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Of course our churches are full mainly of Christians, who else would you expect to be there?

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Context & Caveat: My sister recently posted this excerpt on social media. Normally I do not interact with a book unless I read it entirely. But since my sibling is putting this out there as a particularly interesting passage, I want to comment on it briefly. My initial impression is not especially positive, but I tend towards being overly critical and I want to allow the possibility that Mr. Forasteros’ argument could be different in context than what it appears in this excerpt. My remarks here are, therefore, strictly limited to this excerpt and not to Pastor Forasteros’ entire book, which I look forward to reading at Christmas. I copy the quote as my sister posted it; my remarks follow.

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"It should bother us that our churches are full mainly of Christians. We should lose sleep over the fact that most pastors don't have a significant relationship with people outside the church, let alone those the church typically derides as sinners. If your faith has turned you into a boring, joyless stick-in-the-mud, there's something wrong with your faith.”

Christians who refuse to extend God's grace to the world around them are truly satanic. Maybe we can't believe grace is free, or we think we've earned more than someone else, or we're simply not convinced life with God is the excessive, overflowing, abundant life Jesus promised. In any case, our sinful picture of God poisons our relationships with our neighbors."

~ JR Forasteros,

"Empathy for the Devil: Finding Ourselves in the Villains of the Bible"

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"It should bother us that our churches are full mainly of Christians.

Why should this bother us? The Church is not for unbelievers, as such. The Church is the bride of Christ, and as such is, in fact, the body of all believers. Unbelievers are not found in churches, they are out in the world. That’s the whole point. If your church is a place where unbelievers feel so comfortable that they want to hang out, there may be a problem.

We should lose sleep over the fact that most pastors don't have a significant relationship with people outside the church, let alone those the church typically derides as sinners.

I may or may not agree with this, depending on which direction he’s going. Admittedly, if your pastor can only talk church-speak and cannot effectively speak the Gospel into a sinful world, then I broadly agree. Pastors who spend all their time in the cloister are as dangerous as the academics who spend all their time in the ivory tower. Pastors do need to be both Biblically grounded and worldy-wise.

But, there may be some misunderstanding of the role of pastors. Pastors are the shepherds of their congregational flock (of believers). His job is to equip the saints for the work of evangelism, discipleship, and sanctified living. His job is, for the most part, INSIDE the church, not outside it. There are other callings whose role is to engage directly with the world, namely evangelists and missionaries, and perhaps also teachers. We would even allow that some pastors are “specialists” serving flocks in very particular circumstances (e.g. the pastor of an urban congregation populated by ex-gang members, for instance, would require a man with a unique background and skill set – but even here his role would be primarily pastoral, and evangelical only secondarily). We do not wish to conflate the roles of these evangelistic callings with that of the pastor.

My concern here stems from that first sentence. If the Church is not the domain of believers, but is instead filled with unbelievers, then I suppose it follows logically that the pastor would be functioning more in the role of evangelist or missionary. But is that a church or a mission? Is this the type of “church” Mr. Forasteros envisions? (I would argue the terms do matter here.) Such a position may be the reductio ad absurdum of the seeker-friendly church model…most folks I've known are just less open and anxious about embracing it.

Note that my contrast is between "believers" and "unbelievers." Both are sinners. The church is full of sinners. The difference between the believing sinner and the unbelieving sinner has to do with the recognition that sin is sin, and the consequent confession and repentance of that sin.

In Christianity, the theological understanding of the Church's mission is called ecclesiology. It asks essential questions like, “Who is the Church?” and “What does the Church do?” How one answers these questions is crucial because these doctrines govern the operation and function of the Church itself. People can hold a variety of views about communion or baptism or missions or sanctification – but the Church is the geography in which all these beliefs are practiced. This question matters so much, in fact, that your ecclesiology (doctrine of the Church) may be as important as your hamartiology (doctrine of sin) or your soteriology (doctrine of salvation). I will be interested to see whether Pastor Forasteros’ ecclesiology is historically orthodox or derivative from some other set of convictions.

