2393) Reasons to Stay Away From Church (part 2 of 2)

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     (…continued)  Another reason people say they stay away from church is because church people are so judgmental.  This charge of being judgmental is an interesting one.  If someone says I am judgmental, aren’t they making a judgment about me?  Of course, we all have to make judgments about others every day.  Parents have to make judgments about their children’s behavior, teachers have to make judgments about their student’s performance, employers have to make judgments about their employees’ work, and so on.  The Bible itself goes back and forth on this, sometimes telling us to discern well and make good wise judgments, other times telling us to ‘judge not.’   It all depends on what kind of judgments we are making and for what purpose and in what spirit.

     In Romans 14, Paul addresses some differences of opinion about how to observe sacred days, and about what food should or should not be eaten by the new Christians in Rome.  Paul says these are disputable matters, implying that good people of faith may disagree.  Then he says “Let us stop passing judgment on one another.”  He also adds an important caution, saying in verse ten, “Why do you treat others with contempt, for we will all stand before God’s judgment seat?”

     In the church we always have to be making judgments about what is right and what is wrong.  God calls us to live good and obedient lives, and it will always be a challenge to figure out what that means.  And we want to get this right, for Paul also says in verse 12 “Each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.”  But, Paul adds, we must do this without treating people with ‘contempt’ so as to put a stumbling block in the way of a brother or sister; not as a church, and not in our daily conversations.  We have a lot going on in our society these days, and there is an ever widening cultural divide.  We all have far too much contempt for each other.  As a church, we are indeed called upon to make judgments on moral issues, but it must be done without contempt, even if we are being treated with contempt.

     Finally there is the objection that the church has too many hypocrites.  To someone making this objection, I would say, “Are you kidding?  Of course we have hypocrites around here.  We also have adulterers, liars, deceivers, snobs, people who are too greedy for their own good, crabby and ungrateful people, angry and mean-spirited people, jealous people, people who gossip, smart aleck, rebellious teen-agers, and we might even have a few bigots.  Yes, we do let in just about anybody.  In fact, the only type we don’t allow and don’t have is perfect people.   That’s because Jesus himself said he wasn’t here for them.  He was one time criticized for hanging around with some people with a bad reputation and he said, “I am not here for the healthy but for the sick.”  Sick people with sinful hearts are the only kind we allow in here.

     Luke 15 describes the good shepherd who looks all over and tries everything to get back one lost little sheep.  That’s who the church is here for.  We are here for those who are lost in sin or confusion or envy or despair or even hypocrisy.  Just because someone has signed up for membership doesn’t mean they are all better.  What would the critics want us to do?  Keep out all hypocrites?  Who else should we then keep out?  And who should decide who we let in and who we don’t allow in?  We let Jesus decide, and Jesus says let anyone in—that is, unless they are perfect.

     Once in, everyone is expected to start making some changes.  God accepts us as we are, but God does not want us to stay that way.  God expects us all to grow in faith and obedience to his Law.  But all are invited.

     My wife and I had a couple kids, and do you know what?  When they came home from the hospital after they were born, they couldn’t even talk or walk.  But we brought them home anyway, hoping there would be some improvement in their abilities, and there was.  But it took a while.

     In God’s eyes, we are all children, babies even, crawling along in the faith, with a long way to go.  But he is working on us, and he does that by his Word, and you hear that Word in church.  Some people might be doing better than others, and some aren’t doing very well at all.  But I do believe God is making some progress with us, and you never know how much worse someone would be if they weren’t coming to church.

     I often say to people who have problems with the church, “You think you’ve got objections.  I’ve been in churches for 60-some years and an employee of them for 36 years.  I am sure I could make a much longer list of problems than you.  But there are some things that I get at church that I can get nowhere else.  I get a Word from God, an eternal Word; and an opportunity to confess my sins and start over, and a promise that lifts me above my troubles.  It’s a messy world, and the church is no different.  But I go to church to find a word of grace and hope and an opportunity each week to have a fresh start and do better.  And I get to do that in a diverse group of wonderful and sometimes annoying people that are on the same path.  It can be a burden, but what is given there is life’s greatest blessing.”

     In Numbers 10 Moses, an insider, makes an invitation to Hobab, an outsider.  Moses said to him, “Come with us, Hobab, and it will do thee good.”  Hobab says no, just like a lot of people we invite say no.  They have all those objections.  But Moses asks again, “Please do not leave us,” he says, “we will share with you whatever good things the Lord gives us.”  And that is how it ends.  We don’t know what Hobab did.  But it was a friendly invitation, from a tired man, who was leading a motley crew of imperfect and infuriating people, through a dreary wilderness.  But Moses knew they were on their way to something better, and said, “Come on along.  It will do thee good. The Lord has good things to give us.”

     When people object to who we are and what we do, oftentimes we have to agree they might be right.  But we are not in the church primarily because we are good, but because God is good.

     Moses said, “The Lord has good things for us.”  Let’s do what we can to share those good things with those who do not yet have them.


Luke 15:1-7  —  Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus.  But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”   Then Jesus told them this parable:  “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them.  Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?  And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home.  Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’  I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”


Posted at St. Stephen’s Walbrook church, London; written by Bishop Thomas Ken  (1637-1711):

O God, make the door of this house wide enough to receive all who need human love and fellowship; narrow enough to shut out all envy, pride, and strife.  Make its threshold smooth enough to be no stumbling-block to children, nor to straying feet, but rugged and strong enough to turn back the tempter’s power.  God make the door of this house the gateway to thine eternal kingdom.