Imagine two ends of an imaginary spectrum.
On one end of the spectrum reside the Enablers. This group of people is so completely focused on God’s grace that they ignore the reason for grace: Sin. It’s not that this group doesn’t believe in sin; they don’t want to talk about it because talking about sin makes them very uncomfortable. While some members of this group are trying to excuse unchanged hearts, they are all afraid of alienating others with any talk of sin. They prefer to be the loving, smiling, and accepting face of the church to the world.
On the opposite end of the spectrum reside the Controllers. These people are so consumed with the reason for grace (sin), they forget we have grace. They missed the memo about earning salvation and are quick to quote “faith without works is dead” to anyone with a different world-view. God’s free grace drives these folks absolutely batty, as does the first group’s silence on sin. You do not want someone from this group leading a ‘new members’ class at your church or working on the Host Team, trust me: Their barely concealed disdain for people ‘living in sin’ is sure to keep your 2nd-time visitor count near zero.
The first group is dysfunctional; they cannot change or grow because they refuse to acknowledge the need for change or growth. The second group is equally dysfunctional; they cannot change or grow because they don’t think they need to change or grow.
Then there’s the center of the spectrum, that grey area where I like to think I reside. I don’t know if my middle ground is any more correct than either end…it feels that way, though I’m sure folks at the ends feel the same way. But I think Jesus is a grey-area kind of guy; I think God loves it when we make both/and decisions rather than either/or decisions.
What would it look like for a church to live in the uncomfortable middle ground between sin and grace? What if the following principle applied to all members of a church, including paid staff: “Yes, we are equally sinful; yes, we are equally saved through no effort of our own.”
Oh, plenty of churches say this, but how many churches’ actions support their claim?
- Does your pastor talk more frequently about his own sin or the sins of others? Does he talk about sin at all?
- Is conflict within the church handled in a healthy manner, or does it feel enabling or controlling?
- Are people in leadership positions visibly growing in faith over time, or do they seem to have ‘plateaued’?
- Does it feel like you are on a spiritual journey with your church, or do you feel your spiritual growth is being intentionally retarded and suppressed?
Where do you fall on this spectrum? How would you describe you spiritual practice with regard to sin and grace?