(Hint: It might not be the Church.)
It should be, but might not be.
Image via Pixabay
In theory, the Church most certainly should be the most merciful organization on Earth.
After all, we believe that Christ-followers are the ones who have personally experienced Jesus, “in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins,” (Col 1.14).
We are the ones forgiven our sins, and the ones who are therefore told to extend that same forgiveness to others when we are sinned against (Col 3.13).
We are the ones who have been welcomed to the table, and are sent out to invite others to the same table (Mt 22.1-14).
We are the ones who have received astonishing mercy, and are called to share that same mercy with others (Lk 6.36).
And yet, even in the early Church, so often Christians forget all that has been done for us, and fall into many traps.
We put down.
We shut out.
We see sin in others and we consciously or unconsciously take on the attitude of the Pharisee in the parable, saying “God, thank you that I am not like them,” (Lk 18.11).
Other people’s sin is gross, horrible, problematic.
My own sin? Well, that’s a struggle, sure, I’m not denying it, but I’m working on that, it’s not the same.
Now of course, many churches are wonderfully supportive and welcoming places. We celebrate and rejoice in them.
And yet I also hear story after story of people who came to the Church looking for Jesus or looking for help and ended up finding judgment and shame instead.
It’s so easy to judge and condemn sins in others that I don’t personally struggle with.
Surely if I did struggle with them, I would have much more grace, compassion, and mercy for someone else struggling with the same thing.
As Christian author Phillip Yancey once said, “Christians get very angry towards other Christians who sin differently than they do.”
Ain’t that the truth?
Because of this, tragically, the Church is often not the most merciful organization on earth.
It should be, but it isn’t.
In my opinion, that title belongs with Alcoholics Anonymous, and any other similar support-type networks.
I have walked with many people through alcoholism in my pastoral years, and many have found great support through AA.
What makes it work?
Many things, to be sure: structure, accountability, taking inventory, owning mistakes, making amends, reconciled relationships, intentional sponsorship, etc.
But a crucial key surely is this:
Everyone in AA is struggling with the exact same thing.
Everyone is fighting the same war.
Because of that, there is no judgment, there is no condemnation, there is no looking down on others.
Everyone sitting in the AA meeting knows how real and how brutally hard the struggle is.
Because of this, every co-struggler is met with an unbelievable amount of love, support, compassion, empathy, and mercy.
The alcoholic knows that they will be accepted by the group, even at their very worst.
The alcoholic knows that they will be supported by the group, no matter what.
The alcoholic knows that they will receive help from the group, regardless of circumstance.
The mutual shared struggle means that each member of the group has an automatic capacity to love one another through the hardship.
In the Church, on the other hand, we are often struggling through different things.
Because of this, it is so easy and common for us to look down upon a struggle that we don’t personally share or understand.
Oh, that the Church would truly claim the title of “the most merciful organization on Earth.”
A place where sin is viewed, not with contempt, but with compassion.
Where sinners are supported in the struggle, not judged.
Where grace and mercy are extended to all who seek to come to the table.
And where loving one another is truly viewed as the total fulfillment of all that God requires of us (Rom 13.10).
If you’ve enjoyed what you read here, you can follow Third Way Christians on Facebook or Instagram, or sign up here to get new columns emailed directly to you! As well, you can track along with Chris’ Sunday morning teaching at Meadow Brook Church’s YouTube page!