I blogged yesterday on acceptance and godliness in marriage and relationships. The principle of not mixing acceptance (justification) and behaviour (sanctification) in relating to God and each other applies to church as well as marriage. The result of mixing acceptance with behaviour is unhealthy church or schism.
1. The schismatic church: conditional acceptance and ungodly living
Local churches can and do place an emphasis on behaviour as a condition of acceptance. “Wear your Sunday best and don’t smell of alcohol”, “we like to worship in this musical genre”, “we follow this leader”, “we like robes and candles at this church”. When the behaviour of individuals or groups within the church becomes unacceptable to others, even over seemingly petty things, the church schisms or members leave.
2. The neonomian church: conditional acceptance with a desire for godly living.
Lots of churches are home to well behaved, considerate, thoughtful people. Like many married couples its people would say “we’re happy together because we get on well, we don’t do anything to upset each other.” The church focused on behaviour for acceptance never grows beyond attracting other people who look, dress, speak and act like the people already in the church. Stress is found in the church when an individual, family or group joins the church but they do not fit the behavioural pattern. The church knows that it should accept the alien but does not know why or how to so the outcast (social, racial, cultural etc.) remains an outcast.
3. The unhealthy stagnant church: unconditional acceptance with ungodly living.
The stress in this church is caused by presumption. “We’re all Christians so we can do what we like because God accepts and loves us as we are.” This was the problem in Corinth. Through a loyalty to the institution, the area, the building, the community, or because of a fear of failure, a determination to make things work or belief that the church should simply exist, this church presses on in a loveless, shambolic, gospel-denying relationship, as everyone lives to please themselves and ignores calls to obedience and Christ-likeness.
4. The healthy, growing church: unconditional acceptance with a desire for godly living.
This is not a perfect church, there is no such thing, as sin ensures all churches have some degree of stress. But this is the best church can and should be. Acceptance and behaviour are not mixed. Acceptance before God is unconditional; anyone who acknowledges their sin and their total dependence on Christ as Saviour is justified, made acceptable to God, and is therefore to be accepted by his brothers in Christ (Romans 15:7). This is how the gospel forms churches.
The behaviour of a true believer, no matter where they start, never threatens his acceptance before God. A desire to grow in godliness is motivated by the love, mercy and grace of God. Each member of the church sees others as sinners under grace and so lives to glorify Christ by dying to self, living for Christ and building others up according to their needs.