Getting Beyond Judgement and Condemnation

Sometimes I wonder how we became so confused about the good news Jesus came to share with humanity. Sometimes our proclamation of the good news makes it sound like bad news. There are times when I want to blame it all on theologians like St. Augustine and John Calvin who came up with such concepts as original sin and total depravity. Or maybe I should place more blame on the people who misrepresented the thoughts of these great thinkers. There are other times when I want to lay the blame on preachers who abandon their own struggle with our sacred scriptures to preach their personal doctrinal perspectives. I guess I really should not blame anyone. There is enough guilt to go around. Yet, it seems that more and more people are becoming resistance to a religion that fiercely advocates guilt, shame, judgment, and the threat of hell.

I am often deeply moved by the very different perspectives of the good news I encounter among people in Russia. If you listen carefully to the preaching of a Russian Baptist pastor, you will not hear a long exposition on how sinful human beings are, but you will hear an invitation to receive the gift of forgiveness through Jesus the Christ. Once after a sermon I offered an elderly Russian woman approached me to say through an interpreter, “You know—we all want just a little compassion.” It seems that a message of God’s mercy and forgiveness, love and compassion, resonates in the hearts of his children all around the earth.

Frederick Buechner has been a guide for me along the journey of faith. His writings have been gleaned by many folks for daily devotional thoughts. This week Sherry Adams shared with me these thoughts from Buechner—

ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS or A.A. is the name of a group of men and women who acknowledge that addiction to alcohol is ruining their lives. Their purpose in coming together is to give it up and help others do the same. They realize they can't pull this off by themselves. They believe they need each other, and they believe they need God. The ones who aren't so sure about God speak instead of their Higher Power.

When they first start talking at a meeting, they introduce themselves by saying, "I am John. I am an alcoholic," "I am Mary. I am an alcoholic," to which the rest of the group answers each time in unison, "Hi, John," "Hi, Mary." They are apt to end with the Lord's Prayer or the Serenity Prayer. Apart from that they have no ritual. They have no hierarchy. They have no dues or budget. They do not advertise or proselytize. Having no buildings of their own, they meet wherever they can.

Nobody lectures them, and they do not lecture each other. They simply tell their own stories with the candor that anonymity makes possible. They tell where they went wrong and how day by day they are trying to go right. They tell where they find the strength and understanding and hope to keep trying. Sometimes one of them will take special responsibility for another—to be available at any hour of day or night if the need arises. There's not much more to it than that, and it seems to be enough. Healing happens. Miracles are made.

You can't help thinking that something like this is what the Church is meant to be and maybe once was before it got to be Big Business. Sinners Anonymous. "I can will what is right but I cannot do it," is the way Saint Paul put it, speaking for all of us. "For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do" (Romans 7:19).

"I am me. I am a sinner."

"Hi, you."

Hi, every Sadie and Sal. Hi, every Tom, Dick, and Harry. It is the forgiveness of sins, of course. It is what the Church is all about.

No matter what far place alcoholics end up in, either in this country or virtually anywhere else, they know that there will be an A.A. meeting nearby to go to and that at that meeting they will find strangers who are not strangers to help and to heal, to listen to the truth and to tell it. That is what the Body of Christ is all about.

Would it ever occur to Christians in a far place to turn to a church nearby in hope of finding the same? Would they find it? If not, you wonder what is so Big about the Church's Business.

[Originally published in Whistling in the Dark]

Sometimes I am convinced Jesus said, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned,” because he knew God’s children on this earth had already experienced enough judgment and condemnation from people just like themselves. Jesus understood that we were starving for a message of hope grounded in the love, compassion, and mercy of a heavenly Father. Let’s try loving others as Jesus has loved us for a while and see what happens. Okay? It may make all the difference in the world as it did when Jesus came proclaiming the good news that the kingdom of God was here—a kingdom built upon love, mercy, grace, compassion, and forgiveness.


Jamie Broome

Jamie Broome began serving Immanuel in 1993. He previously served First Baptist Church in Midway, Kentucky for ten years. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Carson Newman University, where he met his wife, Rita, and his Master of Divinity from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, where he also did a Th.M. and doctoral work in church history. He is a native of South Carolina, and the Broomes have two sons, Chip and Rusty.