The day is yours, God, and also the night. Keep my heart fixed on you, and my mind at peace in you. Do not let me give in to temptation through tiredness, but let me rest my weary self in your unfailing strength. You shelter the weary, and restore those who come to you in their weakness. Teach me, when the day is done, to meditate upon your goodness and love—to let go, and delight in you.
I have recently encountered a couple of incidents where a selectively ‘inclusive’ welcome was offered to people, and thought they might be worth reflecting on for a minute, because of who was welcomed and who was not.
The first comes from an event held back in October, the second annual “Evolving Faith” conference–which, it appears to me, would probably be more accurately named something like the “Rejecting God” conference. As reported by Religion News Service:
During the opening session, Christian author and journalist Jeff Chu…welcomed a long list of groups ranging from introverts to the disabled, from the “frozen chosen” to the pansexual, from “you who do sex work to pay the bills,” Chu said, “and (to you) who are clutching your pearls because I just said ‘sex work.’”
“You who doubt, you who struggle, you who feel lost, you are loved.” Chu continued. “Atheists, agnostics, seekers, you are loved.”
Now, I want to make the significant caveat that this is not a full list of who Chu welcomed to the conference, which the report calls “a long list of groups”. So it may be that they were far more inclusive than the RNS report gives them credit for in what groups it mentions.
But, as far as the RNS report goes, the list of who is welcomed is as significant for who is unmentioned as for who is mentioned. Perfectly innocuous personality traits, such as introverts, are acknowledged, together with sins such as atheism and sexual immorality–not that the people at Evolving Faith would see these as sins.
And, indeed, even people with a more conservative worldview receive a welcome (of a sort): those who don’t approve of prostitution are given the backhanded welcome of being classified as elitist prudes. Already the ‘inclusivity’ seems a little thin.
But what about all the sins that the Evolving Faith people would actually consider sinful–apart from the fairly banal ‘sin’ of prudery? Perhaps they were included, but not mentioned by RNS. Or perhaps the Evolving Faith welcome didn’t mean to include anything they regarded as sin; given their openness to atheism, the category can hardly apply in any strong sense.
These observations are really only prelude to the more interesting ‘inclusive’ welcome I encountered recently. The more interesting welcome was found outside the doors of an evangelical church. A large placard posted on either side of the door welcomed all sorts of people to the church, expressing delight to have them there.
Now, a placard welcoming people to the church is a wonderful thing. All kinds of people should be welcome in the church. All kinds of sinners should be welcome to come and be loved and hear the gospel. But when you begin to list who is welcome, it raises certain difficulties: who do you list, and who do you not list, and what message is being sent?
This church’s placard included numerous innocuous personality characteristics, such as liking lattes or NASCAR. But it also included a smattering of sins: divorce, homosexuality, gambling, and substance abuse. Nothing on the placard suggested that they regarded these things as sins, but knowing the church’s institutional affiliation, I think they probably do.
But this is a very interesting selection of sins to include, and it is very interesting to think of some of the sins that aren’t included. The sins mentioned are all ones you can safely put on a placard without a hint of disapproval, because our culture’s disapproval for them is tenuous at best. Our culture outright celebrates homosexuality, sees divorce as perfectly permissible, is overall favorable towards gambling, and substantially regards substance abuse as something to be pitied as much as to be condemned. In short, this is basically a list of socially acceptable sins.
So we may ask, why didn’t the church include more unsavory sins in their ‘inclusive’ welcome? Why are not white supremacists, child abusers, and rapists welcomed? Where is the greeting for human traffickers and pedophiles? Are these not also sinners who need Jesus?
I don’t think that if I sat down with the elders and asked why these groups weren’t on the list, that the honest answer would be “we certainly would have included them if we’d thought of it.” I think the honest answer would have to be something more like “that would make people uneasy about coming to our church” or “listing those things together with a bunch of innocuous characteristics in a welcome message might suggest that we don’t strongly disapprove of such acts.” Precisely.
A list of acceptable sins may be good PR, but as far as the message of the church, it either says too little or too much. As far as the actual radical welcome of the gospel, it says far too little: it is not only socially acceptable sinners, but also radically unacceptable ones, who need Jesus. But as far as the church’s social stance goes, it says far too much: lumping sins together with neutral differences of preference and personality weakens the prophetic stance of the church in calling sinners to repentance.
The church has a different standard than the world. We can’t give a list of acceptable sins, because there are no acceptable sins. Welcoming select sinners sends the wrong message.
The gospel is utterly inclusive of all sins and all sinners, and utterly exclusive, that all who would be saved must come to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith. Paul says to the church in Corinth:
“Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11).
