Pastor Perry Noble of NewSpring Church recently shared that he believes that Christians for too long have been putting unnecessary focus on telling people what not to do instead of simply asking people to "follow Jesus" in order to make disciples.
Noble, claiming that tax collectors and sinners were viewed as "scum of the earth" in first century Palestine during Jesus' time, insisted that still today, "All of us, whether we want to admit it or not, we have certain categories that we label people in, as far as sinners."
The founding and senior pastor of the multi-campus NewSpring Church in South Carolina spoke on the topic of Christian Civility for The Nines 2014 online conference last week, which was themed "Culture Clash: When Church and Culture Collide."
The aim of this year's online conference was to highlight areas churches have to "deal (with) now or later," such as same-sex marriage, inclusive culture, and Christian civility, which was Noble's point of focus.
Sharing a brief message titled "Follow Jesus and Be Nice," the megachurch pastor used Matthew 9:9 as an illustration of his point that some Christians have been not been following Jesus' example of making disciples.
The passage found in the first four books of the Gospels tells of Jesus calling on Matthew, a tax collector, to follow him and be one of his disciples.
The passage, in context, is highlighted below:
9 As Jesus went on from there (his own town), he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.
10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"
12 On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
"You could literally look at this verse and say, 'Jesus saw Matthew sinning.' And it wasn't like your average, ordinary everyday run-of-the-mill sin. It was tax collecting, the worse sin imaginable in the ancient world," said Noble, who went on to explain how this verse "gripped" him and affected how he has done ministry.
"Jesus did not ask Matthew to stop sinning. He didn't say, 'Stop tax collecting and then follow me,'" explained Noble. "He said, 'Hey, Matthew. I want you to follow me.' Because Jesus knew something. Jesus knew that if he could get Matthew to follow him, eventually he would walk away from the sin he had become enslaved and addicted to."
Noble insisted that the challenge for any Christian leader dealing with any issue is not to convince people that they must stop sinning, but to convince them of their need to follow Jesus.
"If people are pursuing Jesus, they cannot pursue sin," said Noble, adding that the Christian church for too long has been in business of behavior modification. "It has not worked," he claimed.
Going back to Matthew 9:9, Noble shared that, based on the four Gospel accounts, he believes Matthew followed Jesus "because Jesus was actually nice."
"Jesus was a likable person. Jesus was the person that everybody else wanted to hang around," explained Noble. "So I believe, as a church, we can and should tackle issues of same-sex marriage, the legalization of marijuana, immigration issues. Name a controversial issue, I believe we should tackle it, but I believe the emphasis should be on challenging people to follow Jesus, and being nice."
"I believe if we do that, we'll make a greater difference that we ever thought imaginable," said Noble.
Noble, whose multi-campus church gathers more than 32,000 weekend worshippers, was among 130 scheduled pastors, church leaders, and parachurch directors that appeared either via pre-recorded video or live webcast during the free, two-day Nines conference. The annual online conference, first organized in 2009, was presented by the Leadership Network, and presented discussions on: The Church and Same-Sex Marriage, The Church in an Inclusive Culture, The Church and Christian Civility, The Church and Changing Sexual Norms, The Church and Social Justice, and The Church and Immigration.
Last year, Nines organizer Todd Rhoades was criticized for including only four women among the event's 112 listed speakers.This year, the number of female guests was 14.
Speaking to the concern of diverse representation of speakers and viewpoints, the Leadership Network insists in its Diversity Statement: "We strive to create a respectful, diverse group of speakers and contributors for our online events that allow for these different perspectives and points of view. We do this through invitations to a wide variety of prospective speakers from a broad range of ethnic, racial, gender and age ranges."
The Nines conference has been known to attract thousands of viewers. The Christian Post was not able to obtain viewership numbers for this year's event before press time. Learn more about The Nines online: http://thenines.tv/.