Friday, March 14, 2008

More on the problem, or how I see it

More on yesterday's discussion regarding Jamieson and Hutcherson. . .

I tried to say this on Eugene's blog yesterday, but have been refining it in my head ever since. I'm still not sure this is in its final form, but here it is in process:

As Christians, we believe that our hope, our joy, our peace, our fulfillment is found in one place - in a relationship with the God who created us and loves us and redeems us. In fact, we would go so far as to stake the claim that for anybody, true hope, joy, peace, and fulfillment is found in one place only - in the redeeming love of God who gave his Son to rescue us from our broken lives. Finally, we would say that any hope for the future of our world and the societies in which we live is based in only this - the work of Christ's Spirit to mend back together our broken systems, redeeming and restoring all things back into the perfection in which they were created.

Part of that belief includes the related belief that there are actions, decisions, ways of living that are in harmony with God's work in the world, and that there are actions, decisions, and ways of living that are out of sync with God's work in the world. There are actions we take that lead toward Christ, and thus toward life; there are actions we take that lead away from Christ, and thus toward death. That second category, the actions that lead to death, we call "sin." And "sin" is not bad simply because it's arbitrarily labeled "sin," but because it leads the one who sins away from the Giver of Life.

Christians, then, work at this in their own life. It's called "discipleship." Taking every thought and action captive so that our choices and our actions reflect the will of the One who loves us and redeems us. Sin leads to pain, and obedience leads to life. While we all still sin, our ultimate goal is the pursuit of the life already given to us (I know that seems an oxymoron; blame Paul, since it's his theology. . .).

But we live in a world of people who reject the Christian message, which leaves a bit of a quandary. Do we "live and let live," knowing the choices of the world are only leading them further and further down the pathway that leads to death? Or do we attempt to bring our belief to bear on society, bringing the Gospel that leads to salvation to those who don't yet know?

Here is where the church often fails. For one, we often redefine "sin" as moral code and "sinners" as wrong. Hence, we work hard at "preaching at" sinners, making sure they know that we think they're sinners. For another, we too often focus on the action and not the person. "Sinner" becomes a category, not a real person with real feelings and desires and hurts and passions. "Sinner" implies (in the mind of many church-goers) somebody already on the way to hell, somebody to be avoided or yelled at, rather than a person created in the image of God, somebody already loved by God, somebody looking for hope and healing - just like we all are.

This is where the church has failed historically, and where many fail today.

However, there are those like Jamieson who seem to think that the church should simply change its message. That the church should be all loving and accepting and tolerant. They usually end up at the "judge not, lest ye be judged" place. To which I would respond "Yes - we should be loving, and gentle, and opposed to violence and prejudice at all levels, but at the same time we cannot stand by and in tolerance smile at people who are choosing to live lives that lead them away from the ultimate source of comfort and healing." At some point, it would be unethical and dishonest for us to pretend that all was well when, in fact, we believe that all is not well.

And this is the rub. On this issue, some want to be told "you're fine just as you are." But we can't tell anybody that. None of us are fine, just as we are. We all are held accountable for the decisions we make - whether they lead to life or death. I certainly don't agree with Rev. Hutcherson on a few things, and I wish he would be a little more careful in his public pronouncements, but on this we agree - we stand by the Word of God, which leads to life, and cannot affirm people for making choices that lead to death.

I have a friend who a few years ago told me he was gay. And he had decided he was okay with that. He knew what I believed to be the truth. The day he came out of the closet to me, we had a long talk about all of this. I told him I could not change my belief; in fact, it would make me a hypocrite if I did. He told me he accepted that, and he wouldn't try to change me, but he was content with who he was, and asked me not to try to change him. We affirmed out friendship. And we remained close friends until I moved a few states away.

Somehow, I think this is where we need to get. To love people because they are people, to encourage people to make choices that lead to life, to explain why dealing with sin is so important, but in the end, to respect people's choices, rather than flinging rocks at each other. Most churches need to learn the meaning of "It's your kindness that leads to repentance." But, on the other hand, those who live lives contrary to God's design can't expect Christians to ignore the teachings of God, because we believe that in them is found Life.

But see, already that takes a lot of work, a lot of nuance, a lot of discussion and adjustment and patience and willingness to love people who don't agree with us. . .

and that never makes for good press coverage, does it?


Anonymous said...

Hey Dan I linked from your blog from mine it seems we both like Andrew Peterson. Having said that I agree with what you've posted. In Corinthians Paul says that the love of Christ constrains us. I think we need to get folks to Jesus. When they really believe that they are loved they will live loved. I think as churches we have tried to scare the hell out of people as opposed to loving the hell out of them. Thanks for the post I look forward to reading more.

Anonymous said...

thanks for the post.

i think the line between having convictions in your belief and wanting to change the other person is where we as christians really need to examine ourselves.

baddogmooney said...

Very well articulated. Thank you for writing this.

Anonymous said...

"do we attempt to bring our belief to bear on society"

i think these words to me illustrate the feeling those of us not in your belief system feel - like you're burdening society with your beliefs, trying to force us to bear them.

i do, however, hear a wish to show love in the midst of your beliefs and while i know to many that doesn't matter, to me it makes all the difference in the world as to whether i would want to be in relationship with you or give any consideration to what you have to say.

Valorosa said...

A people cannot express the love of God if they have not been loved themselves.

As our guide book says Love God and love your neighbour as yourself. Key "as yourself"

Spent a lot of time in church and I remember hearing a lot about the sins of the fathers (who hated God; this was often left out) being passed on to the children to the third and fourth generation.

But you know what! ... the very BEST one was left out. The blessings of God are passed on to the children of those who love God to a THOUSAND generations.

Hmmm got me thinking ... why was one stressed and not the other?