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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.

Flawless?

10 Jun
We are bombarded with adverts focused on the flesh. Commercials promising products to make you look younger, others that supposedly make your visage “flawless”. So too, in many circles, including the Church, we are all to often trying to make our lives look “flawless”. Putting our best foot forward and striving after godliness gets twisted into, avoidance and fear of failure, forgetting our faults, and silencing our struggles. This can cause us to feel shame for receiving treatment or help. It can manifest itself in hypocrisy and pride in the Church. It can weaken our view on sin and need of repentance. Even if we have been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb and clothed in his righteousness, as long as we live upon this earth, we will have flaws, struggles, and weaknesses. Those that cause us to remember our sin, cling to Christ, and yearn for Glory.
It is important to be honest with oneself and to examine our lives truthfully. To walk humbly before God and before man, remembering that God’s grace and mercy are given and flourish in the presence of brokenness not flawlessness.

“Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.” : ISIS, Suffering, Death and the Opening of Eyes to the Problem of Evil

20 Nov

Are all people inherently good? This is a question asked by many who think deep enough to consider the World and humanity. While the question is a good one, the cognate of that question that the idealist rather blindly states is more striking: “All people are inherently good.” Are such statements products of an internal, false hope? Hard hearts? Willful suspension of reality for the self preservation of those without a sound answer and solid hope?

Are reality-disjointed, pseudo-utopic propositions such as these growing in popularity, maintaining ground, or dampening like the sound of echoes in a canyon? Whatever the global trend may be, the guest journalists on the Diane Rehm show this morning seemed to have a more realistic, observational acuity.

A woman named Elizabeth called in from St. Louis, MO to contribute the following:

“I’m 87years old: One brother was killed and one brother was crippled in the second  World War, and I keep hoping that the world is going to achieve peace…how can we bring some stronger emphasis on this side of the human spirit?”

Hope is good. Elizabeth asks as good a question as the inquisitive person who seeks to know if man at his root is morally good or bad. Both are valid and important questions that need answering. And we can see that Elizabeth is searching for a solution. She wants light to be shed on the question of the growing, persistent evil in the world around her. Don’t we all want a clear solution to that problem?

In response, Yochi Dreazen, managing editor of Foreign Policy, correctly observes that peace is not natural in the world. The world testifies to the persistent problem of evil and darkness.

 “…I wish we could say that in my lifetime, the lifetime of my children, we could get to a place where this type of peace she prays for happens, but it’s hard to look at the events of the world today and say it’s going to happen.”

This man’s response makes me wonder: are the persistent wars and rumours of wars beginning to change that false, idealist mindset of the goodness of humanity? Is the in-your-face, unashamedly brazen presence of extremists, human suffering, and death reversing the polarity of the collective understanding of humanity’s condition?

Diane Rehm, the host of the NPR show of the same name, wonders about a parallel concern:

“…is this [the training of young boys to be fighters/killers] going on in just one part of the world?”

Shane Harris, Senior Intelligence &National Security Correspondent for The Daily Beast, with even more clarity, responds:

 “No, I think there’s a culture of violence in many places. I mean, we have a culture of violence in THIS country. And I’m not trying to draw false parallels here, but you know, I think it is in human nature. You know, that’s why we call it Winning the Peace. You know, I think we’re somehow predisposed as human beings toward conflict. I know that’s a grand statement but I think it is backed up by what you are seeing on display in the world right now. And I mean, we talk about the Second World War: there are many ways where the state of the world DOESN’T look all that different, fundamentally, at the root, and I mean, maybe, you know, it’s a sad commentary, but maybe THIS is who we are, and that actually Winning the Peace is something to strive for; that is rare.”

Shane nailed it. He not only observes the evil prevalent in all crannies of the globe, including here at home in the United States, but he acknowledges that it is part of human nature, that we are predisposed toward enmity. It is fundamental. It is at the root. It is a sad commentary. But it is true. It might be said of Shane, “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God“(Mark 12.34b).

Where Shane possibly gets it wrong, depending upon the extent of his meaning, is that “Winning at Peace” is something we can do. We can certainly uphold justice, and promote peace, but ultimately, there is but one hope for peace, and that is Jesus Christ, our Peace. It is he, and he alone that can bring true and lasting peace to individuals and to the world at the end of the age.

The biggest blind spot for many people is self awareness. With the terrible refrains of death and destruction daily coming forth from our iPads, phones, and televisions, little room is left for those calling  the black sheep, white without them being deemed absurd. Yet for those who stubbornly persist in claims of the righteousness of man, the world is a stumbling block. They must answer with ideas such as, “Well, we are all good, but then someone corrupts that good.” But if we are all good, how are there so many corrupters? And when reflecting upon the evil that is present, many seem to consider darkness to be out in the world. They harden their hearts to the radical depravity of their own souls, not recognizing that they each contribute to the make-up of humanity. Humanity is an assemblage of humans—depraved humans. And you, me, and Elizabeth are all polluted with that same dark nature.

I hope there are more with as keen a sight as Yochi, and moreso, Shane. I hope the world begins to recognize just how far and deep sin goes—just how tremendous a problem evil is. And I hope that in doing so, they will continue to search for the answer that Elizabeth is seeking. And by God’s grace, many more will find it. They will find the answer that has been around since the Fall of mankind that plunged each and every one of us into the dark place of depravity. By the good mercy of God, they will know that what is needed is the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

But isn’t the Gospel good news? Why would you use the Gospel to awaken the conscious to darkness? Because God uses the darkness to show the brightness of his Son; the Good News needs first convict the person of their sin, then the eternal and promised hope of salvation in Jesus Christ from sin can be made clear. Only after conviction of sin do we know our need of a Saviour. I pray that by his Spirit, the Lord God Jehovah will awaken minds, and soften hearts to the truth of the darkness of the soul and the desperate need of the Saviour. Only after we know we are soiled do we bathe in the purifying, cleansing blood of Jesus. The Gospel is “the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth” (Romans 1.16).  We live in the age of grace, and God is adding to Christ’s inheritance those that will join him for eternity— those called by his grace. Maybe the downward spiral of the earth, the proliferation of darkness, will also be what God Almighty uses to bring many to himself? Perhaps that is one way he will boil the pots of the cold and lukewarm.

 

Quotes taken from The Diane Rehm Show™, and can be accessed at: https://thedianerehmshow.org/audio#/shows/2015-11-20/friday-news-roundup-international/111488/@00:00

(beginning at 43:50)

A Misconception of Christians (1) : We believe ourselves to be perfect.

24 Mar

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The truth is that we know the depth of our wickedness and propensity to sin- that we still sin daily, whether in deed, word, or thought – but that we accept Christ’s undeserved love for us as sinners. Accepting that: he lived perfectly, because we cannot; he took the punishment for our sin, so we will not; he conquered the grave, so that we, through him, may also do the same; he ascended to heaven, so that we can join him one day for the rest of eternity.

We continue to sin, though less as we become more like Christ, but we acknowledge Jesus as our Saviour and Lord, and live for him – forgiven. It is by the shedding of His blood that we are made clean before God. We might not always portray him as we ought (God forgive us), yet He does not fail nor disappoint. Many people have had bad experiences with the Church.  To them I say, trust not in imperfect man, but place your trust in God who is ever faithful…even if his followers are at times not.

(photo: sabbathcog.org)