Recently my “new” church in Nebraska and my “home” church in Illinois have been speaking about the way people come to Christ and how the Church impacts this event.
My home church pastor shared about the “radical” idea they had when their church was just beginning, to welcome everyone regardless of their salvation status. My new church pastor has expressed the same desire. It matters more to have someone come as they are, than to keep them outside the doors until he or she cleans up their act.
I love this heart of my churches- but I also know it wasn’t and isn’t always so. Growing up my family attended many different churches, seeking the one that best matched the Church lived out by Christ and the Disciples. During our search I remember churches where the people were more focused on the make and model of the car in the parking lot and the style of their clothing than what God might want to do in their hearts.
I remember services where the fire and brimstone was so real I could feel the heat and smell the sulfur. I was petrified to step outside of God’s rules — there was no grace spoken from the pulpit.
One of the last churches we attended was more country club than church. If you didn’t have the membership card you weren’t welcome. There were those inside that church who sought to bring in the Holy Spirit and be led by Him, but they were quickly silenced.
Then I became a Christian in the summer of 1990. I knew I had a list of all manner of sins committed and worried that I wouldn’t fit into the previous churches I attended. I was in my 20’s and it was time to seek a church for me, not because the family attended.
I found my home church. The messages were relevant to my life, instructive, powerful for a new believer’s heart. The music, skits, and drama used to bring the message home fit my creative wiring. I was home. I quickly became involved with ministries, leading small groups, and I was growing, growing, growing.
Fast forward twenty-five years later and I live in a different state. The church I attend now is on the same plane as my home church. I am growing and so are our sons. A new generation learning how God can be a part of their lives. It is incredible to see.
Which leads me back to my question. What comes first? Many would believe the Cross–with repentance, redemption, and a strict discipleship program are required before the church doors will be opened to the “former” sinner.
Others know from personal experience, that the Love God offers is what will draw the “sinners” to the Cross. It takes the Love first, then the Cross.
My heart breaks at the reality that there are people dying outside those “locked” church doors. People with ever-living-never-dying souls. People who desperately want to know that they are valued, precious, prized, treasured above all things, and most of all, loved. Even if their car is the wrong model, their clothes are from the discount store, and they don’t have their lives all cleaned up.
Jesus said it best, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence! Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so the outside of it may also become clean… (Matthew 23:24-26).
Jesus was scolding the Pharisees for being pretty on the outside but corrupt on the inside. Jesus knew that if the heart was clean, then the outside would follow. So to is it with us, with me. My faith is shown on the outside by what is happening on my inside.
What came first? Not what, but Who. Jesus and His Love for you and for me.