If your faith has turned you into a boring, joyless stick-in-the-mud, there's something wrong with your faith.

Here we agree, though I’m not sure for the same reasons. I, too, would make an argument for a “life well-lived.” If this is a case for a vibrant Christian humanism, then we are vibrating on the same frequency. It glorifies God when we rightly partake of those good things which He has given.

It’s also important that the pastor (and indeed all believers) carry himself in such a way as to remain above reproach and abstain from the appearance of evil. We cannot reel in the drowning man if we are in the water with him. Fishers of men, and all that. That is the very definition of “holy” – to be set apart. This is especially true for the pastor, whose ministry can be so easily overthrown by even the perception of moral failure. In a sense, the pastor is twice set-apart: once as a believer who has been called out of the world (as in the priesthood of all believers) and also as a called and ordained servant of the Church. Not isolated, not above, but apart; as the teacher must stand apart from his students, or the parent from the child, or the boss from his employees. This is the natural order of things.

Christians who refuse to extend God's grace to the world around them are truly satanic.

First, we need to know that Pastor Forasteros means by “extending grace to the world.” There is some defining of terms which needs to happen before I am certain how I would respond.

Regardless, I am not sure I agree with the charge. It’s an easy accusation to make, but difficult to prove. Just because a church does not engage in every possible ministry does not make it satanic. And I can think of a couple ministries (so-called) that many churches DO engage in which I think may, in fact, be satanic. Realistically, we live in a world of limited resources – money, time, and manpower. Any church has to choose a few areas in which to minister, and leave the rest. That does not excuse apathetic, inward looking, self-interested, missionless churches. Those churches do legitimately need to be called to repentance. But as a sweeping indictment of the Church, I am not so sure.

In any case, the failure of the Church in our time hasn’t been external, but internal. It has been the failure to raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. The Church has largely given over to the secularists on many essential questions – creation, family, education, charity. Marriage is now a state function. Most Christians send their children to government schools. Government functionaries hand out the welfare. Is it any wonder that many Christians now confuse voting for president with ministering the Gospel? The answer to this crisis is to recover the true nature and function of the Church -- a true ecclesiology -- not to double-down on a social gospel driven by Biblically bankrupt 19th century rationalism and the collapse of Scriptural authority.

Maybe we can't believe grace is free, or we think we've earned more than someone else, or we're simply not convinced life with God is the excessive, overflowing, abundant life Jesus promised. In any case, our sinful picture of God poisons our relationships with our neighbors.

This seems a touch sanctimonious. I’ve lived my whole life in the Church. Where are all these dastardly people who think they’ve earned more grace than everyone else? I’ve known a total of no people who match this description, except maybe Benny Hinn and the other talking hairdos from TBN.

What I have known is lots of people (sometimes even this person) who have struggled with sanctification, and truly "living Christ." Besetting sins, melancholies, failing marriages, financial struggles – all these eat away at faith. But that is expected, which is why historically (and Biblically) one of the defining roles of the Church has been to help build up and maintain the faith of believers through sound teaching, sacred ordinances, sacramental living, spiritual accountability, and fellowship.

The way the sentences (in the excerpt) are phrased seems to suggest we’re really talking about rainbows, but without mentioning them. Maybe I’m just touchy on this subject, but it sorta kinda seems like left-leaning virtue signaling. I hope I'm wrong on that and that I'm over-reaching.

In the meantime, while it may be true that we minimize or fail to grasp the enormity of God’s grace, it is also important to remember that the grace about which we speak is God’s, not ours. Hence, I am not free to sanctify anything which God has condemned. Let us take, very briefly, the very socially prescient case of homosexuality, love wins, and all that. This would not be the first time we've heard the question, "Why can’t you just show these folks some grace? Why do you have to be a hater?" I teach high school students, so I have been challenged on that question pretty much every time the issue comes up.

