As a teen I remember overhearing a conversation between two elders at our church. They were questioning whether or not they should allow a divorced person to teach a Sunday school class. Apparently being divorced was really bad and it meant that you had committed a sin that would prevent complete forgiveness and restoration. It was almost, but not quite an unpardonable sin. Today, almost 30 years later, that conversation seems uniformed, ignorant and judgmental. What changed?
Is the church less pure?
I suspect that the church as grown in its understanding of grace.
In the case of my church (denomination), we became more graceful about divorce when those closest to us experienced divorce.
Our faith, our convictions and our understanding of God are shaped by life. When life gets messy, grace becomes more important.
In John 8, there is this fascinating story of a woman caught in adultery – having sex outside the marriage relationship. If you read the passage carefully, you will discover that both the Pharisees and Jesus want the same thing – purity. The Pharisees thought the best way to achieve this was through judgment – the law was clear, she needed to die. Jesus understood that life is messy and rules without grace don’t accomplish much.
There is a whole segment of the church that believes life is experienced in only two categories – right and wrong. I feel sorry for people who live within these constraints. There is a truckload of guilt that comes along with living this way.
Grace grows as we learn to embrace the mess of life. Life does not easily divide into right and wrong.
I am in no way saying that we should live without rules and laws. When these rules and laws are broken, we need to move slowly and carefully towards judgment and we need to create lots of space for exceptions.
It is in this space that grace happens.