This is a question that occurred to me after reading Rick Warren’s email to Saddleback, where he said:
We also do not expect unbelievers to act like believers until they have the power of Christ inside them. Laws and politics cannot transform hearts, which is why we refuse to be political activists.
I agree with his sentiments here. The question it raises for me, is when does the expectation for new Christian’s to ‘act like believers’ begin, and what does it look like? Sometimes God’s transforming work in people is visible immediately, but other times people may struggle with an issue for a long time, yet still believe.
What do churches define ‘acting like a believer’ to entail? Obviously something is expected of believers by Warren’s church, and many others. Is it a matter of demonstrating improving character traits over time, or is it a matter of conforming to the churches cultural expectations – such as tithing or attendance expectations? Some churches don’t seem to differentiate between the two.
Frequently churches do offer great acceptance to non-Christians who are struggling with issues. Once they become a Christian, does the attitude of acceptance change, and pressure begin? Can this be a kind of ‘bait and switch’ – offering unconditional love and acceptance but switching it for the conditional variety later? Is that how Jesus wanted us to do things?
Maybe that’s why we see some people reacting so angrily after being rejected by a church for sinful behaviour. If they experienced that wonderful acceptance and love to begin with, and responded in kind, then they experience rejection from people they grew to love, and will be upset or angry. It’s a bit like offering a kid a lolly, then snatching it from them and being outraged when they cry.
Those who emphasise repentance do at least let people know that there is a price to pay; perhaps that approach is more honest. But the seeker sensitive variety of church can still emphasise turning to Jesus, which in itself is a turning from darkness and sin towards light. Plus emphasising repentance does place pressure on people who may find themselves unable to live up to their repentance in some more obvious ways, and give up.
Knowing Jesus in my view entails walking with him through problems and issues, including these difficult ones, which aren’t necessarily resolved overnight. As we know more Light, we turn from more darkness, and mature over time. But on the way, we might not always look as though we are ‘acting like believers’.
Are we sometimes too impatient with God’s work in people when it doesn’t always take place overnight? Where should a line be drawn? Do some churches using a ‘bait and switch’ tactic, and is it OK?