You are Being Sentenced to Church!

A Judge in Oklahoma is facing some criticism after passing a sentence on a convicted killer to 10 years of church. The seventeen year old Tyler Alred pleaded guilty to manslaughter for a car accident that killed his friend last December. Alred had a blood alcohol level of .07 when he drove his car into a tree.

The Muskogee County district court judge ordered Alred to spend the next decade going to church. The judge has handed out similar sentences in the past – but mostly to parents who fail to pay child support or felons who don’t pay their court costs.

This is not the first time for something like this. In Bay Minette, Alabama it lets convicted offenders to choose either jail time or church. The program will allow a city judge to sentence misdemeanor offenders to work off their sentences in jail and pay a fine, or go to church every Sunday for a year.

Oh yeah the ACLU doesn’t like this idea of church. Let me show you my surprised face!

Now the whole philosophy, “You show me somebody who falls in love with Jesus, and I’ll show you a person who won’t be a problem to society.”

So, I do not want to be over critical of this idea, it has some merit and I am sure some good results, I hope. Yet, we can only hope that Jesus, not religious morality will be preached in that church or churches in such way to help those people to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ. But imagine being sent to church as part of a sentence for a crime! I do not know whether to laugh or cry at the idea.

But most think they have a choice (my free will friends should like that) and thinking hmm, well, church or jail.  At this point, to the writer, jail sounds more like a ministry than church. In fact, for me, going to many churches has been like going to jail on Sunday. It has been brutal. What is worse is that you do not have to deal with convicts but Christians and they are a rough crowd.

A felon going to church? Wow what an experiment for those pesky church people. Imagine people knowing that you are coming to church because of a crime you committed. It is almost like, well…penance. And since much of what is preached today as repentance is actually protestant penance, I think many pastors would like the idea of being someones priest and able to mete out a few acts of contrition.

Church should be all about the gospel of Jesus Christ (1 Cor 2:1-2). I have heard and believed that the pulse, the very life blood of the church hinges on two main understandings: regeneration (how we are spiritually brought back from  death to new life) and justification (how we become spiritually righteous before God).  When I talk of the concept of church I do not want to hear about churches without walls, lectures on the pagan idea of the word “church.” I do not want to listen to somebody sell me on small groups, cell groups or home groups.  Hey there is nothing wrong with these things but they are NOT the answer CHRIST IS. Look, anything that sounds like an experiment is probably heresy. I don’t want to hear, “Oh if we gather over coffee that is the church.” I do not want to hear about apostolic models, episcopal organizations, ecumenical unity or evangelical marketing to solve the church growth problem. It all gives me motion sickness because it is like an out of control car. I decided to get out of the car and see who was driving.  I dared to examine church and preaching from a distance. How dare I? It always seems like we are trying to correct or remake “church” and now someone finally compares it in the same breath with jail. That hurts.

For a while, church seemed like jail to me. After pastoring for years and then to sit in church for a while, I realized my own errors and the misguided foolishness of those I listened to. It was hard to sit there. Preachers seemed to include Christ as a footnote or endnote in their messages instead of Jesus being their message.  Our first love is Christ. Our second love is his people. Being near him as we gather in whatever form, liturgical, formal or spontaneous is freedom for our hearts. Being near others that love him is fellowship.

I am sure of two things, Jesus said he will build his church and it was to be a house of prayer. Church is a place and a people. It is a place where the gifts of the spirit are seen to build up not tear down people. It is a place where we treat all people with honor, empathy and humility. We make no distinctions and resist division. It is one body, and where the true gospel is proclaimed the very body of Christ, many parts, not one part where we need everyone (see 1 Cor 12). The church is made up of God’s sons and daughters (2 Cor. 6:18) not inmates, paying off their spiritual debt to a God who is their warden.  Christ took our judgement, he went to prison (Isa 53:8) for us.  It is a place where we are family, a place where Jesus is preached (Acts 8:35), not a punishment where you serve out a sentence. Jesus paid for all of our crimes against him. He says to us, “You are forgiven and all your rebellion, lawless deeds and sins are gone.” (Heb. 8:12). That is the gospel.

© 2018 Stephen S. Gibney. If you use this article tell people about us and where you found it. Don’t plagiarize.

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