players, coaches, and dads :: a christian guide to finger-pointing

May 19, 2011

I was mowing the lawn and listening to a message from Rob Bell.  I remember the spot. I was between those two pine trees in our yard where it is hard to twist the mower into the right position without scratching up your elbows on the branches.  I remember it, I think, because sometimes when you hear something significant that grabs your attention and rings your proverbial bell (no pun intended), the moment is preserved like a snapshot.  I had to stand still for a moment.  The implications were deep and far reaching. With the muted hum of the mower fighting for my attention behind the earbuds of my iPod, Rob’s words rang in my head, and my heart began to swell in resonnance…

“The Church is not called to be the moral police of the world.”

I think… I think this is right.  I really do.  I think not only is is right, it is important.  In fact, I think the evangelical Church has often hurt the cause of sharing the gospel and loving people well because we’re too busy judging those who aren’t even on the team.

Let this idea ring in your mind a bit.  You – your church – are not called to pour out judgment on the unbelieving world.  How does that make you feel? Are you nodding your head in agreement?  Are you concerned – blood pressure rising – because this sounds like cheap-grace pandering to the lowest common moral denominator?  Or option three… you honestly don’t know what to think. Should the church proclaim the high moral values that the Bible makes clear, or do we save the moral judgments for the pulpit on Sunday morning?  Or… is there another way?

Just take note of how you feel. “The Church is not called to be the moral police of the world.”

If you have a problem with Rob Bell, get in line.  Thousands of blog posts and articles have and will continue to examine Pastor Bell’s theological positions with regard to orthodox Christian beliefs.  This is not one of those posts.  This isn’t about the man.  It’s about the idea.  “The Church is not called to be the moral police of the world.”

Why does this matter?  Because the world is broken. People are hurting.  Marriages are stressed, and as people who are far from God try to find peace through relationships, chemicals, distractions, and financial sucess, they often realize that in their core… when it’s quiet… something is still unsettled.  God wired us with a conscience and with a need for peace that can only be met by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

So many people are wounded, lost, scared, and faking it. They need God’s love, and they already know they don’t measure up.  They know this isn’t working.

So this becomes a discussion of church methodology, and personal evangelism, and just how we ought to relate to our coworkers and fellow soccer moms and little league dads and neighbors.  I believe that grace and love, in and because of Jesus, has more life-changing power than moralizing and finger-pointing.  If you want to assure that your gay neighbor will never set foot inside the doors of your church, just treat him with contempt.  If you want to be sure that the twenty-something administrastive assistant in the cubicle around the corner from you who just moved in with her boyfriend feels unwelcome to come to your church, be sure to offer your unsolicited opinion about shacking up.

Now before you think I’m a conflict-avoider who is advocating a jello-for-backbone approach to morality and culture, let me be clear:  I’m a huge fan of living out your convictions with clarity and integrity.  I’m not saying we should have no discernable values. On the contrary.  I am saying that I agree with Rob Bell here in that just BECAUSE we have strong moral guidelines – Biblical guidelines – we are not necessarily called to FOIST those moral guidelines on those who are not yet a part of the Kingdom of God through a relationship with Jesus.

Real-life parallel: Isaac, our 10-year-old, made the Texas Rangers this year.  Plymouth, MN, Little League style.  His coach is a man’s man, a leader, and is all about developing disciplined young men of character who also happen to be outstanding ball players.

Games start at 6PM.  Players need to be on the field at 5:10PM.  Players who arrive at 5:12… sit.  This is about Team values.  It’s about being there when you’re told to be there.  It’s about discipline.

As a Seminary student coming into the end of a crazy busy year, I haven’t been able to stay through every 2-hour game this season.  Often I come in half way through the 3rd inning to cheer on the team.  Never once has the coach chewed me out for lacking the proper degree of passion for the game or for having the wrong priorities.  Why? Because I’m not on the Team.  Now, I don’t enjoy the benefits of the Team either.  If I jogged out to second base some game-day afternoon, expecting to cover the infield for the boys, Coach would have some direct words for me, I’m sure.  But neither does he hold me accountable to the Team rules.  When coach yells “Hustle!” between innings as the boys take their positions, he’s talking to the Team, not to me.

Too simple?  I mean when we talk about morality and spiritual guidelines, aren’t there ETERNAL consequences on the line?

Yes.  There are eternal souls at stake. So we better get this right.  In fact, Paul clarifies in 1 Corinthians 5 that not only are we not to judge the unbelievers we rub shoulders with, we ought to intentionally build relationships with them.  THAT is the Biblical plan.  No bullhorns.  Relationships. No contempt. Love. We are not the world’s moral police.

Save your judgement for those inside the church who call themselves “brothers,” but refuse to live by the Word and the Spirit.  There is a place for judgement – within the relational family of the local congregation, where we sharpen each other in love, with humility, and with the goal of redemption.  Look at 1 Corinthians 5:12-13…

“For what have I to do with judging outsiders?  Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?  God judges those outside.”

We can’t expect those who aren’t children of God to live like they are.  If we do, we risk alienating wounded, broken, hurting people who are searching for peace and don’t know how to find it.

