Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Does your church exhibit grace?

A young man recently visited a church for the first time.  He sat near the front and took copious notes of the message.  He brought with him a can of soda.  After the service a woman in the church went to him and told him he was never to bring a drink into their sanctuary again.

At the end of a message a guest speaker was told that the church consititution required that the minister preach from the King James Version.  I was the guest speaker and had used the NKJV.  I never returned to speak at that church again.  Another minister was asked to lead a revival in yet another church.  He did use the KJV, but his Bible had a burgundy cover.  At the end of the first service he was told by the deacons that their church only permitted black covered Bibles and he did not need to return for the remaining services.

A pastor was laying in a hospital room recovering from an illness that he had fought for several days.  A representative from the church visited to tell him that he was being asked to resign immediately.  It had been learned a few weeks earlier that his unmarried daughter was pregnant, and since he did not have control of his household he could not lead their congregation.

Another pastor became angry during a business meeting because one of his proposals was rejected by the membership.  He stormed out of the church as soon as the vote on the matter was taken leaving a stunned congregation.  The next Sunday he called in "sick."  A member told me that was not the first time this had happened when he didn't get his way.

I could go on and on with similar stories.  The bottom line is that while our churches like to sing about grace, teach about grace, and experience grace for our failures, we often do a very poor job of giving grace to others, both inside and outside the church.  The world looks at our lack of grace and quickly determines that it's not interested in anything we have to offer.

Graceless churches often do not understand why they always have the problems they have.  The apostle Paul explained the situation this way, "But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another."  That is exactly what is happening.  Graceless churches are being consumed internally by their own lack of grace.  We attack this and that and soon become much better known for what we oppose than what we support, and our ability to present Jesus Christ to an unbelieving world is forfeited.

I realize that grace can be risky.  Some will want to take advantage of it and turn grace into license.  Nothing I've written here says that we can ignore the clear teachings of Scripture and appear soft on sin.  Jesus confronted sin whereever He encountered it, but He did so in a manner than demonstrated His love for the person.  Churck Swindoll once wrote, "'Cheap grace' justifies the sin rather than the sinner.  True grace, on the other hand, justifies the sinner, not the sin."  There's a huge difference.  We do not have to be afraid of extending true grace to others.

It has been well said that the church is to be a hospital for sinners, not a hotel for saints.  At various times in our lives we all need forgiveness for our sins.  Let's be as quick to extend grace to others as we are to receive it for ourselves.  You can learn more about this problem in my book The Healthy Community.

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