A common perception of Christians is that we are a bunch of people who want to impose our form of Sharia law on the rest of the world. In other words, we are viewed as people who use coercion to get people to conform to a set of laws to which they would rather not be bound.
Yet what I find in Scripture should cause the Church to be perceived as a group of people who strive for freedom in response to the spiritual freedom that the Gospel has brought into our lives. Consider the following:
- Jesus came to provide freedom – In Luke 4:16-21, Jesus reads Isaiah 61:1 in the synagogue and applies that Scripture to himself as one who brings release to the captives and freedom to those who are oppressed.
- In Galatians 5:1, Paul reiterates Jesus’ claim that the gospel sets us free.
- The History of the last 2,000 years supports the idea that Jesus Christ brings freedom. The countries in the world where freedom is currently experienced can tie that freedom to a Christian heritage.
We do have to admit that the Church has not had a perfect record in the area of coercion. My own experience lends support to the idea that the church can be coercive in her tactics. This is a point that the church needs to face up to and change.
In too many congregations, there is pressure to conform to a standard of behavior. In some cases the coercion is overtly proclaimed from the pulpit, in other cases the pressure is more subtle. When someone does not live up to the standard of behavior he is either directly chastised or the subject of gossip.
When I read the Gospels, I see no coercive tactics used by Jesus. Jesus told people where they went wrong, using the law as his guide, but loved them through the entire process. In reading the story of the woman at the well in John 4, it is difficult to imagine that the woman felt shamed or coerced. One gets the sense that she already felt ashamed and Jesus offered her love, hope and a way out of her bondage.
What can the Church do in response?
- Live out the claims of the Gospel – demonstrate by changed lives that the Gospel is indeed true. We need to allow God to “will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phil 2:13)
- If we are yielded to God we can then love like Jesus loved – those outside the church community must feel our love before they will be willing to hear our message. In reading the accounts in the Gospels where people came to faith in Jesus, it is obvious to me that they felt Jesus’ love and were drawn to him by that love.
We do not need to impose any standard of behavior on the world around us. Paul wrote his letters to communities where moral decay and depravity were rampant, and I find no hint of an assertion that the church should work for a legislative response to that decay.
Coercive tactics should find no place in the church. We are called to speak the truth in love (Eph 4;15), not bully people into conformity.
God does not like bullies any more than we do.