It is true that Peter’s message in Acts to the unbelieving crowd in Jerusalem pulled no punches.  “You killed God.  Repent…” he said.  And it is also true that many spirit-led, Christ-honoring revivals have been sparked by the clear message, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near.”  I know this is true, and I don’t discount that God uses clear Law and Gospel preaching even to reach the hearts of strangers and outsiders who have never thought they would set foot in the door of a church.  Sometimes, the Spirit leads, and the Law must be preached.

But I’m not talking about revival meetings and street-preaching miracles here.  I’m talking about Thursday afternoon. I’m talking about work tomorrow.  I’m talking about that guy who waits tables with you and is far more open about his personal romantic expoits than you’d ever want him to be.  Those people don’t need policemen to fix them first.  They need to be introduced to Jesus now – while they are yet sinners – because Jesus is pursuing relationship with them now.  As long as it is called Today.

The Word and the Spirit will do their refining work on the hearts of those who are on the Team.  But let’s not hold the crowd outside the fence to the Team standard.  Let’s invite them onto the Team first.

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Psalm 24:7 & Luke 10:42 >> Like David, and Mary, I'm in pursuit of my one thing. I'm the Pastor at St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Montgomery, IL. Pastor, teacher, writer, communicator, designer, and drummer. I definitely got the better deal in my marriage to Amy. And I couldn't be any more proud of my five amazing boys. Deeply grateful.

4 responses to players, coaches, and dads :: a christian guide to finger-pointing

  1. I think you’re right about this, Josh– I absolutely do. Question, though– Do you still see a place for Christians in the public arena to speak up about what’s right and wrong? If so (and I’m guessing the answer to my question is “yes”), how do you think we can address that dichotomy? That’s something that’s always thrown me for a bit of a loop…. 😉

    • Renah – great question. And my answer will have to be nuanced because it’s not simple.

      (1) YES, I do think there is a place for representatives of Jesus Christ to proclaim clear moral values, derived from the Bible, in the public arena. We have the freedom to express our views publicly in this amazing country – we ought to be among the voices that are shaping culture.

      (2) I don’t believe every Christian is called to lend their voice to that discussion in the public forum. I think I will get some disagreement here. But I believe God has shaped his Body with many parts representing many different gifts. Some will be given a conviction for right and wrong that runs deep, coupled with a Spirit-led prompting to stand up for the truth in an unapologetic way in our cultural dialog. I think the manner in which we take that stand, however, will go a LONG way in whether or not we are actually “heard” and our views considered by those taking a different stand.

      (3) I think that those who publicly represent Jesus Christ in Pastoral ministry, for example, ought to think and pray through the way they speak about their convictions in a public forum. Case in point: We have a house in Crystal. Before we moved on campus, Amy and I lived there for 10 years. Although I have very strong political interests and work from time to time “behind the scenes” to help candidates, I do not put up political yard signs. I made a choice in our neighborhood not to intentionally “close doors” with people who might write me off because of my politics. Relational ministry is just more important. This isn’t EXACTLY what I’m writing about in this post, but it’s along the same line.

      (4) There is a bit of a “macro vs. micro” distinction here. For example, I believe the Bible is clear on the matter of homosexual PRACTICE. I have taken that stand publicly – even on this blog (http://bit.ly/iugzU1). However, my best friend from high school is gay. I have coworkers who are gay. I don’t spend my relational capital with them trying to convince them that they are sinners because of it. I think the Lord will work in his time, and I am happy to have open conversations with them about this – BECAUSE they know I love them first as people. I can be fully myself, holding my convictions, and fully honest without being offensive, rude, of self-righteous.

      (5) Being a Christian with clear moral boundaries does not give any of us license to be jerks. The same common sense relational rules apply to us as do throughout polite society. When a friend of mine sees an unhealthy habit in my life, or a dangerous moral blind spot, they have access to my heart. I hear their concerns and warnings for me because they have my permission to speak the truth to me. However, if someone I don’t know or the random stranger in Target criticizes my parenting or my choice of groceries or, well… judges just about anything I believe or choose or do… I not only don’t take their pointed words to heart – I get irritated. I guess I’m advocating, as much as possible, and whenever possible, building relationships that create the possibility of conversation about things that really matter.

      We need some spokesmen for the truth. But much, much more, the Church needs millions of Christ-followers who love people well.

      • thanks—good stuff to consider and hopefully, live out. I think I’ve heard so much about how “Christians have to impact the culture more,” whatever that implies, that it’s sometimes hard to tell when to speak up and when to shut up. 🙂 And I guess any cultural change has to happen first on an individual level…
        This really ties back to your previous post about not preaching “law” to people who already know they’re sinful; yes, we want cultural (and individual) change but we don’t want that at the expense of turning people away from Christ; yes, we want cultural change but we CAN’T accomplish it by telling people that they’re wrong and must change. (When has that ever worked?) Repentance is the work of the Holy Spirit, plain and simple, whether it’s on a national level or an individual level.
        I’ll have to consider this some more, but I think you might be right when you say that not everyone is called to be part of the public discussion on different moral issues–God called prophets who preached repentance to Israel…. but not every faithful person in ancient Israel had that calling.
        ok, sorry, here I am wandering from the topic…
        Thanks again for your response– I really appreciate your thoughtful and articulate approach to all this.

        • Renah – your input on this blog has been truly intelligent and insightful. Love having you in on the discussion here. It’s an honor. 🙂 God bless – and please say hi to your folks for me, too. 🙂