I was listening to a Fermi Project podcast the other day where Gabe Lyons was interviewing author Brian McLaren. The overall topic was about how Christians can turn around some of the perceptions held about us by those outside the faith, but he made one comment that really struck a chord with me.
What McLaren was basically asking was, is modern Christianity going to be a movement of social transformation or a movement of social CONTROL?
Wow! What a question. I mean, it really gets to the heart of what we’re about, doesn’t it?
So often, I’m certain that folks from outside the Christian community see the latter. I mean, here we are, standing in our lofty churches, telling people they have to quit drinking, quit smoking, quit being homosexual, quit this, quit that. Oh, we try to say the right things. Things like “Well, we love the sinner, but we hate the sin.” Bull crap! What we’re really saying is, “live by our rules or else!”
McLaren goes on to say that, everytime in history when Christians try to exert social control, Christianity becomes ugly. The crusades. The inquisition. The Salem witch trials. Bombing abortion clinics. Carrying around “God hates fags” signs.
Over and over, Christians portray very UNCHRISTIAN behavior in the name of God. Yep…we invoke the name of a loving, caring, forgiving, merciful God to carry out ruthless, hateful, intolerant, unforgiving actions. Sure, some of these illustrations are the extremes and certainly not the norm of Christian culture. Most of the time, Christians will distance themselves from such extreme behavior. But do we ever really step up to STOP it?
When are we going to start invoking the name of a loving, caring, forgiving, merciful God to be loving, caring, forgiving and merciful?
McLaren juxtaposes the image of a movement of social control with the notion that Christianity lives in all its vitality when we’re focused on social transformation. The early church spread through the developing world like wildfire when it brought a message of hope and healing. By the time Constantine declared the Roman Empire to be the HOLY Roman Empire, it had already been Christianized, because people saw the Christian life as a way they WANTED to live. When the church stepped in during the Plauge to care for people when all the medical professionals ran away in fear, people saw a picture of a Christians as people whose purpose was to care for their fellow human beings. Christianity today is growing fastest in parts of the world where Christians come to offer hope and healing where death and destruction have become part of the landscape.
And it’s shrinking the fastest in our part of the world, where Christians too often seek to impose our will without offering Christ’s hope and healing.
Nowhere in the Bible does Jesus tell anyone they have to change their ways before he offers them healing and transformation. Can you imagine if he had told the woman at the well she had to straighten up her life before he offered the gift of living water? If he had told the blind they had to repent first before he would restore their sight? If he had told Lazarus what kind of life to live before he raised him from the dead? If he had asked Legion to promise to be good before he drove out his demons?
What kind of “good news” would that have been?
The gospel of transformation is contagious. People don’t want to be controlled, they want to be healed. And you can’t offer both. God asks us to surrender control to Him, not to other people. And he offers to heal us first! Isn’t it easier to surrender control out of gratitude than out of obligation?
The gospel of grace is ONLY good news BECAUSE it is a gift freely given, without pre-conditions. So when Christianity becomes a movement of social control, the Gospel itself is utterly abandoned. Is that what we really want?