“Those People Out There”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “those people” referenced in sermons, Sunday school, and in casual conversations at church. “Those people,” as opposed to “we:” revel in abortion and sodomy; do drugs; took prayer out of the public schools (“and look what happened!”); get pregnant out of wedlock, raise illegitimate kids on our tax dollars and fill our prisons with fatherless boys of adolescent mothers; commit serial adultery and serially divorce; wear immodest clothing; and are inked-up like billboards and pierced like pincushions. Such people clearly illustrate why God’s Country is in the mess it is – or so we’re told. Robert Burns wrote of us people: “Here’s tae us. Wha’s like us? Damn few and they’re a’deid.”
While it’s an ego massage to see one’s threats as purely external, such thinking has no basis in reality. Specific problems with this thinking are legion, but one of the most egregious is that it represents a de facto denial of the doctrine of total depravity, leaving one’s self out of the equation “Those People” = I – Grace. Paul wrote of “those people,” “…and so were some of you (1 Cor 6:11).” Furthermore, total depravity reminds us that, save solo Christo, we have no more standing before God than “those people”‘ and Peter’s Barque (the church) is no Love Boat. As such, we are faced with the disturbing fact that we are really not all that wonderful. Notice what sins Christians are tagged with:
pharisaism and other forms of self-righteousness
The Galatian heresy of works-righteousness which, while universal in the world, is all too prevalent in the church
The “seven deadly sins” of Proverbs 6. For which will you get rebuked more quickly: slander and backbiting, or dropping the s-bomb at a church work day after nailing your thumb to a stud? NB: my attorney has advised me to lessen my liability by warning you not to try this at home
The spirit of Diotrephes (the control freak of 3 Jn) by which we run those we don’t like out of our churches
The spirit of Alexander the Coppersmith (Paul’s foe in 2 Tim 4:14) by which we who receive absolution from our pastors bludgeon them to death with their faults and foibles real or imagined
Respect of persons (ie slurping for dollars ref James 2). In a former congregation of mine an elder’s wife practiced a rather socially selective hospitality, admitting that she felt a particular calling to “minister” to the area’s wealthy, as her husband was “a well-respected man about town doing the best things so conservatively (thanks, Ray Davies).” No, I didn’t make that up. Besides, in a moment of honest reflection, which of “those peoples'” sins aren’t present in our own congregations?
The single greatest error lies in thinking that “those people” are the ones bringing God’s judgment on Christian America, as the Church loses is salting influence on society. 1 Peter 4:17 tells us “judgment must begin at the house of God,” ie, with us. In 1 John 3:14 it is plainly stated “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.” Besides orthodoxy, then, we are judged by the standard of community. Given this and the list of Christian sins above, how do we measure up? Could it be then that the sins of “those people,” rather than provoking God, are indeed his judgment upon us, a people who may differ from ” those people” most in how we choose to spend our Sunday mornings? Think of the Seven Churches in Asia of Revelation, which are now seven mosques in Turkey, as well as how many church buildings are now mosques, restaurants, and the like.
I issue neither call for sanctimonious pietism nor proclamation of diversity buncombe, but rather a plea for honest self-reflection and housekeeping – not to mention, contrition, confession, and absolution. We should be a lot quicker to recognize our own besetting sins than the lifestyles of those without the church, and spend less time descrying motes than removing beams. This doubtless will aid the church more in its mission of evangelization and discipling than any mass-marketing “church growth” ploys and other such fakery.
What are your thoughts?