My oldest son is in his Junior year of High School, and every day his mom and I are reminded of our responsibility to get him ready to be a productive member of society. We have tried to teach him all of the things that people need to know, like how to change the oil in his car or cook a meal. He and I are reading Hal Runkel’s book, Choose Your Own Adulthood, and having discussion about it over coffee. We are trying to emphasize what it means to take responsibility for his actions and his choices. While I understand I will always be his dad and always be there for conversations and to help him through the difficult times in his life, there is this looming sense that I have a very short time to teach him what I want for him to know.
I grew up in churches from California to Alabama and one of the wonderful things about the Churches of Christ is that they are very familiar. I guess that is true of any denomination or tribe of believers. We all have things that are normal for us. We all take communion every week, believe in the necessity of baptism, understand that the elders are the real pastors and the guy who preaches every week is just the preacher. We meet in the auditorium, we all know the five acts of worship as well as the five steps to salvation, and we would have cringed that I equated the Church of Christ with a denomination. This month, Wineskins is centered around the theme: if you had one message to share with Churches of Christ what would you share? I have come to the conclusion that the message that I would have for my children is the same message that I would have for my church family.
Growing up in the Church of Christ my parents made sure that I was actively involved in the work of the church. I spent Saturdays handing out Bible Call brochures and attended my first men’s breakfast when I was 9 years old. I participated in Bible Bowls and memorized all of the baptism verses in the book of Acts. I was very well versed in the Jule Miller filmstrips; I still instinctively reach out to advance the filmstrip every time I hear a ding. I used to hum Just As I Am in my sleep. I went to a bible college and prepared to spend my life fulfilling the great commission saving the lost heathens that were going to die and go to hell. And, when they wouldn’t submit to baptism or said that they were safe because they had said the Sinner’s Prayer, I just wrote them off to their own reward.
What I have come to understand is that people don’t want to be saved because they don’t really consider themselves lost. For the most part, we are good people, or at least better than the guy who lives next door or the woman who works in the office with me. I have a pretty nice life, I live in a decent home, and have a healthy family. Plus, my schedule is pretty full right now and I don’t have time to go and sit on a pew and look at the back of someone’s head. So, while you talk about salvation and being lost, that doesn’t really apply to me. And, that’s not just the people who are outside your church buildings, but that is true for some of the folks who are inside your buildings as well.
Other people don’t want to be saved because they don’t think they can be saved. If you knew what I had done, or where I had been then you would know that even God couldn’t save me. I have lost count of the times I heard someone say, “If I walked into your building the roof would collapse.” That is just another way of saying that I have gone too far, become too tainted for God to save me.
And, still others don’t want to be saved because they have met us and they were treated with contempt. Instead of finding people who accepted the tax collectors, prostitutes, and zealots that Jesus often surrounded Himself with, they find a self-righteous group of people. Instead of welcoming everyone to have a seat at Christ’s table, we have made our own pharisaical lists of who are welcome and who are not. We have communicated that the church is available to sensible sinners like us.
If I had one message to share it would be this; People don’t want to be saved, they want to be loved. I believe that we lost our way somewhere. We forgot that our call as a church is to love people and introduce them to Jesus. We have traded this idea of loving people for the task of saving people. I get it, because it’s hard to quantify how much we love the lost in the world. Since we cannot measure how much we love folks, we traded the call to love people for the call to go and make disciples and baptize them because we can count baptisms. The result is that we forgot about the call to love.
When a teacher of the law approached Jesus and asked Him, “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus tells us what is the most important thing we can be doing in our communities. Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus was calling us to meet our greatest need in life. First, He says that we are to love God because it’s the only way that we will find true peace. The second commandment is exactly like the first to love one another because it is the only way that we will bring true peace to the world.
People don’t want to be saved, they want to be loved and that’s what we were supposed to be doing from the beginning. We are called to love people and introduce them to Jesus who will take care of their salvation. If they give their lives to Christ, we love them. If they refuse His offer, we love them. If they don’t understand, we love them. If they return our love with anger and hatred, we love them. We will never get to the point that we can cross love off the list as something that we accomplished back in 2012. Every day we are given the chance to enter into our community and find someone to love, and when people feel truly loved, then God will do what only God can do.