I remember the first time I saw hypocrisy from a church member.
For a while growing up, being a church person was an ideal but not a reality. My family went to church for about a year together in Florida during my freshman year of high school, but it was an abridged version of churchgoing. We came early because my dad loved the worship music – performed each Sunday by Andy Chrisman of “4Him” fame. The man could sing, it was true. However, as soon as the service ended we were quickly shuffled out of the rented theater space and into the car, or perhaps to sightsee at the farmers market nearby. Either way, the procedure was attend, listen, leave.
So when I became involved in a youth group in high school soon after we moved to Oregon, I was excited that people I went to church with actually knew my name! I had ‘worship nights’ with friends where we would inhabit the local park and sing familiar songs by David Crowder until it got too dark. We spent our summers working menial jobs so we could afford concert tickets to other Christian music artists. Church friends were the friends who were concerned with doing service acts like homeless outreach, loving others, and playing worship music on guitars.
It blew me away one night when I was surrounded by church friends at a birthday party, and the subject somehow switched to homosexuality. One teenage boy got a soured look upon his face and mumbled “its wrong and its sick” and shook his head as though to clear the thought away. It was a foreign thought to me at the time. I previously had a throng of gay friends when I went to high school in Florida, friends who let me dye their hair green in my house bathtub and who joked that they were going to hell in a rainbow-colored handbasket. These people were hilarious and even edgy from my experience – it never occurred to me to evaluate whether they were living their lives “rightly” or even wrongly. Real Christians didn’t do that, did they? I thought it was only those televangelists and the Westboro Baptist Church that could profess things like that and think they were right in God’s eyes.
An uncomfortable air settled on the group as I fought for words to say against this youth group friend, something that would convince him that it was ridiculous to say such things and that Jesus had my back on this one. I couldn’t find the words, so instead I fell silent. Did Jesus have my back on this one?
The guitar strings hummed beneath his fingers a few minutes later, and the teenage boy fell into the David Crowder song “Oh, Praise Him.” A few minutes after his comment, he was beginning a worship song! I couldn’t believe it! Looking over at this friend, there was no longer the disgust that had previously registered on his face but rapturous peace as he sang out into the backyard, his mouth curved into that worship-smile.
“That is bullshit,” I thought to myself “there’s no way I’m buying this guy’s faith now.” It seemed so contradictory to everything we had learned in youth group – wasn’t Jesus all about loving everyone? There wasn’t even the ye olde “love the sinner, hate the sin” line thrown in before the worship songs began. There wasn’t even much reason given to have such an opinion. My guess is that he didn’t take time to analyze societal context of the Levitical or Pauline letters, or to look at the greek root of the word pornea, or aphrodisia before he gave it much thought. Shoot, I hadn’t at that point, either.
I’ve thought about writing a blog post in response to the many opinions surrounding Mars Hill Church’s “Discipline contract” (found here: http://matthewpaulturner.net/jesus-needs-new-pr/mark-driscolls-church-discipline-contract-looking-for-true-repentance-at-mars-hill-church-sign-on-the-dotted-line/) or even to the more recently posted John Piper conference, where he declared that God gave Christianity a ‘masculine feel’ (here: http://www.christianpost.com/news/john-piper-god-gave-christianity-a-masculine-feel-68385/) But in the end, looking at the two of these articles, it seemed clear that their critics were asking the same question that I was when I was sixteen on the birthday porch with my youth group friend –
“is this how God would treat the outsider?”
And the resounding answer is no. Lately, especially in light of these controversies, I’ve begun to evaluate a church, person, or theological statement on the basis of how it appraises those it excludes.Also, more importantly, I think we all subconsciously evaluate proclaimed followers of Jesus on how they treat those on the outside.
We know from bible stories that Jesus chose to enjoy the fellowship of the outsiders – especially the most hated of all, the tax collectors. In the first article, when Mars Hill planned to ex-communicate the ‘disobedient’ church member who was unwilling to yield to ‘church authority,’ they cited Matthew 18:17
“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
This upheld their ex-communicate-unless-he-repents views, except that they forgot how Jesus treated tax-collectors.
” As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow Me!”And he got up and followed Him. And it happened that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, “Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?” And hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Mark 2:14-17
This is where exclusion within churches doesn’t make sense. When we are instructed to treat others as sinners and tax collectors, it seems instead that fellowship and inclusion is what Jesus was trying to communicate in Matthew. The kingdom of heaven’s message is always “come unto me, all you who are weary.”
Shouldn’t that be ours as well?
To the women who know that God has called them to teach, to preach, to give communion in church – come.
To the ostracized, the sinful, the people who cannot go a single day without screwing it all up – come.
To the disobedient, disagreeable, and those that differ in opinion and action – come.
The table will hold you. He has prepared it for you. And the message that He has for you is come.