Imagine a man native to the region where you live. He gets Jesus. Grows. Starts a church. It flourishes. The dozens become hundreds. Your little missionary heart bursts with pride to see this man so successful. The church secretary and the volunteers overlook his hot temper and his prejudice towards people of a certain skin tone because, well, the church is growing, right?
Now, put a lit cigarette in that pastor’s hand while he preaches on Sunday morning. He takes a few drags and taps off the ash in an ashtray on the pulpit. He lights up a couple more before the final benediction. How many elders, do you think, would have his butt and the butts in that ashtray kicked to the curb before the sun when down on that holy Sunday?
Do I endorse smoking? Not so much. But I also don’t endorse racism.
Which one gets overlooked and which one gets condemned?
Issues like smoking, alcohol, styles of dress, entertainment choices, and language define and divide. These things can keep us apart from the very people we would hope to help. They cause church splits and drive wedges in mission organizations. They hold some people out of relationship with God and bind others in a fake one.
“Jesus consistently focused on people’s center: Are they oriented and moving toward the center of spiritual life (love of God and people), or are the moving away from it? … Jesus could say that the “tax collectors and the prostitutes” who were a million miles away from the religious subculture, but who had turned, converted, and oriented themselves towards God and love, were already in the kingdom. … The “righteous” were more damaged by their righteousness than the sinners by their sin.” – John Ortberg
Barriers and Bridges
Am I no longer a Christian because I occasionally have a beer or a glass of wine? Have I lost the faith because I consult with a counselor instead of only relying on the bible and prayer to solve problems? Does the tattoo inked on my arm separate me from the favor of God?
It may be time to redirect our energies. We can construct, reinforce, and repair our structures only to find we built a barrier instead of a bridge. We defend the standards we erect. We stay inside those high walls, unable to reach out to the people. Then comes the sad part; others cannot get in because they lack the tricks to traverse its enormity.
Might we utilize our creativity and resources to construct bridges instead? Could we assure instead of shun? Can we accept rather than inspect?
Would you support a national pastor who led well and loved Jesus, if he regularly smoked?
How about if he had tattoos? Or multiple wives? What sub-cultural barriers have we constructed, unwittingly or consciously, which may push people away from Christ? Or worse, keep us away from people?
– Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America