“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to…” – Matthew 23:13
As a teacher, I often think out loud. My format is typically facilitation more than lecture. In consequence I often take the discussion in directions I haven’t necessarily thought through completely. But I tend to learn as I go and I’m not afraid to rethink, retract, restate, or reboot when I am clearly wrong.
This Sunday we were talking about the year ahead and how we want God to work new life in and through us as disciples.
I pointed out that in biology the definition of life involves interaction with the environment, reproduction, and change. Essentially, by definition, if we are not changing then we are not alive.
God is always refining the message and ironing out our misunderstandings
“I’ve been a serious student of the Bible for 50 years, but there is still so much I continue to learn,” I said. “God is constantly refining the message – or at least how I hear it and understand it.”
“But God does not change,” one participant insisted. “Some churches try to change God just so they can get more people to come.” He went on to support the idea that there are groups of people who should not be welcome in church.
I suggested it’s possible that “we” (the historical church, theologians, preachers, people who write doctrine) have at times misunderstood God, and cultivated inaccurate ideas about who God is and what God is saying to the world through the church. Not that God was wrong or needed to change… but that we change when we realize we have confused God (immutable) with our culture, with our personal prejudices, and with our social isms and phobias (all mutable).
Even the choice of words selected in translation from ancient languages tend to reflect not only inconsistencies in context and equivalent terms, but cultural norms and bias not at play in the original texts.
Regardless, the idea that there are categories of people who God does not welcome into church is not easy to move beyond when such exclusions have been codified in practice as status quo for such a long time.
Status quo or not, I cannot disagree more! The Jesus I know and love came for absolutely everyone. Jesus is the door, the way in. Others try to turn people away but Jesus is the door and his message is always “Welcome home.”
But what if a sinner wanders into church?!
The more I study, the more I learn, and the more I understand the character and the will of God, the more convicted I am that God is in the business of invitation, not exclusion. I know at the heart of my faith that everyone is welcome in God’s house, and I know from the words of Jesus that what upsets God is not the presence of sinners in the pew (that’s all we have, by the way, at my church) but the person trying to shut the door in their faces.
I have already shared my desire to see more clearly in 2020, and I am increasingly clear when it comes to the complete waste of energy it is to focus on the sins and shortcomings of other people. Instead of judging, why not shower them with the love, grace, kindness, goodness, and mercy that is the evidence of Jesus in us?
And if a few more sinners wander into Wake Forest Presbyterian Church as a result? Then I guess they will just have to make themselves at home – like the rest of the sinners who show up every week.
In love, and becasue of love – DEREK