There the gospel declaration and the prophetic witness of the church meet.
Church History, Volume 1: From Christ to Pre-Reformation, by Everett Fergusson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005).
Excellent. A very clear and engaging tour of the story of the church before the Reformation. Fergusson does good history: fair, insightful in analysis, neither burdened by (post)modern disdain nor blinded by the rosy lenses of nostalgia. Highly recommended.
In J.R.R. Tolkien’s tragic fantasy The Children of Hurin, there is a scene towards the beginning where Hurin, the mighty warrior, is disputing with Morgoth–an evil power, who is a figure of Satan. Morgoth has just dealt a terrible blow to the forces of good, and has Hurin for prisoner; but still Hurin defies him. Among his words of defiance is this statement of transcendent hope:
“Beyond the Circles of the World you shall not pursue those who refuse you.” (65)
Truly, the great struggle of the soul is confined to this world, and this life. Satan’s power cannot reach beyond the gates of death. And those doors, so fearful, have been by Christ transformed. Though shadowed still by uncertainty and limned with grim finality, they mark nothing terrible for those who belong to the risen Lord Jesus Christ.
For the Christian, death is the passage to everlasting joy in the presence of the Lord, the departure to be with Christ and abide with Him until the day of resurrection, when all things are made new.
In this life there is much we might fear. But courage comes with the conviction of certain vindication. For the present, Satan has been allowed to act, even though already decisively defeated at the cross. But his power stops at the gates of death. He cannot pursue those who refuse him.
Lord, your day rises and your glory is shown in all your works. Glory to you, great God of all the universe. Teach me, today, to delight myself in you; and make me to live for your delight. If I delight myself in you, I will know joy in any circumstance; if I delight you, I will realize my purpose in this your day. Give me the grace to please you in all things, and to find my highest pleasure in yourself. Give me the grace of joy, O Joy beyond all joys.
Thank you, Lord, for your preserving and protecting power today. You have kept me safe and strong, and cared for me in every way. Though the world is full of danger, you have guarded me during the sunlit hours, and you will be my shield through the hours of the night. The darkness holds no fear, when you are my defense. Let me rest in the shelter of your might, and entrust all things to your care. Amen.
“To whom, O Savior, shall we go?
The night of death draws near;
Its shadows must be passed alone,
No friend can with our souls go down
The untried way to cheer.
Thou hast the words of endless life;
Thou givest victory in the strife;
Thou only art the changeless Friend,
On whom for aye we may depend:
In life, in death, alike we flee,
O Savior of the world! to Thee.”
-Frances Ridley Havergal, final paragraph of “Faith’s Question”.
I saw an article the other yesterday on a liberal news venue, pushing back against a conservative church’s attempt to influence their community. Several observations might be made, but one will suffice for the nonce.
One of the reasons this church’s influence is so objectionable to some is the church’s promotion of Christian sexual ethics, particularly their opposition to homosexuality. Christian sexual ethics are considered intolerant to secular society. But, interestingly, another objection cited in the article was that the pastor had officiated the marriage of a man who had a different area of sexual immorality in his past, of which he had repented.
That is to say, part of what some people find so offensive about this church is that it does not approve of sexual immorality (of the kind society presently approves), and another part is that the church believes in restoration for people who have engaged in sexual immorality (of the kind society does not [presently] approve).
I think this is an interesting observation, that can be seen in society at large, at least to some degree. Tolerance is aggressively (intolerantly?) promoted by de-stigmatizing of numerous immoral behaviors. Acceptance is the order of the day. But there are still numerous things that are not tolerated, not accepted; and for these things, forgiveness and restoration for the repentant can be in very short supply.
The Christian church calls sin what it is, but preaches that anyone can be forgiven their sins if they will repent and place their faith in Christ. It should not be surprising that the secular world, which finds the conviction of sin offensive, sometimes finds forgiveness offensive as well.
God all-wise, lead me today in the way I should take. Guide my steps, so that I will not turn from your path. Teach me to follow in the way set by Jesus my Savior, to walk in His footsteps and carry my cross. Lord, it is hard for me to deny myself and follow you; be my strength and support. Firm up my feeble limbs for the uphill climb, and may I find the narrow way sweet, according to your promise—your yoke easy and your burden light.
Thank you, God, for bringing me safely through this day. I lay it now at your feet. Bless the work I have done, and let it be for your glory. Forgive my sins and cover my failures, and let me know tonight the peaceful sleep of grace and the hope of your mercies and strength on the morrow. When I go to rest, turn my thoughts to the all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ my Savior. Guard me through the hours of the night, until the new day dawns. Amen.