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'Welcome to our church': It's a lot harder than you think

'Welcome to our church': It's a lot harder than you think

News Analysis

By David W. Virtue, DD
August 11, 2017

An article in Christian Today challenges Christian pastors as to what to do if the following happens. VOL responds.

CT: "We welcome everyone to our church."

VOL: For sure all are welcome.

CT: But what happens when the coming of a person isn't particularly pleasing? That's when the 'welcome' of the church is tested. That's when we find out whether we really mean it. What happens when a family with uncontrollable small children turns up in an all-adult service?

VOL: Have baby-sitting available and children's Sunday School. Not a difficult solution.

CT: What happens when a non-standard couple -- living together without being married, for instance -- arrives?

VOL: Invite them in but say Communion is not open to them. It would damage their souls if they participated. It is for their good, not ours.

CT: What happens if they're gay?

VOL: They are still welcome, but they are not permitted to take communion. My suspicion is that when they learn that homosexual behavior is morally unacceptable they will either repent or leave.

CT: What happens when someone attaches himself to the congregation and turns out to be quarrelsome and rude, or have poor personal hygiene?

VOL: The rector should approach them quietly and speak to them. If it persists, make it a vestry issue. It should not be a PUBLIC issue. Jesus himself offers the needed protocol here. See Matt. 18:15-17. The translation in the KJV is best: "If your brother has aught [i.e., anything] against you." That can be on the high side with sins like stealing, gossip, etc., or on the low side with, yes, things like B.O. and bad breath. But the guideline is clear: first, one to one, then with others, then the whole church, and then ask them to leave. I suspect that 90% of the problems of the local church would be solved by this dominical directive.

CT: What happens when someone with relatively liberal views joins a conservative congregation -- or vice versa?

VOL: No church has all conservatives or all liberals. People can and should co-exist politically across the aisle. This begs the distinction: conservative and liberal POLITICALLY or THEOLOGICALLY. If the former, it's not important; think of the Jewish Christians and the Hellenist Christians. If the latter, either side may be orthodox or in need of Biblical correction.

CT: What happens when the generational homogeneity is upset, or the racial, or the class?

VOL: Accept it. The church should always be homogenous. It is of course a fact that people like to worship with their own kith and kin, and with their own kind, as experts in church growth remind us; and it may be necessary to acquiesce in different congregations according to language, which is the most formidable barrier of all. But heterogeneity is of the essence of the church, since it is the one and only community in the world in which Christ has broken down all dividing walls. The vision we have been given of the church triumphant is of a company drawn from 'every nation, tribe, people and language', who are all singing God's praises in unison (Rev. 7:19ff). So we must declare that a homogeneous church is a defective church, which must work penitently and perseveringly towards heterogeneity. (ref. John R.W. Stott)

CT: What happens when a gifted preacher joins a complementarian church, but can't preach because she's female?

VOL: Having a woman preach is not the same as having a woman performing Eucharistic functions. A woman deacon is permitted to preach in Anglican circles even when they cannot be priests.

CT: If we're honest, when we say, 'Everyone welcome', there's usually an unspoken subtext: 'As long as they're like us.' If the guest is a 'wilcoma', 'a person whose coming is pleasing', we're fine.

VOL: There should be no 'subtext' in our churches. ALL are welcome. Read James Chapter 2. He has the solution.

CT: But Jesus said, 'If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them' (Luke 6:32). Love your enemies, do good to them, he says.

VOL: No argument with Jesus. Loving the unlovable is a gospel imperative. The Church is the only institution that steps outside and across boundary lines of class and race. St. Paul had this to say of those within the church who openly sin: I Cor. 5:9-14: I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people-- not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler--not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. "Purge the evil person from among you."

CT: People whose coming is not so pleasing aren't our enemies. But it's easy to act as though they were. They remain on the edge. They never quite fit. Their voices aren't heard and sooner or later they will stop speaking, or shake off the dust from their feet and go somewhere else, as Jesus told his messengers to do (Matthew 10:14).

VOL: Local churches are full of misfits. It is probably the one place they feel at home; most other institutions won't tolerate them.

CT: Welcome is hard. It involves self-examination and self-denial. It means we cannot remain as we are. It is a spiritual discipline. It calls us to venture, to be vulnerable and to change. It means listening for Jesus in the voice of the stranger, recognizing him in the breaking of the bread. 'Welcome to our church' is not just a civility. It's a call to strenuous discipleship -- because ultimately, it's not our church. It's Christ's, and he ate with tax collectors and sinners, and you and me.

VOL: Absolutely.


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