A cliche (def: a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought) that absolutely drives me nuts is the phrase, “This church is for sinners only.” People think they are being clever playing off the words of Jesus in Luke 5:32, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
But the position, “this church is for sinners only” is really just obnoxious!
It is first obnoxious because it oftentimes comes across as a statement of feigned humility; what is referred to in the twitter-sphere as a #humblebrag, “I know I’m a sinner and you don’t, therefore, I’m better than you.” Or it seems to me in my opinion that folk that make this statement are somehow inferring that because they recognize they are sinners they are somehow more loving. But let me say this, a position that excludes anyone from the house of God whether broken sinner or broken perceived saint is not loving at all!
It’s also obnoxious because it is a gross misinterpretation of Jesus’ statement! First of all Jesus’ statement is not a statement of exclusion of any specific group to being a part of His body. He isn’t saying I will only associate with people who know they are sinners, Jesus is saying, “I am calling sinners to repentance.” His statement is about repentance not who can be part of the church club. Second, when this phrase is posted on church signs or dropped in a sermon because it gets an easy (cheap) amen it is being done in a way of pitting one group against another, Jesus was seeking through His statement to help the Pharisees see that they were actually in the same boat of need as the tax collector and his friends they were condemning. These Pharisees knew the scriptures, they knew Psalm 14:3 & Psalm 53:3, “There is none righteous, no not one.” I see no evidence of Levi-Matthew and his pals high-fiving and saying, “awesome we’re sinners and those legalists aren’t welcome! Woo hoo, this is our church, not yours!”
The third reason this phrase is obnoxious is that it actually places the people who are saying it in the exact same position they are condemning. A person saying, “this church is for sinners only” is, in essence, condemning those who think they are perfect and thus because of their perfectionistic state end up being judgmental. The statement though in and of itself reeks of judgment. Which leads to the final point.
Finally, this phrase is obnoxious because it places folk in a position of judgment that Jesus clearly tells us we are incapable of performing. In Matthew chapter 13 Jesus tells the parable of the wheat and the tares. In this parable, Jesus makes it clear that it is at the end of time that Jesus decides who are the wheat and who are the tares. Who are the sinners and who are the saints. Who are the redeemed and who have rejected redemption. If we spend a lot of time trying to root out folk now (even the legalists) we might just end up forcing out someone that Jesus considered “wheat.” Why because we aren’t very good judges of character, “for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7c)
In conclusion, I don’t want a church that is for “sinners only” and by this, I mean only those that recognize they are sinners. I want a church with people who know they are sinners because they need Jesus. I want a church with people that think they are perfect, because they need Jesus too, and finally I want a church of people who are indifferent, who don’t really care one way or the other, because guess what they need Jesus too.
You can keep your “church for sinners only,” I want to reach everyone!