I’ve heard stories like these again and again:
- The obnoxious deacon literally poked his finger in the chest of the new pastor in the church foyer and told him – in no uncertain terms – what he could and could not do.
- The overbearing old accountant spoke harshly to the young financial secretary, telling her brusquely that she didn’t know what she was doing and “everybody knows that I just tell it like it is.”
- The troubled young woman was allowed to gossip freely by everyone in the congregation. She and her husband insisted that she was not mentally ill and was not in need of counseling or other professional help, but somehow, she was “special” and had to be handled with kid gloves. For her, the church covenant didn’t apply.
In every one of these cases, when I asked church leaders why these situations were allowed to continue, the answer was:
“In our church, we just show grace.”
That’s such a nice way of putting it. Who can argue with the spiritual one-upsmanship of “showing grace?” It sounds so godly, and we do want to be godly, don’t we?
But “showing grace” isn’t gracious at all in circumstances where (1) not-yet-Christians are given bad examples, or (2) innocent young believers in Jesus are being hurt, or (3) troubled Christians are forever allowed to remain immature, rude and selfish.
If we think about the grace of God – certainly our rightful example – His unmerited favor or help, or, as it’s often described, “GRACE=God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense,” we see that grace hates sin, confronts sin, expiates sin, cures sin, rescues from sin, but it never, ever indulges it.
God doesn’t laugh at sin, wink at sin, or minimize its harmful effects. Sin always hurts people and offends God, because God is loving and God is holy.
None of this means that we shouldn’t:
- Unconditionally love the most sin-enslaved unbeliever, remembering that apart from the grace of God, our lives might be just as ungodly as his,
- Be incredibly patient with the brand-new believer, knowing that the Holy Spirit will convict her about her bad habits in His own good time,
- Continue to love problematic persons – like the ones I described earlier – whom we find it necessary to lovingly confront.
But real love, God’s love, will always move us to loving discipline (training). Love drives us to help our fellow Christ-followers to forsake sinful, destructive behaviors, for their own sakes as well as for the good of the Body of Christ, the church.
Clearly, one of the tasks of God-given church elders (paid and unpaid) is the protection of the unity and joy of the family of God by way of the loving confrontation of “biting sheep.”
- Acts 20:29 speaks of the need for elders to defend against the “fierce wolves” who could ravage a flock of God
- Throughout II Timothy the Apostle Paul writes about the need for loving, patient correction of difficult people
- Titus 2:11 insists that the grace of God trains us to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age. Did you get that? The grace of God does this.
There is a wonderful side-benefit that results from facing sinful behaviors in our churches in godly ways, instead of just “showing grace.” At the risk of using an obscure theological term I’m going to go ahead and call this:
The de-kookification of your church
I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t love – and even enjoy – unusual, troubled, odd or even problematic people. God gives every church EGR (extra grace required) people, to test us, teach us and stretch us. Any truly loving, accepting church family will attract some of these dear folk.
But in “we just show grace” churches, congregations that indulge sin in the name of grace, such persons are allowed to disrupt the body life of the church, confuse, abuse or otherwise wound the young and vulnerable, control the cultural climate of the congregation or even – in the worst cases – wind up in positions of leadership or influence!
Such congregations need the above-mentioned de-kookification.
When church leaders learn how to practice genuinely gracious, loving, confrontive leadership – it’s likened to loving parenting in I Thessalonians two – formerly chaotic congregations become warm, welcoming, faith-growing, people-nourishing church families.
This is truly “showing grace.”