Would some people be better off if they didn’t go to church? More significantly, would the world be better off if some people didn’t go to church?
Those aren’t comfortable questions, are they?
They raised their impish little heads the other night. It happened right after my wife, Joanna, related yet another story about someone driven far from Jesus by someone else who claims to love Jesus.
The Jesus-lover didn’t like a particular aspect of the other person’s lifestyle. It’s something most God-fearing folks would call a sin. And so the jawbone-for-Jesus got all righteously indignant. Let the sinner have it. With both biblical barrels. The transgressor heard what-for about breaking God’s laws and learned she’s an unforgiven reprobate worthy of scorn by upright Christians.
Bless her heart, she may never come near Jesus again.
From her perspective, I really can’t blame her. All she knows of Jesus is what she hears from people who claim to speak on Jesus’ authority. And they say she’s unworthy. Vile and wicked. A reflection of the moral depravity of our nation.
So, I can’t help but wonder if the world—and the kingdom of God—would be better off if the Lord shuttered some churches and muted some Christians.
On one level, this seems harsh and foreign and hard to comprehend. I love the church. It’s the bride of Christ. It’s my home, the deepest part of me.
God is love
But if it’s true God is love and Jesus came to save and redeem the world, then some churches and the people who populate them actively refute the gospel they claim to proclaim. And, ironically, they project themselves as protectors of the faith.
To be fair, they probably started out hating sin. But in their zeal, they learned to hate sinners, too. Oh, they deny it. But in both words and deeds, they demonstrate only antipathy and revulsion.
And it feels good. In every sphere, our society pits us vs. them. So, what good is righteous belief if it doesn’t help you think you’re superior to others?
To be sure, most of these folks see themselves as on a mission for God. They’re out to protect God’s word from the evils of modernism, relativism and, of course, liberalism. They identify with the prophets and with Jesus, of course.
But their mystical myopia causes them to misread Scripture.
The prophets reserved their vitriol for religious folks and showed compassion to outsiders. They left everybody else up to God.
Speaking on behalf of God, Amos (who, if he could time travel to today, would think the only thing that’s changed in 2,700 years are clothes styles and electronics) told the church-going crowd: “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
Jesus’ love for sinners
Over and over, Jesus demonstrated love for the sinners and castigated the religious leaders. Of course, he told the fallen, “Go, and sin no more.” But he said it in such a way that’s what they already wanted to do, more than anything.
Is the world broken and decaying? Of course. Just like it was 2,000 years ago, when Jesus walked the earth, and like it was when King David, “a man after God’s own heart,” committed adultery and murder 3,000 years ago.
Today, God’s heart surely breaks for sin. God grieves when broken people run further and further away because all they have heard on behalf of Jesus is judgment and condemnation. God weeps when smart people think the only intelligent option is unbelief because so many “believers” say such stupid things.
Yes, this world is sinful and wicked. But remember this: The only thing stronger than evil is good. The only thing more forceful than ignorance is truth. The only thing more powerful than hatred is love.
Churches that radiate goodness and truly love people are lighthouses for Jesus. All the rest should lock their doors.