Jumping off of this post…
For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? –I Cor. 5:12
There must not be a hint of immorality, impurity, or greed among you –Eph. 5:3
“Surreal… I never would have thought…” “No, what I am seeing can’t be an indicator that we are straying from what the Church should be – the people here are so nice.” “I must be being legalistic – isn’t there something pastor has called ‘adiaphora’”?
“Yes, it really must be me: the Emperor is fully clothed, is he not?”
I note that babies know kindness and goodness when they see it. There is no moral ambiguity. Their ability to not waver in their judgment of what they do know should be a lesson to us (of course, while we are to imitate their faith wholesale, their sense of right and wrong is by no means our exemplar, being as undeveloped as it is)
We need holiness. The Church is indeed holy in Christ’s eyes, but there is also a need for His holiness to permeate and penetrate the deepest part of our being. That we may increase in holiness. That we may grow in grace. That we may be a people set apart. And this holiness that becomes ours with Christ is not necessary for our salvation – in the sense our doing something makes us able to stand before God – but it is necessary nonetheless, because it is what He would have us be and do for the sake of our neighbor. In other words He gives us His holiness so that fewer and fewer nations would blaspheme God because of us. So that we would put up no block of stumbling save the Cornerstone. So that we may shine like stars, as Philippians 2 says. So that He might share His love and kindness with all people, including His enemies.
Wait, wait, wait. Is not your focus off here? Christianity is primarily about God’s rescuing us, not our behavior! After all, where else but the Church can persons get forgiveness from God? I listen attentively here. Years ago, I was told by a Lutheran pastor I respected very much that every LC-MS pastor should read evangelical author Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace? every year – because the message he had was needed in the church. Have I forgotten?
It is a good and challenging book. Given my chosen topic here, here’s a particularly relevant passage where he, in effect, reminds us that the opposite of sin is not our virtue, but God’s grace:
Jesus’ example convicts me today…. As society unravels and immorality increases I hear calls from some Christians that we show less mercy and more morality…
A phrase used by both Peter and Paul has become one of my favorite images from the New Testament. We are to administer, or “dispense,” God’s grace, say the two apostles. the image brings to mind one of the old-fashioned “atomizers” women used before the perfection of spray technology. Squeeze a rubber bulb, and droplets of perfume come shooting out of the fine holes at the other end. A few drops suffice for a whole body; a few pumps can change the atmosphere in a room. This is how grace should work, I think. It does not convert the entire world or an entire society, but it does enrich the atmosphere.
Now I worry that the prevailing image of Christians has changed from that of a perfume atomizer to a different spray apparatus: the kind used by insect exterminators. There’s a roach! Pump, spray, pump, spray. There’s a spot of evil! Pump, spray, pump, spray. Some Christians I know have taken on the task of “moral exterminator” for the evil-infested society around them
I share a deep concern for our society. I am struck, though, by the alternative power of mercy as demonstrated by Jesus, who came for the sick and not the well, for the sinners and not the righteous. Jesus never countenanced evil, but he did stand ready to forgive it. Somehow, he gained the reputation as a lover of sinners, a reputation that his followers are in danger of losing today. As Dorothy Day put it, “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.” (157, 158, 1997)
Writing from a racist fundamentalist background, Yancey gives us much that is good to think about, particularly when it comes to Christians and their involvement in wider society and politics.
And yet, we forge forward. How can Yancey’s and the Apostle’s concerns both be addressed?
See part II tomorrow…