Acceptance and Transformation

Charles Kiser —  March 31, 2008 — 13 Comments

Yesterday we visited an American Baptist/United Church of Christ/Alliance of Baptists/Emergent church that’s meeting in a Presbyterian church building in North Oak Cliff. It’s obviously quite a diverse community of faith.

I really enjoyed the service. It’s hard to describe it—kind of a contemporary-high church hybrid. In the pastor’s words, the church has one foot in Mainline Protestant churches (high church) and one foot in Emergent churches (contemporary). We listened to a jazz solo, sang an a cappella African song and followed a liturgy. The sermon was an actual conversation between the pastor and church members. Claudia Porche guessed that it might have been the most significant church experience we’ve had yet in our eight weeks of participant-observation.

At the heart of this experience’s significance for me was dealing with the tension of acceptance and transformation. This little eclectic church majored in the gospel value of acceptance. Everyone is welcomed and embraced, regardless of background, race, or even sexual orientation. We experienced this welcome and acceptance ourselves from church members after the service.

The church’s stance on sexual orientation got us talking at brunch afterwards. Though we hold different theological convictions on the subject of sexual orientation, we found ourselves drawn to the culture of acceptance there. We found ourselves asking: How do foster a culture of acceptance and at the same time value life transformation that results when the gospel is appropriated? How can we avoid judging people without loosening our grip on our theological convictions?

It’s a delicate balance. I recently read a book by John Burke addressing these questions called No Perfect People Allowed: Creating a Come as You Are Culture in the Church. Burke said a couple things that stuck out to me. First, unbelievers can’t be expected to fall in line with the transformative values of the gospel until they make a commitment to Jesus. Second, unbelievers don’t make a commitment to Jesus and experience life change without the power of the Holy Spirit at work in their lives. Ministers can’t engineer conviction and transformation.

On a practical level I think Burke’s observations mean that we love people unconditionally and leave conversion and life change to the work of the Holy Spirit. He is the only one, after all, who can convict the human heart and bring about transformation. Unbelievers see the values of the gospel as they are lived out in the Christian community and the Holy Spirit uses that modeling as fodder for change.

That’s about as far as I’ve gotten. I’m curious for your feedback on this matter.

How do you / your church community live in the tension between acceptance and transformation?

Charles Kiser

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Dallas, TX. Church Planter with Storyline Christian Community. Equipper and Coach with Mission Alive.

13 responses to Acceptance and Transformation

  1. 

    I think we accept all people; just as the LORD reconciled us to him while we were still his enemies; but we also defend the Gospel unapologetically. No lovey-dovey all the time garbage that we hear more and more of these days; but a good mix of all that God is. Fierce, Jealous, Angry, Mighty, Father, Loving, Graceful, Kind, Patient.

    I agree with the point that we must accept all and leave it to the Word and Spirit’s sword to convict the person. If asked, we should tell them what the Word says. Not in a “you are wrong” sort of way but in a “this is what it says” sort of way. And don’t pretend like you have all the answers, because anybody who can say they can define God or give reasons for everything He has done or will do is a liar.

    Christianity is not a “do not, do not, do not” faith but a faith of freedom. What I mean is that for one to be convicted, it cannot be introduced to them as “do not do this!” but more “why would you?”.

    And back to my first point of acceptance and the LORD’s reconciliation. There is a point where a response from the person is necessary. Yes, the LORD gave us the opportunity for reconciliation with him; but it still requires a response of faith and heart. So, the reason why you respond to “why would you?” is because you are responding to the conviction of faith, through Christ; whereas the “do not do this!” is simply strong arming, which isn’t freedom at all.

  2. 

    For me, it’s all in the statement, “He is the only one, after all, who can convict the human heart and bring about transformation.”.

    We are called only to love. To love as God loves. Putting this in perspective, we can see that we fail time and time again, yet He is always there.

    I am beginning to see that it is through this love, that God brings about this transformation. Anything other than loving community, gets in the way of God’s work.

  3. 

    One more point:

    I see homosexuality as no different than anything else regarding sin. Even if homosexuality is brought on from birth, it is no different than the alcoholic who may had been born with the tendency to drink in his genes, or the sexually promiscuous who has known nothing more than that way of life, or the liar – who has succeeded greatly in life with his/her lies.

