A Ministry to Sinners
This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.
1 Timothy 1:15
As I visit churches I am amazed at how often the body of Christ has forgotten that Christ came to save sinners! I was reminded again of this truth this past week as I was reading The Celtic Way of Evangelism by George Hunter III. This is a fascinating book about the life of Patrick of Ireland. Patrick’s aim was to return to Ireland, the land of his captivity as a slave and bring the Gospel to the Irish. This was a very significant ministry and almost unheard of in Patrick’s day. The reason for the “mission impossible” was that the Irish were considered “barbarians.” That is, they had not been tamed by the Roman Empire. The prevailing thought in missions was that a people group must be somewhat “civilized” in order for there to be any hope of “Christianizing” them. Second, the churches Patrick started didn’t fit the “Roman” mold. They did not do as the Romans did. The Roman church demanded that one size fit all.
I believe that the modern church struggles with these same two issues. First, many churches are reluctant to welcome those who are “uncivilized.” That is, we want you to clean up your act if you want to hang around with “the saints.” We are uncomfortable having people around us who may give us a bad image or a bad reputation. I faced this issue many years ago while working with a bus ministry. A number of people did not want the bus “kids” running around the church. They were viewed as unruly, unclean and “uncivilized!” One of our leaders wisely put the issue to rest when he said, “You know, we should just kill the bus ministry and let these kids go to hell!” That ended the discussion temporarily. Eventually the church did abandon the bus ministry primarily because of the prevailing notion that the kids were not “civilized!”
Second, our churches often say to the people, “You must be just like us if you wish to be a part of our church. You must dress like us, talk like us, pray like us and think like us. If you can do all of these things ‘just like us’ then you can join our little club.” This issue then (and now) is, “When in Rome do like the Romans. And when you are not in Rome . . . do like the Romans!”
In another church a new family began to attend. They wore their best clothes . . . jeans pressed and clean. A woman in the church all decked out in her fine jewelry approached them and said, “If I couldn’t dress any better than that I don’t believe I would come to church!” My friend said, “If she was so offended why didn’t she sell one of her pieces of jewelry and buy clothes for them!”
I’m so thankful that our Lord Jesus hung out with the likes of sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors and losers. The “club” members were so incensed with Him that they had Him crucified! I am also thankful that Jesus did not hang out with the members of the “club,” but with people just like me . . . and just like you! I know that this sounds novel, but do you suppose He would be pleased if we did likewise! Anything less than this would be “uncivilized!”
[in Christ} . . . where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all. (Colossians 3:11 emphasis mine).
Copyright © 2007Fresh Start Ministries, Gordon Penfold
Last modified: 07/04/08