A dear relative was visiting and we had some discussion of our relative churches and what is going on there. Her church has been searching for a new head pastor for some time. Unlike my denomination, they have to be tried out and voted in by the congregation. It can be a long drawn out process. She is tearing her hair out, because as a long time member, she takes pride in being part of her denomination and what they believe. But those who are running things now, seem determined to camoflage denominational ties. In fact, in the contemporary service, they seem completely unwilling to even teach the bible at all, for fear that they might offend someone.
I couldn’t help but wonder what the former pastor would think, who was there somewhere around 30 years ago, when I attended for several years. He really had a passion for the bible, teaching both an in depth class, for which one could get college credit for a bible survey course. At the same time, he had an ongoing project to teach through the entire bible on the congregational level as well. The place was quite well attended at that time. We all felt well fed, and pledged our money to build the current church, spread out in order to accommodate hoped for schools. The expansion with a health club and senior housing never quite came to fruition, but it seemed wise at the time. And now, they think they can regrow the church, by avoiding offending anyone? What kind of christians would they have, who are completely ignorant of the bible?
For that matter, isn’t the gospel offensive? I mean really, didn’t Jesus offend people right and left, especially those who claimed to have the correct behavior down pat? The gospel is all about grace and grace is offensive. I mean, look at every major religion in the world, don’t they teach that there is a right way to live and a wrong way to live, and the right way is how you get to God or Nirvana or whatever the goal is? Surely we have to work our way into God’s good graces, right?
Then along comes this man, who hangs around with smelly fishermen, and prostitutes and tax collectors (all of whom were considered to be cheats at the time). This man has the audacity to call the religious folk of the time, the ones who had the rules down pat, all sorts of names, like whitewashed tombs. He said they laid heavy burdens on people and refused to lift a finger to actually help them. I’ve encountered a few religious leaders like that in my time. You know the type, all about the rules and when you think you have a handle on what they want, they go out of their way to make you feel guilty about something you have no control over. Or they tell you you are prideful, because you think you are doing okay, instead of wallowing in shame. If you think you have a gift for X, they will tell you that is certainly not your place, go do Y, which you know you stink at. Or maybe it’s that X was only for back then, not now.
So we have Jesus, and he comes and says stuff about setting people free and he heals everyone who asks, even if their problem involves spiritual oppression. I’m talking demons here. He made no excuses, just got rid of them. He was lifting the burdens people carried right and left. And his teachings were completely outrageous, you know, always talking about how your righteousness must somehow exceed that of those religious leaders who have it all put together. No it is all a matter of the heart. All who heard him must have despaired, because no one could be that good. Even his disciples called him on it.
What was his answer? He said “I am the way, the truth, and the light. No one comes to the Father but through me.” How offensive is that? It was offensive enough to those religious leaders. They were determined to get rid of him. Elsewhere, we are told that it is offensive to those who are perishing, because they can’t accept that there is no way they can earn their way into heaven, maybe. So if your congregation finds the bible offensive, are they actually saved?
Grace itself is offensive. Think about it. If salvation is a free gift, and there is no way to earn our way into heaven, why anyone could get in. Prostitutes, gang bangers, those whose minds are drug addled, rapists, murderers, sexual deviants of all sorts. They could just come to Jesus and say they believe, and he would let them in? Isn’t heaven supposed to be for holy people? Shouldn’t they have to prove they have changed, or something, before he lets them in? Well, surely there is something called the fruit of repentance, evidence that God is transforming an individual, but it is a response, not how one gets on the path to heaven. Grace is offensive.
Jesus did say something about his being a rock of offense that many people will stumble over. Then there was something about those who aren’t offended being blessed. Being blessed is a good thing, but never being allowed to stub ones toe on that rock seems far more offensive to me than having to actually deal with it. May we be willing to offend someone, if it will set them free!