The religious congregation is on their schedule when a sinner, seeking to find Christ, enters the church. To me, this scene epitomizes an all too common occurrence. The unchurched Christ-seeking individual attends church with hopes of meeting Jesus and reconciling life. With great courage, this individual must face the religious crowd gathered inside. This crowd, it appears, has their life in order. Regardless, the desire to sit at the feet of Jesus compels them to press on. In this text, the woman has a reputation for being a sinner, most certainly, she is a prostitute. Jesus has been invited to dinner by a Pharisee, Simon. I am not sure what Simon’s intentions are.
Is Simon seeking to advance His religious resume by meeting with this Jesus fellow? Is he convicted in his heart to learn more about Jesus with the hopes that he just might be the Messiah? Or does Simon see himself as better than Jesus with a desire to have a talk with Him about his claims? The point of the story is this—this woman’s life was messy and Simon’s was not. She needed Christ, and he had religion. She expressed her repentance in lavishing love to Jesus. Simon did not so much as recognize Jesus with the basic customs of the day.
The church says it wants sinners to come to church and find salvation in Christ. I do believe the church is sincere in this. The church wants those without Christ to find Christ. But things become chaotic when a sinner comes to church and worships God in a way that embarrasses the church.
I wonder how many hurting people within the shadow of the established church want to find life in Christ but are not willing to come to the “dinner table” and break down? I am convinced that every night people weep for their lives to be different. I am convinced that every night pillows are wet with the tears of the hurting. Jesus knew this, that’s why He gave His life.