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Should Christians be Welcoming & Affirming?

3 Jul

There is a lot push for Christians to be “welcoming and affirming” from inside and outside of church walls. Some use this exact phrase to make a particular point: “We are welcoming and affirming of persons of all sexual orientations and gender identities.” Other pastors and congregations speak more generally saying, “Come, just be yourself and journey with us. We do life together here. We’re not like traditional churches.” Then there are those on the opposite side of the spectrum that are so inward focused and off-putting to any who darken the doors that they are neither welcoming nor affirming. Some even make the news for having such brutish tactics that they yell and picket at funerals so that people would be hard pressed to make it close to the doors of their church.

What stance ought we to take then as Christians? The extremes are not compatible, so is one to be preferred over the other? Is the middle ground the answer? Thankfully, God provides the Church with guidelines, instruction, and examples of how the Church should conduct herself. Since Scripture is divinely authoritative, completely without error, and sufficient for life and faith, let’s briefly consider what wisdom it offers regarding this topic. In order to do this, let’s take a look at “welcoming and affirming”, since it has become a common phrase in the U.S. and is more specific than the enigmatic rhetoric of the emergent-flavor churches where any definition, statement, or certainty is averted or outright rejected.

There are two unique ideas contained in this compound participial (verbal-adjective) phrase, so we will first considered them separately. Welcoming, according to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, means to “receive with pleasure and hospitality…to cordially or willingly permit or invite…to give a cordial greeting or hospitable reception.” To be welcoming, then, speaks of how one invites or receives an outsider into ones company at the outset. It is an initial interaction, often among strangers, that sets a hospitable, comfortable tone or atmosphere for the newcomer. Does Scripture teach that Christians are to be welcoming? Yes it does. Any number of passages could be referenced to support this: Jehovah God welcomed the Israelites though they were sinners (Deut. 9:5ff); Jesus welcomed the sinners and unjust tax collectors (Luke 5:27-30; 19); Jesus welcomed the adulterer (John 8); Jesus welcomed thieves (Luke 23); Jesus welcomes the weary and heavy laden (Matt. 11:28); Jesus welcomed Paul the persecutor and murderer of his people (Acts 9; 22; 26); Jesus welcomes all who truly come to him in faith and will no wise cast them out (John 6:37); Jesus welcomed me, a sinner loaded with sin. Indeed Jesus welcomes all kinds of people with all sorts of sin baggage. So too he commands his people to go and do likewise, to welcome the stranger, the sick, the widow, the orphan, the criminal, the brokenhearted, the sinner.

What about “affirming”? Affirming, according to the same source above, means “to declare positively; to assert to be true…to declare support for or belief in,” or according to Merriam-Webster, “to assert as valid or confirmed…to show a strong belief in or dedication to.” Affirming, then, is not how one acts toward another, but to gladly and willingly encourage, agree with, be committed to, and/or approve of someone or something. It is not about kindness, a willingness to listen, or a hospitable atmosphere. It is about upholding or encouraging certain beliefs, statements, thoughts, or actions. Do you see the marked uniqueness of the two words, welcoming and affirming? A person, or church, can be welcoming but not affirming of someone, affirming but not welcoming, both welcoming and affirming, or neither.

Does Scripture teach that Christians are to be affirming? Well, affirming of what? Affirming which beliefs? Which lifestyles? Which people? What state of people? Which statements? Encourage which actions? God’s Word does tell us to affirm the truths of his Scripture (Exo. 20:6, et al.). Paul says that he wants Titus to constantly affirm that believers should be careful to maintain good works (Titus 3:8, NKJV). He sends Timothy to the Thessalonians to encourage them concerning their faith (I Thes. 3:2, NKJV). But certainly we are not to affirm false teaching (I Tim. 1:7, NKJV) or anything contrary to truth or holy living. Job refuses to affirm the wrong assumptions of his presumptuous friends (Job 27:5, HCSB). David rightly attests that the wicked encourage one another in their evil ways (Psa. 64:5, NKJV); certainly they aren’t to be affirmed. It would then be unwise for a church to make a blanket statement that they are “affirming” without outlining what they affirm. That is why social groups, institutions, and churches often have statements of faith and why many creeds and confessions were composed, in order to affirm clearly what they believe, or in the case of Christian churches or groups, what they believe Scripture teaches.

