I watched a short clip of Jon Stewart mocking Sean Hannity the other day for a very blatant bit of hypocrisy. At one moment Hannity said one thing when it applied to his viewpoint, but then switched entirely when it dealt with an opposing one. Stewart and Hannity are as far apart on the political spectrum as possible, but the tension between them got me thinking.
We love rules that are hard and fast when they apply to others. For ourselves, we prefer a little wiggle room. Generally we find that dichotomy creates tension in our lives. It is that very dichotomy that creates massive amounts of tension within the church.
Most people tend to stay away from people who don’t see things like them. Family gatherings can be tense for people because politics and religion come up in ways that don’t happen for us when we are around the friends we have chosen. We’re stuck with our family. The church is often referred to as a family, but it more often reflects a group of social look-alikes because we don’t like the tension that comes from alternate viewpoints.
The early church was no different. Much of Paul’s writings, as well as the other New Testament Epistle writers, dealt with this tension. On the one hand, we want to fulfill the Great Commission that Jesus gave us, to make disciples of all the nations. That would be easy if everyone was already neat and clean and moral, but they aren’t. The people who are most likely to accept the gospel are often times the people who are dirty, out of the way and forgotten.
How often do we see churches that stop reaching people and become a stagnant group of individuals who grow old and die together? How many established churches in America have less than 10% new faces every year? It’s pretty high. The problem is the tension between grace and righteousness. Between mission and intimacy.
Jesus never stopped turning heads. He accepted the ones rejected by society and rejected those esteemed highly. The “sinners” He chose and the “righteous” He cast aside. But all the while, He never stopped encouraging obedience, righteousness and biblical values. For the author of scripture and creator of heaven and earth, that might not have been such a hard task. For us, it seems insurmountable at times.
When John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard Church movement, began leading hundreds of “hippies” to Jesus, his church asked he and all his new converts to leave. Why? They looked different. They smoked. They drank. They cursed. They were saved, but not fully sanctified (as if the other congregants were). They were messy.
This week, take a moment to think on these three dichotomies.
A church that stops accepting sinners stops being a church. A church that starts accepting sin stops being a church.
A church that stops preaching grace has lost its mission. A church that stops preaching righteousness has lost its soul.
A church constantly in transition is alive. A church that becomes stable is dead.
These ideas create tension within the church, but a tension that causes us to lean on God instead of our own understanding. Churches shouldn’t run away from these tensions, but toward them. We are all in process, and our church should be too. The problem with process is that it is messy.
The most beautiful pastries often come from the messiest kitchen counters. It is time for us to be concerned with what the cake looks like at the end, not so much how clean we can keep the counter in the process.
What do you think? What are some dichotomies of Christian tension you can think of that the church should embrace?