Friday, August 3, 2012

The Ballad of Acceptance and Repentance:

We have reached a time where the Christian church is wrestling through cultural, political, and societal decisions like never before.  While controversial subjects have come and gone, the controversies today are coming in greater volume and with more and more indecision than in years' past.  Christians are being called out and demanded to state where they stand on these hot-topic issues without any permission granted to offer a defense, either scripturally, or philosophically for the answer given. Without being granted permission to offer a defense, Christians are, therefore, choosing to remain silent.  Many sit idly by, holding onto the hope of the gospel, but choosing not to share that hope with others out of fear of being ridiculed and chastised for their beliefs.

In an attempt to counter this onslaught of controversies various Christian church leaders have focused a great deal of time and energy on two various aspects of the teachings of Jesus: 1) Jesus' grace and 2) Jesus' truth.  The purpose behind this type of education is in the "and".  Jesus communicated, lived, and loved others in both grace AND in truth.  Jesus wasn't one-sided.  Nor did Jesus place 80% of His effort and energy into grace and 20% into truth, or vice-versa. He lived and loved others equally through both grace and truth.  The message from these leaders has therefore been, "As Christians we must show a tremendous amount of grace to others AND clearly communicate what the scriptures say".  It's a message focused toward Christians who are one-sided or silent.  Those who have hope, but who may not choose to share that hope with others. 

Unfortunately, these efforts to teach others about grace and truth, as noble and honorable as they have been, have failed.  The reason they have failed, in my opinion, is that the lack of grace AND truth in how Christians communicate, live, and love others is only a symptom of a greater problem.  Are grace AND truth needed?  Absolutely.  But there's a greater problem in the church today than not living our lives equally within the bounds of grace and truth. The problem is this: the Christian church is living completely unbalanced in the areas of Acceptance and Repentance, and this unbalance mainly stems from varying understandings of the greatest four-letter word of them all.  Love.

Indeed, even among Christians today, the word "love" has a variety of meanings.  For some, love remains mostly an emotional feeling.  If one doesn't *feel* loved by others, then others are unloving, or worse, hateful.  For others, the word love isn't a feeling at all, it's about *being* loving toward others.  But once again, being loving toward others also has various interpretations.  And this is where we get into the subject of acceptance.

From my own observations, "acceptance" today has two meanings.  I could dive into this in greater detail, but for the sake of discussion I'll give 2 brief definitions.  One is that acceptance means loving a person, as a person.  Black, white, straight, gay, rich, love the person regardless of any ethnicity, sexuality, or fiances they may have.  Indeed the Bible says not to show favortism toward either rich or poor (James 2:1-4; Leviticus 19:15).  One may befriend them, respect them, and overall accept them as an individual.

However, there is a second meaning of "acceptance" today.  The second is that acceptance means loving a person and their belief system.  This means that if one is truly accepting of one who is rich, they must also accept the way he runs he business.  If one is to truly accept one who is homosexual, they must also accept his position on homosexuality.  If one is to accept one who is white, they must also accept his views on politics.  Some may see this as an exaggeration, but I see it far too often in today's culture.  "Acceptance" means accepting another person AND their belief system.  Tell somebody you disagree.  Tell them you see sin in their life.  Tell them they need to repent.  Say any of these things - whether a minor or major political disagreement, whether it's acknowledgement of sin, whether it's sharing wisdom or offering advice on how to "turn from" something (repentance) - it's seen as unloving.

As I observe this, I must turn to the scriptures to see how Jesus and others handled the subjects of acceptance and repentance.  And what I see is a great deal of Acceptance AND Repentance.  There truly is great power in the AND.  When I read John 8:2-11, I see Jesus firmly see the value in life and accept (love) an adulterous woman.  And she knew it.  The impact He had on her life in that moment was quite profound.  But what did Jesus say next?  "Go, and from now on do not sin anymore."  Yikes.  This doesn't go over well with the 2nd definition of acceptance above, does it?  But there's more.  Through the book of Acts, the first disciples have been called to share the Gospel, and they're called to do it to both Jews and Gentiles.  To the first disciples this meant taking the Gospel message to God's chosen people (the disciples understood this to be the Jews) AND to those who were not God's chosen people (the Gentiles).   What do the disciples say as they take this message onward?

In Acts 2:14-41 Peter gives one of a number of speeches that are located all through the book of Acts.  He concludes by saying, "Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for your sins."   We see it again in Acts 3:19, "...repent and turn back, so that your sins may be wiped out."  And again in 8:22, "...repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that the intent of your heart may be forgiven you."  This one, I believe is crucial, as entails the intent of the heart.  How often today does one say, "I believe you're engaging in sin," and they say it with a true heart of, "I really want what's best for heart is for you," yet they're seen as unloving, unaccepting, or perhaps even hateful.

But this word "repent" never really goes away.  We see it again Acts 18:30-31, "Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent..."  What was that?  God commands all people everywhere to repent?  Yes, that's what it says. God wants people to turn from sin.  All people.  Black, white, straight, gay, rich, poor...all people.  But to ask one to do so today is often considered unloving.  It's often considered unaccepting.  It's often considered flat-out wrong.  Or as modern culture has recently shows, it's intolerant, or hateful.

Outside of the disciples, what exactly did Jesus preach about repentance?  He said, "Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near."  (Matthew 4:17).  Additionally,  He said, "The healthy don't need a doctor, but the sick do.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."  (Luke 5:32).    Jesus' words in Luke 10:13-16 are stronger, much stronger.

I could provide additional examples, but the main point is that the scriptures clearly communicate the importance of both acceptance and repentance.  Jesus expressed both acceptance and repentance.  The disciples expressed both acceptance and repentance.  But today, Christians live in a culture that spends much more time, energy, and resources focusing on a faulty understanding of acceptance.  We would do better to fully understand what it means to accept a person.  Black, white, straight, gay, rich, poor...accept them as a person.  Not their beliefs.  Not their political views.  Simply accepting them as a person.  Yet be unafraid and unashamed to ask them to repent and turn to God.  Not out of pride, or arrogance, but out a simple, humble heart that wants God's best for all people.

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