Last week, I wrote a post on my blog with my feedback of a debate I heard on Apologetics315 between Matt Slick of CARM and Dan Barker. The debate topic was “Is There Reason to be Good Without God?” I won’t repeat my comments here, but you can read the entire post if you like.
There was something else, however, that caught my attention when listening to this debate. Barker talked about his background, being raised in a Christian home and growing up in the faith like many his age. Then he talked about his walk away from his faith and his role in his parents loss of faith as well.
When he talked about this, he mentioned that, after leaving the Church, his mother told him that she felt like a tremendous weight had been lifted from her now that she no longer believed in God. This is not the first time I’ve heard this sort of “testimony” from an ex-believer. So often I’ve heard those who walk away from their faith talk about how much more “free” they feel.
Whenever I hear things like this, the same questions come to mind. Questions about what this person’s faith was about. Questions about the person’s understanding of what Christianity is. If one’s faith is about trying to live up to some imagined standard that you suppose others expect of you as a Christian, I can understand this “free” feeling. If your perception of Christianity is that it’s a set of rules that you have to follow woodenly and dogmatically, then I can understand the feeling of the “weight” being “lifted from your shoulders.”
The problem is, Christianity shouldn’t be about being pretentious and trying to “look” a certain way in one’s life. It shouldn’t be about a set of rules that must be adhered to. Christianity is, more than anything else, about grace. Now, granted, I do believe the the Church today needs to get back to a better understanding about grace. Particularly with respect to giving grace.
It seems to me that one major reason people feel like Christians have to follow these rules and live a certain way (even if just for show) is because there is a serious lack of grace in the Church today. We’re willing to accept that grace from God in order to have our salvation. However, we seem a bit hesitant to extend that same grace to others.
On the other hand, perhaps even that has an external cause for why people fail to give grace. Perhaps it’s because sometimes we confuse grace with condoning. This might be best given with an example. Let’s use divorce as a “for instance.”
In the mid-20th century, divorce was very much looked down upon. If someone got a divorce, they were an outcast. People wouldn’t talk to them or even look at them. In some cases, people would be openly hostileto divorcees. This was a good example of a lack of grace. “The Church” was acting in a way that was judgemental, condescending and self-righteous.
Compare that with today. More than half of the marriages in the United States today end in divorce. If you tell someone nowadays that you’re divorced (or going through a divorce) there is much more acceptance. Certainly, there are probably still some pockets of people who haven’t moved on from the mid-20th century mentality. But for the most part, divorce is no longer embarrassing or humiliating. It’s a common fact of life.
On balance, we’ve taken the pendulum to the opposite extreme. We now no longer condemn those who have been divorced. Now we don’t have any problem with it at all. To me, this is just as much of a problem. There is a middle-ground here that seems to be the best place to be with this.
That is, we should take marriage very seriously. We should do everything in our power to discourage divorce. It should not be an acceptable practice. On the other hand, we should not condemn those who have been divorced. We should extend grace to those who have been through it and love them.
What it comes down to is, in our fear of being too judgemental, we’ve become to permissive with regards to things in life that go against Christlikeness. If we were better about offering grace to those who sin while still holding people to a certain amount of accountability for their sin, I believe fewer people would feel “burdened” by Christianity. We wouldn’t have people feeling as though they are “trapped” or “oppressed” by their faith.
Ironically, it is Christ who brings us freedom, not leaving Christ. When we leave Christ, we become a slave to our sin and to the worldly ways of our society. Don’t believe me? Look what you get into when you focus on the worldly things; you have to be thin and fit to be acceptable, you have to dress the right way to be “trendy,” you have to drive a certain car if you want people to like you, etc. etc. There are so many expectations of how people should live and what is acceptable, popular, cool, hip or whatever that it’s very difficult to live up to those standards.
With Jesus, however, all we have to do is follow His example. He showed love. He granted grace. He exemplified compassion. He lived a life of integrity. The apostle Paul said “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) Jesus, Himself, told us “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17)
As a Church, what do we need to do? We need to live our lives in such a way that if someone ever walks away from their faith, rather than feeling more “free” and like a weight has been lifted from them, we should be so gracious and so loving that when they leave they feel like life just doesn’t measure up to the life they had in Christ. We need to be the kind of Church that people miss when they leave.
How does this look in practice? What are some things that we can all do, starting today, to begin making that perceptual change?
Grace, love and peace.