Some view the church as the resister of evil, proclaiming God's displeasure and imminent judgement to the world. They view the church as a fortress of right doing and living, and believe they are at war with the world. Their goal is to sanitize culture, eradicate pluralism, subdue liberal ideology and defeat every expression of darkness (which is basically every belief that runs counter to their version of evangelical, Judeo-Christian thinking).
However, God actually established the church for a different reason. Ellen White put it this way:
“The church, endowed with the righteousness of Christ, is His depositary, in which the riches of His mercy, His grace, and His love, are to appear in full and final display" (Desire of Ages, p. 680).
God wants the church to be a showcase of His mercy, grace and love, so that all can see living, working examples of the life He offers. It's sort of like when you're looking to buy a new car, you go to the dealer showroom to see their latest creations. There you can touch and see before you make your decision.
A couple of years ago, Linda and I decided we needed a newer car. The two we had were getting old and both had high miles. We weren't looking to buy a new car because the depreciation is quite significant in the first couple of years of ownership. But it isn't easy to find a used vehicle with low miles that has been well cared for. So eventually we found ourselves standing in the showroom of our local Subaru dealer looking at the features on the newest Forester Limited. The bells and whistles were impressive, and the salesman answered all of our questions with ease. The promised discount was generous and before we knew it we were the proud owners of a new Subaru Forester. In fact, we bought the one in the showroom, which meant they had to move other cars around and jostle things a bit to get it out. It had 35 miles on the odometer!
The church is God's showroom where He invites potential "buyers" to come and browse. They're not going to find perfect examples of what it means to follow Jesus, but if the members are committed to Christ and have a balanced view of their mission, those who are seeking will see God's grace and mercy at work in tangible ways.
Unfortunately some churches have become showcases of doctrine, health reform and ecclesiastical authority, which sends the wrong message to those seeking. Yes, doctrine is important because it is the skeletal foundation of the body that provides us with an understanding of what God is like. But our bones are not what we first see when we meet each other. We see the outward manifestations of the body, which include flesh and hair. We see warm smiles and sparkling eyes.
Does your church have a warm smile and sparking eyes? Or, is it just a box full of bones?
Jesus said the essence of all that is taught in the Law and the Prophets is illustrated in the maxim that we are to treat others as we would like to be treated. It is a message of grace and compassion (see Matthew 7:12).
This was God message to us through Christ—that He would not treat us as we deserve to be treated! Isn't this the heart of the gospel that we are to take to the ends of the earth? Only it must be reframed. For it to be effective, it can only be shared in first-person. To others we say, "because I have been loved unconditionally by God, I will not treat you as you deserve to be treated."
Jesus took it to radical lengths when He said,
“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:43-48, NLT).
Mercy, grace and love. The world will hear nothing we say if these three are not front and center!
Rich DuBose is director of Pacific Union Conference Church Support Services