    Its all the same. The homosexual, the alcoholic, the promiscuous, the liar, etc. its all the same. We’re all the same. If we continue in the practices of darkness after hearing the Gospel, we have not been convicted. If we deny that our actions are sinful; no matter what those actions are, we have called God a liar.

    I think the reason homosexuality has become an outlier is because of culture, and the embarrassing actions of the religious by pinpointing specific subjects as more dark than others. Humility is severely lacking in many corners of our world; both inside and outside the church.

    The thing to remember, and the message to give is this. Nobody has done anything or has said anything for them to be seen by God as holy and blameless. The ONLY thing that allows God to see us is in that way is the blood of Christ. That is it.

    We are all nothing but equals, all sinners, all stained, all enemies of God; unless the blood of Christ clothes us.

  4. 

    This is always a rock and a hard place for me as well, but mostly because I am a Type-A person: I want for things to be right, perfect, in line, and when they’re not, I want to tell you how you can make them right. ; ) So, I like to err on the side of grace with these kinds of things, in hopes that it really creates more of a balance than the ‘tolerant of all things’ movement does. Which I guess is my way of saying that people who are rule-oriented and perfectionists should stay away from rebuking or admonishing believers and leave that to those who are daily being humbled.

    I remember that Paul took aside Christians to teach them the way more clearly. I remember that many of the letters to Christian churches spoke of how you approach people who are sinning, all that disfellowship stuff. But this is always about Christians–not about the lost. I don’t believe we can expect nonbelievers to buy in to our standards, or our moral code. I also remember that Jesus called a man down from a tree and ate at his house, called the current pastors of his day a brood of vipers, and let a whore wash his feet. He told a woman, Then neither do I condemn you, when he had every right to condemn.

    He who is without sin cast the first stone.

    I think that’s important to remember when we love people. And there’s no doubt you should be loving people. But there are ways to ‘teach the Way more clearly’ that are also in love. I wish Paul had left a manual.

  5. 

    Wing it and listen to your gut a lot. When you lose it, ask for forgiveness and try again. It’s like parenting. Do we ever get it totally right? – yet a child knows even when a parent doesn’t get it totally right, if s/he is loved truly. Hang in there, guys, and keep on keeping on and pray bunches. Loving other people unconditionally and keeping a balance is tough stuff – it’s not for cowards! Dottie

  6. 

    Well Chuck, as you know I’ve had my share of struggles in this area of acceptance and transformation.

    You know the story of us moving in to our home next door to two lesbians and how adamant I was that this was wrong and how do I convince them to “change their ways so they don’t go to hell”. However, God worked on my heart that as I am “HIS”, they are “HIS” also and that I had no right to judge them. I needed to look at myself and how I needed to change and realize that it is Christ’s job to judge and my job is to love God and my neighbor (not always next door). One of the things that I kept looking past, was that part of the way I love God is how I loved my neighbor.

    You know that the story turns out that we developed some great friendships with the neighbors and their son was baptized as a result of the Spirit’s work and the freedom of love in this relationship.

    We must always remember to love the sinner (all of us), but hate the sin, but just because we hate the sin doesn’t mean that we act the jerk and point it out. The Spirit of God will convict when and where conviction is needed.

    The best thing about all this is the ability we’ve been given to witness the work of the Spirit in others as well as ourselves.

    I pray that God will continue to move in your hearts and that others will feel the love of God through you and that you will be able to see the change, no matter how small or great.

    Much Love!!!!

  7. 

    Don’t you love having an awesome worship experience? Especially if it is different thatn something you have experienced in the past…

    ….acceptance of those who are different from us. I can truly say this has not been an issue for me. With an alcoholic, addict (recovering…all because of God) spouse and son, I have come to know people from all walks of life. Uneducated, very highly educated, unchurched, way too much church, no morals, high standards, prostitutes, people in broken marriages due to nothing more than not respecting one another etc. The one thing about accepting other people that are different is to first know where I stand on what the difference is; whether it is homosexuality, drugs, divorce or ?? I simply accept that we are different while offering community to them. Yes, there is tension and often times I have to bite my tongue so that I don’t spurt out what I know to be truth to someone I am trying to offer a relationship. And, that takes time and effort. Our church is just beginning to scratch the surface of accepting the unloved of the community where we live. There is a fear in some people that “we won’t know what to do or say”; and this is where prayer and fasting can pay off. And remembering that I am not to judge – I try to plant the seed and pray for the rain and sun and hope they will hang around long enough to learn how to pick up their rake to weed their garden…..
    Keep on Keeping on!