My answer there - as here - is simply that God himself does not accept it, and consequently neither can I. It is not I who declared these things abominations, He did. I am only respecting the authority of the Scripture if I confess this as true. Sola Scriptura demands it. It doesn’t matter that I might not want to. I may personally think that "live and let live" sounds really appealing. What do I care what people do behind closed doors (or in the Christmas parade), right? Answer: I have to place myself under the Scriptures. My feelings are not germane to the discussion. It is a straight-forward confession of True versus False. Good versus Evil. Right versus Wrong. In this, the Scriptures alone get to be the final arbiter of God’s revelation until Christ returns. I must conform my personal view to them, regardless of my personal feelings about it.

That's why a church filled with "not mostly believers" is an oxymoron. How can the Church uphold the Truth of Scripture and implement Biblical discipline if the folks inside don't actually believe it. It's illogical. What is the old expression about the blind leading the blind?

God certainly does offer grace, but it is the same grace for us all, the grace of the Gospel. Most folks, by grace, I think usually mean something like forgiveness (or at least not condemning some particular failing in line with "he who is without sin cast the first stone"). But before the Gospel can forgive, the law must first indict. Both together are God’s grace. The Law alone (without the Gospel) may indeed withhold grace. But the Gospel alone (without the law) also withholds grace, because without the Law one cannot ever receive the Gospel. Thus, I don’t have a limited view of God’s grace. Quite the opposite. I believe that God can call someone out of their sin. I believe that God’s grace is sufficient to change their sinful nature. We’re talking here as much about the effeminate or the homosexual as the thief, the murderer, the drunkard, the swindler, the greedy tax cheat, the playboy, the Bernie Sanders voter, or any other sinner.

What we can’t do as Christians is say to people, “It’s okay for you to continue in your sin, and shame on those churches or haters who say otherwise.” Folks: that is no grace at all. That is the very definition of withholding God’s grace, because it withholds the Gospel itself. The real hater is the one who is content to let a sinner die in his sin rather than risk being branded a homophobe. That is the precisely what Paul means when he says not to be ashamed of the Gospel, and to fear only the God to whom you must answer at the conclusion of this life. And it is what Christ was talking about in Luke 9 when he said, "For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory..." The lesson really is that we confess His words, or risk condemnation by them.

Solomon says something about the true nature of grace in the context of disciplining children. “Whoever spares the rod hates their children…” The application to grace is analogous. The parent who does not correct their child, who fails to teach them limits and respect for law, who does not require their child to learn submission, is basically creating a child who will not – and perhaps cannot – submit to God. If you cannot submit to your earthly father, you will not be able to submit to your Heavenly Father. Likewise, if we fail to proclaim the entire Gospel (including the difficult parts which say your particular sin is an abomination to the Lord), the sinner will not be convicted of his sin. He will not repent because he thinks he has nothing to repent of. Those who do not repent are not forgiven. Those who are not forgiven do not go to heaven. Those who do not go to heaven go to hell. Hell sucks and lasts a really long time.

No parent who loves their child wants that for them. If we love our neighbor, as Christ commands, then that love must be the kind love that saves, not the love that wins. The Gospel is not always nice, because no discipline feels good at the time. But without it, we are lost. Once saved, by grace, we are expected to be conformed to the image of Christ. Not overnight, but over time. It's called sanctification, a process where God's grace becomes the sustaining power of Christ in us, not only to regenerate us, but also to endure the hard things and sacrifices this new calling imposes upon us. We extend grace when we offer such support and accountability as befits this high calling – the very things which have long been at the heart of all sound ecclesiology.

I leave the reader with this: grace is not free, it is only freely given by the One who paid for it. It is His to give, and thus we must extend it on His terms, not ours.

Blerkins is an eclectic blog of scholarly reflection and cultural commentary for folks who still believe that Western civilization has merit; and that life is far too interesting to give up on, or waste on television.
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