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Dear Christians, it's not the church's job to make us feel comfortable

The Rainbow Flag in front of Church (Niklas Emmoth/Getty Images)

I received this message from a self-described pastor a few days ago:

Hi Matt, I'm a pastor and I have to say I've read your work for a while and I find it very troubling. There is no tolerance, inclusiveness, or love in your writings. It's hateful towards the LGBTQ community and others who don't share your views about gay rights, reproductive rights or many other issues. Matt churches should be focusing on how to welcome people in, whether they happen to be gay, trans, feminist or any other group you denigrate. "Christians" like you and all the rest on the far right have pushed these people away for so long. Matt no matter what you or your ilk say in your backwardness and bigotry, Christians in a committed same-sex relationship and others in the LGBTQ community are following God's design for their lives. That's the message the church needs to spread. God is love. Love is love! Your message of hatred and exclusion should be left in the dark ages where it belongs. You should be ashamed. I will pray for you.

Hi, pastor. Three things:

One: These aren't "my views" about gay rights and "reproductive rights," as you refer to them. I am merely agreeing with the One who has already made His position on these subjects known.

Two: It's not the church's job to make us comfortable, pastor. Its job is to help to make us holy.

Yes, it should welcome all. In fact it should not only welcome but actively seek those who are lost. It should venture into the world, find the wandering sheep, and guide them back into the fold. But what it cannot do, pastor, is welcome our sin.

It should welcome the penitent thief, as Christ did, but it should not and cannot welcome his thievery. Remember, only one of the thieves crucified next to Christ was invited into paradise. The one who renounced his crimes was promised Heaven. The other, who clung to his wickedness even up until the moment of death, was not offered an invitation. I wonder, if you were there on Calvary that day, would you have lectured Christ for not being sufficiently inclusive?

You say we should welcome homosexuals and "transgenders" and people who are pro-abortion and anyone else who commits one of our culture's trendy sins, but what you really seem to mean is that we should welcome the acts of fornication, sodomy, self-mutilation, child murder, etc. These acts are "God's design for their lives," you say. And I'm afraid it is on this point that you stumble headfirst into heresy.

It's true that the church should be like the father in Christ's parable, running to greet the son who'd squandered his inheritance on booze and prostitutes, eager to embrace and forgive him. But note how the father didn't go out, find his son at the brothel, and say, "Son, why don't you come and fornicate and get drunk at home? No need to change your lifestyle at all. Just come home and do whatever you want. Don't let me cramp your style, son. Here, need some more money?"

That's because the rebellious young man had to abandon his sin, seek forgiveness, and surrender to the will of his father. Notice that when he came home he said, "I have sinned against you and against heaven. I am not worthy to be called your son." Now notice that he did not say, "I've had a lot of debauched, drunken sex and I'm proud of it. In fact, I plan to get back at it tomorrow. I'm not sorry, I won't change, and you just need to shut up and accept it, pops. By the way, I have some hookers coming over later. Please show them to my room. Thanks."

We can be fairly sure that if the son had approached the father with that speech, he would not have been welcomed inside. There would have been no fattened calf slaughtered for a festive celebration. There would have been only grief and sadness, and, I'm guessing, a pretty stern lecture. "If you live in my home, you will follow my rules," the father would have bellowed, just as my father said to to me many times when I was a teenager.

We cannot be real and active members of the Body of Christ if we categorically refuse to walk the path Christ laid out for us. We cannot be members of the church if we do not love Christ, and we cannot love Christ if we scoff at his commandments.

"If you love me, keep my commandments."

"Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them."

"Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps."

"Be imitators of Christ."

Yet in spite of these verses you think we ought to welcome people into the church by teaching them that they need not imitate Christ or keep His commandments? That's not "the church" we've welcomed them into, sir. It's damnation.

Christ died so that we may be released from the bondage of our sins. When you ask for Him to accept the very sin He shed His blood to free us from, you offend Him deeply. Worse, you reject His sacrifice. And when you reject His sacrifice, you reject the faith which was born from that sacrifice. There are some churches in America where it is explicitly taught that "sin is not a big deal" (direct quote from the website of the North Raleigh Community Church, a heretical cult led by John Pavlovitz). But God found our sins so terrible that he sent His only Son to Earth to defeat them. Therefore when you diminish the severity of sin, or when you insist on sin being embraced as virtue, you indulge in the worst kind of blasphemy imaginable.

Here's what it comes down to, as far as I can tell: A person cannot be included in a thing they fundamentally reject. We can't be inside and outside of something at the same time. That's a metaphysical impossibility as much as a theological one. Those who wish to remain on the outside of the faith because they refuse to accept Christ's authority on matters of morality, cannot then be meaningfully "included" in it. They have excluded themselves. We simply cannot accept the faith, or be accepted into the faith, if we will not accept the fact that we are guilty and in need of salvation.

Three: Let's not focus this whole conversation on homosexuality and abortion and those kinds of issues. You bring them up, you focus on them, because you think special exceptions and dispensations should be made for the people in those groups. But I say no one gets a special exception from the repentance requirement -- not liberals, not conservatives, not homosexuals, not heterosexuals, not you, and certainly not me.

You tell me that I should be ashamed of myself, and you're right, though perhaps not for the reasons you think. I should not, as you suggest, be ashamed of the times when I have accurately articulated truths about our faith. But I have plenty of other reasons to be ashamed. I have my own struggles, my own sin, and the last thing I want is for that sin to be "accepted."

When I go to church, I don't want to be told that I need not change, I need not repent, I need not confront my wickedness. I don't want to have my false sense of spiritual security and superiority reinforced. I don't want to be told that I'm perfect. I've been around myself long enough to know better. I have compiled 30 years worth of evidence proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am indeed a desperately weak and sinful man. Yes, my sins are different from the ones our culture favors -- no one is lobbying for my sins to be "included" in the faith the way they lobby for other sorts of sins -- but mine are ugly and awful all the same.

What I want, pastor, is to be freed from these sins. I do not want to be made more comfortable in them. Or perhaps on some level I do want to be made comfortable in them. Maybe I would like someone to pat me on the back and say, "Everything about you is wonderful and you'll go to Heaven no matter what you do because you're a perfect angel." I admit I find that fantasy quite appealing. But I know that it is just that -- a fantasy. A fiction. A story whispered in our ears not by Christ but by Satan.

The truth is more difficult but also more hopeful. The truth is that I am dirty, but I can be cleansed. The truth is that I am weak, but I can be strengthened. The truth is that I am corrupt, but I can be made holy through the grace of God. And the church should be there to help in that process. That's why it exists.

Anyway, I hope your promise to pray for me was sincere. I thank you very much for those prayers. I certainly need them, pastor. As do you. God bless.

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