Psalm 144:4 Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow.

Church (part 7) – Exclusive or Embracing

God has a party planned. He has invited everyone. Who are we inviting?

How does the church as a whole and members as individual representatives of Christ and his body in this world interact with the people that come in through the door?

The Exclusive Church
Only shows warmth to people that are like the existing members, people that don’t fit the mold feel intrusive.
The church congregation is like a clique and works as a private club, not the open arms of Jesus.
Little time or space is made to cater for the needs of the needy, charitable giving may be present but it is always anonymous,not personal or intimate.
The exclusive church tends to look after it’s own but not others so much.
The tendency of the exclusive church is to put up barriers to people coming in or joining, even though they might publicise their activities. Everything must be done on their terms, and there is little leeway given for different points of view or opinion, if you don’t ‘fit in’ you are likely to be shunned or ignored.
You have to look right, act right and say the right things before you can be considered suitable for acceptance or membership.

The Embracing Church
Welcoming to all people from all walks of life regardless how messy that ends up becoming. The Church congregation makes space for the
rejected and outcast from society. Being bold enough to reach out and love people of every shape, size, colour, etc. People are taken ‘as-is’
not expected to change to ‘fit the mold’ before they can be accepted / integrated.
The underlying understanding is that God is judge, not man and that ‘right behaviour’ may not be something that a person can begin with but that it will follow eventually as a response to God’s love shown through his church.
The overriding experience of the person encountering this kind of community is that they are being invited into a family where the door is always open.

What kind of church community is yours?

I know it is very difficult when I meet or have conversations with people who’s views aren’t exactly aligned to my own. I know that it is hard when I think something I do or say is right or something someone else does or says is wrong, but that shouldn’t make me reject them. It shouldn’t make me put barriers in the way of relationship with them or with God.

In the church congregation setting, it makes sense in a pastoral way to have a general agreement on the fundamental things that we believe. If someone comes in believing something that is clearly going to clash with the majority of people, it is not going to encourage harmony or unity for them to remain within that group. That doesn’t mean they should be rejected or treated badly, they should be loved and accepted and together either work out a way to get along or help them to find a group of believers where they can find their spiritual home, unity and accord.

On more minor things, I think we should just show a bit more humility and grace (me especially). God accepted and continues to accept people ‘just as they are’:

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
1 John 1:9

God is doing the purification, from the heart outwards, not us from forced conforming behaviour inwards.

The church as the body of Christ needs to be embracing and open-armed, not cliquey and exclusive.

Rather beautifully, the fellowship weekend theme has captured the essence that it’s about love coming to town, genuine love (in the 1 Corinthians 13 sense) displayed in our relationships.  Lives lived displaying this love are lives that are beautiful, lives that can touch other people, lives that are healing and restorative, refreshing and redeeming which is what God is trying to do through is in his good world as we journey together towards a new heavens and a new earth.

The love we reflect from God, the love that God pours into us and then out from us towards others is the love that creates an embracing church community.

One of the things I really love about The Bethel is that most members share Sunday lunch together most weeks at the building. It’s a fantastic way of getting to know each other, developing deep ties and friendships, learning to serve each other in preparing food and clearing up afterwards. There are a number of members that we now have that were attracted to this family way of loving and living first of all and their faith grew from that. Faith grew from seeing people love other people, be honest and open and share themselves, their time, food etc.

Embracing people is what God is all about.
Everybody knows the verse:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
(John 3:16)

If that isn’t the most inclusive, embracing invitation then I don’t know what is.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
(2 Peter3:9)

God holds the doors open to everybody and the verse above tells us that he is going to wait a whole lot longer propping those doors open than anybody else ever would.

The final picture of the embracing God that I believe we need to emulate in our collective journey and existence as a church is from Isaiah 40:11

He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.

God carries us close to his heart.

God’s arms are broad and strong, they reach far and wide and his hands softly beckon to us to climb into his embrace.

My prayer is that as the body of Christ, as the people that make up the movement and action that is the church, will replicate the open arms of God and willingness to stretch out to and embrace every broken and imperfect sinner, all the rest of those wicked and fallen people that are actually no different to you and me.

The only difference is that we are yet to wrap our communal arms around them to tell them just how loved and forgiven they are.

5 responses to “Church (part 7) – Exclusive or Embracing

  1. Jen Vortriede 21/03/2011 at 22:30

    I remember visiting an “Exclusive Church” (ecclesia) such as you describe, Alex. I visited this church in another area for a study day on a Saturday with my elderly mom. When we walked through the door, I felt such coldness. I couldn’t believe that no one actually came up to welcome us. People looked at us suspiciously since they didn’t know us. We ourselves had to go up to people to introduce ourselves. Once they discovered we were part of the same denomination, they became slightly more friendly towards us, but not particularly so. I felt as if I was being judged by what I was wearing, etc. I felt so uncomfortable that I told my mom I did not want to attend the Sunday service there, as originally planned, but wanted to drive a couple of hours away to attend a church/ecclesia where we knew we would be welcomed … and would feel loved.

    In my own home church (ecclesia), I am incredibly blessed to be part of a true spiritual family. We are a very small group and meet in homes like the early church did. We are very much a part of each others’ lives and know about one another’s struggles. We care for one another, help each other, and pray for one another. The love is palpable. Like you, Alex, we share a meal together each Sunday. We love to have visitors and embrace their presence. We had a visitor at our service yesterday who remarked about how refreshing he found our church (ecclesia). It was reaffirming that we are on the right track. It is a blessing to be able to share the love we feel for God and each other to others who enter our doors.

    • Alex Green 25/03/2011 at 09:34

      Thanks for sharing that Jen.
      It saddens me when we claim to represent Jesus but act in a way that gives him a bad name.
      I find it a real shame that a church can claim to represent God and then resist the embracing nature of God’s message and the action that goes with it.

      • Jen Vortriede 25/03/2011 at 14:57

        It saddened me at the time too, Alex. (That was a number of years ago.) Notice my later comments about my current home church, though. Because of experiences such as that earlier one, I’ve helped to ensure that my church is an embracing one. I don’t want others to experience what I experienced in that exclusive church.

        • Alex Green 25/03/2011 at 16:22

          I couldn’t agree more Jen, It’s definitely up to us to make sure we are acting appropriately and showing Jesus in our interactions. Give thanks to God for the bad experiences we are subjected to as then, we can turn them into great experiences for the next time people we don’t know come to into contact with us!

  2. Pingback: Church (part 1) – Prologue « [un]conscious-stream[ing]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: