Back in ’02 while on a solo tour in support of Set on Edge’s “A Story to Cling To” I stopped at a tiny little church in some tiny little town in a big field somewhere out in the middle of nowhere. You see, I believe – unashamedly and unswervingly – in the importance of the local church. And I love to get a taste, on occasion, of those various expressions of Jesus outside my culture and comfort zone. On this unique occasion, I accomplished that.
You see, I was saved in a Church of Christ, grew in college via a traditional Wesleyan church, a charismatic United Methodist church, and – on occasion – also took part in services at both Lutheran and Pentecostal churches (sometimes hitting them all in one Sunday). Entered the real world, diving head-first into a L’Abri-affiliated reformed house-church, helped plant a P.C.A. Presbyterian church, while hanging with a non-denominational charismatic church full of hippies on the weekends. After relocating to my current home, I plugged in for a time at a charismatic renewal church, helped lead worship at a contemporary Methodist church, then landed at a Seeker-Aware non-denominational mega-church. I love church.
This particular Sunday in ’02, however, I was exposed to ‘the other side’. To many the above church list seems to be such a contradiction, but part of each of those traditions is in me: I love the seriousness with which Methodists take holiness – I love the HUGE view of God of the Presbyterians – I loved the expectation of the Spirit’s move that I encountered among the Pentecostals/Charismatics – AND I loved the seriousness with which the Church of Christ approached the Bible and salvation. But one common thread has connected every church I’ve ever planted myself in: GRACE. And I don’t mean “we’ll look over it this time” sorta stuff, but radical, wreckless, “you can’t be serious?” type grace! The sort of grace that’s so radical that one might THINK it too lenient. It’s that same sort of grace that – paradoxically – actually transforms lives.
But this Sunday I entered the back of this tiny backwoods church and from the moment I stepped through the door I became a project…
During worship, individuals were sliding over to me, trying to “witness” to me – oblivious to my responses that 1.) yes, I loved Jesus very much, 2.) was not only “saved” but – at that time – a campus minister, and 3.) I was traveling around on tour support a batch of songs I’d written from that deep well of faith. It was no use: my hair was scraggly, I had a nose-ring, and was the only person at church not wearing a suit. I just COULD NOT POSSIBLY be saved. The preacher fire and brimston-ed me with a portrait of hellfire and condemnation that went far beyond – not only the Bible – but which would have make Jonathan Edwards blush!
I tried so hard to stand under the pressure – I tried to speak kindly in response to the constant barrage of Chick-Tract fodder – but one person would still be firing at me, when the next would join in. I left church that day exhausted. You see, guilt doesn’t motivate me – grace does.
Paul seems to say in the Word that grace – properly understood – brings up some frightening questions… true, Biblical grace is so radical that one might think it a license to sin. It’s not, but if the question doesn’t at least arise, our picture and practice of grace is not graceful enough. True grace, lived out, makes many serious believers ask, “Yes, but…” sort of questions… it can’t be escaped, if someone has any sense of Biblical holiness. Yet, that’s the sort of grace that changes people.
Sure, there is a time for the law – Jesus throws the law around often, usually at the people who think they’re beyond it – the self-righteous – the religious, but observe Jesus dealing with the sinner. Radical – even uncomfortable – grace.
There is no life that ultimately flows from guilt and manipulation: let’s try a little (or rather, an uncomfortable LOT) of grace.
So be it.