Is everyone really welcome?

Has the church failedThis weekend at Westbrook, we spent some time in Acts 8, 10, & 11. These three chapters find Philip and Peter welcoming Gentiles into the family of God. There was some struggle after Peter went to Cornelius, but Gentiles soon became accepted in the Church. Yes, Peter had still had some struggles after Acts 10-11 (see Galatians 2:11-21), but the church as a whole became a welcoming place to Gentiles. Not only were Gentiles welcomed into the church, but it was a place where men, women, young, old, rich, poor, slave, and free all gathered in the first couple of centuries to worship God and participate in the life of the Kingdom.

When I reflect on what the church used to look like and what it predominately looks like now in America, I can’t help but wonder if the church has failed to be like the church in the First Century. In A Fellowship of Differents Scot McKnight writes, “We’ve made the church into the American dream for our own ethnic group with the same set of convictions about next to everything. No one else feels welcome. What Jesus and the apostles taught was that you were welcomed because the church welcomed all to the table.” [1] We’ve let the church become separated.

I’m sure if you went to most any church in the US and asked if everyone was welcome at their church, the answer would be yes. But is that really the case? What does the make up off their church really tell you? The early church wrestled with this question and worked out how to help everyone feel welcome in the church. In our time, it is said that church is the most segregated hour of the week. But what if it were different?

Imagine how the world would be different if the church had taken different stances through American history. Instead of in some areas being complicit with Slavery and Racism, what if in all parts of our country the church had said no to slavery and no to racism? What if we had treated Slaves as our brothers and sisters in Christ? What if the church had found ways to love Native Americans instead of being complicit with driving them from their land? What if the church had welcomed Chinese immigrants into their communities and stood against the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act? What if during the Aids Crisis in the 80’s the church had found ways to show love instead of distancing themselves, blaming the disease on sin, and condemning homosexuals?

The church should be a place that welcomes all people who are searching for Jesus and loves everyone whether they are looking for Jesus or not. Maybe the church hasn’t exactly failed, but we certainly aren’t succeeding in being a place for all people to feel welcomed and loved. What if the church had succeeded in all those times it missed the mark? The conversations in our country might be different. While the country (and the world) still deals with racism, hatred, and division, the church could be the shining example of unity, love and hospitality that it should be. The church could be ahead of the times in standing against the systemic racism of our country. The church could be ahead of the world in working to solve the refugee crisis. There might not even be much of a crisis anymore. The church wouldn’t be arguing about bathrooms because we would be trying to figure out how to show love even to those with whom we don’t agree.

Scot McKnight also wrote this in A Fellowship of Differents,

God has designed the church — and this is the heart of Paul’s mission — to be a fellowship of difference and differents. It is a mixture of people from all across the map and spectrum: men and women, rich and poor. It is a mix of races and ethnicities: Caucasians, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Latin Americans, Asian Americans, Indian Americans — I could go on, but you see the point. [2]

God designed the church to be a place for all people. We haven’t exactly failed, but it’s time for us to move ahead of the world and stop being a place that is only welcoming for people like ourselves and make the church a fellowship of all kinds of different people.

[1] Scot McKnight, A Fellowship of Differents (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014) 17.
[2] McKnight, 16.

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