And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. – Luke 6:19
Once in a rare while – usually when traveling – I’ll find myself with limited radio “tune-in” options, and I end up listening to a few minutes of some deeply offensive preacher.
That’s what happened last week, and I caught ten minutes of “Rev Blowhard” at The First Southern Church of Exclusive Self-Righteousness (I couldn’t quite catch the name). He was building his case that Christians – the “right” kind of Christians – must insulate themselves from contamination.
The illustration he used went something like this: “If you put on clean white gloves, and go into the yard to deal with some mess, what happens? Well the mess gets all over the gloves, and the gloves become darker and darker. I wondered to myself,” he continued, “and realized that the white never gets all over the mess – it’s always the mess that gets all over the white” (I’m going to be kind and assume he wasn’t also intending some racial double-entendre).
The preacher went on to conclude that, rather than making an impact for the good, it’s the Christians who are impacted by the sin, and that “impurity spoils purity” – it’s never the other way around. It’s critically important, therefore, that Christians A) identify potential contamination, and B) stay far away.
There are several essential theological shortcomings in this message:
- Jesus is actually a friend of sinners;
- We are told – and equipped – to be salt and light in broken places;
- There’s that pesky parable of the Good Samaritan;
- We can’t ignore Christ’s encouragement to “go into the highways and byways;”
- Then Jesus made this promise: “Take courage; I have conquered the world!” – John 16:33
FORTRESS MENTALITY: What the radio preacher was selling was a “fortress mentality” view of the church, and it’s one I’ve heard far too often. Rather than being a lighthouse, the church is experienced as a fortress, where the task is to protect “us” from “them,” to craft an increasingly narrow definition of “us,” to label and exclude, and (the logical consequence) to even begin lobbing ordnance (judgment, condemnation, exclusion) at other church congregations.
But I serve a God who gets right in the mess with people, and then they come out clean. I follow a Savior who doesn’t detour around the brokenness but who says, “Even though [you] walk through the darkest valley… I am with you…” – Psalm 23.
Here’s the thing: I want everyone to know they are welcome; welcome at WFPC, welcome to become members of the family of God; come as you are! But Jesus is also relying on us to share the Gospel of Love “out there”. We live in this broken world, and we must willingly live, and love, and work, and play as active followers of the Living Way of Jesus; not incognito, for fear that the mess will rub off on us, but with arms and hearts wide open.
Children of God in the midst of brokenness and pain; shining like stars in the world; holding fast to the word of life… – Philippians 2:14-16