Friday, June 10, 2011

God's Scandalous Grace

Did that title get your mind going? Well, consider with me for a few moments ...

God accepted horrible people like the thief on the cross, the murderous persecutor of Christians, Paul of Tarsus, and the self-confessed sex addict, Augustine of Hippo, but will in eternity turn away untold numbers of non-believing "nice" "humanitarian" people. It's as if being a "good" person among fellow human beings isn't the criterion for God's acceptance ... scandalous!

Then there's my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ of a more legalistic bent. In their eyes, these worldly people coming into the church with their lurid pasts, worldly manner of dress and personal habits ... and their church is expected to accept these kinds of people? God did and does ... scandalous!

It occurred to me recently, there's a significant difference (not the only one, sadly) between the church culture in which I was raised and for the most part have lived for the past nearly 6 decades and that of the early church. Many of the Christians I've been around most of my life have been 2nd-, 3rd- and beyond-generation Christians, or denizens of a christianized culture who, while not Christians, still lived within the mores of that culture and finally had become (1st-generation) Christian believers. By way of contrast, in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 Paul gave a laundry list of debauched sins, and then told the church at Corinth, "And such were some of you"! While the christianization of much of US culture up into the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s may have made for US culture to be, as a whole, pleasant, I think it had unfortunate consequences - dare I say it, scandalous consequences - in the church. For many US churches, and the people in them, the memories of fellowshipping with and helping people with a, "And such were some of you," background, are so dim or so far in the past that it has stunted such churches', such peoples', ability to reach out to and minister to and with people with "complicated" personal histories. I'm including me among those who have this problem!

As I occasionally say, our pasts may have different junk, but each of us does have our junk. And while some junk has greater human and temporal consequences than does other junk, in God's eyes, junk (sin) is junk (sin). Is it a coincidence that those churches - denominations and individual congregations - in the US that have been the most dynamic, across many decades, have been those that have been best at reaching out to and discipling people with a, "And such were some of you," background? One of the things about Christianity that has scandalized non-believers, across 2 millennia, has been the church's willingness to reach out to lower class, socially "marginal" people. It's as if the church has drawn and renewed its strength through those millennia from the change that Jesus, through God's grace, brings into such people's lives. If some Christians (me included!) have lost their ability to bring God's grace to people who need it (as if we all aren't in constant need of God's grace!), that is truly and eternally scandalous!

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