Containing minor revisions, this post was originally published at FromLaw2Grace
Who can worship at your church? Sounds like a silly question, doesn’t it? The church should be a place where anyone can come and feel at home. Churches should be open to all, for indeed we are all sinners in need of God’s grace! But, we all know churches where certain individuals or groups would not be welcome. Can anyone say Westboro “Baptist Church?”
What about your church? Is anyone and everyone truly welcome to attend your church’s public worship services, be it on Saturday night, Sunday morning, Sunday night, or at some other time? Do you throw open the doors to any “guests” who might choose to stop by your church on any given Sunday? Or do you quickly show the door to those “kind of folks” that you hope never come back again? (And for the record, I’m not talking about “guests” who come to your church with the express purpose of disrupting the worship services.)
So that I am hopefully not misunderstood (although I am sure it will happen), I am not talking about your church’s specific membership requirements and who you would vote into official membership as a part of your local New Testament congregation. That’s a post for another day. I’m talking about someone simply attending your church’s public worship service, whether you hold that in a sanctuary, worship center, or at the local elementary school.
Before you attempt to answer these questions, think about the diverse multitude of people who could potentially walk through the doors of your church this Lord’s Day. While every community is different and, while not every type of person may visit your church this week, you will have guests who will choose to worship at your particular location.
For instance, what about the person who is of a different race or ethnicity than the majority (or all) of your church folk? The man who can barely speak English as a second language? The two women who tell you they’re new to the community and introduce themselves as a “couple?” What about the nice looking, college-age couple who drops by your contemporary Saturday night worship service and you discover that they are living together without benefit of marriage? Or the cultural Catholic who needs a personal relationship with Jesus and decides to give your church a try? Or the tattooed, ear-ring wearing, ex-con who just got out of prison and comes early to the Sunday morning “traditional” service and, unawares, takes the back row seat of one of your senior “saints?”
Every Sunday in America, churches welcome these types of diverse guests into their houses of worship. Sometimes we know the background of the guests. More often than not, we are blissfully unaware of the dirty laundry that they have stuffed into the bags they bring with them. Sometimes, we forget that we all too often re-pack our own bags with the filthy clothes of sin that we once wore.
However, when we discover what’s in a person’s bag, we can become less welcoming that we were at first. Periodically, I’ll have a church member ask me if I would “allow” a homosexual couple to attend worship. Without blinking an eye, I tell them, “Absolutely!” In fact, I’m sure that we have had gay individuals or couples who have worshiped with us in the past, are worshipping with us currently, or who may worship with us in the future. While I would not welcome them to become a member of our church, I do say, “Come and be our guest,” because I know that our guests (and members for that matter) will hear the life-transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ every week!
That goes for the out-of-wedlock pregnant teen who doesn’t think she has any hope. Or for the newly divorced father of two who is facing one crisis after another. And the young couple who have just moved into together to test the waters before they get married. Or the agnositc teenager who is searching for the “right” religion.
When you are our guest at church, that means that you can come, just as you are, and you will be welcomed and loved by those within the church. When you’re our guest, what that does not mean is that we affirm you just as you are. Our guests will hear that God loves them so much that He was willing to send His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world so that they might not stay as they are, but become a new creation in Him. We will share with our guests the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ, that He came to save sinners (of whom I am chief) and to take away their filthy rags of sin and to clothe them in His righteous garments as they turn to Him in repentance and faith. We will share with them that it is by God’s amazing grace, through faith — not good works — that they can be saved. And, we’ll give them the opportunity to respond to God’s gracious invitation to join Him.
Sunday is coming. You should hope and expect that God will direct someone new to attend your worship service this week, perhaps for their first (and maybe last) visit to your church. And they’ll come with bags packed full of their dirty laundry of sin.
It reminds me of when I came home during breaks from college. I brought home suitcases full of dirty clothes, but my mom always welcomed me with open arms. When I left home for a new semester of college, my suitcase was full, but my clothes were clean. Will your church be a home that welcomes sinners who bring their bags packed with dirty clothes? And, will you help them receive new garments of righteousness that only Christ offers? Who can worship at your church?