I saw this sign the other day in the parking lot of a local church. It disturbed me. Maybe you have seen others like it. One was posted at the entrance of the parking lot, and one at the exit. I photographed the one at the exit so I would be ready to cut a trail in my minivan with my girls should the church campus police come after me for trespassing on private property.
The message disturbs me. You are welcome at this church to learn about Jesus Christ, and come to know him if (1) you 'belong', or (2) you are invited by someone who does 'belong'. It screams to me riff-raff and ragamuffins need not apply. Lost people need not apply. Sinners need not apply. Travelers and business people away from your churches, stay out of ours. What ever happened to reaching the people? What ever happened to going out amongst the people? What ever happened to the notion that God is the creator and owner of ALL? Has that changed? Or have people lost their focus on the reality of scripture? Have they focused so clearly on their highlighted verses that they forgot the other verses in their Bibles exist?
So many churches claim to exist to reach the lost and bring them to know and accept Christ as their personal savior. But what message are they sending to the lost? How inviting are they making themselves? It really produces an 'us versus them' mentality. Not only in the people outside the church building walls but within the minds of those people sitting in the seats. Do our churches exist to serve the lost or the saved? It is not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous but the sinners to repentance. Luke 5:31-32 How will they get 'healthy' if we don't welcome them in to meet the doctor?
My Bible tells me that All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2Timothy 3:16-17 That means that the Bible is not just a history lesson. It's not just a nifty bunch of Bible stories and songs. It is an instruction manual. It is there to show us which way to travel and to set us straight when we start to stray from the path God intended for us. And it gives us several instructions on how to treat one another (not just within the walls of our church buildings). It tells us to :
Love your neighbor as yourself. If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. Galatians 5:14-15
Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Romans 12:16
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these. Mark 12:30
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. John 13:34-35
Therefore let us stop passing judgement on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way. Romans 14:13
I didn't discover any verses about setting up a church 'country club' with only those with a membership allowed to enter. Please let me know of any you find. I did find this:
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. And the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go out and visit you?'
The King will reply, ' I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'
Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'
They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'
He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' Matthew 25:31-45
I think back to when my husband and I started exploring the life of Jesus Christ, and looking at Christianity. My husband had a mohawk. I wonder if this church, or many others like it would have invited us in to explore and learn about Jesus. I think of all the churches that encourage a members only attitude. I remember the words of Shane Claiborne who claimed to have given up Christianity to follow Jesus Christ. I understand how he became disillusioned by the church system and turned his focus on Jesus Christ, the man.
So many people have been hurt by the Church, hurt by Christians. Yes, alot of churches have open arms, waiting to welcome in outsiders. But we should continue to be disturbed until that is the norm, not the exception. And we must always remember, we are the Church! We are her arms. We are her feet. We are the tools necessary to change her.