Really Living as God's Church

By Rev. David Wilson Rogers |  February 28, 2015

            It is a conversation that has happened more times that can be counted. The details may vary from one conversation to the other, but one fundamental truth remains. One of the biggest reasons people do not want to be in church is because they are tired of Christians not behaving like Christ.
            It is a harsh statement. Yet, looking into some of the details as to why people make this painfully honest claim is very significant.
            Many people feel the church is guilty of an unethical “Bait and Switch” scam when it comes to membership and participation. Messages of equality and “come as you are” are showered on newcomers (or would-be newcomers) and once the congregation feels the new Christian is on board, the rules change.
It is rarely an explicit message. Rather, the communication is very subtle, largely unintended, and often exceptionally nonverbal. “God loves you just as you are, but in this church you had better be like us or you cannot know God’s love.” –Ouch!
Taking a step back, it is easy to understand that life in Christ means that one necessarily must repent and turn from a life in sin.  Churches do not say that one’s sin is perfectly fine before God or suggest that sin does not matter to God. Sin is sin and our fidelity to God necessarily compels us to turn from that sin.
It is how the sin is handled that is the issue. In the sixth chapter of Galatians, Paul reminds the church that one is found in sin, it is the responsibility of the faith community to restore that one in a spirit of gentleness. Too often the church becomes so consumed in its own sense of self-righteousness, or clings so tightly to its own limited understanding of how things absolutely must be, that the spirit of gentleness is gone. In its place comes harsh judgment, legalism, and a religion based more on dishing out God’s wrath than living in God’s love.  
It is not insignificant that Paul mentions this gentle corrective nature of Christian right after comparing the hideous list of “works of the flesh” to the divine righteousness of the “fruits of the Spirit.” These two contrasting lists in the fifth chapter of Galatians serve as a scriptural standard by which we may gauge the authenticity of our Christian witness.
Consider the people within the Body of Christ with whom you find the most disgust. Perhaps their theology disagrees with yours. Perhaps they attend a church far different from the one you call home. Perhaps their conduct in worship has offended you somehow. Perhaps you view them as lost in sin and their role in the church simply infuriates you to no end.
How do we deal with such a person? Do we anoint them in God’s unconditional love, allow them to bask in the gentleness of God’s spirit within each of us? Or, do we tend to judge and condemn?
There are a lot of really great people—even devout Christians—who have completely given up on the church because they only see the dark side of our religious faith. God’s standards are important. Our church customs and traditions also matter. Yet, when enforced with a heavy hand, a judgmental stare, or an angry vengeance, we do not serve God. In that case all we truly serve is our own narcissistic need to be in control and make ourselves feel right before God.
The Christian faith is so much more and it is our responsibility to not only talk about God’s love, but also to live that love in all aspects of our faith. If we truly believe in Christ who calls us to love one another, it is time the church live that command!