Monday, May 07, 2012

The Church Is For Immoral People

The world has plenty of people who are immoral, weird or just plain unpleasant. We get that. All you have to do is visit a big city and you will see all sorts of sinners and crackpots. They have always been around and they always will be. We read about them in the Bible when Jesus went to them, lepers and slutty women and kooks like John the Baptist. Truth be known we kind of shudder a little bit. I mean ugh, who wants to be around dirty lepers and skanky women, prostitutes and dirtbags? Gross.

That is not who we want. The immoral people, the radical people, the somewhat unhinged people with funny ideas are not the right kind of people. You don't plant churches where people are too radical or too poor or too needy. You plant them where there is a rich (pun intended) supply of the Right Kind Of People. You know the kind of people I mean.

The kind of people who pay their taxes, coach Little League, have mortgages, are involved in their kid's school and dutifully send those kids to college so they can repeat the cycle of moral, upstanding citizenry. People who always vote and always vote Republican, who oppose abortion and gay marriage and hate the government when it taxes them  but support government laws on capital punishment, intrusive law enforcement and hundreds of billions in defense spending a year to keep them "safe". If there is anything The Church Of Middle-Class Morality ® values above all else it is the security the world offers, keeping the weird people, the immoral people and the kooks away from us. We lock up our "churches" and set alarms so that they don't steal our stuff. Morally upstanding, neatly mowed lawns, Sunday best kind of people. That is what we are after.

Yessirre Bob. In America The Church Of Middle-Class Morality ® is the name of the game. We don't want people with problems, or at least people with problems they insist on telling us about. We also absolutely don't want people who ask questions or get all radical about stuff. This boat has been sailing along just fine for a long time and the last thing we need is someone rocking it. Rocking the boat makes people uncomfortable and uncomfortable people are less likely to keep showing up and keeping the funds flowing.

There is one teensy tiny problem.

The Church Of Middle-Class Morality ® is not the church Jesus came to save.

Jesus didn't come to save a bunch of moral people, making the moral citizens just a little better. Jesus came to save a church of people who were dead in their sins, outcasts and unwanted. While Jesus certainly did have some followers who were part of the elite, Nicodemus comes to mind, the vast majority of those He associated with were the unwanted. When the Pharisees and scribes questioned Jesus, asking Him why He and His disciples dined with the immoral of the day, the traitorous tax collectors and other sinners, Jesus offered a stinging rebuke

And Jesus answered them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance." (Luk 5:31-32)

Of course they missed He was burning them completely and cluelessly asked more questions. So have we.

I read that passage yesterday morning and it really rocked me like it never has before. I am one of those people. I was sick and desperately in need of a cure even though I didn't realize it. I was a sinner, even worse I was a super-religious sinner in mormonism: suit and tie every Sunday. Tithed as best as we could. Did the activities when asked, showed up at "church" when expected. Looked and acted and talked like the religious guy I was. Then Jesus interferred and messed everything up and I realized that I wasn't quite as moral and righteous as I thought. So I left that life behind and followed Christ. Yea me!

Guess what? It didn't take long before I was right back where I was, a religious and moral person, just with better theology. I traded one moralistic religious system for another. It was actually pretty easy for me in a lot of ways. Different pew, different doctrine but the same middle-class plastic smiles, the same suit and tie, the same basic format, the same Sunday morning religious moralism. There still is no place for the whackjobs and the radicals, no room for sacred cow tippers and hornet nest pokers. Those people are still out there of course but they still didn't come to us. Of course not because, you know, they are sinners and immoral people.

When I talk to people like *those people* now, it still jars me. I am afraid of what my face is doing when they tell me their story about serious family dysfunction, abuse and neglect. About fathers they never knew and mothers with drug problems. About lives where choosing which college to go to wasn't really on their radar. All I can think is "No wonder you are so screwed up" and "I am glad I am not you". Then I try to remember that they are not any more messed up than I am. I just cover it better because I have a "better" upbringing. I was raised to be a more moral person and that is precisely what I am. I vote and pay my taxes and have a good job with health insurance for my kids. I keep my hair fairly neat, dress professionally at work and don't get arrested.

I am not saying that there is anything wrong with being moral but that is not what the Kingdom is about. Gathering up moral people to come to church is not the great commission. We cannot be afraid of the weird, the unpleasant and the radical. Jesus came to save the sick, the helpless, the immoral and He was opposed at every turn by the morally upstanding religious people of the day. As His disciples where should we focus our energy, on reaching those no one else wants or pandering to those everyone respects? Here is a great place to ask the question, what would Jesus do? More to the point what did Jesus do? Shouldn't we do the same?


Mato said...

Found your article through Google+.

I don't disagree with any of your assertions in particular, but I am curious about what the Church at large would do about it.

You very correctly argue that sinners are the people that Jesus came to save. However, within your argument, you also seem to suppose that "Moral" people are in fact "saved" or "healed" in some fashion. A general reading of Romans indicts anyone who claims morality as a form of salvation, and a glossing over of Matt 23 will scathe anyone who even thinks such a thing. The fact of the matter is that the word calls *all* men sinners, morality be damned.

Regardless, I think what you're observing is more correlative than causative. A church is popular in more "stable, well-to-do" areas because it has the money, support, and body to survive. Churches don't blossom in less stable areas because they do not have those resources, or if they do, they are difficult to build. I don't think any new pastor or reverend says to themselves "I want to build a church for rich, right-winged, white people." I think they just want to build a church.

Your idealism is admirable though, as is your heart for the lost. I pray you find an outlet befitting your talents to pursue it.

Arthur Sido said...


Thanks for your comment!

I in no way assume that moral people are saved. Quite the opposite. I have asserted any number of times that the "church" as we understand it is full of moral, religious people who are as lost as a Muslim imam or a atheist.

I am skeptical of the idea that the church thrives among the well-to-do. Certainly religious institutions do but the church has always thrived when it is on the margins and persecuted. I would go so far as to say that the worst thing that happened to the church was for it to become popular and acceptable by the broader culture.

The greater theme here is that we tragically misunderstand what the church is and what we are called to do.

Anonymous said...

Another great convicting post Arthur - thank you!

I would just add to Mato's point from my personal experience. "Churches" can and do develop in less affluent (drug infested) areas. We a home. You don't need a "building" or "resources", if a group of people are desiring Jesus. It's amazing!