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.
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.
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.