Earlier this morning a friend brought my attention to an article in Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, about how a church in the small town of Kil in Western Sweden bought a caravan for begging, homeless immigrants to live in, along with a toilet and waste management. As a result, around five to ten church members left the church, protesting against the decision to help the homeless. They claim that the homeless are criminals and that the money they get for begging funds some sort of mafia. The police, on the other hand, denies such claims and says that the homeless immigrants are not criminals.
Obviously, based on a Christian worldview where everyone are created in the image of God and should be loved, even if they were part of a criminal organization that would not be a reason for the church to let them sleep and freeze in a forest. On the contrary, if they were victims of the mafia that would be an even greater reason to help them. As I’ve written before, there is no other way to defeat homelessness than to give homeless people homes, and it is false to think that not helping the poor will in any way help the poor.
Now, my friend was quite happy that these compassion-protesting egoists left the church, and I must say that I am as well. Bye bye, grumpy phariesees, see you when you’ve repented. This sparked a discussion however with another friend of mine, who questioned if such an attitude is suitable for a Christian. After all, Jesus hung around with sinners, welcoming prostitutes and murderers into His church, forgiving their sins and teaching them discipleship. Even if it’s sad and unacceptable that church goers don’t like compassion, shouldn’t we seek to welcome and change them rather than exhorting them to leave?
Well, there’s an important difference between how Jesus and the early church welcomes repentant sinners into baptism, and how it excludes unrepentant sinners that have already been baptised. It is very clear in the Gospels that Jesus demanded a lot from those who followed Him – they should sell all they have and give the money to the poor (Lk 12:33), they should be willing to die on a cross for His sake (Mk 8:34-35) and they should love their enemies, feed the hungry, be perfect as our Father is perfect, and so on (Mt 5-7, 25).
Those who are willing to take this challange are in – no matter how much stupid stuff they have done in the past. We are all saved by grace, not by works. But does this mean that a Christian can be a douchebag? No! Paul says: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Rom 6:1-2). In fact, Paul makes it clear that bad, unrepentant Christians should be kicked out from the church:
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? […]
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. (1 Cor 5:1-2, 9-11)
Of course, Jesus explains in Matthew 18 that such a process must make sure that the sinner really is unrepentant. First you should confront him or her alone, then with one or two witnesses, then with the whole church. This is something that many church traditions that I’m inspired by – the early church, the Anabaptist movement, early Pentecostalism – has practiced. It may sound harsh, but the alternative is that douchebag Christians who disgrace the name of Christ fill our churches. If they want to be greedy or sexually immoral, they can be it somewhere else, waiting for judgment. But if they want to follow Christ, even if they fail and fall, they should be gracefully welcomed.