“We stand in awe of the ocean,
But we pass by a human being
Even though the person
most magnificent creation.”
— St. Augustine
I read the above quotation this afternoon and it really struck a chord, as did the following a little later: “What John 3:16 is to the non-Christian, Romans 15:7 is to the Christian.” Romans 15:7 reads: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”
Lately my blogsurfing has taken me to a number of “Christian” blogs where (a) people are judged for not believing the “right” things about non-salvation issues, (b) people are castigated for asking questions and wanting more than just cliche answers, (c) people experimenting with nontraditional ways of reaching young people for Christ are being slammed for it by those in established churches, (d) people are looking for and finding heretics under every rock (ie., in every church but their own) and (e) far, far too many people wanting to “teach” or “witness” without actually listening to anyone first or knowing who they’re talking to.
The author of the book I was reading — Cross-Cultural Connections (Duane Elmer) — says acceptance of another is one of the most critical characteristics for a person to exercise when communicating faith. It builds relationships, and meaningful communication is impossible without it. Acceptance does not necessarily mean agreeing. It does mean letting the other person know they are valued, worthwhile, respected, and welcome.
The blog-writers I’ve been reading lately would argue with the above by saying “that’s all very warm and fuzzy but what about truth? What about doctrine? What about Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and the need for repentance and salvation? That has to come first. People are going to hell and they need to be warned! The world is awash in lies and deceptions. We have to help people for their own good even if they persecute us and put us down.”
Here’s my answer to those of this mindset: Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and the need for repentance and salvation are absolutely essential but that’s never enough for you. What you really want is not so much to reach people for Jesus as to make everyone just like you. You want people to think like you, talk like you, witness like you, and believe exactly what you believe with no exceptions or improvisations. In other words, you want to control people. If you’re being ‘persecuted’ it’s not because you’re a great Christian, it’s because you are making people angry by being disrespectful and harsh with them. If you ever succeed in making the world what you think it should be, we’ll have a planet full of Stepford Christians.
God loves variety — that’s why He made so much of it. “Christ accepted me and held me in esteem, not because I was good or somehow worthy, but because the Creator placed His own image in me and all of humanity, bestowing on us dignity… he accepts us in love, without conditions, just as we are.” (CCC p. 96) Then, only after the person knows and trusts that they are accepted, does Jesus begin to teach the need for changed hearts and changed lives.
If God accepts us as we are and loves us this much, do we dare fail to do the same for others?
That’s what’s missing in too many “conservative” Christian circles: Acceptance. Love.
Believing all the right things doesn’t make you a good Christian — even Satan believes all the right things. Loving God and His people (the Greatest Commandment) is what defines a true Christian.
To anyone reading who may have been victimized by religious legalists or by abusive, demanding churches, know that there are alternatives and it is right to seek them out. You don’t have to abandon the faith (as the secularists will tell you) to find peace and contentment. Jesus says: “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me; for I am meek and lowly of heart, and you will find rest for your souls.“