I’ve had multiple reasons to do a lot of thinking recently about the church and its response to the world. I grew up in a church that while the Gospel was preached, was very much a museum for “saints.” Very few in the church admitted their failings beyond the recited public confession we all read aloud during each service. Those who did admit their faults were often seen as being a worse person for it and sometimes were even picked on because of their willingness to be open. That is not the way things are supposed to be. Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” All. Not some. Not those who aren’t part of our church. Not the scary guy down the street. All includes us.
The church was never meant to be a museum for “saints.” Instead, the mission of the church is to be a hospital for sinners. 1 John 1:10 says, “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” In Mark 28:31, Jesus told the religious leaders of his day “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Yet, to many people who have not been impacted by the power of the Gospel, the message of the church is not of love, but of hate.
The problem seems to be that many Christians feel that an important way that they bring the Kingdom of God to earth in a more visible form is through politics. Interestingly, that’s the same approach taken by the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. They felt that they could hasten bringing the Messiah to earth by keeping the law perfectly. Their hypocritical observance of the law caused them to ignore the people who God wanted them to help–the people on the fringes of society.
I firmly believe that the way to bring the Kingdom of God to earth does not revolve around voting for candidates from any particular political party. The Kingdom of God isn’t restricted to a single political ideology or approach to society’s problems. In the United States, no political party has it right when it comes to pleasing God through their actions. You can’t bring the Kingdom of God to earth by passing laws. The way to influence people isn’t by telling they’re wrong or by holding them to a standard that Scripture doesn’t apply to those outside the Kingdom. The way to change people is by love.
We’re all greatly loved by God, a love that knows no boundaries. The approach laid out by Jesus in the scriptures is to meet people where they are. When Jesus met the woman at the well, he knew that she had a questionable past and had been forced to the edge of society. Yet, his message to her was of hope and forgiveness, not judgment. There is a time and a place to judge, but that is reserved for between followers of Christ who know each other well and are doing it out of love and not out of legalism.
Today, the people on the edge of our society aren’t orphans and widows, as they were in Jesus’ time. The message hasn’t changed, just the people to whom we are to deliver it. I like how Bono of U2 fame put it: “If Jesus Christ were on earth you’d find him in a gay bar in San Francisco. He’d be working with people suffering from AIDS. These people are the new lepers. just like the turn of BC / AD. Don’t touch them, walk away from them. If you want to find out where Jesus would be hanging out, it’ll always be with the lepers.” Why don’t we live that out?