Christians, therefore, ought not to be affirming of everyone’s beliefs, lifestyles, attitudes, thoughts, hopes, dreams, self-imposed identities, actions, or anything that God declares as sin. This too includes churches who specifically affirm any and all sexual identities and gender orientations, for God has declared throughout the whole corpus of Scripture that he has created and established only two unique, complementary genders and marriage as being between one man and one woman. Yet, though “welcoming and affirming” is often used to support the LGBTQ+ community, and so mentioned here, it is not the only reason to reject the “affirming” language. As noted above, affirming  should be limited to biblical truth and living. That should be implied in all areas of the Christian Church, in all congregations who take the name Christian. It is Scripture that is our final authority in all matters of faith and life, and it is the Word of God that centers in and focuses on Jesus Christ from whom all Christians take their name and find their identity.

Christians, therefore, should be very welcoming of all peoples, but not affirming. Christ calls sinners to himself, but he does not affirm sinners in their sin. He does not encourage their sin or support their sinful lifestyles. Instead the triune God says, “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11). He calls us, sinners, to repentance and faith (Acts 20:21). He tells us to humble ourselves, pray, turn from sin, and seek the Lord (II Chr. 7:14). He commands us to put off our old man that is corrupt and filled with deceitful lusts (Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:8-9), and put on the new man of righeousness and holiness (Eph. 4:24ff). He encourages us to grow in our faith (Eph. 4:15; I Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18). He commands us to exercise ourselves unto godliness (I Tim. 4:7-9). He tells us to mortify the deeds of the flesh (Rom. 8:13; Col. 3:5). We are not to remain the same as when we were welcomed as sinners, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2); our thinking needs changing. We are to forsake ourselves and obey God out of love (John 14:15). We are to be called out, separate from the world and its ways (II Cor. 6:17). We are to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matt. 6:33).

Jesus never affirmed sinners and neither should we. He welcomed them with love and the offer of a new life. He came for the sick, proclaiming that he was the great Physician that could heal and remove the disease that plagues us all. Yes, Christian, by all means, welcome all people. Grow in your welcoming of others. Pray that you will mirror the welcoming nature of Jesus Christ. Repent of any hardheartedness, fears, selfishness, pride, disgust toward others, or any other sin that is keeping you from truly welcoming others. But never water down the gospel for which Jesus came, bled, died, rose, and is coming again. A Gospel that does not affirm sinners, but calls us to repentance and new life in Christ. This is who we are to be.

Soli Deo Gloria.

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Christ Descended to Hell

18 Mar

Simply speaking, the grave is the abode of the dead; hell, the abode of the forsaken. Yet, in the Bible as well as in our own vernacular, the grave can be used not only to speak of the location of a dead body but the state or experience of death. The same can be said of hell, referring to the location and/or the state or experience. When the Apostle’s Creed states that Christ “descended to hell”, properly understood, it refers to the latter.

Christ’s descent to hell is not an entrance into the physical realm of hell, as some have misunderstood, for Christ said to the thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke xxiii.43), and to the Father, “Into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke xxiii.46). Some have taken 1 Peter iii out of context and used it to support the notion that Christ actually went to the abode of hell to preach the gospel, or to a third neutral place—a false, Jewish notion of Abraham’s Bosom (Luke xvi.22). These ideas misunderstand Peter’s reference to the world of Noah where Christ warned the people through his prophet.  It also creates inconsistency in the Bible’s witness concerning the finality of one’s post-mortem state, a separate dealing with Old Testament saints in the afterlife, and a weaker view of serendipity in glory for the faithful who sleep in Christ. Christ’s descent to hell, while not a physical journey, is no less literal, but we must understand it according to the truth of Scripture.

