This one is going to tick some people off, I'm sure of it. Also, I'm banging this out quickly so please forgive the grammar and spelling.
I'm reading Andy Stanley's book Deep and Wide, which is an account of how he built his church North Point. While I'm not finished with it yet, a recent point Stanley brought up struck a cord with me and apparently a lot of other people as I read numerous articles both in praise and condemnation of this message. While Stanley's message is talking about faith and organized religion, I will also contrast how this equally applies to parenting.
Truth Based Churches/Parents -
Stanley describes how he grew up in a mostly truth based church. Truth based faith and parenting is full of absolutes, rules and strict application of biblical laws and teachings. He uses the example that the church he attended growing up (his fathers church) was mostly white, conservative, middle class married couples with children. The men wore suits, the women wore dresses. They were - "Church People". The unwritten rule was that if you wanted to attend this church and be accepted by the congregation, you must conform to this mold. This is the exact type of church I was raised in as well.
Truth Based Faith and Parenting has defined rules and appears neat and orderly. Truth Based Parenting is easier for us as there are clear defined boundaries and a strict adherence to a core set of principles that the parents decide are most important. Most people that adhere to this style of faith and parenting have a black and white, this or that approach to life.
The problem with this style of faith and parenting is it can lead to legalism and hypocrisy. If you want to get biblical, until Jesus came, this was how Judaism was. There were a clearly defined set of laws that one must remain obedient to or if you faltered, give an offering.
I meet a lot of Christians who feel that this is how faith/church and parenting should be. The problem with this approach is that research shows that both modern society and children tend to reject this style of faith/parenting when they become adults.
The Old Testament (or covenant) told us how to live life focused on God's standards. Contrary to what most of us have heard in church for years, attempting to follow the law is not intended to make us closer to God. Rather, it's to show us just how far away we are from Him. That's why there were all those rules and rituals for offerings and sacrifices in which blood had to be shed. They demonstrated the severity of the consequences of our sins. The penalty of sin is death and nothing less.
So here's a question for all of you. How many of you know someone who is divorced and remarried?
According to the Law, these people are committing adultery and should not be allowed to worship because they are sinners and unclean.
“Truth Based Faith/Parenting maintain a relationship with God through obedience to a standard. The goal of this when it comes to their children is to keep sin from getting into their home. They do their best to create an environment that controls as many of the avenues as possible that sin could use to work its way into the inner sanctum…. It’s as though the power to sin or not to sin was somehow connected to their personal will power and resolve…. These families are preoccupied with keeping sin out by putting a fence between them and the world.
The question I often ask my fellow Christians is if the local church is there for "Church People" or to reach the lost and spread the Good News?
Grace Based Churches/Parents -
On the other side of the spectrum, you have Grace Based Churches/Parents. In his book, Stanley recalls one particular Sunday when the annual Gay Pride Parade was scheduled to come directly in front of their church as the Sunday morning service was getting out. As homosexuality is a sin, the church elders and Stanley's father devised a plan to let the service out early and to have everyone exit from the backdoor. But, when you tell people not to look at something, they are more intrigued to look. On top of this, the service went over time and as luck would have it, everyone was dismissed just as the parade was coming down the street. What struck Stanley was that across the street was another church and instead of their congregation gawking and condemning, they were passing out water and holding up signs that said "Everyone Welcome, Jesus Loves Everyone" Stanley recalled how ashamed he felt by his churches unChristlike actions.
Grace says that everyone is welcome, grace seeks to forgive and accept rather than condemn and criticize. Grace by its nature is more liberal and open than the Law. This is many peoples argument with Grace is that it can lead to biblical liberalism and watering down the gospel. Also, some modern churches and people take grace too far and throw out biblical truth for political correctness and acceptance without a truth foundation.
What did Jesus say?
"For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." - John 1:17
Jesus was comfortable with a balance of truth and grace. Balancing truth and grace is often a messy ordeal. There is no cookie cutter approach to situations regrading faith or parenting and each situation requires you to take a step back and say "Do I need my truth hat or my grace hat or both?"
Should sin be forgiven, or should a person be held accountable? Should we act harshly or be kind? Point a finger or ignore?
As humans and having a sinful nature, I believe it's easier for us to default to the truth approach as it is more structured, legal and defined.
When we find ourselves in both faith and parenting situations that challenge the strict law and cultural norms Stanley has this to say "We're all tempted to want to resolve that tension. But if you resolve it, you give up something important. It's what drove people crazy about Jesus. But Jesus was comfortable with it. He was able to minister through it. And we dare not walk away from it."
Messy Faith and Parenting is learning to balance truth and grace and how to live in relation to, and relationship with, the tension of others’ sins against you. Living in the World but not of the World. Condemning sin without condemning the people committing sin. Tim Kimmel's Grace Based Parenting is an excellent example of Messy Parenting.
Messy Faith/Parenting uses the model of Jesus in that you can be truth based and against sin while simultaneously being loving and accepting to the very people committing the sin.
It 's saying - The truth is 'you're a sinner,' and the grace is 'I don't condemn you' - the real key to all this is how this is conveyed to the person in question.
The struggle to be authentic followers of Christ is the constant struggle to hold ourselves accountable to the law and truth while extending the unmerited grace of Jesus to those around us.
In Part 2 - I'll touch on what it really means to "Grow in Faith" - it's NOT increasing our Biblical knowledge.