Lectionary Reading: Romans 14:1-12 (NRSV)
“United Methodists lead with grace, not with judgment.”
This particular sentence was the first chapter in a series entitled, “What’s Different about The United Methodist Church?” by the former Oklahoma Conference bishop, Bruce Blake. It came out twenty years ago in 1997 when I was still fairly new to pastoral ministry and many churches across our conference used it in preaching and teaching.
It is an idea with which I agree and would say effectively categorizes the identity of our denomination. My early childhood years were spent in the Assemblies of God which emphasized holiness to a different degree than most current United Methodist churches. By holiness, I mean seeking right living (righteousness) as a part of being a follower of Jesus Christ. This is different from self-righteousness which is a separate issue (but a danger or temptation to all who seek right living).
The particular Assembly of God church where we attended was fairly judgmental in nature which was designed to keep people from sin. I can remember various times from my childhood when I went home from church afraid for my salvation rather than assured. This is not the healthiest spiritual state for a five-year-old. I’m not sure the fear increased my faith but it did increase my anxiety. In comparison, the Assemblies have just as many problems with sin as United Methodists in my experience (or any other denomination for that matter). Both of us have our share of stout disciples and our share of back-sliders.
I write this to let you know that sometimes my perspective may be reactive to my negative encounters of a judgmental church. I often err on the side of grace. I do this so that people may experience the welcome invitation that Jesus Christ offers for the journey of faith we all undertake.
But one of the real problems of leaning so heavily on grace is oftentimes a lack of commitment. If there are no real expectations or if the lack of commitment can be easily overlooked or forgiven without any consequences, then real problems begin to develop.
Sometimes the churches that emphasize grace turn Jesus into this nice man who just loves you and doesn’t really ask for much in return. He’s going to pick you up and brush you off and offer an encouraging word. There are many times I need this and you likely do as well. But if there is no direction for our life of faith and if we place our commitment level somewhere beneath our other pursuits in life, it shouldn’t surprise us when people fall away from the church.
Sometimes we remove all accountability to get away from being too judgmental. Conversely, sometimes we become too judgmental in the guise of accountability. This becomes difficult as we seek to share God’s grace with others. We want to meet people where they are. But at the same time, we encourage people to put away their sins.
This Sunday, I’ll be discussing this particular tightrope as we continue the series, “Full: Finding God’s Abundance in our Lives.” I hope you’ll join us if you don’t have something better to do (okay, that last line was sarcastically judgy)!
Check out Sam’s Blog here: http://precedinggrace.blogspot.com
Photo by Wally Gobetz via Flickr.com. Used under the Creative Commons license.