Tidy Church Litter

The church has always struggled with the tension between evangelism and holiness.


I have friends who say when it comes to evangelism, anything short of sin is fair. I think I like that! But we still need to remind the people we’re leading that if your non-Christian friends are influencing you more than you’re influencing them, it’s time to disentangle yourself. One caveat: if it’s coming out of a “holier-than-thou” approach, then you’re heading for trouble. Or as Jonathan Edwards wrote: “Spiritual pride disposes persons to stand at a distance from others, as better than they. . . . (Spiritual pride) is the most secret of all sins.” But here’s another spin on that: in 1 Corinthians 5, Paul writes: “When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or who are greedy or are swindlers or idol worshipers. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that.” Whoa. What did he just say there between the lines? What was Paul implying was going on in the church? He’s saying, “When I told you not to associate with greedy people or people messing around sexually, I wasn’t talking about non-Christians!” Regardless of how you work that into your ecclesial discipline, the obvious is clear: church is messy because people are messy. And if we’re working hard to bring people into the fold, things are going to get, uh, complicated from time to time. Nevertheless, we have a specific calling to reach and serve those who haven’t yet surrendered to Jesus. God has called the church to be a force, not a fortress. This was never supposed to be about circling the wagons. One of the reasons Jesus was executed was because of who he hung out with:


“The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, ‘he takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.’”

Luke 15:2


The mission of the church is simple: to love the people around us into relationship with Jesus. That means rubbing shoulders with those who are outside the church. And when that happens, one thing is for sure: it won’t be a tidy church. Dave Workman | Elemental Churches