Leaving the grocery store yesterday, I was greeted by an oddly dressed man handing out invitations to his church. I accepted the invitation graciously and went on my way. As I drove home, something about that encounter bothered me and continued to gnaw at my spirit throughout the evening. Rifling through my purse, I pulled out the “invitation” and read it, and grieved. This was not an invitation to enjoy abundant life in Christ; this was a picture of everything that has gone wrong in the American Christian Church. Instead of giving hope to a seeker that they might find a path to God, it spoke of a God who is waiting to “destroy His enemies and set up His Kingdom” so you’d better get on God’s side or else! Instead of graciously extending an offer to experience the joy and peace of a loving Creator, it left the reader feeling bullied. Within the folds of this small document the church managed to boast of their “intolerance of scandalous activity by their leaders or membership,” and their refusal to mingle with “worldly social programs.” And in the final paragraph;
“As the ancient church did, we provide for the welfare of our members. But we leave those who reject Christianity to the world they prefer to live in.”
I’m speechless. And I am so very sorry. I apologize to all who have fallen victim to this hostile force of misguided faith. Please don’t think that this man, or anybody like him, represents the God we worship and the person of Jesus Christ. Please don’t take encounters such as this as the final word in Christianity.
“But what of us? When the world encounters the Christian presence in their neighborhoods, governments, and schools, does our rhetoric make them want to breathe deeply the beautiful life before them? Do they wonder how the Christian can seem to be totally engaged in this world but completely unaffected by it? Perhaps, as we work toward the unveneered life, all Christians should adopt this statement as their filter: am I being the soul of the world?”1
The soul of the world; what the soul is to the body, Christians can be to the world. My encounter with the man at the grocery store yesterday reminded me of just how often Christians fail miserably at breathing life and hope into their world and instead breath judgment and condemnation upon those who need grace and forgiveness most.
As I grasp more and more the scandalous love of God for humanity, the more I am convinced that it grieves the Divine Creator when we, the creation, impose our dogma on the fragile soul of another. God is at work, wooing all of humanity. Gently calling, carefully nudging, slowly revealing God’s glory to the searching heart. How often we cloud the beauty of grace with our muddy waters of legalism. Ours should be the faith of the MOST acceptance, the MOST love, the MOST forgiveness, the MOST hope. I am truly sorry for all the times it is not, and I am sorry for all the times I have not been a true purveyor of grace. I am beautifully humbled as God allows me to become increasingly aware of my own subtle struggles with pride and intolerance. It has become my mantra to flay my soul before the Almighty God and ask for strength to be ruthless with my idols, intolerant of my pride and lavish in my dispensation of grace, for how else can I be a worthy reflection of the spirit of Christ?
1. Willard, Locy, Veneer: Living Deeply in a Surface Society, 248