If everyone at your church is nice, something must be wrong. The founder of Christianity didn’t start a country club. He opened the doors wide and invited everyone in. Proper etiquette was never a requirement for entry, and criminal records, troubled kids and colorful language never kept anyone out.
If everyone at your church is nice, something must be wrong.
The founder of Christianity didn’t start a country club. He opened the doors wide and invited everyone in. Proper etiquette was never a requirement for entry, and criminal records, troubled kids and colorful language never kept anyone out.
We get the idea (from Hollywood parodies but also from religious leaders themselves) that church members should have no unresolved moral issues, be of sterling character and, above all, be nice! And if they can’t manage that, they should at least pretend to be.
How different that is from what we read in the Bible. St. Paul wrote: “Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers — none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.” We read that and think, “And it’s a good thing, too! We don’t want those kinds of people at church.”
But God does. St. Paul’s very next sentence is: “And this is what some of you used to be.”
What? The church’s members had been drunks, robbers and prostitutes — people who struggled with alcohol, greed and sex! Who would have thought?
Where did we ever get the idea that people only qualify for membership in Jesus’ group if they are already (or almost) perfect? Not from Jesus. His detractors’ continual complaint was that he let “bad people” join him. He countered, “It is not the healthy who ?need a doctor, but the sick.”
The church is more hospital than country club. There are desperately sin-sick people in intensive care. Others come along slowly and gain strength, though some relapse. Even the physicians are just patients who have progressed enough in their recovery to help with the care of others.
But no one is fine. This ain’t no country club.
The Rev. A. B. Simpson understood that. He was called to pastor a fashionable church in Manhattan in 1879, and offered a wage of $5,000 a year — an enormous salary at the time.
But when the new pastor went out into the streets to evangelize Italian immigrants, church officials were alarmed. When he brought these?new converts into the church, they were dismayed (though of course they were nice about it).
The leadership delicately proposed that the new converts might be more comfortable in another church — one more suitable to their circumstances. Simpson immediately resigned. He went on to make it his goal to reach “the neglected peoples of the world with the neglected resources of the church.”
Simpson’s view of the church — not to mention St. Paul’s — varies greatly from the view widely held within and without the church today.
I once pastored a small congregation in a rustbelt town. Our church was not on the wrong side of the tracks, but you could feel the windows rattle when the trains went by.
A leader in that church told me he had invited his nephew to worship with us. The man, a career banker who had just arrived in town, told him he thought he’d go to one of the downtown churches instead — that’s where important business contacts could be?made. If he couldn’t conduct business on the ninth green, he’d use the ninth pew instead.
But the church is not a country club, or any other kind of club. It is a community — a collective unity — comprised of people from all races and walks of life. Each shares an awareness of past failures and the hope of a glorious future. More importantly, each shares a common — a divine — life, given by God himself. Together — and only together — each pursues a life lived for the glory of God and the benefit of others.
Shayne Looper is the pastor at Lockwood Community Church in Branch County, Mich.