By Layton Friesen
When we see things happening in the wider Church we strongly disagree with, we are tempted to react rather than suffer. Cutting myself off in disgust from sinful churches gives me a sharp jolt of spiritual Red Bull, but is this how Jesus responds to our sin on the cross?
I hear three major reactions in my church friends right now. First, many are reacting against the evangelical supporters of Donald Trump. “Evangelicals” are those people, the thinking goes, who welcome the most misogynist and xenophobic politicians in order to maybe win a round in the culture wars. And so, in order to prophetically denounce Trumpism, these reactionaries distance themselves from a larger evangelical movement that includes the likes of John Wesley, Billy Graham, and Elizabeth Elliot, not to mention Dr. Archie Penner.
A second reaction going on currently is a reaction against churches (especially Mennonite ones) that have affirmed same-sex marriage. In this reaction these churches are associated with sentimental, liberal drip that exists only to “affirm” the latest contrivance of the sexual revolution.
This is causing serious irritation in relations between Mennonite churches and conferences. People who react in this way suggest we pull out of MCC, MDS, and Mennonite World Conference because this work makes us guilty by association.
A third reaction is coming from people repulsed by the ultra-conservative Mennonites in their communities. These reactionaries want nothing to do with the name “Mennonite” because this associates them with legalism, cultural Mennonitism, and narrow-minded social control.
“We don’t make our men grow beards. We don’t make our women wear bonnets. We don’t harbour drug dealers, nor do our young gather behind Walmart on Sunday evenings to drink and smoke tires. So please don’t call us Mennonite.”
For the record, I disagree with Trumpism, same-sex marriage, and Mennonite drug-runners.
But the old rugged cross looms large over all our reactions. The Sinless One overcomes our sin not by dissociating himself from us, but by embracing us. This dwarfs all our pathetic attempts to maintain purity by distance. It silences all our fearful self-righteousness, all our shrill assumptions that, contrary to the whole Scripture, we were not that hard for Jesus to associate with.
We were a pleasure for him to come and visit. It was not our sins that held him there. God did not need to hold his nose when he came to our house. Not like those other people—God has to be so gracious to them, so long-suffering and merciful. Why does Jesus keep consorting with those people? Has he no standards?
Here is the basic question confronting our reactions: If Jesus still associates with these people, if they are still part of the body of Christ despite their sin, what basis do we have for separating ourselves from them? Unless we know that Jesus has damned them, what theological basis do we have for disassociating ourselves?
The Corinthian Test is relevant here. Paul lays severe accusations (1 Cor. 3:1; 5:1,11; 6:5-6; 6:16). But instead of cleansing himself of association with this poor excuse for a church, Paul writes to them, sends them his best pastors (Timothy and Apollos), and eagerly anticipates spending the winter with them (1 Cor. 16). Paul is willing to endure the suffering this church causes him because everything in life must finally yield only to the gospel of Christ (1 Cor. 9:12). Paul suffers the Corinthians. Who will we suffer?