I’m seeing more and more pronouncements in Christian media that begin with the words: “The Church needs to be more accepting of…” Now, I’m used to the anti-Christian voices judging the Church of Jesus Christ for being judgmental or hateful or intolerant of many types of people or behaviors. That has always been, and will always be the case. But I’m getting more concerned with professed believers who are talking about “the church” in a way that is not helpful, not thoughtful, not edifying–and in a way that distances themselves from the body of Christ. After all, any Christian who criticizes “the church” is criticizing himself!
Here’s a statement circulating around Christian outlets that particularly frustrates me as a Biblical Counselor and Christian Education Director: “The Church needs to be more accepting of…those with mental illness.” At one level, we can always say that the church needs to improve on how it loves other people. As the body of Christ, we are to always strive to show the love of Christ to anyone and everyone. And some local churches do it better than others. So if that is all that statement means, then I heartily agree.
But, I’m afraid there’s much more to that statement, centering on the word ACCEPTING. What is the underlying accusation against Christians when it is said that they need to be more accepting of those with mental illness? Here are some questions to expose what this sentiment means:
- The opposite of accepting is REJECTING, So, generally speaking, do Christians and local churches reject those struggling with a mental illness? Do we ban them? Do we treat them as outcasts? Do we shun them? Do we believe that they have no place in the church?
- Or, by ACCEPTING people with mental illness, is it more about accepting modern psychology’s descriptions and solutions of those problems? (I think this is the case) Are we only truly accepting if we believe that mental illnesses are one hundred percent physiological and therefore the person with a mental illness is one hundred percent not responsible for that particular problem?
- Building on that, are we REJECTING people with mental illness if we offer hope for Biblical change? If we believe the Bible gives us principles and the Spirit gives us power to overcome those problems categorized and mental illness, are we rejecting rather than accepting?
- Finally, are we defining ACCEPTING as: making no value judgment or saying a certain behavior or problem is right or wrong, sinful or not sinful? Is it possible to accept someone and yet love him or her enough to listen, understand, and offer the hope of the gospel for change?
In my mind, the church is the best and the only place with its arms open wide to offer love and grace and mercy. Why? Because Christ offers it, and we are His BODY! Christ Himself says to all of us, “Come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). The Church historically and the Church universal has always and will always be the place which receives and accepts sinners because Christ receives and accepts sinners. Yes, humans are sinners and we certainly fail to loves as we ought. But statements like “The Church needs to more accepting of…” implies that non-Christians or human organizations are actually more accepting of people than Christians are. That is simply not the case. Unless, as demonstrated by the above questions, one has a different definition of ACCEPTING.
So, let’s briefly address a few more examples that are commonly suggested in this statement:
- The Church needs to be more accepting of…homosexuals. Yes, we must receive them, love them, and yet Biblically confront and help them in their sin. They can change by the power of the Word and the Spirit.
- The Church needs to be more accepting of…people with disabilities. Yes, we must always make the church more accessible! We must counsel people who struggle with problems that can be solved, and accommodate those with limitations and weaknesses.
- The Church needs to be more accepting of…people of other faiths. Yes, all are welcome in the Church of Jesus Christ, but all come the same way. Only when we shed ourselves of our human religions and believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life can we come to the Father!
- The Church needs to be more accepting of…people of other ethnic backgrounds. Yes,the Church of Jesus Christ is universal, transcending all nationalities and colors. We all are the body of Christ when we profess the same Jesus as Lord and Savior!
The Church (all Christians) can always work on our out-reaching to all sorts of people in this world. But the Church is also called to stand against the forces that seek to change Christianity into some human organization which simply accepts people without the receiving standards of God’s Word. The Church is accepting of all who turn from their sins and rest on Jesus Christ alone for their salvation. Praise be to God alone for receiving us in Christ!