  8. 
    Kasey McCollum March 31, 2008 at 9:15 pm

    I guess the difficulty of ‘acceptance and transformation’ is the fundamental assumption that many of us operate out of is that we or I know how someone else needs to be transformed. I personally feel a posture of humility, not assuming we already know how another’s transformation should take place or what it should look like is desperately needed. “How do we practice acceptance without loosing our grip of theological convictions?” We must be willing to loosen our grip of our theological convictions. We must allow our experiences to speak into our theological convictions as well as allow our convictions to inform our experiences. In order for the gospel and our experiences to be connected, we must be willing to let them each be challenged. I appreciate your struggle and the continued wrestling. I am right there with you. This is no easy task.

  9. 

    Great post, Charles.

    We spent a couple years with a church that had the reputation of being a community where everyone is accepted. It was amazing…recovering drug addicts were elders, ex-bar bouncers served as ushers, even ex-porn stars led ministries. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. We baptized 150-250 adults in both the years we were there.

    We weren’t there during the early, formative years when this culture of acceptance was built into the core of the church; however, we did hear from several leaders that John 16:8 played a huge role. That’s where Jesus says that the Holy Spirit convicts people of sin. Conviction is something that happens to us by another power outside ourselves. So, they decided to love and accept people wherever they are, no matter where that is. Then they trusted that God would convict them as they’re experiencing the radical love of Jesus within the church.

  10. 

    I think this has been one of the main ways that churches have missed the mark over the years. When you (not Spirit) try and change folks, they resent you for it, brand you as judgmental and never come back. Forcing people to come to a building, dress right, sing right (without instruments of course!), act right, smell right etc has missed the point. Frankly, harping on the sexual orientation issue is just another way to exclude the people that Jesus would have been hanging with. Yes, it’s taboo and akward. Yes, it’s difficult to have a conversation when you have preconceived notions about their lifestyle etc. What about our churches that are fileld with materialistic, cheating, lying, fake, judgmental, superficial “Christians?” We’ve allowed those people (I’m one of them at times!) to permiate our churches for years. Why exclude people who are actually honest about their sin?! I encountered this recently with a lesbian and the person was genuinely struggling and concerned for her life. How many more times does Jesus condemn the self righteous?

    It’s like being recovering racists like a lot of us are. How do you over come this? You hang out with people of other races and remove all of your preconceived stereotypes. You realize that the gospel is for everyone (not just straight white Americans..see Paul rebuking Peter for trying to force Gentiles to be Jewish). You have to do this with gay and lesbian folks too. How many of us hang out with these types of people on a regular basis?

    Do you think Jesus had a bumper sticker on the back of his cloak that said “Adam and Eve, Not Adam and Steve?” Doubt it.

  11. 

    Charles – Longtime reader, first-time commenter. =)

    I love your hearts on this issue, man. It sounds like you guys are asking exactly the right questions, and coming to some important conclusions.

    Burke is exactly right, though Jesus said it first: The Holy Spirit convicts humans of sin, not humans. So many times, Christians — and ministers most of all — feel as if they’re illegitimate if they don’t “say something.” Truth is, saying something happens most effectively in the context of relationship, where there’s mutual accountability. Most of the “convicting of sin” that humans do is repulsively one-sided.

    :Steve Holt Jr:

  12. 

    Thanks to all of you for your thoughtful comments on this subject. They will help us as we move forward by showing acceptance to those whom many deem unacceptable.

    CK

  13. 
    Shannon Raikes April 3, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    Hmm…does your last comment mean that the subject is closed? I hope not! For me, I have found that the more the Lord reveals the depth of my own depravity to me, the more I am able to embrace those w/sins that seem “big” to me. I love Kasey’s comment about humility. I think that, through the lens of humility, we are able to express where we stand on these issues while maintaining a position of unconditional love for those that we are walking with. I believe that when you trust the heart-changing to the Spirit, then He is working on those people who have a relationship with Him, and conversations will take place, questions will be asked, etc. that will lead to transformation. One last thing that I feel like the Lord has been teaching me is that when someone feels truly loved by you – unconditionally loved – then there is a freedom for them in that. They are free to open themselves up to you, their good sides and bad, and they do so w/o fear. In this freedom, they can make changes and not worry about messing up and telling you and sharing in that journey w/you because they know that there is no judgment and condemnation from you. In this freedom is true growth.

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