Is the Gospel attractive or repulsive when Christian leaders speak?
Last week I posted on Social Media some concerns I have about certain comments Christian leaders have made to the media about ethical and moral issues. In my post I upheld everyone’s right to free speech as well as the right of people to disagree. What followed was a lively discussion.
My question on Facebook though was this: “do these sorts of comments tend to alienate people from the Christian message?” When Christian leaders speak out on ethical / moral issues does it draw people towards God or away from Him? Does it attract or repel? These are vitally important questions for Christians and churches to answer. What is the church’s FIRST and MOST IMPORTANT message to communicate to those who are not Christian, and when does our other messaging cloud our main message?
Let me put this another way: Most churches (be they Catholic or Protestant or neither) hold to the doctrine of eternal hell: that those who don’t accept Jesus’ sacrificial death and eternal life-giving resurrection will be eternally separated from God and tormented forever, without the possibility of a second chance. Will people go to hell for supporting abortion or euthanasia or same-sex marriage or will they go there for rejecting God’s salvation through Jesus? In the light of your answer to that question, what is the FIRST and MOST IMPORTANT message the Church needs to communicate?
If you were to ask non-Christians what the church’s view of same-sex marriage is (or abortion, or Euthanasia or….) they’d be able to tell you: the church is against it. If you asked those same people what it means to be a Christian they’d probably tell you it’s about being a good person and going to church. What that reveals is that the Church collectively, and Christians individually, have largely failed to communicate the true gospel to people who so desperately need to hear it.
The apostle Paul summarises this wonderful message of good news in his second letter to the Corinthians. In writing to this church he reminds them of what happened when they first believed in Jesus, “God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). The church’s FIRST and MOST IMPORTANT message to non-Christians is the message of reconciliation. Reconciliation is being restored to friendly terms – we were once enemies of God but because of Jesus we are reunited with Him. The original Greek word Paul used meant to change money. In Jesus hostility is exchanged for friendship.
Why do Christian people (including pastors) so often count people’s sins? Does this draw people towards God or away from Him? Sadly, I think it repels rather than attracts. Any message that clouds the message of reconciliation compromises the gospel we are to uphold. God sent Jesus to save, forgive and bring people back into a relationship with Himself. That has got to be the message Australians hear from Australian Christians – including pastors.
It should be noted that Corinth was one of the most evil and sexually depraved cities of the first century, and the apostle certainly addressed the importance of purity in the church community, but he also made it clear that the church is not called to be the moral policeman to the broader society: “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… What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside” (1 Corinthians 5:9-10, 12-13). What a very different message those outside the church get in Australia (and other Western nations) in this day and age.
Some of the people who commented on my Facebook thread reminded me of how important it is for people to repent. I agree, repentance is a vital step in the salvation process, but it’s not the first step. Many people aren’t ready to repent; they’re not even considering the Christian faith as an option, and a large reason for this is the messaging they get from the church. In his letter to the church at Rome Paul wrote that it is God’s kindness, tolerance and patience that lead people to repentance. That’s right, kindness, tolerance and patience not moral blustering and judgmental attitudes. One attracts the other repels.
Others reminded me that Jesus told the woman caught in the act of adultery to, “Go and sin no more” (John 8). Indeed He did say that to her, after He’d dispensed of all her hypocritical accusers and chosen not to condemn her Himself. As the only sinless man Jesus is the only person qualified to tell someone to leave his or her life of sin. The rest of us should walk very gently with our fellow sinners.
This week another famous Christian brought a message of good news to the thousands gathered for the One Love Manchester concert. He’s a young guy who hasn’t always lived up to the “Christian standard.” It seems to me that its taken a few years for him to wrestle with his faith and his fame, but two weeks ago Justin Bieber posted three words on his Instagram page, “I follow Jesus.” To the massive crowd in Manchester he said, “God is good in the midst of the darkness. God is good in the midst of the evil. God is in the midst no matter what’s happening in the world, God is in the midst, and He loves you and He’s here for you.”
Now THAT’S the sort of message Australians should be hearing from our well-known Christians. THAT’S the kind of message that has the ability to attract people TO Jesus rather than repel them from Him!
Rob Buckingham is the senior minister of Bayside Church, Melbourne Australia
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