I recently spoke to a friend who has recently left the church he pastored in order to encourage him during this time. During the course of our conversation, I mentioned “our circles” in reference to the churches and ministries we tend to be associated with it. His answer surprised me a bit: “Mark, I’m not even sure what my circle is anymore. I don’t feel like a belong.” He isn’t the first person I’ve heard say this. Over the next few minutes, he told me why he felt this way. In short, he sees churches that are doctrinally “pure” as often being mean spirited while churches that the most compassionate as being unbiblical in their beliefs. On one hand this is an overstated problem; there are Christians and churches which hold to doctrinally sound positions and are not mean spirited. On the other hand, he is correct in his observation that many churches in our circles are ungracious and mean spirited. I didn’t feel that giving him a response was appropriate (I mostly just listened), but since this is a problem in “our circles” I thought it would be prudent to address it.
First, we need to address the sin of mean spiritedness that is often in our churches – and often tolerated. As sinners, we can be mean spirited toward anyone, but many churches and Christians are especially mean spirited toward those who are different, to those who are living in sin, and to those who are outsiders. It is not uncommon for me to hear Christians, even in our church, say (or post) things which are ugly, mean spirited, or just inappropriate. These are usually (though not always) targeted towards homosexuals, transgender people, and those of a different political ideology. The Bible condemns sin (I John 3:4). It never downplays sin or hides the consequences (Rev. 21:8). Yet it also commands us to speak such truth in love (Eph. 4:15). Christ is the perfect model of this. He never shied away from condemning sin and demanding people change (John 8:10-11). Yet, because he is sinless, he never spoke the truth without speaking it in love. In fact, he died on the cross and took upon Himself the penalty of sin, not just for the “small” sins, but for homosexuals, and transgenders, and yes, even for people who have different political persuasions. The gospel has the power to change people and often does (2 Cor. 5:17). However, when we are mean spirited, we often deprive the gospel of its power. We ought to be careful in our attitude toward such people. We ought to be careful not to say things that are mean spirted. We ought to be careful not to post on social media things that are mean spirited.
Lastly, we need to understand that no church, Christian organization, or Christian is perfect – or anywhere close to it (I John 1:8)! Even the early church, led by the apostles and growing at an incredible rate had severe problems. The Galatian church was legalistic. The Corinthian church was carnal. There seemed to be divisions between the Jewish believers and the gentile believers in more than one church Paul wrote to. We tend to think of the early church as a great time (and it certainly was in some ways) but the reality is it was imperfect because it consisted of imperfect people – just like we are. No church (or Christian organization) will be perfect, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t fulfill its purpose by worshiping God and fulfilling the Great commission. We will see flaws in the church and in its people, but that should never cause us to despair.