- Read Romans 15:1-9 here.
- You can listen to this sermon here.
DISCLAIMER: I’m not really someone who’s up on all the latest church trends, so this idea may have been around for a while. Even if my thoughts are not original, I hope they’re encouraging.
I first came across the church motto “Come As You Are” in the excellent 2005 book No Perfect People Allowed by John Burke. He makes an astute distinction between tolerance and acceptance that I expanded upon in my sermon.
Tolerance has become one of the battle cries of our postmodern generation. Postmoderns insist that we allow each person to determine their own path through life without imposing our, or God’s, expectations upon them. Tolerance provides individuals with the freedom they need to move forward on their unique path. However, as Burke says (p91), “Tolerance does not value people but simply puts up with their behavior or beliefs.” Tolerance gives every individual space, but that space can also lead to isolation.
God provides an alternative to tolerance that adds depth and relationship: Acceptance. Acceptance embodies grace. From a Christian perspective, tolerance simply overlooks sin, ignores it, pretends it didn’t happen. In contrast, acceptance recognises the sin, identifies with it, and embraces the individual anyway. Acceptance gives grace and forgiveness. If tolerance provides space, acceptance pulls people closer.
I hope that the image I’ve described of acceptance and grace seems warm and fuzzy. I believe that these values differentiate Christianity from any other religion. Who isn’t attracted to grace? Who doesn’t desire acceptance?
However, the feelings change dramatically when we’re called upon to give grace to others. In these moments we find ourselves at, or beyond, the extremities of our comfort zone. We like that we can “Come as we are”, but allowing all those weirdos to “Come as they are” is another thing altogether! Accepting people we disagree with, or who have hurt us or others, who look or live differently, often challenges our entrenched view of how the world should operate. Grace rejects our comfortable, instinctual reactions and calls us to a higher response.
Receiving grace and acceptance provides comfort and peace. Giving grace and acceptance often creates discomfort and turmoil. Jesus did not call us to be comfortable, but to a life of discipleship. I’ll let Burke have the last word in this post (p91), “God far exceeds the requirements of mere tolerance; he restrains his judgment and even showers unworthy people with grace. If we are to represent God through the church, we must not just occasionally tolerate people we don’t like; we too must show grace.”
You can check out the website of Burke’s Gateway Church in Austin here. You’ll notice that the motto, “Come as You Are” prominently displayed on the home page and throughout the site.
- If your church adopted a motto that described its relationship to the unchurched, what would it say?
- Do you think that Christians can give acceptance to others if we don’t have a strong sense of God’s grace toward ourselves?
- Do you struggle with how we can invite people to “Come as they are” without compromising God’s standards? I suspect this is a common challenge and I’d love your feedback.