Christianity 201

September 14, 2015

Does Your Church Welcome Misfits?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. … Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. – Rom. 14:1, 13, 19

In an introduction to an article about welcoming people of differing sexual orientations to the church, the New Zealand edition of The War Cry, the official magazine of The Salvation Army, noted:

Our own denomination was founded as a safe place for ‘misfits’ who did not fit into the church environment of the day (interestingly, the word ‘misfit’ has its origins in the period when The Salvation Army began). In an address titled ‘Compel Them to Come In’, our co-founder Catherine Booth writes, ‘There are teeming thousands who never cross the threshold of church … to whom all connected with religion is as an old song, a byword and a reproach. They need to be brought into contact with a living Christ in the characters and persons of his people’.

Jesus said, I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. This is a theme Jesus also touched on when talking about hosting a banquet not for family, friends and rich neighbours, but for society’s outcasts. I don’t see Jesus instructing his followers to establish ourselves as gatekeepers (or bouncers) at the doorway. On the contrary, Jesus sends us out to invite everyone in! I’ve found it liberating over the past few years to understand that Jesus doesn’t call me to vet people as to whether or not I believe they’re suitable for his kingdom. As the Army’s sixth doctrine reminds us: whosoever will may be saved.

Romans 15:7 English Standard Version
‘Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.’

Of our introductory verses today, Warren Wiersbe writes:

It is not our responsibility to decide the requirements for Christian fellowship in a church; only the Lord can do this. To set up man-made restrictions on the basis of personal prejudices (or even convictions) is to go beyond the Word of God. Because God has received us, we must receive one another. We must not argue over these matters, nor must we judge or despise one another. Perhaps St. Augustine put the matter best: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

When God sent Peter to take the gospel to the Gentiles, the church criticized Peter because he ate with these new Christians (Acts 11:1-3). But God had clearly revealed His acceptance of the Gentiles by giving them the same Holy Spirit that He bestowed on the Jewish believers at Pentecost (Acts 10:44-48; 11:15-18). Peter did not obey this truth consistently, for later on he refused to fellowship with the Gentile Christians in Antioch, and Paul had to rebuke him (Gal. 2:11-13). God showed both Peter and Paul that Christian fellowship was not to be based on food or religious calendars.

In every church there are weak and strong believers. The strong understand spiritual truth and practice it, but the weak have not yet grown into that level of maturity and liberty. The weak must not condemn the strong and call them unspiritual. The strong must not despise the weak and call them immature. God has received both the weak and the strong; therefore, they should receive one another.

One of the challenges with the passage in Romans is that some people apply these verses to those within the church, and some people apply them to welcoming people from outside into our meetings. Wiersbe’s comment, and Paul’s writing should not be construed as to mean there need not be standards for membership, but in terms of our weekend worship and outreach services, we have to follow the Biblical standards of basic hospitality.

All of this includes the welcoming of people from faith families other than our own. It may be that your church has restrictions on who can take communion and who should be baptized. These standards, if they are Biblical, need to be upheld. But Wiersbe’s comments begin with the word fellowship (not membership) and there many of our churches still have a long way to go to create a welcoming environment.

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