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.

June 28, 2010

What it Looks Like From Their Perspective

My wife and I met at a medium-sized Christian camp.

Camp life — especially in summer — is like a city in miniature.   We’re no longer part of the action, but when we drop our guys off (one serving on staff for ten weeks, the other taking a 4-week leadership program) we probably see the place a little differently than some.

There were little conversations going on between camp people doing camp things.   Conversations that a few years ago we would have been part of.   (Maybe we tune-in more than others.)  Details that must be firmed up.   Things coming together at the last minute.   All good, all necessary, but all of it very internal.

I wondered this time if that’s how outsiders see us when (and if) they visit our churches.   Conversations about upcoming programs.   Discussions about people best suited to fill particular needs.   In-joking about something that happened in the previous worship service.

In other words, church people doing church things and talking about church activities.   All good, all necessary, but all of it very internal.   And all of it about the maintenance and operation of the institution.

I’m a rebel.  I just want to walk up to those people (the church people, not the camp people, who are younger, and given more grace) and even though they don’t me, just cut right into the conversation and say, “Hey, so what’s God been showing you this week?”

I think this is the ultimate conversation starter (and stopper) in any church lobby.     But it’s the question we need to keep coming back to.

What’s God been showing me today?   That we need to be a little more external in our conversations… because we never know who is listening.

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.   (Col 4:6 NIV)

Use your heads as you live and work among outsiders. Don’t miss a trick. Make the most of every opportunity. Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation. (Col 4:5-6a The Message)

Digging Deeper:  The passage from the Message discusses “living and working with outsiders” which may seem diametrically opposed to what we do in church.   But a recent sermon by Bruxy Cavey reminded me that many times non-believers and even people from other faiths attend our churches to check out how we fare at “doing life together.”

If our preoccupation is the next bake sale or the youth car wash, (or worse, the price of dog food at Wal-Mart) then they will pick up on this, and question the authenticity of our faith.   I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that you can guage the spiritual tone of a church by its lobby conversations.

So what’s God been showing you this week?