Christianity 201

June 7, 2015

Theological Insiders but Social Outsiders

Thinking about people in your church who attend regularly, but exist on the fringes.

It’s only been a few weeks since we considered the topic of hospitality, but returning to that article today, I was again reminded that much of what the writers of scripture have to say on this subject refers to how we respond to the stranger, or the alien as it’s assumed that we would treat family differently.

But today I want to consider a situation that I believe is unique to the modern church, and by modern I mean primarily the North American, post-1990 medium-to-large church situation.

While small groups (house groups, cell groups, etc.) have gone a long way to create the small, community feel; some churches don’t have them, and even the best churches often only get a 50% response among people attending weekend services. In the traditional church setting (think southern U.S. around 1940) churches consisted of family groupings and in these clans, everyone was connected to someone else.

But increasingly today:

  • Often one spouse attends alone, the other is not a believer.
  • There are more singles.
  • There are people who have become unattached from their home church due to changes in job or even vocation who now find themselves in a new city or town.
  • There are people who would prefer an ethnic-centered fellowship, but are in a location where there isn’t one for their particular ethnicity.
  • For some, the local church they attend is actually a theological compromise; they would prefer something more suited to a particular doctrinal pattern if it was available and by whatever sixth sense church people use, this situation is evident.
  • Some people are perceived as intellectually or spiritually intimidating and so people keep their distance; at the other end of the spectrum, others seen as simple or shallow.
  • Local churches often have a dismal track record dealing those who are obviously the poorest among the congregation, even though their faith is deep.
  • We seem to have more people characterized by an introverted nature that inhibits the process of making deeper connections.
  • Some churches are located in college and university towns where students attend for only eight months, and even in their junior or senior year feel no sense of belonging.
  • Perhaps a couple has started attending who, even though they obviously know their Bibles and the hymns or choruses, have been ostracized because they grate on our church’s stand on people living common-law or even the gay issue.
  • There are people whose only ‘crime’ is that they can’t or choose not to join a small group.

Those are just some examples. In other words, though they have made Jesus Christ the Lord of their lives — some have been on the journey for decades — they are social outsiders in the local church. In Romans 12 we read:

Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers

I think even Paul saw these two groups as mutually exclusive. There was no possibility for someone to be theologically inside, but outside in a pragmatic sense.  But Romans 14 starts out with a reminder that we might tend to be less accepting of someone we view as different than us on a particular aspect of doctrine:

Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.

I think the need goes beyond this, however. I think we have a situation in many churches, even smaller ones, that perhaps could not have existed in earlier days: People on the fringes. I think some of this is good intentioned; we just assume that someone else is looking after the new family that moved into the area; that someone else has the single man covered who started attending a few weeks ago; that the family that has attended for a decade has got to be well-connected by now.

Finally, I want to get to today’s main agenda, and let me say at the outset that as a family, we a partly guilty of what I want to share. I believe that the modern church loses a lot by not inviting people into our homes. I remember in 1979 interviewing a survivor from the Jesus People revolution in California who said, “The early church would fellowship from house to house; we fellowship from restaurant to restaurant.” He said this almost as if it was improvement on the Biblical model. In Acts 2:46 we read:

They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts

And in Acts 4:32:

No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.

And in Acts 5:42

Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.

Then in Acts 20:20 (an easy reference to remember) we see more vividly the emergence of the house church model that came out of the generous sharing of homes and spontaneous door-to-door evangelism:

You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house.

Today, the homes we live in are often very private places. Pastors note that people don’t desire home visits anymore, and for whatever reasons, doctors stopped making house calls about two generations ago.

But I feel strongly there is something very… let’s say Christian about opening up your home and inviting people to share food or beverage (it can be kept simple) especially people who God calls you to who are on the fringes.

And Luke 14:12 reminds us to not worry about whether or not you get a return invite:

Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.

Who is there in your faith community that everyone just assumes is well-connected socially?

Footnote: If you are that person or part of that family, remember the adage that “He has friends who shows himself friendly.” Be proactive, take the initiative and do the inviting; but don’t sweat it if your attempts at hospitality are not reciprocated. Do as onto God.










