The Condemning Church: May it Not Be So

11:00 AMHeather

I've found myself intrigued lately by various blog posts and articles investigating the decline of the church.  Exploring why young people who grew up in the church leave the church as adults.  This isn't just a question of a post modern culture where the general population seems to have swung from Biblical values as our shared value.  The question that rattles me is actually why the exodus of "good Christian, church going kids" from the church when they leave home.  

Perhaps this burns in my heart because I am a mom. Of three kids.  Who we are raising in the church.  And who I hope will find their own way as adults and cling to the faith I'm trying to pass to them.

But, I can't bury my head in the sand.  I can't pretend that there aren't some sound statistics and research that indicate that raising a pagan kid in a Christian home is easier than I'd like to believe.  

In fact, the blog post by that title captivated me.  Check it out for yourself.   

My oldest is three years away from leaving our little nest of safety and love and security that we've tried to build for him.  And, I find myself wondering.  How do I make sure I shore things up for him?  So he doesn't lose the living giving truths we've been trying to give him?  According to the above blog post, we'd do well to focus more on God's grace and love and our shared condition of brokenness  than to press him to good moral behavior for being good's sake.  

A lot has been rattling around in my brain lately.  

As I've pondered, I've found myself studying the book of John the last two weeks, as part of the IF Equip study.  This is the ongoing study born from the IF Gathering I attended two weeks ago.  

Um, yeah.  I'm sorta pathetic, I realize.  Because I've been a Christ follower my whole life, basically.  And can't say that I've ever actually camped out all that much in the gospels.  You know--those books that recount what Jesus actually said and did during his ministry on earth.  Sure, I know the key verses and can quote a few.  But, I have never actually gone through the gospels in great detail.  

Probably not the best way to handle that shoring faith up thing for my kids.  

Anyway, I found myself in John 3 yesterday.  Yes--if you are a church girl, you might guess where I'm headed.  How many of you have been quoting John 3:16 since you could speak in complete sentences?

For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.   John 3:16

Yawn. Familiarity breeds contempt...or rather boredom.  Till I read the next verse.  Which, by the way, I've read before.  But, there it was.  The verse that to me sums up the problem we tend to have with losing our kids--and adults and teens and everyone else--from a true authentic faith.  

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.  Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.  John 3:17-18

Oh, I hope I can articulate the epiphany that struck me yesterday.  You see, we, as Christians, have long thrown down the John 3:16 card as our "us and them" justification.  

Okay, world.  Listen, we understand that God loved us.  You need to get this too.  You need to get his Son and not perish.  Because you are.  Perishing.  Without him.  So just be like US. Because we all loved and perfect and forgiven and better than you over here with our John 3:16. So, y'all--just quit being THEM.  

Sure, John 3:16 is a verse about love and sacrifice, but I'm afraid that Christians have sorta played it like a trump card for why we have it altogether and everyone else needs to be like us.  

But, God is very clear.  Jesus did NOT come to condemn the world.  But to save the world. From the condition we ALL have of being condemned.  There's no us and them.  Just all of us.  And HIM.  And He came to save.  To love.  To release us from our natural state.  NOT to condemn us.

SO, what gives us the right--as the church--to condemn the world?  What gives us the right to choose hateful, shaming words to those who are in the same condition we are all without Christ?  What gives us the right to run our churches where people feel CONDEMNED for their behavior or choices in a place where freedom should be tangible?  

This morning, as I tried to pull my thoughts together, I googled "why do people leave the church?"  I skimmed through the first two articles and the various reasons on numbered lists of why.  Here's what I found.  

Nearly all the listed reasons boiled down to one thing.  Condemnation.  People felt they couldn't live up to the expectations or standards of the church.  People felt they couldn't fit into the community.  People get turned off by the social climbing or hierarchy.  People feel they can't fit the mold to be accepted. People feel unwelcome. Reading between the lines of all these reasons, I find the stench of condemnation.  Not good enough.  Not welcomed.  Not conforming enough.  Not accepted.  Not embraced. Not belonging.

Condemnation.  Listen, if there is ever a place in the world that condemnation should NOT be, it's within a body of believers.  Because we should be so overwhelmed with the truth of what Christ actually came to earth to abolish.  You see, we are all condemned.  By our sin nature.  Yes, thanks to the fall and Adam and Eve and that darn fruit.  We are all sentenced to death.  It's the natural state of ALL of us.

And then, God said no more.  He had a plan to fix it for us.  To remove the yoke of condemnation, once and for all.  He paid the price for our clemency.  Redeemed us, cleared our name, removed our sentence.  

And if there is anything we should be, it's free.  Free to love without condition or abandon and pour out the same grace we've been shown.  Amazed and humbled and surrendered to the gift of love we received--eager to pour it out on others.  Dancing in freedom, authentic about our brokenness, eager to share the miracle of once being condemned and now being set free.

Eager to grab the other prisoners and bring them to the escape tunnel.  Eager to say, "You can be free.  Here.  With us. Because we've all been where you are.  And there's a way out!"  

Instead of trouncing others down with the condemnation from which we've been freed.  Churches, of all places, SHOULD be the least condemning places of all.  They should be a hospital for the wounded, the healing place for the hurting, the open arms to the weary and down cast and down trodden.  They should be a place where all the ugliness of the world can experience the beauty of freedom through the gift of the Son.  

If God did not send his Son from his throne in Heaven to condemn the world but to save it, then why do we, who attach ourselves to His name as Christians, think we have the right to show any form of condemnation?  

We've been saved by grace.  We've been drawn to repentance by His loving kindness. We've been forgiven of all our sins.

So why are we so stingy with grace and loving kindness and forgiveness?  Why are we so unapproachable?  And unwelcoming?  Why do we shout out against people when we are no longer condemned, although we deserve to be?  

These are the questions raised as I read John 3:17 with fresh eyes yesterday.  We've all been carrying the burden of condemnation.  And because of Jesus, it's been lifted off of us.  We should be shouting in freedom and introducing all others to the same gift of grace.  Instead of perpetuating the condemnation which once saddled us. 

There is therefore, NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).  So are we a people who condemn?  Condemning ourselves?  Condemning others?  May it not be so.  May we be a people of love and grace and freedom.  Because that's why Jesus came.       

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