Monday, 1 September 2014

Why Church is for everyone

Recently one of my friends posted a question on Facebook lamenting the fact that the church was not more inclusive to outsiders and soon enough a very interesting conversation was birthed out of it. I decided it would be good to lay my thoughts out on the topic in a series of three blog posts. One for, one against and then a final post asking some different kinds of questions to try and gain a third perspective that takes all views into account and then tries to arrive at some sort of a conclusion. The first two posts will be posted at the same time with the third following shortly thereafter.

This is post number 2 which will explore the arguments on why church should be a safe and welcoming place for everyone. Here are some of the reasons I can think of on why church should be for all.

Jesus, friend of sinners.

It is well documented in scripture that Jesus hung out with the wrong kind of people; the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the Samaritans and even a Roman centurion. This did not sit well with the Pharisees and scribes but Jesus’ explanation was simply that it is not those who are well who are in need of a Doctor but those who are sick. Luke chapter 15 contains one of my favorite portions of scripture in what is commonly known as the Parable of the Lost Son. In it we see the heart of a father who loves both of his sons unconditionally. There is a reckless, unrestrained love revealed in the story for a son who has done nothing more than come back home. Yet not only is he welcomed inside but a huge party is thrown in his honor. Both sons were welcomed because both sons were loved.

Among the religious (and sometimes the broken as well because we have told them so) there is this idea that one needs to clean themselves up before coming to God or going to church. The idea is silly. One can sometimes have a degree of success using will power to overcome bad habits and create good ones but when it comes down to it; it is only God who can transform the inner man. When one recognizes his fallen state; God is the only place you can run too or should feel safe. As my friend Robert said in the comments on the FB status that inspired this series of posts, “Church was never the exclusive enclave of the purely was the messy place where people gathered together to learn what this Kingdom thing was. Where they could grow and learn, make mistakes, get refined, and work it out together in community”.

Arguments from scripture

Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all. – 1 Corinthians 14:23-24

What I want to highlight here is simply that scripture does acknowledge the possibility of unbelievers being present in church gatherings. It probably was not the norm except for in instances when the church intentionally met in public places to preach and reason with unbelievers but it surely would have happened in those house meetings around the table as well on occasion.

Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his (Diotrephes) deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church. – 3 John 10

This verse specifically speaks against those who do not receive the brethren who wish to remain in fellowship. How many of us have been forbidden from fellowship with a certain group because a Diotrephes type of character forbade it for fear that he would lose control or be questioned doctrinally if his rule were to be questioned? Recent events at Mars Hill come to mind, pray for them.

Where is the line?

Brethren, if a man is overtaken in trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. – Galatians 6:1-3

Here is where it gets tricky. The church is supposed to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world today. Living epistles. Yet at the same time we are all still in this process of sanctification. When we start declaring who is in and out we have to draw a line somewhere. And usually, that line has us on the good side and other people who sin differently than us on the other side. The gays are on that side but the straight person who has remarried without just cause and committed adultery (as defined by Jesus in Matthew 5:32) is okay. The guy with the tattoos (not necessarily a sin) and piercings is on that side but the white washed tombs are fine. When we try and draw a line in the sand we will end up with as many marks as there are people with sticks poking in the gravel.

 If this position is the correct one then I do not think that the heart behind it is to be liberal in terms of morality but rather to be liberal in terms of grace to the broken. It is not to condone sin but to bring it to the cross where it can be dealt with. Of course some people are not interested in picking up their own crosses and crucifying the flesh which creates another question behind the question. As someone I once knew used to say, “We are just beggars showing other beggars where to find the bread”.

*Please be sure to check out this post as well to see the other side of the argument.

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