February 8, 2015

Churches Contain People Who are Good Examples, and Bad Examples

NIV 3 John:9 I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. 10 So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.

11 Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God. 12 Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone—and even by the truth itself. We also speak well of him, and you know that our testimony is true.

Christians and hospitalityFor Sundays in February, we’re highlighting the website Christian Fellowship Devotions. Today we looked at the writing of Pastor Geoff, who has number of articles which together form commentaries on Daniel, Nahum, Ruth, the Ten Commandments and the Bible itself. We were drawn to the section on John’s Epistles, and particularly to the little book of 3 John which is easily overlooked.

We gave today’s item a headline that reflects the central teaching in these verses, but 3 John is also overlaid with the theme of hospitality, hence the graphic at right. To read at source click the titles of the two articles combined below.


A Negative Example in the Church

I suspect that John was most concerned about the behavior of Diotrephes, as it related to the potential danger to the Christian community. And it is to this he spoke when he wrote the second part of his third letter. He knew the church must remain true to that which advances the kingdom. It could not follow a pattern or a man that was bringing dissension and disruption.

As we have seen in the previous session, there was much going on in this local church that was a positive testimony for the Lord. John had commended Gaius because he, and by inference, the church, where providing the gift of hospitality to servants of the Lord who came through the community.

A Negative Example: But as is frequently the case, there was a fly in the ointment. This fly went by the name of Diotrephes. It appears he had a formal position within the local church. He certainly exercised considerable power. And he certainly was creating major problems through the misuse of that power.

Diotrephes wanted to hold the place of honor, or authority, within the church. He was obviously impressed with himself. He may have recognized though, that authority – and for that matter respect – actually rested in John, and possibility as a result, resented him. Diotrephes had no interest in anything that John might have to say. What are some disruptive examples that you have observed within the church community?

Letters of warning about Diotrephes’ behavior were being ignored. So John spelled out what he would do if he came to visit the church. He believed that it would be necessary to confront Diotrephes face-to-face. He spells out the specific behaviors that were unacceptable. Diotrephes was guilty of gossiping with the intent of creating problems, and undermining John’s authority. Gossip is contrary to Christian behavior. Paul warned about this when he said:

“We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies” (2 Thessalonians 3:11-12).

In Diotrephes’ case, he was using gossip to intentionally create trouble.

Second, unlike Gaius, Diotrephes was preventing the exercise of hospitality to Christians coming through the community. He refused to accept or provide for them. Additionally, if that wasn’t enough, he wouldn’t allow others to offer hospitality. He took action to expel those who endeavored to go counter to his directions.

Good Example, Bad Example

Verse 11-12

Once again, John doesn’t mince words. Immediately following his comments on Diotrephes, he notes that believers are to model themselves after that which is good, not that which is evil. Clearly the behavior of Diotrephes is presented as evil.

John reiterates that good behavior (what Scripture defines as good) can only occur when obedience to God is the motivator. In contrast, those who do evil are functioning outside God’s will. Most likely, he is suggesting that Diotrephes’ behavior demonstrates his lack of godliness. And this being the case, Diotrephes is not to be a model of Christian behavior, nor to be allowed to exercise a leadership position.

A third person in the local body is mentioned. This is Demetrius. He is presented in contrast to Diotrephes. This individual had a good reputation. Everyone spoke well of him. John emphasized that truth itself validated those things said about Demetrius. This means that Demetrius was functioning in the truth of the apostles’ teachings and God’s Word. John knew Demetrius personally, and was able to give endorsement of the godliness of this person. What is the source of a good reputation within the church?

Demetrius is presented as an example of someone who abides in Christ, while Diotrephes is offered as an illustration of someone who is outside the veil of the church. When a person is within the church, but not part of the body, he often chooses the role of disrupter, and can be used by Satan to undermine the efforts to serve the Lord.

John warns this church about the importance of doing all in truth. In the second epistle, truth was the basis for withholding support for people claiming to represent Christ. Here, truth is the criteria by which service is performed.