It’s been said, “The problem with Christians nowadays is that nobody wants to stone them anymore.”
There’s much truth to that.
I engaged in an online discussion this weekend about the Church’s treatment of outsiders, namely those in the LGBT community. There’s an assumption in such conversations that if the Gospel was REALLY preached and if Christians were REALLY loving, then outsiders just couldn’t help but be wooed to Christ and embrace the Gospel. Translation: If Christians were more loving, LGBT folks wouldn’t be offended so much and leaving the Church
I just don’t think this is true.
Sure, Christians can be jerks. People sometimes leave churches because a church is joyless, unloving, legalistic, wishy-washy, phony, or irrelevant. Chesterton suggested that what many people reject is not Christ, but a false caricature. Likewise, if a church is portraying a “false caricature” of Christ or Christianity, it should be left. However, Scripture is pretty clear that not all “leavers” do so because a false Gospel is being preached or a “false Christ” is being portrayed.
Some people leave the Church because they have rightly heard the Gospel and its implications.
It’s fallacious to assume that if people reject our message, either our presentation is wrong or our message needs modified. If someone is offended by the Gospel, we say, either we’re not sharing the REAL Gospel or we’re not presenting it in a loving manner. However, when truth is lovingly spoken it can potentially hurt people’s feelings. And when people’s feelings are hurt, the messenger can be accused of being an unChrist-like meanie. Which many accuse Christians of being.
But if feelings are so sacred, I’m not sure Jesus got the message. Yes, He is meek and lowly of heart (Matt. 11:29). He is a friend of sinners (Matt. 11:19). He knows us intimately and loves us deeply. I am incredibly thankful for these things! But He also came to bring a sword and divide households (Matt. 10:34). He came to call sinners to repentance (Lk. 5:32). And He will return to judge the world.
These things definitely grate.
Not offending people or not hurting their feelings, wooing everyone to Himself, did not seem high on Jesus’ list of priorities.
- Jesus didn’t seem to care about the rich young ruler’s feelings when he told him to sell everything and give it to the poor.
- Jesus didn’t seem to worry about offending the adulteress when he told her to go and sin no more.
- Jesus didn’t seem concerned about the Pharisee’s feelings when He called them a brood of vipers.
- Jesus didn’t give Nicodemus other options to being born again.
- Jesus wasn’t worried about driving away the multitudes when He commanded them to eat His flesh and drink His blood.
- Jesus seemed unconcerned about the invalid’s feelings when he told him to stop sinning lest something worse come upon him.
- Jesus probably offended the moneychangers when He drove them out of the temple.
- Jesus didn’t care about Peter’s feelings when He called him “Satan” and told him to split.
- Jesus wasn’t concerned if people liked the Gospel when He told potential disciples that they couldn’t be followers unless they denied themselves and took up their crosses.
He was Jesus, so of course He cared about their feelings! He loved each one of them — including those blasted Pharisees. Their pain. Their brokenness. Their existential wanderings. Their rigid intolerance. Their genetic predispositions. Their squandered talents. How could He not care about them and their feelings?
But His love for them didn’t stop Him from speaking the truth.
Jesus loves you so much that He will risk offending you.
No, He probably won’t be mean, rude, pushy, or condemning. But He will tell you the truth. And whenever you tell the truth, you run the risk of offending someone. And being accused of being “mean, rude, pushy, or condemning.” Which is probably why Jesus offended so many people.
Sometimes offending people is evidence that we’re preaching a false Gospel. Sometimes offending people is evidence that we’re preaching the true Gospel.
In fact, the Apostle Paul said that “we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (I Cor. 1:23 NIV). In this sense, one way to know if you’re accurately preaching Christ is if some are offended and others call you a fool.
Just because LGBT people are leaving the Church or offended by Christians is not necessarily evidence that a church is not preaching the Gospel or that Christians are unloving.
Ultimately, if a Christian’s goal is to not be offensive, then they will either modify the Gospel or marginalize its message. Sadly, many Christians appear guilty of this. While some appear to strip the Gospel of its demands for moral change (repent and believe), others elevate love and social justice above the truth of Scripture. Either way, if we have to minimize or tinker with the Gospel to make it more palatable, then it’s not the Gospel we’re preaching.
Of course, the Church’s treatment of outsiders is really important. Indeed, some have left the Church and bailed on Christianity because of a poor caricature. We must take heed when this applies. However, let us not assume that if the Gospel is REALLY preached and if Christians are REALLY loving, then outsiders will come running to our churches. Yes, some people, upon hearing the Gospel, will turn to Christ. Others, will call you an unloving, insensitive, person. But if my theory is correct, you should rejoice in such renunciation. Because if you’re not offending someone, you’re not preaching the Gospel.
If some people don’t want to stone you, you might be doing something wrong.