I read this story over a decade ago, and it’s been haunting me ever since. A month doesn’t go by that I don’t think about this story. It’s in Philip Yancey’s book What’s So Amazing About Grace. A friend of Yancey was a Christian counselor in Chicago, and a young woman had come to him with a severe addiction. She had to started to prostitute her body out to provide for her substance abuse, and when that wasn’t enough money, eventually she started selling her 2 year old’s body as well.
Now this counselor has got to report her. But first he asks her a question, he asks her, “Have you ever thought about going to a church?” And she says, “Church?!! Why would I ever go there? I already feel bad enough about myself.”
Told you it’s a haunting story.
So for the past several weeks I’ve been writing about the need for Christians to live in a community that is able to judge each other in loving ways, and today is the last post in this series. And on some level this whole series has all been a set up for this post.
Because despite that first story, I do think that Christian communities should be known as the places where we are able to speak the hard truths into each other lives. I do think we should be known for being lovingly judgmental, but not in any sense like Christians are known today.
The real problem with the Western Church today is not a lack of programs or leaders, it’s not us not having the right building location. The real problem we have is a lack of American Christians looking like Jesus. The Barna Group is a famous research company that surveys American Christians, they basically ask us “What has following Jesus changed in your life?” And every time the Barna group comes out with another survey, the answer is always the same, “Not much.”
We sleep around at the same rate as non-Christians, we use our money the same way non-Christians do, we are just as likely to beat our spouse or divorce as a non-Christian is. Christians are even more likely than non-Christians to object to someone of a another race moving into their neighborhood.
Non-discipleship is the elephant in the church. It is not the much discussed moral failures, financial abuses, or the amazing general similarity between Christians and non-Christians. These are only effects of the underlying problem…It is now understood to be a part of the “good news” that one does not have to be a life student of Jesus in order to be a Christian and receive forgiveness of sins. This gives a precise meaning to “cheap grace” though it would be better described as costly faithlessness
In other words, The biggest problem is that Jesus followers don’t follow Jesus.
So I started off this series by talking about the story in 1 Corinthians 5, where Paul writes a church where a guy is sleeping with his step-mom, and Paul tells them that he has already judged this man, and they should kick him out. Now it’s important to remember Paul wants them to do this because he wants the man to repent and be restored. Paul is fighting, not just for the church, but for the guy.
He wants this guy to be everything God made for him to be. But look at what Paul says next: 2 Corinthians 5:9-13
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.
Did you catch that? What business is it of mine to judge those on the outside?
If Paul was here today, I bet plenty of people would have an answer for that question.
I’ve grown up in the era of culture wars and battles for values, I’ve seen people who believe in God scream some of the most vile, hate-filled things at people who don’t.
I’ve also grown up in a time where less people are in any church, and more disturbingly where it seems like less Jesus is in His people. We aren’t creating disciples as much as we create attenders. Because we don’t judge each other inside the community, we don’t look like Jesus, but I’ve noticed that for some reason we sure want other people to.
There’s a time (in this same letter) in 1st Corinthians 15, where Paul is talking about the Resurrection of Jesus and how that has to inform the way Jesus followers live, and Paul says, “Because if the Resurrection didn’t happen, than let us eat and drink, because tomorrow we die.”
In other words, if this Jesus story is not true than Paul seems to think you should do whatever you want. The reason we hold Christians to a certain standard is because we believe in the resurrection, and if you don’t believe that story, than Paul seems to think there isn’t a really good reason to do or not do much of anything.
See judgment was always meant for those of us on the inside, not primarily for those on the outside.
And I would argue that the Western church has reversed this.
We have churches filled with people who are Christians but don’t look much like Jesus, yelling and screaming judgment at people who don’t even claim to want to be like Jesus.
But on what basis? They don’t believe like we believe, they don’t have the same hope, they have no reason to try and live like Jesus.
I know that the world needs to adhere to a kind of common grace toward each other, we need to care about creating at least a minimally decent society and cooperating with people outside of the church. I get all that. But what I don’t think is that we get this basic truth: Christians only judge each other, not the world.
And the great irony of this all is that the very thing Christians want we are destroying. We want to create a better world, we should take a hint from God’s playbook. He creates a people who are distinct and loving, who serve the world and challenge each other. Not the other way around. That’s a community the world needs to see. Yes Jesus has something to say about our sexuality, yes Jesus has something to say about life and the environment and our finances, but He is saying those things to the people who are following him, so that the world would see a community living into the dream God has for everyone.
In the Gospels, people who were nothing like Jesus, liked Jesus. He was distinct, but he was with them, and they loved him, they also had this funny idea that he just might love them too.
I’m tired of seeing Fred Phelps and his band of crazies everywhere, or hearing church members condemn the latest public sin of just about everybody in the world except the people they’re sharing life with. I’m tired of belonging to a group of people who seem to be more known for what they are against, and then statistically participating in it at the exact same rate. I’m tired of us judging the wrong things, and ignoring the right ones.
I’m tired of Christians judging the world, and not each other.
Because the world doesn’t need to be judged by the Church anymore. They didn’t sign up for following Jesus…we did.