There is a strange place in the universe that I have known about for some time and now find myself in. The strange thing about this place is that some people claim it is real, while others claim that it is a made up concept with no basis in rational thought. This sort of divide is not uncommon between Christians and the irreligious, but there is a twist. In this place it is the Christians who are the doubters, and the skeptics convinced of what cannot be seen. The place I speak of is not Rod Sterling’s Twilight Zone, it is the Not Welcome In Church Zone.
Most Christians (aside from the most ardent Fundamentalists) deny that any person is not welcome in church. But countless people will attest that this is a very real place to be. For as many people who have been asked to leave the church, many more have been pressured beyond what any reasonable person can endure to leave and never come back.
Church-going Christians will counter such accusations with outright denial, proclaiming that church, like the love of God, is open to everyone. Churches freely admit that everyone within their doors are sinners and all come before God as equals, thus exclusion from the church would surrender it to legalism and negate the very grace that they preach. Great in theory, but virtually non-existent in practice.
Meta-examples are obvious; African-Americans and other minorities were excluded from many denominations throughout American history. But that subject has been well trodden before.
A far more insidious excommunication (literally “to be excluded from community”) takes place today, and that is the excommunication of the individual. I can tell you from personal experience that there is no worse feeling than being rejected by the Christian community to which you have dedicated your life.
There are endless reasons people are pushed out of the church. Being gay is probably the most publicized, but it is far from the only reason. Being too liberal and voting the “wrong way” will get you ostracized from many churches, as will watching the wrong TV shows or listening to the wrong music. I have even heard from a woman who was encircled in prayer and judgment for committing the sin of wearing a sun dress—as a 12-year old girl! Oddly enough, taking the words of Jesus “a little too seriously” is bound to get you thrown out of many Bible churches.
The common thread seems to be that the only unforgivable sin worthy of excommunication is not fitting in with the religious culture of the church. I am guilty of that sin, and for the most part I have been pushed to the margins. While excommunication may be a lonely place to be, it is nice to know I have plenty of company.
Man, do we love to point fingers. It seems like any Christian with a microphone and a public forum burns their calories condemning non-Christians “destroying” this or that. Popular music destroys our kids, Democrats are destroying our country, Gays are destroying our marriages, etc. Aside from the fact that we can’t claim ownership of our kids, nation, or marriage (they are all gifts from God for which we are given stewardship), it is a completely unbiblical orientation for judgment.
The Apostle Paul (one of the first big-name Christian leaders) told the Church that he has no business judging the world, that is God’s job. He can only judge the church because the church (supposedly) has been transformed by the grace of God and empowered by the Holy Spirit to do good. Therefore it is only the Christian church that should be judged by Christian standards.
Jesus takes it even closer to home. He teaches in the Sermon on the Mount (Gospel of Matthew ch 5-7) that before we can even judge our fellow Christians, we must first examine and correct ourselves. The irony of course is that can never examine ourselves fully (that is a vantage only God has), and therefore can never act as a “just” judge with another Christian. How then do we help fellow Christians with their issues?
First we must recognize and “own” the fact that we have our own issues. This will enable us to better understand the nature of sin in the community and allow us to act humbly toward others (which is the correct way to act).
Second, only then can we look at the sins of our fellow Christians, and only for the sake of helping them overcome the sin, never to condemn them. Another irony, Jesus also speaks of condemnation in his Sermon, saying that if you call a brother a “fool” (one who doesn’t know God), you open yourself up for condemnation. This shouldn’t be surprising because for one sinner to condemn another, they must first throw out the possibility of grace, which is the only thing saving the accuser!
Third, we must also realize that our authority to correct comes from our charge to purify the fellowship of believers. Therefore we have no business or right to condemn those outside of the fellowship. Remember, the only reason we can do good is because of God living inside of us. We cannot expect those outside of Christianity to even recognize or be able to achieve godly standards. God has written a law on the hearts of those outside the Church, and he will judge them according to their own understanding of it (see Paul’s letter to the Romans ch. 1-3)
In summation, pointing fingers begins with pointing at ourselves, later on at other brothers and sisters to help them (not hurt them), and never beyond the church.