We run our website the way we wished the whole internet worked: we provide high quality original content with no ads. We are funded by your direct support for ReKnew and our vision. Please consider supporting this project.

What Kind of Sinners Feel Welcomed by Your Church?

Image by Ken Shelton via Flickr

Image by Ken Shelton via Flickr

Perhaps the greatest indictment on evangelical churches today is that they are not generally known as refuge houses for sinners—places where hurting, wounded, sinful people can run and find love that does not question, an understanding that does not judge, and an acceptance that knows no conditions.

To be sure, evangelical churches are usually refuge houses for certain kinds of sinners—the loveless, the self-righteous, those apathetic toward the poor and unconcerned with issues of justice and race, the greedy, the gluttonous, and so on. People guilty of these sins usually feel little discomfort among us. But evangelical churches are not usually safe places for other kinds of sinners—those whose sins, ironically, tend to be much less frequently mentioned in the Bible than the religiously sanctioned sins.

It is rare indeed that a drunkard, drug addict, or prostitute would think of going to church because he or she just needed to feel loved and accepted. These people may go to bars, fellow addicts, drug dealers, or pimps to find refuge and acceptance, but they would not go to a church. In fact, as with the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, the church has generally represented everything people with these kinds of sins want to avoid at all costs. It has most often represented nothing but condemnation for these people. Indeed, churches frequently cultivate a reputation for “cracking down” on sins that fall into their “unsanctioned sin” category. To fail to do this, many have assumed, is to compromise our reputation for being set apart for holiness.

The sins we declare ourselves to be against are invariably selected to not target ourselves. If we were consistent in cracking down equally on all sins, we’d be cracking down on ourselves more than on those outside the church. And if we retained a system of evaluating sin at all, sins such as impatience, unkindness, rudeness, and self-righteousness—all indications that love is absent (1 Cor 13:4-5)—as well as prevalent “church” sins such as gossip, greed, and apathy would rank higher on our list than sins such as homosexuality or heterosexual promiscuity.

Striving for a holy reputation is also self-serving because the whole enterprise is unconsciously designed as a strategy for getting life for ourselves. Though it is mostly unconscious—indeed, though we uniformly deny it—we are feeding ourselves with our devised sin lists. We feel righteous and secure that we are “in” while others are “out” as we compare ourselves favorably with others who don’t measure up (according to our own biased measuring devise).

Above all else, love is that for which the church is called to be known. Sadly, in the name of acquiring for ourselves a reputation of holiness, we have often compromised the one reputation God calls us to have. Jesus was willing to forsake any possibility of having a holy reputation for the sake of loving those who were unholy.

To be sure, Christians are called to be a holy people, set apart by their good works. This is what transforming love looks like as it takes hold of people. But this is not a reputation we should seek to acquire or protect. The one reputation we are called to acquire is identical to the one reality we are called to live in: We are to be, and to be known as, a people who receive and give love in an outrageous, impartial, unconditional way.

—Adapted from Repenting of Religion, 102-104.

Related Reading

Jesus Said a Lot of Weird Stuff. What If He Actually Meant it?

Our friend Shane Claiborne has a way with words (and deeds). In this article from a few years ago (sent to us by a reader: thanks Jason!) he asks the question, What if Jesus meant all that stuff? How would the rest of the world see us if we actually did what Jesus did? From the…

What Would You Do If Someone Attacked Your Family?

The New Testament commands us never to “repay evil with evil” but instead to “overcome evil with good” (Rom.12:17; cf. I Thess 5:15; I Pet 3:9). Jesus said, “Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also”(Mt 5:39). He also said, “Love your enemies, do good…

The Full Meaning of Salvation

Many view salvation as a legal transaction, which means that it’s a mere acquittal from the consequences of sin. While forgiveness of our sin is certainly involved, the NT view of salvation goes far beyond this when it proclaims that Jesus came to save his people from their sins (Mt. 1:23)—not merely the consequences of those sins. In fact,…

How Are We To Love the Soldiers of ISIS?

Over the last several weeks I’ve received some form of this question almost every day. In some cases the question is asked rhetorically, as though the very question exposes the absurdity of suggesting we are to love this terroristic group. Other times the question is asked with a pragmatic twist. One person recently said to…

Leaders in the Revolution: An Invitation

 Kevin Dooley via Compfight Network Exploration Meeting There is a growing movement of pastors, church planters, and churches around the globe who have become convinced that the center of the Gospel is a Jesus-looking God who calls his people to partner with him to advance a Jesus-looking kingdom.  They sense that God is pouring out…

Put on the Armor of God

The whole of the Christian life is an act of war against the enemy as we follow Jesus in storming the gates of hell (See post.) No passage better illustrates this than Paul’s metaphor of spiritual armor from Ephesians 6. He writes that Christians are to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength…