Is the church required to love and accept everyone? This is a difficult topic that the modern church is sadly getting wrong.
Not long ago, some people I was with had a conversation about a gay individual they all knew. All of these people were Christians, active in their churches. One of the people shared that the gay individual had told them he was accepted in the gay community, but not in the church community. This troubled all of them and initially, it troubled me. But then it got me thinking.
What do we mean by acceptance? For years I have heard the phrase, “hate the sin, love the sinner.” Is this over-simplistic? What does this look like in practice?
First, there is the truth of john 3:16, that God loved the world so much He sent His Son to redeem it with His own life – while we were still sinners. What an attitude of mercy and grace! Lets look at this a little closer though. Yes, God loved us while we were sinners. But Jesus came to this world to redeem us. We were lost, separated from Him because of our sin. God could not accept us as we were. If he could have accepted us the way we were Jesus would not have needed to die. He couldn’t just accept us with our sin and let us into His kingdom. So God loved us but He did not accept us.
Revelation 21 tells us about the eternal home of the saints, the Holy City of Jerusalem. In verse 27 we read, “Nothing impure (unclean in the English Standard Version) will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” God does not accept the unclean, the impure, those who do what is shameful or deceitful in His kingdom.
So, what about this gay individual, or anyone living in sin, do we just not accept them in our church? To answer this we must clarify two things 1) what we mean by accept and 2) what we mean by church.
Lets look at the second one first, the church. The church is not some building or even some group of people that meet in some building we call a church. The church is the Body of Christ. The only way to become a part of the Body of Christ is through the forgiveness and cleansing of Christ. One can certainly be a ‘member of a local church’ and not be a member of the Body of Christ.
Secondly, what do we mean by accept? Do we just not have anything to do with the unbelievers living in sin? Well, that would be contrary to Jesus’ example now wouldn’t it? But then on the other hand the Bible says in multiple places we should be separate from them. For example, 2 Corinthians 6:17 says, “Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them, says the LORD. Don’t touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you.” Paul, even went one further when he instructed the Corinthian church to remove from their fellowship a man who was participating in a sexual perversion (1 Corinthians 5). So, how do we reconcile the example and teaching of Jesus with the instructions to be separate?
We can answer this by taking a closer look at Jesus’ example. Jesus did indeed spend time with the unrepentant sinner, the unbeliever. However, He always did so with the intent of redeeming them. He loved them as sinners but He did not accept them as sinners. There’s an old hymn, “Just as I Am.” We love to sing it as an invitation to follow Jesus as Lord and Savior. The song tells us that we can come to God just the way we are. We need not clean up or set anything in order first. We don’t have to rid ourselves of nasty habits or practices, even vices before we come to him for forgiveness and cleansing. But that’s just it isn’t it? We come to Him filthy, so that He might make us clean (because try as we might, we are unable to do it ourselves). God may be fine with us coming to Him exactly the way we are, but He is not ok with us staying that way. From the moment He comes in to our heart as Lord and Savior He is cleansing us from all our sin.
So, God reaches out to us while filthy sinners, but He doesn’t accept us staying that way. The church is to be no different. We can and should love sinners, unbelievers; love them enough to reach out to them and tell them the truth. Remember what Jesus said to the woman caught in the act of adultery? He told her TWO things; 1) that He did not condemn her (He forgave her) 2) He then said, “go and sin no more”. To the woman at the well He directly confronted her sinful lifestyle (multiple husbands and now living with one that isn’t her husband) before she found forgiveness upon her confession to Him.
We can love the sinner, but we cannot be ok with their sinful life. We can be friends with them, be kind and caring, but we cannot ignore their sin as if it is ok. As a matter of fact, if we do not tell them the truth of their sin, we show that we really do not love them. They are certainly welcome to attend church gatherings, but they cannot be a part of the church because it is the Body of Christ. They can attend but they cannot influence, cannot partake. This is not simply some kind of rule, it is logic and reason. Being a sinner means you still reject the salvation of Jesus Christ. You cannot partake of something of which you are not a part and you cannot be a part of something which you willingly reject.