I want to confess to you an obstacle to mission here in Canterbury that I’ve found in myself. I don’t find it easy making friends with non-Christian people.
It’s not just that I have less in common with them, or that I can’t tell them my favourite joke about Pentecostals. It’s also that when I do get friendly with someone who doesn’t know Jesus, I start to feel a bit guilty.
It’s like this: as I get to know people, I find myself liking them. Even enjoying them. But I know from my evangelical theology that God basically disapproves of them. So if God disapproves of them, who am I to go enjoying them? Won’t that send the wrong message to my neighbours? How are they going to learn that God disapproves of them, if the main Christian dude they know actually likes them?
So I feel kind of bad about it. I feel like it would be more faithful for me to be pointing out their sins, and kind of distancing myself from these people, so they’d know they’re not ok the way they are. I see other Christians doing this all the time, what’s wrong with me that I don’t do it? It’s true that many of these Christians don’t seem to have actual friendships with non-Christian people. But at least everyone is clear about where they stand, right?
In fact, as I think about it, isn’t liking and enjoying really an intrinsic part of being a friend? So now I’m wondering, is it a good idea to befriend non-Christian people at all? Because if I as a Christian express pleasure in knowing a non-christian person, doesn’t that sort of imply that my God also takes some pleasure in them? I can’t see how they can avoid the conclusion that God feels friendly toward them, if people like me are friendly in Jesus’ name.
Wouldn’t it be a better witness to avoid the whole friendship thing, if it is intrinsically misleading? Wouldn’t that better express God’s disapproval, help them to realise that they cannot be accepted the way they are?
Which makes me wonder about this whole ‘Jesus, friend of sinners’ thing. I mean, was that really wise? Had Jesus thought through the implications, what message he was sending about God’s heart? I know that Pharisees and co. were the bad guys, but you can kind of see where they were coming from with their concerns about Jesus’ behaviour. He’s just confusing everything. What happens to the holiness of God if people like Jesus or you and me make friends with sinners?
Imagine if after all our efforts in local mission, our neighbours ended up with the idea that God might get close to them, and be a friend – the way they are? What a disaster. No, I need to rethink this mission thing, it’s all a bit problematic.
Does anyone have a copy of the Pharisees’ Mission Handbook I can borrow?