Here in Bulgaria if someone doesn’t pay their gas bill, the gas company will shut off the gas to the whole building—something they could never get away with in either Italy or the US (or most civilized places). They are counting on the neighbors to put pressure on the offender to pay his bill, and it seems to work pretty quickly. Buck and Nadia don’t suffer much since their apartment is well-insulated, their stove is electric, and there is a backup boiler for heating water.
This method harks back to Communist times, when the government would punish whole blocks or even whole communities where a dissident lived by shutting off the heat. This was easy for them to do because whole communities were heated from gigantic boilers that looked a lot like nuclear reactor cooling towers. The heat was shut off for a whole town like shutting off a faucet.
And speaking of dissidents, I heard about another pastor who had suffered severe persecution under the Communists. There were no details given, and that is either because the family didn’t know the details or because the details are so unpleasant that they didn’t want to speak about it over a meal. After reading “Tortured for Christ” by Richard Wurmbrand, either one is possible.
Some churches seek to keep their people in line by peer pressure, and by preaching about being ever on guard against sin. It’s a very common topic in Italian churches. But a legalistic approach like this is the opposite of grace.
Lately grace has been on my mind. Pastor Fabio preached two weeks ago that when Jesus said from the cross, “It is finished,” He meant that all the curses of original sin and all the works of the devil have been undone and paid for. All our sin, all our sicknesses, and death—all of it has been undone and paid for by Jesus’ blood. No peer pressure is needed to keep us in line. I John 3:6 says: “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” And John wasn’t saying that we would never sin because he also wrote: “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One,” I John 2:1. The difference is an occasional sin versus a lifestyle of habitual sinful behavior. Grace covers the first one, while the second neither knows or appreciates grace.
No church and no pastor anywhere will have a congregation of perfect people who never sin. And we need to be aware that not everybody who comes to church—not even every active member—is really and truly born again. That’s what the parable of the wheat and weeds was about (Matthew 13:24-30). Some people love church, love the music, love the activities, but just don’t really love Jesus. No amount of peer pressure will ever change them, either. The only thing that truly changes lives is love. Love triumphs over all, and that is the story of grace. God is good!