“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.
“players, coaches, and dads :: a christian guide to finger-pointing” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.