Christ did not merely experience the horrors of a torturous, corporeal death by crucifixion. No, he had to experience the hell of God’s terrible wrath against sin by taking upon himself the chastisement due us. What is the punishment for sin but the Divine forsaking of the sinner under the weight of God’s mighty, just arm. Christ experienced this very thing for his people.

Infinitely more terrible than his physical death was his spiritual suffering. Only the God-Man could bear such weight in a limited time that comparatively would mean everlasting punishment for man. We cannot fully grasp this notion, but rest assured, if everlasting hell is unbearable for man, how much more was it for the Son of Man who took it all at once for countless sinners. I issue a sincere challenge to each of us: to meditate upon the unimaginable sufferings Christ underwent for the salvation of everyone who places their hope in him. If hell is being forsaken by God, remember Christ’s words as he hung there on the cross, crying out in physical and spiritual anguish, “My God! My God! Why hast thou forsaken me!?”

15 Dangers of Self-Pity

18 Dec

Self-pity puts the self first.
Self-pity can lead to cynicism.
Self-pity can lead to inactivity.
Self-pity can lead to negativism.
Self-pity can lead to depression.
Self-pity is contrary to the Gospel.
Self-pity is an enemy of contentment.
Self-pity often forgets the plight of others.
Self-pity forgets that suffering is part of life.
Self-pity can cause you to be critical of others.
Self-pity takes the mind off of God’s promises.
Self-pity often forgets the benefits of suffering.
Self-pity is adverse to determination and perseverance.
Self-pity takes the eyes off of the many blessings given you.
Self-pity is self-perpetuating and will increase in its destructive power.

Self-pity is a gnawing evil. Instead of pitying the self, pity Christ.

“Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who…emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross.” -Philippians 2:5-8

The Grace of the Cross

5 Oct

God has never been obligated to lavish grace upon mankind. It is shown to us purely out of the goodness, loving kindness, and mercy God has for us (Titus 3:4-5). Today was worldwide communion day, and I was reflecting upon just how gracious it is that we not only have salvation from sin, death, and eternal punishment, but beyond that, eternal blessings of joy, peace, contentment, love, and eternal life with God.

My thoughts turned to the graciousness of the cross, which we remember in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. God knew us before we were born. He knit us together in our mothers’ wombs so wonderfully (Gen. 2:8; Jer. 1:5; Ps 139:13-14). He even chose to make us bearers of his divine image (Gen. 1:26-27). He lovingly formed our bodies, gave us the blood that circulates through them, and breathed his life into us.

What was our response?

We sinned against him. We mocked Christ (Mt. 27:29). We wounded his body, bruised, and flogged him (Isaiah 53:5). With our bodies lovingly given us, we broke and bloodied his. We spilt the blood of Jesus Christ, our Maker (Jn. 1:1-3). We, the apex of his creation, were so appreciative, that we hurled insults, pounded nails into him, and pierced his side with a spear (Jn. 19:34).

What was his intent and response?

He offered himself up willingly (Heb. 7:27; 9:14), carrying out his Father’s will which was planned before time began (Jn. 5:30; Gal. 1:4), so that we might be forgiven and cleansed from our sin, transgressions, and iniquities (Is. 53:5; 1 Cor. 11:24; Mt. 26:28). “That he might deliver us from this present evil world” (Gal. 1:4). That he might be our God, and we his people (Jer. 24:7), “reconciled to himself through Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 5:18).

Let’s summarize this grace in one sentence.

We, with the bodies and souls God lovingly gave us, willingly crucified our sinless-Maker’s humanity, so that his broken body and spilt blood (his human life) might be the only perfectly acceptable sacrifice (2 Cor. 5:21) for the redemption of mankind, who put him on the cross (Is. 50:2; Ps. 49:7).

Verily, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,” (Rom. 8:28a). This is most magnificently seen in the cross. God used even our worst for our salvation and his glory. Embrace this gracious truth with loving faith and inherit life and salvation.