As we concluded “My Bad Church Experience” yesterday, I shared one of my own bad church experiences (sermon podcast will be available tomorrow). But I had more than a few from which to choose, so I should I would share the “2nd place” story.
One of the most damaging things a church can do is reduce the grandeur of the Gospel to a simple list of rules, behaviors or unforgivable sins. Sure- it’s helpful at times to have a list of goals to pursue or a list of behaviors (i.e. prayer, reading scripture, etc.) to help keep us on track. But when we replace the freedom, fullness and infinite grace of the Gospel with a finite list of things to do or not do, then the train has come off the track. No matter how good the list, it could never be complete because faith in the Gospel isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. I lost track of the number of times that I’ve run across faithful Christians who feel like they’re being bad Christians because their faith didn’t look exactly like the truncated list of behaviors produced by their church leaders. I believe that God’s heart breaks- as does my own- for these committed people because their feelings of inadequacy come to define their faith in Christ. But there’s not a snowball’s chance that Jesus died in order to make us feel eternally insufficient! The Gospel life into which Jesus invites us is a life of freedom, not bondage to a list! This is how the author of the Letter to the Galatians (Paul) says it:
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. -Gal. 5:1
Actually, this was the verse that opened my eyes to the profoundly sad life of faith to which I had resigned myself in college. There’s nothing quite like the feeling that no matter how hard I tried, I would never be enough for God. I allowed well-intentioned followers of Jesus to limit my understanding of the Gospel. They weren’t the first, nor will I be the last, to succumb to the same lie to which the Pharisees fell victim: that the only thing God cares about is our capacity to follow the rules. It’s not that God doesn’t care about righteous living, but God knows the same thing you and I know- we’re going to fail from time to time. So rather than allowing us to live in bondage to inadequacy, God sent Christ to set us free from laws- and other Christians- that enslave us.
I pray that Dayspring will be a church where people are invited into a life of freedom and grace- the kind of life that Jesus gave His life in order to offer to us.